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.