Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peace Mobile Rally > Furthur - Oct 29/Nov 17 - Washington/Baltimore

In October there was a rally at a home in DC to support the freedom of speech, in this particular case an old VW bus painted 60's style. I've lifted the description from the Facebook Event invite.
A colorful, engine-less VW microbus stationed in the Kaplan-Allen family’s Palisades front yard since May is slated for removal by DC Department of Public Works (DPW). On September 16, DPW declared the bus “dangerous,” threatened to remove it by the end of October and fine the family up to $1000. The Kaplan-Allens brought the Peace-Mobile to their yard last spring when it ended its run as a set piece for the Georgetown Day School theatrical production of “Pippin.” Its peace signs, rainbows and hearts are not only entertaining but remind us of a more idealistic time, when, as a Pippin song says, “we all could spread a little sunshine.” All summer, passersby stopped to take photos with their cell phones and celebrate in that spirit. Now, DPW threatens to censor and shut down the display.
So a rally was held and of course we went. Musical entertainment was provided by John Kadlecik and
On the Bus. John is the former lead guitar player for Dark Star Orchestra and was recently given the ultimate promotion to play with Furthur (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir's band). On the Bus is a great Dead cover band that plays in the DC/MD/VA area, we've seen them several times and they always put on a good show.

John played acoustic guitar and a variety of songs (including some Dead songs). One that I really liked was  "Down to Eugene" which was made popular (I guess) by David Gans. John was really putting his heart and soul into performing these songs for the 20 - 40 people gathered in a DC backyard on a fall afternoon, it was a nice musical moment. And it struck me that in a few weeks I would being seeing this same musician on a big stage in front of thousands of people playing with the founders of the Grateful Dead.

John stayed around to perform with On the Bus and they did a full set of Dead tunes. It was good times, despite the fact that half of the PA system failed. And there was a happy ending to the Battle of Bus as one of the band members decided to take it to his Maryland farm and give it a complete restoration. You can see lots of pictures and comments about this event on Facebook, just search for "On the Bus" and scroll down to the October time frame.

So sure enough a few weeks later we saw John at the Baltimore Arena playing with Furthur . Furthur consists of Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti (Dead/Ratdog), Joe Russo (Benevento/Russo Duo), and the just added Sunshine (Garcia) Becker and Jeff Pehrson.  We've seen Furthur plenty of times before, this set started out interesting because the first 4 songs were not Dead tunes. Opening with "Revolution" (Lennon/McCartney), "Smokestack Lightning" (Muddy Waters), "Crossroads" (Robert Johnson), and then back to "Smokestack Lightning" again. In the second set they also covered "Hard to Handle" (Otis Redding) and a really cool "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (Traffic) that morphed into "Hey Jude" (Lennon/McCartney). They were actually performing both songs at the same time for a while.

I like the Baltimore Arena (officially named "1st Mariner Arena"), as arenas go it's easy to get in and out and it's relatively small. But not as small as that backyard in DC!

Bob Dylan - November 13, 2010 - Smith Center, George Washington University

The Never Ending Tour stopped by GW last month. I haven't been to the Smith Center for a concert in a very long time (saw the Clash there in the '80's) and I was glad to see there is still a hall that sells General Admission tickets. We camped out on the floor hoping to optimize the acoustics. The place is small enough that any location is fine for viewing and listening.

The show opened as it always does with a deep voiced announcer on the PA:

"Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the 60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the 70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen —Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"

Then Bob kicks things off the show with a rollicking "Rainy Day Women" followed by one of my favorite concert tunes "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)". During this one he came from behind the keyboards and sang with animated hand gestures and played harmonica. Other highlights included "Just Like a Woman" with Bob on keyboards and band member Donnie Herron (pedal steel) keenly watching him play and shadowing every chord that Bob would play. This occurred on several songs but it was most obvious during the instrumental break on "Just Like a Woman".

In addition to Bob's hand gestures and (almost) dancing there was a large fabric hanging behind the stage that was used as a screen during several songs to show ghostly black and white live video images of Bob singing. I've never seen that before, it was pretty cool.

Other highlights were a very nice "Simple Twist of Fate" with Bob on lead guitar followed by a rocking "Highway 61 Revisited". There were also more recent tunes like "High Water (for Charlie Patton)", "Ain't Talkin'", and "Thunder on the Mountain". All in all a really great show with a nice mix of old and new.

