Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 - Heading East Across the North - 6/24/14

After getting our new home in Tucson set up and helping get the Boy established in his his new place in Seattle, it's time to head East to see our family and friends. Escaping the triple digit temperatures is a nice bonus too. Since we're traveling in the summer, this allows us to take a northerly route through some areas of the country that we haven't seen before. 

Yesterday we headed north and made it to the Navajo reservation in the northeastern corner of Arizona, driving past Sedona and Flagstaff. We stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, established in 1916, now a major stopping point for tourists visiting the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. The small RV park there was not much, but functional, and we ate dinner in the restaurant. I had the Navajo taco, made from Indian flat bread, it was good but seemed more "touristy" than Native American.  Today we head north to Utah and will drive through Monument Valley. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red Wing Roots Festival - Mt. Solon, VA - July 12-14

The Red Wing Roots Festival is a new festival in the Natural Chimneys Park near Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is hosted by The Steel Wheels, a great four piece ensemble with deep connections to the Harrisonburg area. First time festivals can be a treasure or a bust, depending on how well prepared are the organizers and how many patrons are in attendance. This one was a real treasure, the Natural Chimneys Park is a beautiful site and the organizers were ready but not overbearing with too many rules and regulations. It was well attended but by no means crowded, I'm sure in the future there will be more and more coming to this one.

We arrived a day early on Thursday and were assigned one of the huge RV sites. Three of the four adjacent RV sites were occupied by tent campers, which gave us even more open space. We walked around the park and saw the Natural Chimneys, a natural geological formation that towers up to 120 feet, and the nearly dry North River. That evening there was a big downpour, but we were comfortable and dry in the cozy confines of the Pinnacle. The next day was clear but the rain had turned the North River into a raging torrent.

Pinnacle Base Camp

North River after a night of rain

This festival is described as a "roots" festival and, for me at least, each of the three days of music had a separate theme. Friday was a bluegrass day, each musical act that we saw had close ties to this southern genre. We say New Country Rehab, a band from Canada that plays high energy original songs. Then it was a great set by Virginia native Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. I always enjoy Larry's shows and he seemed particularly inspired this day delivering some of the best guitar picking of the weekend. Joining him on stage was Jay Starling on the dobro, he's the son of the Seldom Scene's John Starling. The Steel Wheels did a late afternoon set on the smallest of the festival's four stages, it was packed with festivarians and the band did not disappoint. There was lots of audience participation with little kids up near the front being called upon to help out. This set was one of the musical highlights of the entire festival and it propelled the Steel Wheels on my "must see again" list. 

Steel Wheels on Friday       image from DJBWeblog
Next the bluegrass theme continued with Tim O'Brien, a great writer with a deep catalog of well known songs. He's no slouch as a musician either and for this performance he was solo, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Tim was followed by a band we've seen several times over the last few years, Brooklyn based Yarn. They're not a bluegrass band but more rock and roll and they performed a high energy set of great originals and covers. Next up was the Duhks, a band from Canada that plays their own original interpretation of folk, old time, and Brazilian samba (!?!).  They were a lot of fun and seemed to be happy to be performing again after an extended hiatus from touring. The bluegrass day finished up with what has to be the best band performing bluegrass today - The Del McCoury Band. These guys are true professionals and they did not disappoint the Friday night crowd. As always they encouraged folks to shout out requests and each of the five talented musicians took turns shining in the spotlight. 

The Steel Wheels are very much into bicycling and on Saturday morning they hosted three bike rides. One for mountain bikers, one for serious bikers that was 40 miles and included a climb to the top of Reddish Knob, and a more casual 15 miler around the Shenandoah Valley. I wimped out and chose the more casual ride, Eric and Jay of the Steel Wheels joined us and we had a very nice ride. We were unable to complete the full planned circuit due to a road being closed due to high water, but it was fun anyway. Next year - I'll be ready for the Reddish Knob!

Bikers gathering for the morning ride

Here's where we turned around on the bike ride
If there was a roots theme for Saturday it might have been "singer/songwriter".  We caught Nathan Moore, a Staunton native, who tells stories and sings original folk type songs. He was followed by Scott Miller, also from the Shenandoah Valley, who was very entertaining. I may be biased because he is also a W&M grad, but he really got my attention with his song about a Chevy Citation with an 8-track player (my mode of transport in the late '70's).  From there we wandered the grounds and caught some of the Wiyos (old time folk and blues), our friends from Crozet - Yankee Dixie, and JD McPherson. Then as the sun went down the Steel Wheels did a great set on the main stage and were followed by the Sam Bush Band. We've seen Sam plenty of times before but we were pleased that he's updated his festival set to include some different songs, including the Beatles "I've Just Seen a Face". And of course no Sam Bush show would be complete without some weather, just at midnight when the set was ending it starting to drizzle, three minutes later we got a full downpour on the walk back to the Pinnacle. 

