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.