Finally, what I liked most about the show was there were so many young people there really into the music. I remember going to a Dylan concert a few years ago at George Mason University and I literally was one of the youngest people there! I kept wondering where are all of the students? But the GW kids turned out en masse and were having a great time. At 69, Bob Dylan is an American icon and it was good to see that at least some of the next generation appreciate him.

Jackie Greene - October 14, 2010 - Ram's Head, Annapolis

As I continue to dig through the blog block I'm taking advantage of the holiday down time to remember and reminisce on the shows that I've seen this fall. In October the Bird and I slipped down to Annapolis for a nice dinner and show at the Ram's Head. If you buy the special deal you can get a dinner reservation, tickets to the show and a free microbrew after the show. Probably the nicest part of that deal is you have dinner in the restaurant and then when you're done eating they lead you through the back corridor straight into the music venue and your reserved seat. There was an opening act, Michael Wasekey, a local singer guitar player, nice enough guy but we were ready for JG.

Jackie took advantage of the intimate atmosphere of the Ram's Head and for the first half of the show he played solo accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and nuanced fills from his guitar player (I wish I could remember his name). Between songs it got kind of quiet and Jackie said we could shout out any requests we had. After a couple more songs the requests got so loud and frequent he said "Enough already!".  Although I've seen Jackie and his band play many times in the past, this acoustic set was very special. One of the highlights was a very nice version of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried". After a short break he came back with the full band, electric guitars and it was time to rock. A great mix of old and new tunes, including a couple of Grateful Dead classics. In addition to being an excellent guitarist, Jackie plays great keyboards and harmonica. I have to say that this show was one of my favorites of 2010.  

Another thing that sets Jackie Greene apart from other performers is he hangs out after the show to meet and greet. Here's a shot of the Bird and Jackie (she sure is hugging him tight?).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Festy - October 9 - 10 - Nelson County, Va

"The Festy Experience" happened on October 9-10 in the backyard of the Devil's Background Brewery in Nelson County, Virginia. Located at the foot of the mountain where the Wintergreen resort is located, this first time music festival had a great debut and hopefully will become a regular annual event. The musical hosts were the Infamous Stringdusters who played both Saturday and Sunday nights. We camped on site with friends in our handy pop up camper while a group of other friends rented a house a few miles away up at Wintergreen.

Despite the awkward name (apparently "Festy" is a derivative of the Stringdusters guitarist Andy Falco's nickname "Cresty")

The festival site was very nice, the weather was perfect, and the music was outstanding. I was anticipating that there may be logistical problems, given that this was a first time festival, but the organizers pulled it off without a hitch. There's a nice write up on Facebook (search for "Festival Project") about what it takes to put on a good festival. Michael Allenby, one of the organizers, is quoted as saying, “This is a prototype, a rough draft and we turned it in and got an A-.  The teacher was happy.  There were a couple things we would do differently, but we nailed it, for a rough draft.”  I couldn't agree more. All of the basic essentials (e.g. parking, camping, food, drink, restrooms, stage and sound) were done well, and most importantly there was a festival "vibe" that permeated the all of the volunteers and patrons. Everyone was warm and friendly, enjoying the music, and happy to be together on a beautiful fall weekend. That is, by definition, "festival". 

On Sunday there was even a bike race. If it had been a bike "ride" I would have signed up, but I'm not into the racing thing. But Travis Burns, bassist of the Stringdusters is, and apparently he did pretty well in the event. You can check it out here .

There was a main stage and between acts there a second smaller stage at the opposite end of the field. The acts on the second stage were very good, but I got into a sort of rhythm where after each act on the main stage I would head back to the campsite to take a break and enjoy a cool beverage. What about the music?  Well the Saturday line up was incredible. 

