Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the Bus - December 12 - Rockville, MD

I haven't been able to get to see much live music in the last few weeks, so I was intrigued when an ad appeared on Facebook for a Grateful Dead night at the Potomac Grill. Then when the Bird suggested that we try a new sushi restaurant that was right across the street, fate seemed to be directing us to a Saturday night in Rockville. On the Bus is a Grateful Dead cover band that I know little about but it seems they've been playing in the area for 7+ years. Saturday night they did an admirable job of playing a variety of songs from the Dead catalog, including "China Cat Sunflower", "Eyes of the World", "Cassidy", and "Ramblin' Rose". A pleasant surprise was "Peggy-O", one that you don't hear very often. Their lead guitarist, Darrell Bailey, played some excellent solos and their instrumental improvisations were very nice. Another added bonus was the frequent additions of friends from the audience to sit in on a song or two and sing, play guitar or harmonica.

The Potomac Grill is in a small strip mall and seems to be your typical American cuisine restaurant/bar. The band was set up in the bar area and the remaining seats and tables were all taken by the time we arrived. We were able to get a table in the restaurant area, but our view was blocked by the room layout, and we were reminded of City Farm nights at the Tiffany Tavern. Friends of the band get there early and secure the seats with good sight lines and the late arrivals are relegated to the back room. From their website it appears that On the Bus plays regularly at the Potomac Grill, so next time we'll have to arrive early to get a good spot among the regulars.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - November 16 - Baltimore, MD

This show was billed as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals "co-headlining" with Brett Dennen. I was most impressed by Ms. Potter's performance at Floydfest this past summer and I saw her again in August at the Rt. 29 Revue. So I knew that I was guaranteed at least 50% of the show was going to be good. They snuck in another band to start things off, Pete Francis. He sucked. Just too much of a pop, soft rock, smooth sound for my taste. But Grace and her band came out next and they put on a fantastic show. She seemed truly happy to be in Baltimore, said she found some great tapas restaurants in the area and had so much fun hanging out in Charm City that they decided to stay over an extra day (they were performing the next night at the 9:30 in DC).

The Ram's Head Live was only about 2/3 full, which makes it a much more enjoyable space compared to when it's sold out and we were able to get right up front. They played several new songs which will be in their new album scheduled for release in the spring. One new one was "Oasis" which really rocked and I really liked "Medicine", with the refrain "I got the medicine that everybody wants". Indeed!

The current Nocturnals includes two great guitarists (Scott Tournet/Benny Yurco), their new bass player Catherine Popper (who is very easy on the eyes), and drummer Matt Burr. And of course there's Grace alternating between the Flying V guitar and the Hammond B-3 organ. I was standing close enough to the organ to see several labels on it that said "Customized for Grace Potter". Would be interested to learn more about that. A young guy next to me was looking quizzically at the Leslie cabinet with the spinning speaker, I told him it was a Leslie speaker and it was commonly used with the Hammond organ. He said "I have no idea what you're talking about". Darn kids with their iPods, where is their appreciation for musical heritage?

Anyway Grace puts so much energy in her singing and playing it is truly infectious and you really don't want her to stop. Couple that with her ability to write songs that are full of hooks and memorable lyrics and I imagine that she will be at the top of the charts and a household name in another year or two.

Based on what I've read, it seems like the project that she was working on with producer T-Bone Burnett has been cancelled and instead she's teamed up with another producer for the new album. I had high hopes for what T-Bone could do with her, but in the meantime she's still tearing up the concert circuit.

But don't take my word for it, take a look at this video from the show that my buddy Dan made or better yet, go see her the next time she's in town. I'll be there!

Oh, and Brett Dennen? We left after 1.5 songs, just a little too cutsie for my taste, but the 15 year old girls seemed to be enjoying him.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dark Star Orchestra - November 13 - Washington, DC

Just 48 hours after seeing a sort of lackluster performance of DSO I decided to give them another chance and tagged along with Davis to the 930 club to see them again. The club was completely sold out and I luckily found someone with an extra ticket. What a difference! They totally ROCKED the house with one of the best musical performances that I have ever seen from this band.
The setlist was from the June 27, 1976 Grateful Dead show and each song was performed better than the one before it. Special kudo's to the second set In the second set they played a spectacular version of "Wharf Rat", followed by "Samson & Delilah", and a "Help on the Way->Slipknot->Franklin's Tower" sequence that whipped the crowd into a real frenzy. All of the hippies, yuppies, and college kids were dancing and singing together as it should be. Then they finished with a very powerful "Sugar Magnolia". For the encore it was "US Blues" which was the end of the '76 show. But DSO showed their appreciation by playing a few more, "Midnight Hour", "Easy Wind", and "Brothers and Sisters".
We left hot, tired and fully satisfied from a night of great music, it's just amazing how different a band can be from one night to the next. I'm really looking forward to celebrating another New Year's Eve with this band, this time they have promised an acoustic set as well as special guests Jeff Mattson and Donna Jean Godchaux.

Dark Star Orchestra - November 11 - Hagerstown, MD

It was cold and raining when we headed west on I-70 to Hagerstown. But as we crossed over South Mountain the rain stopped and the sky lifted so when we pulled into downtown Hagerstown it turned out to be a lovely evening. Last time we saw Dark Star Orchestra it was at the AllGood Festival and we still had fresh memories of seven live Dead shows. So Dark Star seemed a little too much like "let's pretend this is a Dead show". But now it's five months later and we're ready for some live Dead music, even if it's not being played by the real guys.
For this show DSO was celebrating their 12th anniversary, certainly a longer run then they must have envisioned when they started. As with any DSO show you spend some time trying to guess the period, year, and date (if you're really good) of the Grateful Dead show that they are "recreating". On Wednesday night it was pretty tough as they played several older tunes that were not part of the regular repertoire and they finished with some songs from the 1980's. They also threw in a very nice version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". The guessing game ended at the conclusion of the show when they usually announce the date of the original show, this time they said "I guess if it's your birthday you can play whatever the fuck you want". Well of course, you should be able to play whatever the fuck you want on your 12th birthday.
But the music still seemed a little lackluster, not much energy, nothing really wrong, but just didn't get us moving.
The real star of the show was the Maryland Theater in downtown Hagerstown which is almost 100 years old and restored to beautiful condition. As their web site says, "The marvelous acoustics are only surpassed by the wonderful ambiance" and I could not agree more. The room was beautiful, the sound was perfect, there was a great bar in the lobby and the little old ladies taking tickets at the door were enjoying the music as much as the audience. It looked like there were several nice bars and restaurants in the same neighborhood, I will definitely have to get back up here soon to more concerts.
So we headed home not really musically satisfied and as we climbed South Mountain the rain started again and it was back to the real world.
As for Dark Star Orchestra, see my more recent post for the rest of the story....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

City Farm - October 24 - Tiffany Tavern

We popped in to catch a couple of sets of the City Farm Band at their "home court", the Tiffany Tavern in Old Towne Alexandria. The band was in great form, with each member making solid contributions. Paul's vocals and mandolin playing was spot on. Don was eliciting exciting solos from his new Stelling banjo (lovingly handmade in Charlottesville). Holly's singing was beautiful, while singing lead but especially on the harmonies. Ed periodically steps from the back to whip out a great song (either written himself or a Dylan tune). Fred, fresh back from the IBMA, seemed especially inspired. And finally, I was particularly impressed with Marcus' singing. It was the most animated and musical singing that I had heard from him. Of course there was a good turnout (which seems to always be true) and they were in fine "spirits", both literally and figuratively. City Farm plays regularly at the Tiffany Tavern (next show is December 11) and I certainly recommend that you check them out.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Allman Brothers Band - October 6 - Merriweather Post Pavilion

It's taking me some time to get this entry out, but that's not because this wasn't a great show. To the contrary I think that every time I see the Allman Brothers it's a better show than the previous. I believe that each of the band members are are in the peak of their musical form (despite the fact some of them are old enough to be collecting Social Security), so when they crack open the deep ABB song catalog you know you're in for a night of great music.

