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.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Dead - Philadelphia, PA (5/1)

The Bird and I got through Baltimore and Philly traffic on Friday to make it time to the Philadelphia Spectrum (or "Rectum" as the locals call it). They're going to tear down this building soon, so these 2 shows will be the first and last shows here for me.

We got to our seats just as the band kicked in with the first number "Playing in the Band", a great way to start the show! That morphed into a long nice jam, then they played "Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodleloo". Then a slow and easy "Lazy River" with Warren taking a nice guitar solo. The next two tunes got the crowd energized again, "New Speedway Boogie" and "Shakedown Street". "Shakedown Street" finished acapella/funky soul style "Shake it down, shake it down now". Then a long jam that morphed into "Dupree's Diamonds" and they got the crowd jumping again with "Hard to Handle". On that one Warren took the lead vocals and it was more of a "Warren Haynes song" with the Dead backing (which was fine). Warren and Bobby did some guitar solo's back and forth, then they did "Friend of the Devil". Just like their television appearance on the The View, Phil sang the little extra verse at the end that Jerry never did for some reason.

You can borrow from the Devil
You can borrow from a friend
But the Devil give you twenty
When your friend got only ten

Then they reprised a really nice jazzy "Playing in the Band" to complete the circle and finish the set.

The Bird and I were in a section that was crowded (there was no security so guys would just stand in the aisles) so we decided to use the Intermission time to walk around and check out the view from behind the stage where one our tickets for tonight is located. Just like Madison Square Garden sitting behind the stage is pretty cool. It wasn't crowded at all, we were much closer and the sound was way better, and you get a great view of the drummers, which I really like. So we stayed there for the entire second set, which started with a slow jam of cascading notes that turned into "Jack Straw". Then "Alligator" and "Caution" with Warren handling the vocals. He plays the Pigpen role well in these types of tunes. Then a really long (again "jazzy" in my notes) with Phil playing a fast "walking bass" rhythm that kept it moving at a good pace. Space Jam and Drumz, always entertaining for me, if I haven't mentioned it before Jeff C. has been joining Billy and Mickey on Drumz providing some additional psychedelic sounds. The band came back out for "Loose Lucy" and "Comes A Time" which was played ballad style with Warren singing. Lots of Warren vocals in this show. Then they rocked to the finish line with "Cold Rain and Snow" and "Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream".

"Box of Rain" for the encore and it was over.

Going over it all again this morning, this description of the show reads much better than it felt last night to both us. We both felt like it was just a little "lackluster" although I can't point to any specific issues. On the ride up to Philly I pointed out that this was the first Dead show that the Bird and I have attended just as a couple, without a bunch of other folks. She reminded me of 2004 at Nissan (we met Wayne there), but I don't think that had anything to do with it. Though we did miss Davis.

Anyway, Jack the Wad will be joining us tonight and we'll do it all again! Stay tuned...