Robinella started things off, singing and playing guitar with her husband. She has more of a late night, smoky club, jazz feel to her voice and songs, it was nice but seemed out of place in the middle of a sunny day. But a good start nevertheless. She was followed by Crooked Still. They've played at other festivals I have attended, but this was the first time I sat down and really listened to them. Well worth the effort, it was quite entertaining. Aoife O'Donovan's beautiful vocals and the rest of the band's instrumental prowess were very impressive. Back to the campsite for a Bubba, then right back to the main stage to see Old School Freight Train, one of our favorite "newgrass" bands. They came on with plenty of energy and enthusiasm and raised the musical bar another notch. These guys have a great song catalog, and like Railroad Earth, they are hard to classify as they rock out much more than the "grass/string label" would imply. Then the pace changed as bluegrass legend Tony Rice took the stage with his band, the Tony Rice Unit. Straight, classic, pickin'. Done right, the way it's supposed to be. As the sun set, the Infamous Stringdusters came out and did a fun, uplifting set. You could tell they were just as excited about hosting the Festy as we were about being there. The Saturday night closers were Railroad Earth, who released their latest CD two days after this show. They played a great set as always, featuring a couple of songs from the new album. We especially liked "The Jupiter and the 119" and "Black Elk Speaks".  October 9 would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday and the band commemorated that with a beautiful version of "Across the Universe" with Aoife from Crooked Still helping out on vocals. I was spent after hearing all of this music, but the Bird went on and checked out the late night jam on the second stage, featuring "Love Cannon Super Jam" playing nothing but top hits from the '80's in bluegrass style. Rick Springfield's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend", Thomas Dolby's "Blinded Me with Science", ZZ Top's "Legs",  and many more. Wish I could have seen that!

Sunday morning we had a very nice breakfast buffet at the Devil's Backbone Brewery which included a first for me, a make your own Bloody Mary bar! Great way to start the day. Then we were packing and driving so I was only able to catch Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, a super talented guitar player who deserves way more attention than he seems to get. I was sorry that I didn't get to stick around for another set by the Stringdusters and to see Toubab Krewe, but I still left satisfied with all of the great music that we saw on Saturday. 

We'll definitely be putting the Festy Experience on our rotation for the 2011 festival circuit!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Crozet Music Festival - October 1 - 3 - Crozet, Va

This was the 4th annual Crozet Music Festival, the third at the lovely Misty Mountain Campgrounds just outside of Crozet, Virginia. Biff Rossberg and John Updike have done a great job of organizing a festival with a diverse line up of Virginia based musicians, in a beautiful setting, and an overall good vibe. This year I was able to set the camper up right behind the stage (thanks John!) and enjoy the music up close and personal.

I arrived late Friday afternoon and listened to Jackass Flats while I set up the camper. They're a high energy bluegrass/Americana band from the Richmond area and I would definitely like to see them again. They were followed by what turned out to be the highlight of the weekend for me, the Skip Castro Band. They were a fixture in the Virginia/DC bar band circuit in the late 70's and early 80's. After breaking up in the mid-80's they are now reunited, have released a new CD "Boogie at Midnight", and are still rocking with the same enthusiasm and energy that kept us dancing in the bars and frat houses back in the day. They play a great mix of rock, rock-a-billy, and other blues/boogie/swing tunes. For me they are very reminiscent of NRBQ, who is still the greatest bar band in the world. At the Crozet Music Festival Danny Beirne came out from behind the keyboards to deliver a killer version of James Brown's "It's a Man's World". And they finished with a really nice "Jumping Jack Flash" holding their guitars out for the audience to strum during the big rock finish last note.

Saturday I started the day at the indoor stage, which is set up in Misty Mountains' recreation room. This is a nice diversion from the outdoor main stage, providing a place to sit down inside and still here some very tasty tuneage. Saturday began with the Misty Strings from Charlottesville and they had a very good guitar player (sorry that I didn't get his name). They were followed by another Charlottesville band called Second Draw who played some nice bluegrass/jam tunes.

Then I took a break from the music and checked out some of the tasty food and beverage selections from the vendors at the festival and settled in for one of the "must sees" on the line up - William Walter & Co. I had remarked to a friend before they started that William Walter just doesn't stand on stage and play music, he always gets involved with the audience and is a great entertainer. And this show was no different. By the end of his set he had come off the stage and pulled all of the "pretty girls" from the crowd back up on the stage to dance with him. It was a great set from a very entertaining performer.

One of the things that sets this festival apart from other festivals is the big diversity in musical styles and all of the different kinds of music that you can hear in one weekend. Besides the acts mentioned above, I heard some beautiful acoustic jazz from the Ric Olivarez Trio, some great jazz/funk (including some nice Steely Dan covers) from Funk 45, and a cool world beat sound from the Rock River Gypsies (who were formed at my alma mater William and Mary). I also heard a 16 year old kid (Nick Pollock) do some great classic songs that were classic way before he was born. The only challenge at the Crozet Music Festival is how to hear all of the music, any time you take a break you feel like you're missing something you don't want to miss (and you're probably right).

Every year this festival gets better and better, I don't know how they pick a weekend in October every year that has beautiful weather, but mark your calendar for next year - it's guaranteed to be a great weekend.