The Allman Brothers Band is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and the first song "Trouble No More" was accompanied by a nice photo montage, showing the band in their early days. Their story is really pretty interesting, a few years ago I read a biography of Duane Allman ("Sky Dog") that does a good job of telling that story. Pick it up here or I'll be happy to lend you my copy. Anyway, "Trouble No More" was followed by "Leave my Blues at Home", a nice blues number by Gregg, then they did a rousing version of "One Way Out" with an excellent guitar solo by Derek Trucks. During all of these songs Gregg was playing the Hammond B-3 and they had Danny Louis sitting in on piano.

Next up was "The Sky is Crying" a song that was made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughn, then a great version of the Allman's classic "Dreams". Next up was a song originally done by Dr. John, called "I Walk on Gilded Splinters". According to Wikipedia ("it's got to be true"), Johnny Jenkins recorded this song in 1970 with Duane, Jai Johanny Johanson, and Butch Trucks. Joining them for this song were John Bell and Sonny Ortiz of Widespread Panic.

Then they did "Woman Across the River", which was the only song they did from their last CD (Hittin' the Note). I love this CD, to the best of my knowledge it's the only one with Derek and Warren on guitars. Come on guys, what about a new one?

Next Susan Tedeschi (Derek Trucks' wife) joined the band and she sang the Dylan classic "Don't Think Twice". That went straight into "Southbound" the straight ahead rocker from the "Brothers and Sisters" album. Also sitting in at this point were Jimmy Herring on guitar and Todd Nance on drums (both from Widespread Panic) and Ron Hollaway on sax. The highlight for me was a stinging guitar solo by Susan that seemed to say to the other guitar masters on the stage, "this lead guitar club is not just for boys".

The fun was just beginning as next Gregg took an acoustic guitar and sang "Melissa". Then another great tune "Stand Back" again featuring Holloway on sax. Butch Trucks moved over to the kettle drums and they began the familiar strains to "Mountain Jam". And jam they did! Somewhere along the way Derek broke a string and completely retuned his remaining strings to compensate, it was very spacey and improvised. But then they morphed into a screaming version of the Led Zeppelin classic "Dazed and Confused" with Warren handling the vocals, then back to "Mountain Jam" and then they left the stage with the audience whipped into a wild frenzy.

But the crowd wanted more, I was screaming "Whipping Post" and sure enough they came back on ripped into the classic to finish the show.

A couple of postscripts. Widespread Panic opened the show, those that were with me thought they were really good but they didn't do it for me. Too loud and the songs sounded too ponderous to me. Actually they did a couple of nice songs when Warren Haynes joined them on stage. Second note, I'm continued to be impressed with the job that Seth Hurwitz has done with revitalizing and improving the Merriweather Post Pavilion. The service is excellent, plenty of food and drink (although rather pricey), they've added some high def video screens that enhance the experience, and this is a super place to see shows. Hopefully next year they'll book more exciting acts.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Crozet Music Festival - Oct.2 - 4 - Crozet, Va.

I went to the first Crozet Music Festival two years ago, it was a one day event that was fun, but it had some start up problems and I wasn't sure it would carry on. But after attending Crozet Music Festival 3 this year, I'm convinced that this will be a must see event for years to come. The festival is now a three day event and the venue has moved to a beautiful setting called the Misty Mountain Campground. The organizers did an excellent job of filling three days and two stages with a line up of musical performers with a wide variety of styles, mostly artists from the talent rich Charlottesville area. This is a non-profit event with all proceeds going to the Western Albemarle Life Saving Crew.

I arrived early Friday evening and set up my pop-up camper in a nice camping spot that I had reserved earlier in the week. Through the woods I could hear the Kings of Belmont playing some spirited rock and roll. After the camp was set up I strolled down to the open field where the music and vendors were, just in time to catch the performance by William Walter & Co. We last saw them at Floydfest (check my entry from late July). These guys play an original mix of infectious tunes, led by their energetic frontman. He reminds me of Keller Williams in some ways, mainly his enthusiasm and liveliness. And it turns out he lives just a few miles from the festival site. Afterwards I was able to meet Mr. Walter and have a beer with him, he seemed pleased with the way the festival was going. I dropped in on an after show party in the campground rec center, where another band was playing for festival volunteers, then it was back to my campsite where my neighbors were celebrating a reunion of the 1979 Western Albemarle High School class. My friend and cousin John (also a promoter of the festival) of course had many mutual friends with them so we sat down and had several late night drinks and listened to their view of the world.

The next morning after a breakfast sandwich I checked out the merchandise tent that was being sponsored by a local record shop to benefit The Music Resource Center, a facility that helps teens learn and practice their musical skills. The merchandise tent was chock full of t-shirts, hoodies, CD's, DVD's, and other musical memorabilia with yard sale bargain prices. There was a ton of Rolling Stones stuff and folks were buying it up quickly. This had an odd side effect as I noticed later in the day there were many folks walking around wearing Rolling Stones clothing.

Saturday's music started off with a band of "youngsters" named Chick Tragic and the Roosters. Singer/songwriters Carleigh Nesbit and Carl Anderson are backed by a very talented group of musicians. They sounded great, but a little something was missing, and I'm thinking it's experience. The songs weren't sung with much conviction and there was some rather embarrassing between song chatter. But they are very good musicians and I'd love to see them again.

Next band was the Hogwaller Ramblers, a Charlottesville band since 1991. They're named after an area in Charlottesville where the stockyards used to be. In contrast to the previous band the Ramblers have a ton of experience and they were one of my favorite bands of the festival. They played songs with plenty of swing and rhythm and their leader, Jamie Dyer, got the afternoon crowd up and dancing.

The Hogwaller Ramblers were followed by Alex Mejuas who was a little to "pop" for me. Then it was the Atkinsons from Richmond, Va. My notes on this one say they were "sort of a Railroad Earth wannabe". I'm sure that I meant that in a nice way. I liked this band's spirit and when they had three electric guitars going it kind of had a Lynyrd Skynyrd feel to it.

The next band I saw was called Six Chasing Seven, they are a reggae band from Lynchburg. The reggae music was a refreshing change and they did a really nice version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition". Their web site says they have released an album that was produced by Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band. They were followed by a "tweener" act to play while the stage was being prepared for the next band. Adrienne Young is a musician from Charlottesville who we had seen before at FloydFest. She had brought her Backyard Revolution to the Crozet Music Festival which is a project to preserve and celebrate some of the region's cultural heritage (both agri- and other). For example they were cooking up some delicious brunswick stew over a campfire and showing how to make your own bow and arrow to hunt down the ingredients for your stew. She's a very good singer/songwriter and her web site says she was just named the "Virginia Garlic Queen" for 2009! Congrats to her!

For Saturday evening, my notes and memory get a little hazy. There was "Tim be Told" who I recall were quite good, followed by the Downbeat Project and then the Saturday headliners "Trees on Fire". Trees on Fire is an ecologically minded rock band from Charlottesville and the crowd was very supportive. There were songs they did that I didn't like (being too "pop" then there were other songs that really rocked out). I'm pretty sure they did a nice version of the Stones' "Miss You", but my reviewing of the local microbrews at this point was influencing my ability to review the local music.

I finished off the evening at the volunteers' after party, which featured a Pink Floyd cover band. They played the entire "Dark Side of the Moon" album and a very good version of "Comfortably Numb". What a great way to end a full day of music in the sun!