Sunday started slowly with a very casual Robin and Linda Williams performing a set of their original songs. Then we watched a demonstration by the Virginia Wildlife Center on raptors and birds of prey.  Then the roots theme for Sunday seemed to swing into jazz from the early twentieth century. Wayne "The Train" Hancock is most often compared to Hank Williams, and he did his fair share of old time honky tonkin', but there was definitely some Western swing going on there too.  Pokey Lafarge was a lot of fun, it really sounded for a while like we were transported back to the 1920's as the trumpet and clarinet provided a background for Pokey's superb singing voice. The Steel Wheels made their last appearance of the festival, bringing on stage many of the musicians that had played before them and then it was the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to close things out. I had seen them before, even earlier in the week on the Jimmy Fallon show, but they surprised me with the energy and excitement that they brought to the festival's final set. From the very first note they were energetically playing a much more modern approach to the traditional form for which they are known. 

Pokey LaFarge
This was a great festival, the Steel Wheels and their management team have done a superb job of organization and putting together a lineup that taps from the local Virginia music as well as the "roots" that are still so vibrant and relative today.  I look forward to Red Wing Roots 2014.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Music in May

Upon our return to Maryland we were happy to get right back into the vibrant local music scene in the DC area. On May 1 I caught the Tedeschi/Trucks Band at the 9:30 club. The 9:30 club is one of the best venues in the country for live music and it had been a while since I was last there. The Tedeschi/Trucks Band put together such a wonderful mix of soul and blues that equally highlights the wonderful slide guitar work of Derek Trucks and the beautiful vocal stylings of Susan Tedeschi. The sold out crowd was totally into it from the start and there were a few moments when Derek seemed to transport Duane Allman's spirit into the show. Greg Allman writes in his excellent autobiography ("My Cross to Bear") of how he sometimes sees Duane in Derek during performances. Gregg doesn't make a big deal about it, but he cites these moments as evidence that Derek is the actual reincarnation of Duane. Anyway it was a great show and Susan Tedeschi's excellent guitar playing should not be overlooked either. They finished with John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" which segued in and out of the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree".

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi    930 club
While in Tucson this winter we met a nice couple who were touring the country in their RV and they were getting ready to pick up their son who is trying to launch a career as a musician. Kevin Van Dort is his name and he plays blues guitar and sings. They explained that they were going through Austin and New Orleans and then coming up the East Coast so we invited them to our house and hosted a house concert to let our friends experience Kevin's music.

They arrived on a Thursday and that evening we went to the open mic night at the Outta the Way Cafe in Gaithersburg. Kevin played a few songs with the house band which was well received and one of the other musicians invited him to sit in with his band the following night. So we went to the Two Nineteen in Old Town Alexandria and Kevin played some tunes with the Capital Blues Ensemble. I was very impressed with this local band, they had horns and a great setlist of rockin' blues tunes. They don't seem to get to play very often but I would definitely like to see them again sometime. Kevin sat in for two songs and the crowd liked it so much they decided to do a third song together. Saturday night was the performance on our porch with good friends in attendance. Kevin played acoustic and electric guitar as well as his homemade box guitar. Neal, from the Capital Blues Ensemble, sat in on harp. Here's a video from the event.

Kevin Van Dort

The following week we went to see the Mickey Hart Band play at the Howard Theatre.  This is another great venue for live music in DC, there was a big crowd there to see Mickey and his band. We saw them play earlier this year in Tucson although this time Adam Theis was playing bass instead of Dave Schools. But the African Showboyz were still with him, adding their high energy percussion to the mix.  They did a nice mix of Dead tunes and Mickey Hart tunes.

My favorite Grateful Dead cover band these days is On the Bus, but I've been wanting to check out another group called the Black Muddy River Band, which is a Maryland based acoustic trio that frequently plays in the area. I finally got a chance a few Saturday's ago when they played at Branded 72, a barbecue joint in Rockville. It took a little mental adjustment to get into the thinner sound of just three acoustic instruments, but in the close confines of the bar it felt right. They played plenty of tunes from all sections of the Dead catalog and I will definitely check them out again soon.

Once again we spent the four day Memorial Day weekend at DelFest in Cumberland Maryland. This was the sixth Delfest and it has risen to the top of my favorite festivals list. It has the "Goldilocks" attributes of "not too small, not too big, it's just right". It also has a great "festival vibe" something that a few other festivals have lost over the years. This vibe is based on a common love and appreciation of the host Del McCoury.