Return of the Blog - A Twisted Summer of 2010 - Tons of Live Music but not getting through the BlogBlock

I know exactly when this blog got turned off. I don't know why but I know when. It was June 7 at Wolf Trap. We were there to watch Jeff Beck and we had lawn seats. But there were two tickets inside the pavilion down near the stage and a group of two would go down front for a few songs, then trade the tickets with others in the group so everyone would get a chance to see the performance from up close. I was resting comfortably on the lawn with a cold beverage so I passed on the opportunity when my turn came up. I wasn't that impressed with music. There's no doubt that Jeff Beck is a phenomenal guitar player, and he was whipping out some impressive guitar solos on this early summer evening. But it seemed to me to be mostly "flash" and there were no real "songs" or "music". However everyone who returned from the front row was ecstatic about his performance. "Fantastic!" "Best guitar playing I have seen! Ever!" "Great Show!" I experienced a moment of self doubt and the BlogBlock set in. Over the next few days/weeks I struggled with how to write about a concert that I thought was only "so-so" and everyone else loved. Was it simply a matter of where you sat in the audience? Was I not hearing what others were hearing? What difference does it make anyway?  It doesn't make a difference, but the fact was, The Block was in.

Over the summer I went to the (what is now "routine") set of music festivals. There was the All Good and the Floyd Fest in July, with great performances by plenty of bands (including Furthur, Levon Helm, Wayne Henderson, George Clinton!?!). Then there was the Hot August Blues Festival with Lyle Lovett and Keb 'Mo . We found a nice new outdoor venue in Loudon County where we saw Jackie Greene and Gov't Mule. There were other concerts scattered between, like Cosmic Charlie in Baker Park in Frederick, Nils Lofgren at the Birchmere, and when we were touring the Southwest in late August we caught Bobby Bare Jr. and a band called Blue Giant in Tucson. I saw tons of really good music over the summer and as the list of shows grew, the Block seemed to become bigger.

As summer turned to fall, people began to make subtle comments. "Why no updates to the blog?" "Are you going to write about this show?" "What the hell is the matter with you?"

So now I'm busting through the Block, especially inspired by my friends and a couple of great music festivals in October. I'm not sure I'll be able to catch up on all of the shows that I saw this summer, but I'm going to start fresh and try to stay on top of it from here on out. I'll write off the summer to too much introspection and not enough impulse writing.  The Live Music Blog is back, with a new look and some new energy.

Live music lives on!!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

DelFest - Cumberland, MD May 27 - 28

This was the 3rd annual DelFest and we've enjoyed watching it mature into certainly one of the premier venues for bluegrass and Americana music. As I reported in this space last year, the Allegeny County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maryland is a beautiful place to be on Memorial Day Weekend. Although the festival continues to grow in popularity, the festival organizers still fit everyone in without much crowding and they handle the festival logistics quite well.

But the music is the reason everyone shows up and the revered Del McCoury attracts an all-star lineup that fills (now) four days with continuous musical highlights. This festival is especially great for the music fans because there is so much "cross pollination" with musicians jumping from one stage to another and sitting in on each others' sets. Del and his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) must have played with two-thirds of the performers over the 4 days. And the fine fiddle player of the Del McCoury Band, Jayson Carter, was quite busy also. Also the sound systems at each of the three stages were great and you could easily get up close to see your favorite performers. 

Here's a brief rundown of the performers that I saw, because they have overlapping sets and you have to occasionally eat or sleep, it's impossible to see everything, but it sure is fun trying.

After arriving in the afternoon and setting up our campsite, we headed over to the Main Stage to catch the end of the Travelin' McCourys' set. The Travelin' McCourys are really the Del McCoury Band without Del. They are a little more experimental and are willing to stretch out some more improvisational jams then when they're in the full bluegrass mode. But guess who was sitting in with them when we arrived? Del of course!

I always like it when you go to a festival and see a band that you've never heard of, you have no expectations about their music and you walk away thinking that was probably the best music I'll hear all weekend. That was my experience with Mountain Heart this year. These young bluegrass musicians were midway through a great set of tunes when the bass player moved to the center of the stage with his stand up bass and started banging out the opening riff of "Whipping Post". They proceeded to whip the crowd into a frenzy with a rendition of this Allman Brothers classic that the Bird and I later agreed might be the best version of that song that we've ever heard. They also did a nice "Statesboro Blues" and, believe it or not, "Back in Black" from AC/DC.  A couple of the McCourys joined them and they did a real nice "Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms".  The were followed by Railroad Earth, but due to a misjudgment on my part involving ingesting corn from a jar I had to retire to the camper. But the Bird listened to the whole set and said it was one of the best she has heard. Oh well.