Sunday we got to get up and do it all over again, the first performer was Katherine Caine and she had a fine band playing behind her. She did a very nice "Angel from Montgomery" and her sweet vocals mixed with the fine mandolin playing (Andy Thacker) was the perfect soundtrack for this sunny October Sunday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Midway through her set she pointed out a bald eagle flying directly over the festival. Now how cool is that? The "Blues Farm" played some great rocking road house style tunes with very nice harp work. By the time they were done, I was too, even though there were plenty of more bands to play on into Sunday evening. I particularly wanted to see Alligator, a Grateful Dead cover band, with some of the local musicians I listened to as a college student in Virginia. Oh well, that will have to wait until next year.

In summary the Crozet Music Festival is now a fantastic event that has all of the necessary ingredients for a great festival experience: deep and varied musical lineup, beautiful setting with onsite camping, tasty food and beverage vendors (I forgot to mention the superb quesadillas from La Cocina del Sol), and no hassle promoters who deliver on the promise. I'll definitely be back next year, I should really take Friday and Monday off for the full experience. The only thing that could mess up this festival is its own success. If too many people come then it may become too crowded or have to move to a bigger venue. We wouldn't want that to happen, in fact maybe this positive blog entry will inspire my legion of followers to overrun this peaceful and serene event. I better not publish this as it's written... where is the delete key?... Is this it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dave Matthews Band - September 13 - Irvine, CA

The Boy and I were in Southern California checking out a college and we noticed that the Dave Matthews Band was in town. Since they are his current favorite band and I'm always up for a rocking show we decided to check it out. The venue is the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, California. Formerly known as "Irvine Meadows", this place is rather large outdoor venue (16,000+) with mostly reserved seating and a small lawn section. Nissan can hold more, but I think that is because Nissan has a much bigger lawn area. The Verizon Amphitheatre is on a steep mountainside and unlike other "sheds" it has no roof for the patrons. Everyone sits outside and the roof only covers the stage. You gotta love that California weather!

Switchfoot was the opening band, their performance was rather forgettable except when the lead singer ventured out into the audience while singing. He went way up behind the sound board singing all the while and shaking hands in the audience. Reminded me of the William Walter performance at the Hill Holler stage at FloydFest. But William was handing out CD's while he was roaming through the crowd.

The DMB put on a fine show, they have a stage with big video screens that allows everyone to see what's going on. They played a good number of tunes from their new album ("Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King"). This is a fine album and it was nice to hear the songs live. The DMB can definitely stretch out into some great instrumental jam sessions. I had seen them a couple of times before, but this was the first time I'd seen them with Tim Reynolds on electric guitar and Jeff Coffin (of the Flecktones) replacing the late LeRoi Moore (the "GrooGrux King"). They've also added a trumpet player (Rashawn Ross) in the last few years, he helps out with the background vocals. They rocked the house with a cover of "Burning Down the House" (Talking Heads). Dave seemed in good spirits, joking with the crowd between songs and pleased with the number of women's "drawers" that were being thrown on stage.

We had a lot of fun at this show and it was a nice way to end our sojourn out west.

Monday, September 7, 2009

It Might Get Loud - Documentary Film - September 6

OK, this was not actually a live music event, but I thought that it was worthy of an entry here. "It Might Get Loud" is a new documentary film that pays tribute to the guitar as a rock and roll instrument by focusing on three guitarists representing three different eras in rock history. You can get up close and personal with Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Each spends time alone on the screen playing and taking you back to where they grew up and first began to play guitar. And all three sit down together with their guitars on a soundstage and no script and just trade stories and play together.

I think this film was put together very well, click here to see a nice trailer of the movie(click on "Trailer").

After spending 90 minutes with these three guys, I think the Edge relies a little too much on the effects and electronics, I do have much more respect for Jack White as a guitar player, and Jimmy Page is still the old master who can blow away any and all comers!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Traffic Jam - Baltimore, MD - September 5

The "Traffic Jam" was advertised as a 3 day festival at the Sonar club in downtown Baltimore. Musical acts included Leftover Salmon, the Lee Boys, Medeski Martin & Wood, Sam Bush, and the Travelin' McCourys. Some streets were to be blocked off and there would be multiple stages including an outdoor stage. Sounded intriguing so the Bird and I headed up there Saturday to check it out. We were surprised that we were able to park in a public lot right in front of the club, the street was indeed blocked off and a small festival ground was created. There were a handful of vendors with your typical festival fare but there was no outdoor stage. Apparently there had been a snag with the City at the last minute, so the Sonar club used their three indoor stages. This was our first visit to the Sonar club, which appears to be the first level of a three level parking garage converted into a night club. There are 3 rooms, sort of reminiscent of Goldilocks, each room is a larger version of the previous one. When we arrived there was a band (never caught the name) playing in the middle sized room with about 4 people watching. They had a talented left handed lead guitar player, but the sound was so loud (and very poorly mixed) that we retreated back outside. Then we found the smallest room which had a teenage trio playing some progressive '70's style instrumental rock. They were actually very entertaining (couldn't figure out their name either), the crowd size doubled when we entered that room. After listening to them for a while we went to the Main Room, which was a large open space with 3 bars, a concrete floor, and some risers on one side that you could sit on. Playing in this space was Papa Mali, a blues guitar player from New Orleans. They played some fun music for the 30 or so fans hanging in the big room.

So the pieces were in place for a downtown music "festival" but it appeared that the crowd didn't show. The Bird and I decided to take a break and we jumped in the car, headed to Fells Point and had a nice early al fresco dinner. Then back to the Sonar in time to catch the Lee Boys and Leftover Salmon. We had seen the Lee Boys earlier in the summer at the Floydfest, these guys play a style of rocking gospel that is known as "Sacred Steel", probably Robert Randolph is it's most famous practitioner. A few more people had shown up and the Lee Boys were really rocking. They were joined onstage by a local blues guitarist name Bobby Lee Rodgers and then later by a guitarist called "Mike" (apparently they forgot his last name). This turned into a really good show as the guest guitarists traded licks with the steel guitar player known as "the Dr."

Leftover Salmon brought the energy level up even further as Vince Hermann, Drew Emmitt and the rest of the boys ripped into their unique brand of "polyethnic cajun slamgrass". The crowd had picked up a little by then, the sound was good, and so was the music. We rocked through this set and even though there were more bands scheduled to follow was time for us to make the drive home.

In summary I would say this was a good idea for a festival, but several things went wrong. An outdoor stage would have made it a lot more fun, there wasn't much food to be had, and there weren't enough people there. I don't know if it was poor promotion or just the fact that no one wants to hang out in a dark club on the last weekend of summer. It would be interesting to see what Saturday and Sunday were like. I'll keep the Sonar on my list of venues to watch and hope for better things to come.

Monday, August 24, 2009

City Farm Band - August 22 - Danville, VA

Last Saturday we went down to Danville to see the City Farm band play a benefit concert for the Free Clinic. The Free Clinic is a community-based organization that provides quality health care at little or no charge to low-income, uninsured Virginians. Of course the City Farm band is a group of Danville natives, now living in the Washington, DC area, who get together regularly to play progressive bluegrass and acoustic music and they are always a lot of fun to watch. There was extensive press leading up to this event (click here to see the Danville Register & Bee coverage) so I knew that there was going to be a big turnout for this show. But the City of Danville was ready, police and portable signs were stationed at the major highways coming into town, funneling the traffic to the concert venue in the downtown area. I motioned with my beer bottle to the officer directing traffic that I was headed to the hotel district and not downtown, he quickly waved me through.