Pinnacle Base Camp at Delfest
The lineup at this year's DelFest was another top notch collection of premier Americana and bluegrass bands, with the Trey Anastasio band thrown in to keep the kids happy and plenty of McCoury band members sitting in with the other musical acts. Thursday night the Jerry Douglas Band did a wonderful set (we saw them for the first time in DC last summer, definitely worth checking out if you get a chance) followed by old friends Leftover Salmon. Friday's highlights were Trampled by Turtles, a great set by the Del McCoury Band, and then two sets from Trey and his band. I was not expecting much from Trey, but I wanted to see him playing with the McCoury's. So I watched the second half of the first set and then a good portion of the second set (Del, Rob, Ronnie and Jayson came out for several songs). I must say I was very impressed by his band, they really have their chops down now that they have been playing for some time.  Saturday at DelFest was a big day and we enjoyed sets by Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams with his Richmond based funk band "More than a Little", another quality turn by the DMB and to close things out, Old Crow Medicine Show. In the afternoon we also saw what can best be described as an All-Star newgrass band which has the unfortunate name of "Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla & Bales". Seems like you could try a little harder on the band name. But they were great, playing top of the line progressive jam based bluegrass. Members are Noam Pilkelny (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), Bryan Sutton (Kentucky Thunder, Hot Rize), Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett Band), Barry Bales (Union Station), and Ronnie McCoury.  Then Sunday was another busy day starting off with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, then the Infamous Stringdusters, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Between these sets I spent time in the rec center enjoying two very special musical treats, Keller Williams and the Travelin' McCourys and the "Masters of Bluegrass". The Masters consist of Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Jerry McCoury. Between them they have four memberships in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and two memberships in the Grand Ole Opry. It was a rare honor to see such "masters" enjoying their craft. Yonder Mountain String Band closed out the festival, but I'm not a big fan of theirs so I listened from the Pinnacle base camp. In summary I have to say this was another excellent DelFest and Old Crow Medicine Show gets my blue ribbon for best performance, they have really stepped up their game and put on a big time Saturday night show.

Larry Keel at DelFest
My musical May continued with a visit to the State Theatre to see what was billed as a "Jam Band Fun Night". Opening was a three piece ensemble called "Djesben", which consists of Topher Dunne on the Chapman stick, Katy Gaughan on percussion, and Christian Crowley playing an amplified string dulcimer. On this particular night they were joined by the keyboard player from On the Bus and a drummer (whose name I did not catch). Also sitting in on electric fiddle was none other than John Kadlecik, who of course is the guitar player in Furthur and happens to be the husband of Katy. They did some very nice jam/jazz tunes, I was glad they had the extra musicians to create a fuller band sound. Then they were followed by On the Bus, who does Grateful Dead covers. John K sat with OTB for a few tunes playing fiddle. These guys are always great and this was especially nice as they brought out local hero Ron Holloway to play sax. The night concluded with a band called Covered with Jam, I listened for a while, but I had a long drive home and I was full of good music.

All in all a full month of great live music, can't wait to see what June brings!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cross Country Trek - part 2

Tuesday we left Durango and headed east, crossing the Rockies through Wolf's Pass towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was a beautiful drive and not as stressful with the truck and the big rig as I had been worried about. This park is very unique, basically the tallest sand dunes in North America. They were formed by sand left behind from a prehistoric lake that has been blown into dunes by the predominant southwest winds funneling through the Sange de Cristo Mountains.  The winds blow from the valley toward the mountains, but during storms the winds blow back toward the valley. These opposing wind directions cause the dunes to grow vertically.  But upon our arrival at the RV campground next to the park there were sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 60 or 70. We made the decision to do a quick tour of the park and continue heading east to somewhere calmer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
We passed over the mountains and found an RV park near Colorado City that was nice and the wind was calm. But the next morning there was ice forming on the Pinnacle from freezing mist, there was snow in the forecast, so we kept on heading east. Next stop was Dodge City, Kansas, but it was too cold to do much looking around and we wanted to get ahead of this spring/winter storm.

So the next day we continued on to Joplin, Missouri. While driving through the middle of "nowhere" Kansas there was a loud pop and the Pinnacle started lurching and I immediately realized that we had a blowout. I have to commend GEICO roadside service and the local tire service guy ("Sean" but I didn't get the name of his company) has they were there in 20 minutes and helped me jack up the Pinnacle and put on the spare. The next day in Joplin I went to the Goodyear store to get a new spare, turned out it was located right at ground zero where that terrible tornado went through a couple of years ago and caused so much death and destruction.

After spending the night in Joplin, we motored on to Sikeston, MO where we had dinner in a crazy restaurant called Lambert's Cafe. They are the "only home of throwed rolls". A server periodically emerges from the kitchen with a tray of big rolls just out of the oven and shouts "Rolls!". If you want one you just raise your hand and he wings it across the room to you. There were rolls flying in every direction. The Bird ordered their special fried catfish and it was enough to fill her that night and make a meal for the two of us the next night.