Mountain Heart played another set early Friday afternoon, we enjoyed listening from the campsite. These guys must be real Allman Brothers fans, as they did a nice version of "Soulshine". One of the best aspects of DelFest is the workshops (or as they call them "playshops") which are held in a recreation center (cool and air conditioned). On this day a band that I had wanted to see for some time was playing, Greensky Bluegrass. They were young talented musicians who were thrilled that Ronnie McCoury was sitting in with them. They did a very good set, and were even joined at the end by a couple of guys from Railroad Earth.

That evening we headed back to the main stage and the Del McCoury Band was playing  with Bobby Osbourne. Bobby Osbourne was one half of the Osbourne Brothers who started recording bluegrass tunes in the 1950's (with Jimmy Martin, Red Allen, and others). They have had a long and successful career, including a giant hit with "Rocky Top". They were inducted into the IBMA's Hall of Honor in 1994. Brother Sonny retired a few years ago, but Bobby continues to play with a band called the Rocky Top X-press. With Del they played lots of old classics, Del was claiming that they had not rehearsed many of them, but when you've been doing something as good as these guys for over 50 years, is rehearsing really necessary? This set was simply bluegrass being done by the masters.

They were followed by the headliners, the Avett Brothers.  These guys are very popular with the younger folks, some songs I enjoyed, others seemed too pop/commercial. One thing that I had never seen before was there cello player stood and played the entire show.

Then we made it back over to the recreation center for the late show, which started with another band that I was not familiar with, Trampled by Turtles. While this band has the traditional bluegrass instrumentation (guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, dobro) I would not classify their music as bluegrass. They sit down rather than stand and they have more of an old time folk sound. But they play really hard, loud, fast and furious. These guys go at full speed from the first note of the first song to the last note at the end of the set. I was very impressed and it was a lot of fun.  After the Turtles, Railroad Earth came out for the really late show (it was after 2 am by now) and they were sounding as good as ever but I only lasted for half of the show before stumbling back to the camper.
After a little breakfast I took my coffee cup over to the main stage and listened to Bearfoot, an acoustic band from Alaska. Although they played well and sang well (female lead singer) there wasn't much spark or emotion in their performance.   

We then went over to the smaller stage and saw a great set by an all female acoustic band called Uncle Earl. Now these gals had some energy and stage presence and got the crowd up on their feet and dancing. They've been around for 10 years with several different members, the current incarnation includes founders KC Groves (mandolin, guitar) and Kristin Andraessen (guitar, fiddle, harmonica) along with three other talented gals. They all took turns telling stories and singing their own songs. This is a band that I would happily see again. (Also worth noting is that there last album was produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. He is quoted on their myspace page as saying "it was definitely one of the most enjoyable productions that I have ever been involved with.” 

Then it was back to the recreation center to see what was billed as a McCoury family reunion, it was the Del McCoury Band along with a couple of Del's brothers, very talented musicians in their own right.  We saw another set by Greensky Bluegrass before heading back to the campsite for dinner. 

For us the Saturday evening set kicked off with another rousing set on the main stage by the Del McCoury Band. John Cowan joined them for a song. 

That was followed by the Yonder Mountain String Band, the Saturday night headliners. I saw YMSB at the AllGood festival last year and was very impressed with their high energy bluegrass, and again this time they took the stage with enthusiasm and the full "rock star" treatment (lights, smoke, etc.). But having seen so many true master craftsmen of bluegrass (like Del, Bobby Osbourne, Ronnie McCoury) I felt like this was a little, well, sloppy. But it was  entertaining, Darroll Anger sat in on fiddle for entire show and the crowd liked it so what the heck. They closed with a nice version of Pink Floyd's "Goodbye Blue Sky" (that's when you bring on the lights and smoke!).


Day 4 takes us into the final stretch. First up for us was David Grisman's Bluegrass Experience. Once again we were back to seeing true master craftsmen and Dave turned it into a little bit of a "History of Bluegrass" seminar as he described the origins of the genre and played songs from each major period. Of course he described Del's impact and influence and brought Del on stage to sing one with him. Del didn't have his guitar with him so he just came up to sing, but he said "I don't have an axe to play and I don't have an axe to grind!". It was a good time. 