We first checked into our room at the hotel, which was the same one where the band was staying. The lobby was packed full of groupies, hangers-on, and press people, but we were able to get checked in relatively quickly. I tried getting a room near the band members' suites, but the floor where the band was staying was completely sealed off with extra tight security.
Fortunately I had planned ahead of time and pre-ordered the mini-bar to be stocked with cold beer. You would have thought the President was staying there, but the fleet of six tour buses in the parking lot indicated we were in the right place. I'm not sure why the band members can't travel together on one bus, instead each one has their own bus customized to their individual preferences. Here's a picture from the hotel parking lot:

City Farm Musicians Tour Buses

Knowing that it was going to be a big crowd at the show, we hurried on downtown to the Community Market. The cars were lined up for several miles and we even saw some people abandoning their cars and walking the last mile or two. Once we got to the parking lot it was a big tailgating party, obviously many people had arrived early in the morning and were spending the day cooking out, drinking, and visiting with friends. There were many vendors selling City Farm t-shirts, stickers, and bootleg recordings. Of course there were folks wandering around with a finger held high in the air, hoping for a "miracle" - someone with an extra ticket to this long sold out event. (In fact the Ticketmaster servers crashed twice when tickets went first on sale, something that had never happened before, even for Bruce Springsteen.) After having a few beers in the parking lot we went on into the venue to catch the show.

Community Market Parking Lot before the Show

This was a large hall for City Farm and the sellout crowd packed it to the rafters. One of the best things about this large audience was that included every single person who attended George Washington High School between 1938 and 1978. It was great fun to see so many old high school friends that we haven't seen in so many years. Even my parents' generation was well represented with several of the band members' parents watching with pride. "I never knew Paul could sing!", his father said to me. Fred's (nee "Marty") mother said, "I always wondered what Marty was doing in the basement by himself all the time. He was practicing the resophonic guitar!"

City Farm takes the stage

I hit the bar for a couple of beers and moved to the VIP suite (one of the benefits of being related to the guitar player) and settled in for what turned out to be an epic performance. As soon as the band took the stage they tore into a raucous set of their most popular songs. The sound (mixed by the notorious "DJ Wayne") was impeccable and the light show was unlike anything I had seen before. The VIP suite was rocking, the champagne was flowing (a case had been provided by the Danville City Council, most council members were in attendance) and we all danced with youthful abandon.

VIP Suite at the Show

The band played late into the night, during the intermission there was a montage on the big video screen over the stage with a beautiful tribute to Les Paul, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett. I was most impressed when Don Parrish played a lovely banjo solo suspended high over the audience in a cherry picker. After 3 encores the house lights went up and the show was over. The band quickly slipped into 3 long limousines and was led away by a police escort. I had so much beer and champagne that I was reminiscing with high school friends that I had never met before.

But the festivities continued as we all moved to a local watering hole named "Sal's", but in true Danville fashion, no one calls it that, instead they call it the Wurst place. Lex Bendall (who is an old friend of mine) was holding court there and we solved most of the world's problems over a few beers. Too bad we didn't write any of it down.

Seriously though, it was the most fun I've had in that town in a long time, and it was great for everyone to come out to raise money for such a fine cause. Maybe the day will come when the government feels like giving a bunch of Wall Street fat cats a few hundred million dollars, they'll need to have some bake sales and benefit concerts. And when someone is down on their luck and needs to see a doctor the health care system will have the resources to take care of it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rt. 29 Revue - August 16 - Columbia, MD

So I created my own little mini-festival this weekend by going to see the Hot August Blues Festival in Cockeysville, MD on Saturday (see my comments on that in the entry below) and going to the Rt. 29 Revue at the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday. Three bands on Saturday and six bands on Sunday, not bad! The Rt. 29 Revue was organized by the Old Crow Medicine Show and had a superb lineup and a very affordable ticket price.

On my arrival Justin Jones was playing, he's a DC based singer songwriter, a nice sound but honestly I was hitting the bar and checking out the crowd so I didn't give him a fair listen.

He was followed by the Felice Brothers, a band I had heard good things about so I found my seat in the pavilion and got focused. This guys are nuts. They came out with a ton of energy and played their own brand of rocking Americana music. The drummer sets up similar to Levon Helm (more about him below), the fiddle player did the first song on his knees for some reason, the keyboards were also set at a low level (not volume, but height from the floor) and they all played like their lives depended on it. They were joined on stage by a couple of guys from Old Crow and this was all in all a very enjoyable set. I particularly enjoyed "Whiskey in my Whiskey" which is about a guy who shoots his girlfriend. "I put some whiskey in my whiskey, I put some heartbreak in my heart, I put my boots on that ole dance floor, I put three rounds in my 44". Depressing when you read it, but fun to listen to...

Next up was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, we had seen her last month at the FloydFest and it was great to see her again. Her musical style was different than the other bands at the Rt. 29 Revue, but honestly I can't get enough of her performances. Each band was scheduled to play about 45 minutes and she ran a little long but the crowd was definitely into it. One of my favorite songs of hers is "Joey", which is also sort of depressing since it's about a woman in an abusive relationship (Joey also has a "44"). But the tune is great and it appears that the law has caught up with this bad guy. Anyway, she finished with "White Rabbit" the Jefferson Airplane classic, just like she did at Floyd and left the crowd begging for more.

The next band was "Iron & Wine" which is actually one guy who sings and plays acoustic guitar. I needed a musical break so we went back to the shade trees and listened from afar. Actually the sound was pretty good, but he's a little too mellow for me.

Levon Helm was next on stage with his big band and the tempo was back up to full throttle. Levon (a survivor of throat cancer) was under doctor's orders to not sing, so guitarist/producer Larry Campbell handled most of the vocal chores. They had a horn section and played a lot of great songs from the Band of course. But they also played some good Dead tunes, "Tennessee Jed" is on Levon's latest album, they did a nearly a capella version of "Attics of my Life", and a nice version of "Deep Elem Blues" (which is not an original Dead tune, but they certainly played it a lot). Even without Levon singing, they were very entertaining, joined onstage by some of the Felice Brothers for some raucous times and all in all a great set.

Finally the Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage, we had seen them earlier this year at the DelFest where they revived the crowd after the horrific storm. These guys put a modern spin on old time music, they have the bluegrass instrumentation (plus a guitar/banjo hybrid called a "guitjo") and, like the Felice Brothers, they bring a lot of energy and great songs to the stage. I'm particularly fond of "Wagon Wheel" which was co-written by Ketch Secor (of Old Crow) and Bob Dylan. But the twist is that Bob sang the chorus to himself in a tape recorder in the early 1960's and never did anything with it, some 30 years later Ketch heard the tape and filled in the rest himself. Subsequent to that, he and Dylan reached an agreement on the songwriting credits and now it's Old Crow's signature song and covered by several other bands. You can click here to see their "Wagon Wheel" video on youtube.

I have to admit that after two days of music, summer sun (and a few drinks) I had enough and I checked out before the Old Crow boys finished. But it was a super weekend (thanks to Dan and Jack for hanging with me) and I'll see Old Crow again soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hot August Blues - August 15 - Cockeysville, MD

This one day festival has been happening for many years now, we went about 10 years ago and had a great time so I thought I would cruise up to Cockeysville and check out the 2009 edition. It was well under way by the time I arrived, but I got to see three fine bands. The first was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit . Jason used to write songs and play with the Drive-By Truckers, he left that band in 2007. The 400 Unit played mostly original songs that at times sounded like Mountain, the Heartbreakers, or classic southern rock. But I was most impressed by their cover of "Into the Mystic" a simply great Van Morrison song. I liked these guys and they brought a lot of energy to the stage.

They were followed by Joe Bonamossa, an American born blues guitar player who was mentored as a kid by the legendary Danny Gatton. He wails on the guitar and did an excellent set, including "Had to Cry Today" and "Further on Up the Road". I liked the way he would walk off the stage and down the grass embankment and play guitar right in front of the crowd. And it was a big crowd there to see him, lots of folks wearing Joe Bonamossa t-shirts. He also did a couple of nice acoustic pieces.