From Sikeston we drove on to a campground next to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We spent a day touring the longest known cave system. We obviously didn't tour all 400 miles of the cave, but we had a nice park ranger tour guide who took us down a few hundred feet and through a couple of miles of the cave. He did a great job explaining the history of the cave,  how it was explored over the centuries and why it's a national treasure.

Entrance to Mammoth Cave

Graffiti from 1839 in Mammoth Cave
From Mammoth Cave we went on to a nice state park in West Virginia called Stonewall Resort and had a nice spot right on the lake. But we didn't linger as we were ready to get home to Maryland. It was just a half day drive from there to home.

This was a great cross country trip, we met a lot of interesting people and we enjoyed touring several of the National Parks. Over the next few years we hope to see many more National Parks. We've now stayed in 24 different states in our Pinnacle 5th wheel and we look forward to the next 26!

Here's a map of our trip to Tucson in the fall and our return trip in the spring. For a more interactive view of the map you can click here.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Cross Country Trek - Spring 2013

Here's a sporadic update from the road on our trip back to Maryland from our winter base in Arizona. (You can click on the photos for a better view.)
For the second consecutive winter, we stayed at the lovely Lazy Days RV campground in Tucson. We really like Tucson and all of the interesting things that it has to offer. This year we found three brewpubs that offer tasty local brews and good food, every Monday evening we competed in trivia night at the Sky Bar, and we frequently enjoyed the natural beauty of Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, and the Sonoran Desert Museum.

In terms of live music, we saw Bob Weir (solo acoustic) twice, once with Jackie Greene and once with Jonathan Wilson. We went to Alice Coopers Christmas Pudding, which is an annual fundraiser that he hosts in Phoenix. There were all kinds of musical talent performing for this event and Johnny Depp played guitar in Alice's band. Other concerts attended in AZ this winter were Keller Williams (Club Congress), Leftover Salmon (Rialto), Mickey Hart (Rialto), and a really special performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Booker T. Jones at the Fox Theater. There was plenty of local live music too, including some good Dead cover bands and a Pink Floyd cover band (Atom Heart Mother) who did an excellent rendition of the complete "Dark Side of the Moon" on the 40th anniversary of its release.

We also loved it that so many of our friends came to visit us and escape the winter weather on the East Coast and keep us company in the Old Pueblo. Davis McPherson and I biked to the top of Mount Lemmon, which was a lot of fun and an accomplishment that I am proud of. But as winter winds down and there are some scattered reports of warming weather back in Maryland, it's time to back up and take the Pinnacle back home.

So on Thursday, April 4 we started the journey by intentionally heading the wrong way, i.e. West, to California to visit the Boy at school and see our friend Erin in LA. We stopped halfway and spent the night near Quartzite Arizona. Quartzite is sort of a Mecca for RV'ers, I'm not exactly sure why, there's not much there except open desert spaces and warm weather. We had a nice dinner at the Yacht Club, which is a running joke since there are obviously no yachts within hundreds of miles.


Upon reaching Southern California we set up in a lovely RV park on the shores of a reservoir in San Dimas. The park has great views in a very nice setting and it served as a perfect base camp for our weekend visit.

East Shore RV Park

After the weekend in LA we headed east and spent the night in Las Vegas in a RV resort on the southern end of the strip. It was a little different staying in Sin City in an RV, but we enjoyed it, I watched the Nats game in a bar while the Bird hit the casino floor.

Tuesday, we traveled to a campground on the eastern edge of Zion National Park where we spent three nights while we toured both Zion and Bryce Canyon during the days. These are two national treasures full of beautiful, breath taking vistas. We hiked in both parks and I took tons of pictures.

Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon

On Saturday we packed up and headed to the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We set up in a KOA campground near the park and spent Sunday touring the ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. Our guide was a park ranger named Sean Duffy, who educated and entertained us while showing the cities embedded in the cliffs some 1,000 years ago.

Monday ( tax day) we took a short ride to Durango, spent the day doing laundry and hitting the grocery store. This was the second consecutive RV campground with a big free run dog park so Cosmic Charlie is getting in his workouts. We finished the day with some excellent steaks at the Ore House in downtown Durango. Tomorrow we'll head east and hopefully get to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park. More updates to follow.

Here we are at four corners, I'm standing in Utah, the Bird is in Colorado with one foot in New Mexico and Charlie is in Arizona but for some reason refusing to face the camera.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Journey West Part 2

We decided that rather than fool around with Mother Nature we would head west to better weather and spend some time in One of our favorite places, New Orleans. So we drove from Panama City along the gulf coast to the Crescent City and set up at the Pontchartrain Landing RV park. This is a nice RV park that is within the New Orleans city limits and on a canal which accesses Lake Pontchartrain. We spent the weekend touring the city, trying different restaurants, and catching some live music. Our favorite restaurant was Coop's Place, which is in the French Quarter, towards Frenchmen street. Great food and a really friendly atmosphere.