Finally, headlining the festival was the Derek Trucks Band and they rocked us into the evening. For those of you that don't know, Derek Trucks is the nephew of one of the original Allman Brothers drummers (Butch Trucks) and he is now the slide guitar player in that venerable band. Derek is only 30 years old, but just like Joe Bonamossa he started impressing folks with his talent at a very early age. He was sitting in with Buddy Guy at age 12, started this band at age 15, and by age 20 he was officially enlisted in the Allman Brothers. He's also married to Susan Tedeschi who is a talented guitar player herself.

Saturday's night performance was a good mix of blues, jazzy numbers and extended jams. Derek's slide work is exceptional and at times certainly reminiscent of Duane Allman. Like Carlos Santana, Derek doesn't sing, instead he has a vocalist (Mike Mattison) who handles that job. Joe Bonamossa came out and jammed with them on one song and that was fun. But as we were listening I commented to a friend, the problem with a Derek Trucks show is that he doesn't have a deep catalog of songs from which to choose. We'll see Derek again in October with the Allman Brothers Band, and they have a very deep catalog, which I suspect will make it more entertaining. But I'm not complaining, I like listening to DTB and it was an enjoyable show.

A couple of notes on the Festival, this was their first ever sell out, and I believe that was because the parking lot couldn't accommodate any more cars. The lines for food and drink were way too long and as was the line of cars leaving the parking lot after the show. But I think that this is a great festival and the promoter will address these issues. (In fact a few days after the show I received an email from them asking for my feedback). Looking forward to next year's Hot August Blues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

FloydFest 8 - Floyd, VA - July 23 - 26

FloydFest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

FloydFest is certainly the best music festival in the country, you don't have to take my word for it, just ask anyone who has been there. The setting, the great group of volunteers, superb musical lineup, everything comes together for a sublime experience that is the epitome of "Festival". It's impossible to see all of the musical performances that are packed into the 4 days, but this year I did a pretty good job of seeing the ones that I considered "must see".

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals headlined Friday night on the main stage and put on a great show. She is young singer/songwriter with a rocking band and I believe that their album to be released this fall (produced by T-Bone Burnett) could very well make her a household name. You read it here! She has taken influences from Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin and come up with a new original sound.

Two bands that I've written about in this space before, Donna the Buffalo and Railroad Earth are regular performers at the FloydFest and they both turned in great performances. Donna the Buffalo was late Saturday afternoon and I was fortunate enough to use a friend's VIP pass so I could watch the show from on the stage. Up close and personal, this turned out to be a double bonus as a summer storm came through during the show and we stayed dry throughout. I can't say the same for the band though, because of the high roof they took a good soaking. Tara had to give up on the fiddle ("no traction between bow and string, just too wet") but the rest of the band soldiered on through the rain, with a long jam on "Mystic Water". As their amplifiers and keyboards became too wet to function, in typical FloydFest fashion other bands volunteered up their equipment, the roadies swapped it in and the show went on. As the sky cleared, they started up "Blue Sky", a rainbow formed over the stage and the crowd threw off their ponchos and kept on dancing.

Rainbow over the Dreaming Creek Stage

Railroad Earth closed out the festival Sunday afternoon with a great performance. It's hard to believe that after 4 days of fun and music we were able to muster up the energy for more dancing, but RRE's lively performance had us jumping. They were joined by Peter Rowan for beautiful version of "The Cuckoo". Even though they finished at the appointed 6 pm, the crowd and the promoter (Kris Hodges) brought them back out for an extended encore, with "Gone to the Fields" and "Hard Livin'". Great extended back and forth solos between Tim Carbone (fiddle) and John Skehan (mandolin). This was also the first time that I had seen Tim play electric guitar.

In addition to the music, FloydFest makes a great effort to raise everyone's consciousness on the environment and what we all can do to make our world a better place for our children and grandchildren. There was a panel discussion Saturday afternoon with Jeb Puryear (of Donna the Buffalo), several members of Blues Traveler, and several other performers (I missed the introductions so I couldn't get their names). While the discussion was a little "pie in the sky" for me and not too grounded, at least they're making the effort to talk about it. Someone made the point about how Europeans rarely use ice in their drinks but in America we fill our cups and coolers with ice all the time (which does cost a great deal of energy to create). After the Donna show, my cousin/good friend John and I ran into Jeb and admitted that we had been filling our cups with ice that day. He laughed and said there are a lot of great solutions for saving energy and it doesn't mean we have to punish our selves to make the world cleaner. On Sunday before the RRE show, Tim Carbone also made an impassioned plea for everyone to do their part change the course we're on, or else we're going to leave a real mess for future generations. But this blog is about music so I'll end the discussion here. If you want to learn more check out Rock the Earth.

Jeb Puryear (of Donna the Buffalo) tells John it's OK to put ice in Bubba

One of my favorite things about FloydFest is I always see some great bands that I've never even heard of. This year it was The Sadies a band from Toronto that has two brothers on guitars, they must be 6'5" tall and they wail on country, rockabilly, surf style tunes. We were thoroughly enjoying their set and then they said when they were invited to FloydFest they thought it had something to do with Pink Floyd. So they had worked up a Pink Floyd song for the show and they played a killer rendition of "Astronomy Domine" from Floyd's first album. That just blew me away!

Another band that I had never seen, but came highly recommended from a friend, is the Mantras from Greensboro, NC. They play some great original jam/funk tunes and they put on a good show (despite the fact the PA system blew up during the first song).

Peter Rowan and his bluegrass band turned in a classy and classic set of pure bluegrass music. He played for years with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and there are not many people still walking the earth who can say that. We tried watching him earlier in the year at DelFest with his Mexican Airforce band, but I just could not get into that. But when he sings a bluegrass song, it feels to me that I'm as close to the source as I can get.

There are many other bands that we saw and enjoyed, I'll briefly mention Stop, Drop, and Roll, a great jam band. William Walter and Co., he was voted the favorite new artist at FloydFest 2008 which means he got to play 3 different sets this year. He reminds me somewhat of Keller Williams, he's a high energy entertainer whether it's solo acoustic or with his electric band. While his guitarist was playing a solo during one set, William jumped into the audience with a bag of his CD's and starting running around handing them out to everyone. Now that's promotion! The Duhks put on a fun show, and so did Toubab Krewe (who turned out to be more of a jam band than I imagined, I would definitely like to see them again). And on Sunday The Lee Boys played their famous "Sacred Steel" music while we cleaned up our on site base camp and said goodbye to our friends.

You may have noticed that I didn't say anything about the Saturday night headliner, Blues Traveler, this is because I was rather disappointed with this performance. The sound mix didn't seem right to me, we had seats with obstructed view, and maybe at the end of Saturday I was suffering some music fatique. Anyway, we'll give them another chance.

There were some bands that I didn't see that other folks said were quite good, particularly The Yard Dogs Road Show and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. Oh well, maybe next year.

One final comment, the FloydFest scene and "vibe" is so nice that I think the musicians pick up on it and raise the level of their performance for this venue. My kudo's to the promoters Kris Hodges and Erika Johnson for another spectacular event. Revival!

Most of our gang at FloydFest (my family was still sleeping!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Good Music Festival - Marvin's Mountaintop WV - July 8 - 11

The Bird and I have been going to the All Good Festival for many years now, going all the way back to the Wilmer's Park days. Tim Walther and his team have always done a first class job of taking care of the patrons, making sure that there is always great music, and putting together a great festival. This year was no exception, in fact some are saying this was the best All Good ever. There's no doubt that this was the best weather ever and the music was top notch, too.

We headed out to West Virginia on Thursday afternoon and saw Maryland State Police and county troopers pulling over loads of kids and searching their cars all along the way. Crossing into West Virginia only changed the color of the uniforms as Morgantown cops were dragging more festival goers out of their cars and arresting them. Even as we turned into the last road into the festival there was a set of troopers selectively pulling people over and performing what have to be illegal searches and seizures. I was pulled over and ticketed for "speeding" in Masontown, although my friends who were following me said I was going nowhere near the speed the officer claimed. What a waste of misdirected energy to harass these fun loving and peaceful music lovers (who spend a pretty fair sum of tourist dollars in the area). OK, enough of that soapbox on to the music.

After setting up a deluxe camping compound, we headed over to the secondary stage area for some tunes. Boombox was playing, which is a DJ and a guitarist/singer. They were entertaining and had the crowd dancing, they even did their own style of "Shakedown St." and a Beatles tune. Then came the guy that we wanted to see, Keller Williams. We've seen Keller plenty of times, in fact the first time I ever saw him was many years ago at a music festival at the Sunshine Daydream farm not far from Marvin's Mountaintop. When Keller was introduced, it was pointed out from the stage that he has performed at All Good festivals more than any other artist. He put on a fine show, did a version of "Barracuda" by Heart, only he whistled the "vocal" part. I've seen Keller play bluegrass, play with a band, and do acoustic solo. This night he was solo, but in full "DJ" mode, which suited the crowd and the vibe fine. Everyone was in the mood for dancing and kicking off the festival with something with a beat. It got late, so we headed back to the camp to rest up for the next day.

Friday we started off watching Hill Country Revue, who were really rocking hard with some great southern country blues. This band has Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew (of the North Mississippi All Stars) and they playing some great original material. On this day they also had Jackie Greene sitting in the keyboards. Jackie Greene was one of the "must see" artists for me a this festival and he took the stage with his band right after Hill Country Revue. My expectations were exceeded as he did a great show. This is a guy to keep your eye on, I expect that he will become very popular over the next few years. The Mayor of Masontown, a sweet little old lady, came out after that to welcome everyone and tell them how glad she was that we were all having a good time in West Virginia. She even went on to say how if anyone got a ticket, just "stop by the library" and she would make it "go away"! I don't have time to drive back up there, but the offer was nice. So we took a little break, then came back for Robert Randolph and his Family Band. These guys really rock, Randolph is master of the pedal steel guitar and can elicit "Hendrixian" licks out of that thing. He played a couple of Michael Jackson songs and gave him a bit of a tribute, which made me wonder why more artists this weekend weren't playing some MJ music. Next up was Todd Snider, another pleasant surprise for me. I've heard him on XM ("Outlaw Country") but never seen him live. Just Todd and the acoustic guitar and some great, often funny, always entertaining songs. From his latest album he did "America's Greatest Pastime" which is about the no hitter that Dock Ellis pitched in1970 while tripping on LSD. An American folk classic. Todd was followed by Les Claypool, the eccentric and talented bass player from Primus. I respect him as a musician, but this show got a little boring for me. I think Les would be better in a band where he's not the leader. After Les Claypool was the The New Mastersounds, an English soul/groove band. This was filler and not very memorable. Finally, Bob Weir and Ratdog took the stage and the musical bar was definitely raised. I really enjoyed this show from a great jazzy "Truckin'" to open the show, through a neat "Maggie's Farm", "Loose Lucy", and "Eyes of the World". Then they finished strong with a great "Morning Dew", "China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider". Les Claypool sat in for a song and Al Schnier (of moe.) sat in for the last three. Whew! what a great day of music! Even though moe. was starting up at 1 am we had our fill and retired to the campsite.
Saturday kicked off with Cornmeal, a bluegrass band on steroids. Then the Bridge, who I've seen several times before and have always enjoyed. The Bridge led into the Steve Kimock Crazy Engine. We last saw Steve Kimock almost exactly a year ago at the Birchmere playing with Mickey Hart. He's quite a talented and entertaining guitar player. His new band "Crazy Engine" is quite a treat, featuring Melvin Seals on organ. Mr. Seals used to play with Jerry Garcia in the Jerry Garcia Band, so it was nice to see him back out on the jam scene. And jam he did! I've never heard a Hammond played with such ear splitting volume and rocking intensity. After the Crazy Engine we took a break at the campsite. While the rest of our crew was napping I slipped back to the main stage to see Yonder Mountain String Band who I had seen once before at All Good a few years ago. These guys have a classic bluegrass lineup with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass, but that's about where the similarity ends. They put on a high energy show with a rock star attitude. They really play to the audience with lots of jokes and whooping it up between songs. It would be nice to see them do a full show, outside of the festival format. Later in the evening we caught Dumpstaphunk (featuring Ivan Neville) and the festival headliner, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7. Ben's apparently reinvented himself with this new band, becoming more of a hard rocker. But most of us felt this was a forgettable performance, certainly not worthy of the prime Saturday night slot. There was nothing especially wrong with the performance but there was just nothing very exciting about it. After Ben, I'd had enough after a long day of music and retired to the camper. Davis stuck around to see moe. a band that I've never been very fond of (jams don't have enough inspiration for me), but he said that they had the crowd dancing enthusiastically.
Sunday, we started with the Recipe at 10 AM on the small stage. This is a band that we used to see frequently but they seem to have been on hiatus for the last few years. They were in fine form on this beautiful morning and they said that they'll start touring and working on a new album soon. The Recipe are a great band to see in a bar at night (or they would have been great on Saturday night instead of Ben Harper) but it was a little hard to get dancing and energetic at that hour of the day. Anyway, we fixed up a nice breakfast after that then made it over to the main stage to see Donna the Buffalo. These guys are one of my favorite bands to see live and they didn't disappoint on Sunday. We were able to watch them from the front of the stage and the sound was great (actually the sound was great all weekend). Later in the afternoon Donna the Buffalo's Tara Nevins joined the BK3/featuring Bill Kreutzmann. They played several Dead tunes and Tara's vocals were strongest that I've heard in a long time. They were followed by Dark Star Orchestra, the well known and popular Dead tribute band. We saw on them on New Year's Eve and I thought that it was a really good show, excellent musicians playing some of our favorite songs. But after hearing the seven Dead shows I have to admit that the DSO sounded a little "thin" and it was clear that they're not the "real thing". Maybe I was also just a little maxed out after a long festival. At any rate we headed home happy and full of music. We heard 19 bands in 4 days, had beautiful weather and enjoyed the company of thousands of fun loving folks. It certainly was ALL GOOD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood - Verizon Center - June 13

Went down to the Verizon Center on Saturday night to catch Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood with the family, Libby, and those damn McPhersons. I've never seen Eric Clapton (aka "God") before so this was a special treat for me. As someone else on the Internet pointed out, the show could be divided into three sections:

The Good Stuff - The first side of the Blind Faith album ("Had to Cry Today", "Well Alright", "Presence of the Lord"), several Traffic classics ("Glad", "Pearly Queen" although I really missed the sax on that one) and several other great tunes. "Tough Luck Blues" had some truly amazing guitar work by EC and they did a really spectacular jamming version of "Little Wing".

Then there was the Acoustic part of the show, first with Steve Winwood alone at the organ doing "Georgia", then Eric sitting down with the acoustic guitar and doing "Driftin' ", "Nobody knows When You're Down and Out", "Layla" and Clapton/Winwood together doing a beautiful "Can't Find My Way Home".

Closing out the show, they rocked out on the Crowd Pleasers, "Crossroads", "Voodoo Chile", and "Cocaine". Clapton certainly can wail on the guitar with innovative solos and inspirational runs. Winwood's vocals and Hammond organ playing are also top notch. This show was all about the music, as the only interaction with the audience was a quick "Thankyou" by Clapton after each song and Winwood at one point said "Thanks for coming out, this is fun". I thought it was rather rude that they never bothered to introduce the other band members. The encore was "Dear Mr. Fantasy" another great Traffic song (that we heard the Dead perform last month).