Pontchartrain Landing RV Park

There's always live music going on in New Orleans and we happened upon a band playing in the street called the Drunken Catfish Ramblers. The Bird immediately recognized the guitarist as Scottie Swears (aka Stalebread Scottie) who had a recurring role on the HBO series Treme. The Ramblers were quite good and we listened to them while soaking in the sun on the sidewalk.

Stalebread Scottie and the Drunken Catfish Ramblers

While in New Orleans also we took a bus tour of the city, which was educational, and we went to the Po'Boy Festival over near Tulane. There was some great food and drink at the festival but it was too crowded for the narrow streets.

Next, we drove from New Orleans to the Stephen F. Austin State Park, which is just outside Katy, Texas where my cousin lives. Woottie and Janet came to visit and we went out to dinner. The next day Woottie and I played golf on the course which is right there in the state park.

Brazos River in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Golfers are part of the wildlife in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Our next stop was Austin, Texas where we settled in an RV park on Lake Travis, just outside of town. The Boy flew in from school and joined us for Thanksgiving. We had a traditional turkey dinner at the Cool River Cafe, a very nice restaurant in Austin, we went to see the Lincoln movie, and we visited the Cathedral of Junk. The Cathedral of Junk is an ongoing artistic creation that Vince Hannemann has created in his back yard. This multistory accumulation of discarded bicycles, tires, televisions, and everything else you could throw away is put together in a whimsical way that invites you to crawl through it and see what you can find. We enjoyed talking to Mr. Hannemann and he seems to enjoy his role as a local who is doing his part to "Keep Austin Weird".

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin

After the Boy went back to school we stayed for a couple of more days in Austin so the Bird could get some work done and I took a nice bike ride around Lake Travis. The lake water level is very low due to the ongoing drought in Texas, but there was still some nice scenery in the Texas hill country.
From Austin we headed out across west Texas, which is a long trip without much to see. We overnighted in San Angelo at the state park there, which is on the shores of the O. C. Fisher Reservoir. The reservoir levels were low due to the ongoing drought, and the next day there was a scheduled "wildlife management activity" which I learned meant they were going to let a bunch of hunters loose to cull the deer population. I decided to leave the bike packed up and keep on traveling.

Our site at the San Angelo State Park

The next day we made it to New Mexico and the Brantley Lake State Park, which is just outside of Carlsbad. This is a vast expanse of New Mexico desert with a man made lake which looks like it would be popular with the locals during the summer. Of course the lake water level was very low due to the ongoing drought (do you notice a theme here?) but the camping facilities had everything we needed and we met a very nice couple there, Bob and Fran from Illinois. They have been touring the country in their RV off and on for some time, but they had just gone "full time", which means they had rented their house and moved into the RV. Bob had a huge Meade telescope that he set up, and despite the fact that it was a full moon, we were still able to clearly see Jupiter and four of its moons, the Andromeda galaxy and the "dumbbell nebula".
We spent the better part of the next day touring Carlsbad Caverns, which is an amazing spectacle of natural beauty, unlike anything we have ever seen.We opted for the self-guided walk-in tour over the elevator ride-n-guide and were glad we did. The caverns are so big and it was so unusual to be exploring around that far underground on our own. In this 24 hour period we had seen natural wonders thousands of feet below the earth's surface and millions of light years away. Only in the Southwest!

It's hard to see, but the Pinnacle is set up under the 4th tree from the left on the horizon.

Brantley Lake in New Mexico

The switchback trail that leads you down into Carlsbad Caverns

The Bird next to a stalagmite and stalactite that in a few hundred more years will connect to form a column.

For our next stop we needed a reliable Internet connection so we stayed at the Sunny Acres RV park in Las Cruces, NM. The drive though Cloudcroft and Alamagordo in the Lincoln National Forest provided us with some fabulous views of the mountains.
From Las Cruces we headed to Arizona and stopped at the Lake Roper State Park near Safford. What a great find this was! The lake was at normal levels and full of all kinds of migratory shore birds that had stopped there on their way to Mexico. The mountain views were spectacular, and there was even a natural hot mineral springs spa that we were able to enjoy as the sun went down.

That's Roper Lake, with the Pinnacle on the left and the Pinaleno mountains in the distance.

From Safford we drove through the mountains around Globe and Superior AZ, that gave us some breathtaking scenic views. Then we descended out of the mountains to Phoenix, or more specifically Tempe, where we're going to stay for a few weeks.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Journey West

During the summer of 2012 I was so busy going to hear live music that I didn't have time to update this blog. I had declared this summer to be the "summer of the Allman Brothers", I read Greg Allman's autobiography, My Cross to Bear, I've been listening a lot to his "Low Country Blues" album from 2011, and we saw them in concert 3 times over the summer. We saw great shows by Furthur, Jackie Greene, Todd Snider, and John Hiatt. We saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time. And we made our regular round of Festivals (DelFest, All Good, Floydfest, Misty Mountain, and the Festy). And this year we added to the rotation the Peach Festival in Scranton PA, a great new event hosted by, of course, the Allman Brothers.