But the concert was put together well, two fine musicians with a great catalog of songs, overall a top notch performance.

A final non-musical note, there was a pyscho woman sitting right in front of us who was talk-talk-talking with her date through the first part of the concert, finally when Winwood was softly singing "Georgia", the Bird leaned down and "shusshed" her. This woman got all ticked off firing invectives and insults back to the Bird, but she finally settled down and watched the rest of the show. Then during the encore when we were all standing and dancing, psycho woman couldn't take it anymore and turned around and started really bitching and insulting the Bird. Even the folks in the row behind us were taken aback and everyone started telling her to shut up. I can't imagine what makes someone act like that especially in such a friendly musical environment. Oh well.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

John Prine/Steve Earle - Wolf Trap - June 5

I've seen John Prine many times (and many of those times at Wolf Trap). Walking in we talked of our dear old friend Mark, who would rarely venture out to concerts, but would always buy tickets for this show as soon as they went on sale. Mark's stories and poems are similar to John's songs in that you know that some of them are going to make you really sad and you know that some of them are going to make you laugh out loud. 

Mark would have enjoyed Friday's show and because you go expecting to see him play many of the great songs from his deep catalog of classic and Prine did not disappoint us.  It had been some time since I had been to Wolf Trap and I had almost forgotten what a beautiful venue it is and what great sound they deliver. I sat in a balcony box for Steve Earle, then moved down below to the orchestra section for John Prine. Sound was great in both locations. Fortunately the week long rain had come to an end and the weather was comfortable.

Steve Earle started the show playing guitar and singing. His latest album is a tribute to the late songwriter Townes Van Zandt and most of the set consisted of Van Zandt songs. I'm not as up to speed on either Townes Van Zandt or Steve Earle as perhaps I should be, but it was a very nice set of songs. I particularly liked "Pancho and Lefty" which has also been covered by Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Old and in the Way (on their "Old and in the Gray" album). You hear Steve Earle regularly on Sirius XM's "Outlaw Country", in fact he has a show on that channel called "Hardcore Troubadour Radio".  Often Steve records with a full band and I think that presents him and his songs in a better setting, but no complaints about Friday's solo acoustic set.

John Prine played in a trio with Dave Jacques (bass) and Jason Wilber (guitars and mandolin) and as mentioned every song felt like a putting on a comfortable old slipper. He did 3 or 4 songs in the middle of the set without backup and there was one song that we had not heard him do in concert before, "Bad Boy", which was quite good. John was in fine spirits and filling the space between songs with interesting tid bits and observations. "Angel from Montgomery" was great, but it always is, and he brought Steve Earle out to sing and play mandolin for the encore "Muhlenberg County".

Sitting between two beautiful women, listening to two great singer songwriters on a lovely spring evening at Wolf Trap Park. One show worth remembering. 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chili Cookoff Band - Laytonsville, MD - May 30

Once again we were fortunate enough to have some of the members of City Farm and the Orchard Boys play at the 19th annual Spring Chili Cookoff. These guys haul all of their PA equipment to our house and set up on our big porch. Some of them even are cooking chili for the competition and playing music. I know it's a lot of work and we are most appreciative of it.

This year we had from City Farm Ed Corr (guitar), Marcus Haynes (bass), Marty ("Fred") Smoral (resophonic guitar) and Paul Mengel (guitar and mandolin). From the Orchard Boys, which are rumored to be defunct, Jim Rosenfeld played mandolin and Paul Houck played banjo. Of course Fred is actually in both bands. Fred was also the 2008 Spring Chili champion and this year took home 2nd place.

The band sounded great and performed a variety of bluegrass songs and other popular songs in bluegrass style (e.g. the Beatles "I've Just Seen Her Face", Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You"). I only wish the Chili crowd would give these guys the attention that they deserve, but they're focused on cooking and socializing. Maybe next year I'll set up some chairs in front of the stage/porch for folks to sit close and listen....

Anyway thanks to all of the musicians, I certainly enjoyed the music and I'm sure many others did too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

DelFest - Cumberland, MD May 22 - 24

DelFest is a 3 day music festival at the Allegeny County fairgrounds hosted by the venerable Del McCoury and his musical family. We went to the inaugural DelFest last year and were very impressed with the setting, the incredible line up of musicians and the overall vibe. This year's DelFest had many more patrons than last year and the festival organizers did their best to handle the larger crowd. They did an adequate job, but I'm afraid this festival is going to outgrow the fairgrounds as the camping was pretty tight this year.

We listened to a few of the first acts (Davisson Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers) as background music while we set up at our campsite. We were pleased that Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth stopped by for drinks and conversation. Here's a shot of Tim and Tim Stephens, two oenophiles wondering how they can get more Bubba!

With Tim Carbone toddling off to take a Bubba nap, we headed to the main stage to hear the Infamous Stringdusters. This was the second time that I've seen this band and they are excellent purveyors of fine acoustic music. They did a nice mixture from straight up bluegrass numbers to more jazzy tunes, including a tasty rendition of John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aeroplane". Then the Del McCoury Band took the stage and they were great (as always). Del apologized for having voice problems (which plagued him all weekend) but the rest of the band stepped up and filled the void. Actually I noticed that Ronnie can sound pretty much like his dad when he's trying. They took requests from the audience and played lots of great bluegrass.
Del and the boys were followed by Railroad Earth, sounding fine as always. I especially like hearing "New Lee Highway Blues". However it had been a long day (5 am wake up call) and I had consumed several Bubbas, so I headed back to camp to rest before the set was over. (I knew I would see RRE again the next night at the late show.) I rested for an hour or so then got up and listened in to the late night pickup jam at our campsite. There were some members of City Farm, joined by other festival goers, it was a wild musical experience that lasted until 3 am but is probably best left undocumented.

I got over to the Main Stage Saturday morning to see Joe Craven (who is a talented multi-instrumentalist, first got to know him via the David Grisman Quintet) performing as a solo artist. He uses digital loops (a la Keller Williams) that allow him to lay down a percussion track, then play along with himself (musically that is) on fiddle, mandolin, etc. He's very entertaining and just the right way to start the day while nursing that third cup of coffee.
Later in the day we went to the "Playshop" area, which is a rec center type of building (air-conditioned!) where first we saw Joe Craven and Ronnie McCoury play some beautiful music together, but I wanted to catch Peter Rowan on the main stage so we headed back there and I have to say he was a disappointment. I've enjoyed Mr. Rowan's performances plenty of times before, but something about his current band "the Free Mexican Air Force" didn't click with me. So we head back to the Playshop to catch members of the Lee Boys and the Del McCoury band doing some great jamming together. Then we went to catch Sam Bush on the main stage but a sudden storm sent the audience running for shelter and chased Sam from the stage. The festival organizers did a very good job of keeping the music going after the storm as they put Old Crow Medicine Show in the Playshop building. This was the first time that I saw these guys and they truly rocked the house with a high energy set that had everyone dancing. I would definitely recommend seeing them the next time they come around. Then we saw Leftover Salmon back on the Main Stage with a good but short set of their patented "polyethnic cajun slamgrass". After Leftover we went straight to the late night show, Railroad Earth back in the Playshop building. We got in and got seats only 15 feet from the stage. They started with "Warhead Boogie" which is always fun, then they were joined by Jason Carter (violin) and Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band. Jason and Tim were trading licks back and forth for the entire show. They kept challenging each other and raising the intensity to the highest levels. This was certainly a high point of the festival for me.
After a rousing RRE set, then the Del McCoury band took the stage along with Andy Goessling and Tim Carbone. They continued to kick out the high energy jams until the wee hours of morning...

This was an easy going day for us, tried to catch Tim O'Brien but the logistics just didn't really work. But as the evening started we got to see Del's band one more time (by now he was hardly singing at all). Tim O'Brien was sitting in with them. A highlight with the DMB is always "Nashville Cats" and they didn't disappoint this time. Then another big highlight of the festival, Dark Star Orchestra put on a great show, the first set was acoustic, and of course they were joined by Del, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter! Del only stayed for a couple of songs, but Ronnie and Jason sat in for the remainder of the show. A big favorite for me was hearing "Ripple" with Ronnie on mandolin.

In closing, this was a super festival from a musical point of view, there is such a great lineup of artists and with the Playshops you can get up close and personal. The organizers will have to deal with the increasing crowds each year, but if you ask me if I'll be back next year: "Del Yeah!"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Dead - Mountain View, CA (5/14)

Trekked out to San Francisco California to see the Dead in their penultimate show on this '09 tour with the Bird and the Boy. Our good friend Gerard was our host, he did a fantastic job of driving us and around and making sure we had a good time during our visit. The Shoreline Amphitheatre was built back in 1986 in cooperation with Bill Graham, it's a venue in the style of Merriweather Post/Nissan Pavilion with a rather large lawn. The Grateful Dead was supposed to play the first show there in 1986, but had to cancel due to Jerry's illness. But being in their "hometown", the Dead have performed there many times and according to Wikipedia (it's got to be true) Bill Graham's design of the place is supposed to resemble the "Steal Your Face" image. If you tilt your head to the left and squint when you look at this picture you can imagine it.

After waiting through some heavy traffic, we arrived as the band was playing their first song, "Jack Straw". There was a big crowd, especially on the lawn, it was not a sellout but it must have been close. There were a mix of young (plenty of kids) and old with everyone standing up and dancing. After "Jack Straw" they did a rousing version of "US Blues" followed by "Mason's Children". I had never heard this song before this tour, it was never released on an album but only as a B-side to a single. If you're reading this and under 30, I know that last sentence makes no sense to you, call me and I'll explain it. Anyway after "Mason's Children" they did a very good version of "Ship of Fools", with Warren Haynes handling the lead vocals and Jeff Chimenti adding a nice piano solo. Some songs I don't care much for Warren's singing, but this is one that he does very well. This was followed by "Friend of the Devil", very nice and then a great sequence of "Standing on the Moon" leading into "Terrapin Station" and then back to "Standing on the Moon". By now it was dark, they had the big video screens cranked up and the band was sounding great. I have to give a major league dose of praise to those on the Dead team responsible for the sound mixing. The sound quality has been simply phenomenal at each and every show (with the exception of the very first show in Greensboro, OK it took one show to get the kinks out and to get it right).

After the break, the Dead did an excellent version of "Estimated Prophet" (everyone singing along with the chorus "California, I'll be knocking on the golden door"). They stretched this one out into a nice easy jam which lead into "New Potato Caboose" and then "Born Cross Eyed". The Bird has been wanting and begging to hear them do "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (they played it at one of the NJ shows) so she was most excited when they started in on this classic by Traffic. Then they went to the Drumz part of the program, this time it was augmented by a team of fire dancers. They added a nice visual with their flaming hoops and batons to the drum session by Billy and Mickey. This was followed by the Space Jam and then "Morning Dew". They closed the second set with an ass kicking "China Cat Sunflower->I know you Rider". The band was really smoking by this point.

For an encore, they did the classic "Scarlet Begonias->Fire on the Mountain" medley. This was the first show that we got to hear this and I got to try my new trick of tapping the shoulder of a nearby nearby stranger and extending my hand in synchronization with the lyric "Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand". Who knows what she thought of that? The Dead did one more song "Deal" to close out our Dead '09 experience.

And what an experience it was. I know that there are purists out there that say this is not really the Grateful Dead without Jerry and of course they're right. I remember I was at a party back in March and the Bird was telling a friend about the tour and how much we were looking forward to it. The friend said, "So Warren Haynes will be doing the Jerry parts..." and I had to speak up and say "No, he won't be playing Jerry's parts, nobody can play Jerry's parts, Warren will be playing his own style." And listening to these shows with that expectation, made them all the more enjoyable. It's also been pointed out that the Grateful Dead in the '80's sounded very different than the Grateful Dead in the '70's, and the Grateful Dead in the '90's sounded very different than the Grateful Dead in the '80's. And guess what? The Dead in this century sounds different than the Grateful Dead in the '90's. Is it better? Probably not, but actually there were some parts that I think were better, but the main point is it was different. That's why we keep going to the shows and that's why it's fun.

One of the reasons I love my wife (the Bird) is that she makes me get off my butt and go out and do fun stuff. I was a little skeptical when she was suggesting that we go to as many shows on this tour as we possibly can, but she was right, it was great, an experience that I'll never forget and I'm really glad we did it. It's been a Long, Strange Trip and I can't wait until the next one!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Dead - Philadelphia, PA (5/2)

My fantasy is that sometime on Saturday after I posted my blog saying that the Friday night show was somewhat “lackluster” Bob Weir stumbled across it while surfing the net and told the band they would have to “step it up” for tonight’s show since the fans were complaining. It’s doubtful that happened, but for whatever reason Philadelphia’s Saturday show was much more entertaining, in fact some are saying it is the best one of the tour. I’ve been working on a theory lately that it’s foolish to compare one show to another, in fact the tour should be viewed as simply one long show, split up over a series of nights and venues. This is why the Dead rarely repeat songs from one night to another and why fans go to such efforts to see as many shows as possible. Missing a show would be akin to missing one act in a play or skipping a chapter in a book. It has been documented that sometimes the Dead will extend songs over several shows (e.g. playing “Sugar Magnolia” one night and playing the ending part “Sunshine Daydream” several nights later). So maybe Friday night in Philly was designed to be more contemplative and a quiet lead in to Saturday night’s rocking show.

Like the first set in Greensboro, the first set in Philly #2 was all popular tunes that the crowd could sing along to, with little or no extended jams. However unlike Greensboro, all of the songs from the first set were older, nothing later than 1972 (except "Althea"). They kicked off with “One More Saturday Night” and “Brown Eyed Women” and the crowd was instantly having a great time. Then a nice arrangement of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, followed by “Althea” and “He’s Gone”. Just like Greensboro, “He’s Gone” had a major element of crowd participation. This was followed by a relatively short jam (you can’t keep the jam jar completely closed!) which led into an excellent version of “Uncle John’s Band”. This morphed in “Mason’s Children” and then the set was over.

The band returned from the break with a loose jam that ultimately led into “Good Lovin’” to get the crowd right back into it. Then an upbeat “Cumberland Blues”, the guys can still sound like a bluegrass/jug band when they want to. Then lid came completely off the jam jar as they improvised through “Cryptical Envelopment>The Other One>Drumz>Space. Then a really long extended “St. Stephen” with everyone playing great solo’s. The crowd got to singing again with the Beatles’ “Revolution”. They finished the show with the first tunes post 1972, “Help is on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower”.

The encore was "Samson & Delilah" with the chorus "If I had my way, I would tear this old building down." Much was being said this weekend about the long history between the Grateful Dead and the Philadelphia Spectrum, with over 50 shows played there and the building scheduled for demolition later this year. Sunday on the radio I heard an interview with Bob which was recorded just before the show and he wisely pointed out that it’s not the building, it’s the people in it. He said the folks in Philadelphia come to the venue with high expectations and they demand the band to deliver. Well I’m sure that everyone walking out of the Philadelphia Spectrum Saturday night would tell you their expectations were exceeded.