But now the leaves have fallen, the temperature is doing the same, so it's time to take the Jayco Pinnacle back out to the Southwest where it's warm and sunny. For the next few weeks I will try to document our travels, recording them for posterity in the digital web. The fantastic music of the summer will probably remain unblogged and only foggy memories.

Saturday we pulled away from home and drove south through Virginia to Greensboro, NC. Our friend Wayne was nice enough to host us for the evening, dinner and local brews at Harper's followed by a nice evening of Grateful Dead concert recordings played on Wayne's spectacular sound system. I was able to slip some live Allmans on the system at the end of the evening. We parked the Pinnacle on the street a few doors down from Wayne's house, an older neighborhood with large trees and narrow streets. As we were loading up to leave Sunday morning one of Greensboro's finest pulled up and said he had a report of a "suspicious vehicle" in the neighborhood. I gave him a tour of the Pinnacle and admitted that I put that envelope under that garbage and we had a fine time and he bid us farewell.

Sunday we went on to Camden, SC where we spent the night with my uncle and aunt, two of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He's got plenty of space around his home so we just pulled in the side yard. They served us some great food, we watched some football and we caught each other up on all of the family news.

Monday we headed down to Savannah, GA and found a nice spot in the Skidaway Island State Park. After setting up the Pinnacle, we headed into the historic district of Savannah. We checked out the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful French Gothic church that was built in 1873. Then we headed down to the river walk and had some tasty oysters and crawfish washed down with the local Bernie's English Ale. The next morning I rode the bike around some nice trails in the state park and then we headed south to Florida.

The Pinnacle at Skidaway State Park in Savannah, GA.

Skidaway State Park

We found a nice RV park on the beach in St. Augustine and paid the extra $10 for a beachfront spot. After doing some beach combing for shells, we toured around the colonial Spanish quarter in St. Augustine. We listened to a singer/songwriter accompanied by a fiddle player (didn't get their names) in a neat bar called the Milltop Tavern. It's an old outside bar on the second floor of a building that's half building half tree. We felt like we were in a treehouse. Then we headed over to the marina area for a seafood dinner. Again there was live music, this time from a fellow playing guitar along with accompaniment from pre-recorded bass and drum parts. He played familiar classic rock tunes, but it was fun.

Wednesday morning was cloudy and windy but we walked the beach anyway and then headed into town and toured the Dow Historic Houses, a group of houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, where we learned about the early residents of St. Augustine.

Thursday we hit the road again and made it to Panama City Beach, where we got a great spot for the RV in St. Andrews State Park. Our front door was no further than 20 feet from the water.

St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL

Crowded beach scene in Panama City Beach

The weather was still cloudy and cool, so we stayed in Thursday night. The Bird cooked a nice red snapper that she bought at the local fish market and we watched Crossfire Hurricane, the new Rolling Stones documentary on HBO. I thought this was a very well done film, with lots of material that was previously unreleased.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Nature's Child - Sunset Grille - June 16

Sunset Grille

Nature's Child

While vacationing on the Eastern Shore of Virginia last week, some friends suggested that we go check out the Sunset Grille for some live music. The Sunset Grille is a bar/restaurant near Kiptopeke, there is a covered deck right on the beach where bands play every weekend. Lots of folks were on the beach and boats were anchored in the bay just off the shore. The band that was playing the day we were there was Nature's Child, a reggae band based in Virginia Beach. I have to say that sitting in the sun by the water, listening to fine reggae music, and knocking back a few cold ones, it had a real Caribbean vibe that was quite relaxing. Nature's Child played a great mix of original tunes and covers (lots of Bob  Marley of course) and they were able to get us old folks off the chairs and out on the dance floor. You can check out some of their music by clicking here. I would recommend going to see them if you get the chance and I would definitely recommend spending a weekend afternoon at the Sunset Grille if you're on the Eastern Shore this summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DelFest 2012

It's been a while since I've been able to sit down and provide some bloggage on my live music experiences. In early April we traveled back to Maryland from Arizona, stopping along the way in Memphis to visit Graceland and the famed Sun Studios. This was quite a treat and I highly recommend touring both places if you're ever in Memphis. 

Once back on the East Coast, I started immediately sampling from the live music smorgasbord that is available here in the DC-MD-VA area. We saw the John Jorgenson Quintet on April 12 at the Weinberg Center in Frederick. I was not familiar with John Jorgenson, but he has been playing acoustic gypsy jazz with a wide variety of artists for many years. He has played with Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, and many others, including David Grisman. Next we caught two great sets by our friends the City Farm at the Tiffany Tavern, they're sounding good as ever and it's always a fun night. Check their upcoming shows here. Then the following week we saw the amazing and incomparable George Clinton with his wild ensemble, Parliament/Funkadelic. This show was at the Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, it was the first time that I had seen them close the upper levels of this venue and they packed the crowd on the first level for a cozy and crazy performance.  Next up was John Kadlecek taking a break from Furthur and performing with his own band at the State Theater in Falls Church. Todd Schaefer (singer and guitarist of Railroad Earth) performed a solo set to start the show. We've also become fans of the Alive @ Five series happening almost every Thursday evening, nice outside space with free music and great beer. 

Anyway, now the festival season is in full swing and leading off is the fifth annual Delfest. This festival, at the Allegheny Fairgrounds in Cumberland Maryland, is distinguished by its torrential thunderstorms and top quality bluegrass musicians. The line up for this year was incredible, so much good music packed into four days. On Thursday after establishing our base camp, we went over to the main stage to hear the Del McCoury Band soundcheck, which is basically an informal performance by the host band. Informal because they're in casual clothes (instead of their normal suits) and the crowd pretty much shouts out requests for them to play. Del and his sons are the hosts for the weekend, they often sit in with other musicians and you can run into them nearly anywhere throughout the weekend.

Pinnacle Base Camp at DelFest
Later on Thursday evening we saw Devil Makes Three, a band that I was unfamiliar with, but they were certainly quite good. I would say they are genre unspecific rocking trio. I was also impressed that their new album is called "Stomp and Smash and Slash and Crash and Bust and Burn" which is of course a line from "Trouble Comin' Every Day" by Frank Zappa. The headliner Thursday night was one of our favorites, Railroad Earth. They did a great show (as usual) this one a little more song focused and not as much "space jam" as the last few concerts that we've seen.  Great music on a beautiful spring evening, the festival was underway!

On Friday we started off with Split Lip Rayfield, another band that was new to me, but I grew to like them quickly. This trio (mandolin, banjo, and bass) plays high energy original bluegrass and they were just the ticket to get us up and movin'. One interesting aspect of this band is the bass is constructed from the gas tank of a car. Check the photo below of Jeff Eaton playing this auto-musical conglomeration. 

Gas Tank Bass from Split Lip Rayfield
We then caught a set by Della Mae, a bluegrass band with all female players. They were very entertaining, and they seem to be doing fine in the "man grass" genre as they called it. Next up for us was a band I was really looking forward to, Luther Dickinson and the Wandering. This is a new project for Luther, who was formerly guitar player for the Black Crowes (which I didn't know until someone told me at Delfest) and is one third of the the North Mississippi Allstars. The Wandering is a new project where he is playing with four female singer/musicians. They are Shannon McNally (guitar), Amy Lavere (upright bass), Valerie June (banjo) and Sharde Thomas (fife). This was the last weekend of their month long tour in support of their new album and for whatever reason Thomas was not there. Luther assembled this group together because they all had connections to music from Mississippi and this project is a tribute to that music. They did some great songs ("Mr. Spaceman", "Old Joe Clark", and Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do)").  Luther's guitar and mandolin playing was exceptional (as always). I especially like Amy Levere, who we saw back in December warming up for Donna the Buffalo. On Saturday they did another set on the smaller stage at DelFest, Valerie June had left for St. Louis ("to elope" according to Dickinson). They had David Mayfield sitting in on mandolin and guitar. Although they repeated several of the songs from the day before, the intimate setting and the reshuffled line up made it even better than the first time. 

Friday evening continued with the Del McCoury Band on the main stage, you can see this band anywhere anytime and it's going to be top notch, professional bluegrass, played the way that it's supposed to be played. Friday night they did not disappoint. I skipped the Yonder Mountain String Band set, because I knew that I would be going to the late show. The late show is in a relatively small room in a rec building, Friday night's line up was Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth. I had seen Greensky Bluegrass at Delfest before and I really like them, mixing traditional bluegrass with modern more progressive style. And always mixing in a few covers of rock classics. The late night set was full of energy and great tunes, but I was out of gas by the time Railroad Earth took over (2 am), so I stumbled back to the Pinnacle base camp to rest for the next day. 

Saturday kicked off for us with something like I had never seen before. The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys is fronted by three brothers, Tommy age 14 (guitar), Robbie age 13 (fiddle), and Johnny age 10 (banjo). These three kids can cook up some blazing bluegrass and it's amazing how comfortable they are on stage. I was thinking that their parents must have been playing bluegrass music for them since the cradle, but Tommy explained that their parents never listen to bluegrass music, instead they found a copy of  Earl Scrugg's  "Cripple Creek" and got into it on their own. You can watch their recent appearance on David Letterman here:

Next up was Greensky Bluegrass, following up their late night show with an early afternoon set on the main stage. Then it was one of the highlights for me for the weekend, Keller Williams performing with the Travelin' McCourys.  The Travelin' McCourys is the Del McCoury Band without Del, they often perform on their own and are a bit more experimental with the bluegrass form than the DMB.  Keller has collaborated with them on an album called "Pick" that will be released in July. I had high hopes for this performance and it exceeded my expectations. They did a great 10 minute version of the KW classic "Freeker by the Speaker" that started very slow and evolved into a great jam session.  I can't wait for "Pick" to be released, I'm going to definitely "pick" it up (har har).

Keller and the Travelin' McCourys. (Check out Del watching from behind the stage)
Keller did another solo set later in the afternoon with his trademark multi-instrument loop system. It was good, that type of performance was what first got me interested in his music many years ago, but I think he has evolved past that and now his collaborations with the McCourys, the Keels, and others is where his  strength is. 

Saturday night finished (for me) with a strong performance by jam band stalwarts Leftover Salmon. They were joined by Darroll Anger on fiddle and eventually Bill Nerschi (guitar) and Jayson Carter (fiddle) for a great rocking session to end a long day. Later lead singer Vince Herman was spotted next door to the Pinnacle base camp picking and drinking "ice water", but I was busy sleeping in anticipation of Day 4.

Sunday had the best line up on paper and DelFest made good on the promise with a full day of prime music. The Infamous Stringdusters kicked things off for us with a great set, followed by the Sam Bush Band. I was disappointed that Sam didn't ask the crowd "Who's been here for all four days of the festival?" like he has the last 17 times that I've seen him, but it appeared he was having a good time and the music was great. They finished with a song that I think was originally done by Journey and evolved into what could only be described as progressive rock. Definitely a detour from the bluegrass theme of the day but it was fun.  Bela Fleck and a "Bluegrass Allstar" lineup followed Sam, the players included Jayson Carter, Ronnie McCoury, and Rob McCoury. 

Sam Bush
At 10 pm (after a rain delay) Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers took to the stage. Their album "Rare Bird Alert" was one of my favorites of last year and I was really looking forward to seeing them perform. The sound was top quality and they played some great music. There was more comedy interjected into the show than I expected, but Steve is quite funny and kept it all very entertaining. By the end of the set they were joined by most of the McCoury's, Sam Bush, and Bela Fleck for an all star finale.  Delfest offered more music late into the night (including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) but I was satiated with four days of music and I retired to the Pinnacle on a very high note.

All in all it was another great Delfest, I saw some of my favorites, made some new favorites, and had a great time. Del Yeah!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Normal Bean Band/Top Dead Center/David Gans - Rialto Theater - Feb. 13

The Rialto Theater is an old movie house from the 1920's in downtown Tucson that has been converted into a performance space. Looking at the posters on the wall in the lobby, I learned that many of my favorite bands have performed there over the past few years. Last night's lineup was David Gans (journalist, host of Sirius/XM's "Tales from the Golden Road", and musician), Top Dead Center (a Tucson based Grateful Dead cover band), and the Normal Bean Band (a truly weird and fun band from California I guess).

Mr. Gans started things off with his solo performance, playing electric guitar (with loops) and singing. He did some original songs, some Dead tunes, and "Down to Eugene" a song I really like that I first heard John Kadlicek play last fall. As more folks arrived in the Theater Mr. Gans was joined by the Top Dead Center Band and they began a set of Dead songs. This band is quite good, they say that they're not a tribute band or a cover band they just try to recreate the feeling of a Dead show. They have two drummers, two guitar players, and bassist and keyboardist. On this particular night they were joined by a woman playing electric violin who was also quite good (I couldn't catch her name). Mr. Gans played with them for three or four songs and he came out for their finale ("We Bid You Goodnight").  Top Dead Center's set included "Alabama Getaway", "Bertha" and a very nice version of "Mississippi Half Step".

Then the Normal Bean Band took the stage, led by Mr. Normal Bean who sings and plays guitar. This band also has an electric violinist, along with bass, drums and a guy that plays the washtub. They also have a woman who sings some background vocals but mainly dances in front of the band. They started with  a rocking version of "All Along the Watchtower", with Mr. Bean playing some tasty guitar leads. Soon into their set they brought out most of the members of Top Dead Center to join them and they performed a wide range of songs including "Fire on the Mountain", "Run Through the Jungle", and "Another Brick in the Wall". Mr. Bean led the way with his guitar playing, but encouraged all of the other  7 or 8 musicians on the stage to take solos throughout the set.

Although the crowd was small the overall vibe was good feelings and great music, a nice way to spend Valentine's Day Eve with the one you love.