The next act was the last one for us and it was a great way to end the festival. Keller Williams, joined by Jeff Austin (mandolin, from YMSB) and Keith Mosely (bass, from String Cheese Incident). I always enjoys Keller's shows, especially because they're so unpredictable. Keller has been spending much of the summer playing with Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart, so it seemed natural that he would kick off his set with three Dead tunes. That was followed by a mix of originals and covers (including "Midnight Moonlight") and four more Dead songs. He was also joined at various times by Joe Craven (who I forgot to mention was the MC for the entire weekend), Darroll Anger,  Larry Keel, and others. 

All in all, another great DelFest, well managed, superb line up (truly too many acts to see), and a beautiful venue. Bluegrass and string music is alive and well in the hills of Cumberland!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

David Bromberg's Big Noise Festival - May 15

Boy, it's been too long since I've seen some live music and had a chance to update this blog. I have seen a few sets of City Farm at the Tiffany Tavern, but was reluctant to comment in this space as I only saw a set or two and didn't catch the entire show. But each performance is great fun and Holly will surely be missed as she is moving on to new challenges.

But finally as Spring arrives the 2010 Festival season begins! And we kicked it off in fine fashion last Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware at David Bromberg's Big Noise Festival. This was a day long music event to benefit the Light Up the Queen foundation, which is a non-profit organization devoted to restoring the Queen Theatre in downtown Wilmington.

David Bromberg, a wonderful singer/guitarist that was one of my favorites back in the college days, is still kicking around Wilmington and hosted some of his prestigious musical colleagues for a full day of excellent tuneage at a small park down in a newly developed downtown area.

First to play was the Angel Band, led by David's wife and two other female singers. I kind of like them, but all of my friends don't care for this band for some reason. But they got things kicked off while we set up our folding chairs and grabbed a cold DogFish 60 minute IPA.

Next up on the stage was Jorma Kaukonen, with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin. This was a very nice, low key acoustic set, I was able to walk right up to the front of the stage and enjoy the music from 10 feet away. Among others they did one of my favorite Jorma tunes, "Hesitation Blues". David Bromberg joined them and sang a song called "Summer Wages" with Jorma taking a nice guitar solo. Sweet, clean picking by some true masters.

This was followed by Railroad Earth and the festival got rocking. There were many RRE fans there and the band seemed to understand that they had limited time, so they quickly ripped into a great set. "Dandelion Wine" and "Like a Buddha" were jamming and then David Bromberg joined them and they did a really fun version of "New Lee Highway Blues". Great smiles back and forth between Todd Scheaffer and Bromberg as they sang. You know there are some shows when the musicians are having more fun than the audience and this was one of those moments. The "New Lee Highway Blues" segued right into an instrumental closer called "Fiddlee". We could have listened to another hour of Railroad Earth, but there were more musicians waiting back stage.

So next was the Sam Bush band, and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. I've seen Sam Bush multiple times over the last few years and many of the set-lists were very similar and kind of starting to get, well, worn. But this was a bluegrass line up (no drummer) and they did several songs from his new album "Circles Around Me". In fact, some of the "new" songs were actually "revisits" of old New Grass Revival songs. Nice, straight ahead "newgrass" without all the tricks. I especially liked "Souvenir Bottles". Great job, Sam, I think I'm going to get that new album.

Sam was followed by John Hiatt and his rocking 4 piece band. John seemed inspired (again having the most fun of anyone with all of these great musicians). Elvis like moves as he ripped through a great set of tunes. He gave a nice shout out to Bonnie Raitt before doing "Thing Called Love" ("she put my daughters through college with this song") and once again David Bromberg comes out for "Memphis in the Meantime".

David Bromberg closed the show with his big band, including horn section. Several musicians came back out to play on some songs, including Jorma, Sam Bush, and Tim Carbone. It was a great finish to a full day of music.

The venue was nice, sound was somewhat muddled by the gusty winds, but as I said earlier it was so easy to walk up to the front where you could hear and see clearly. The food vendors had some fine cajun food and the Dogfish Head was flowing freely. I hope Bromberg and the Light Up the Queen organization can make this an annual event, it was a great way to kick off the festival season.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams - March 6 - Blackrock Performing Arts Center

Ed and Nancy gave me some tickets to this show, I had never heard of this band with the full mouthful of a name, but it sounded like fun so off we went. This band, I'll just call them GM & SCoD, are led by Joziah Longo on guitar and vocals. He's an entertaining fellow who provides a running commentary between each song, sometimes even talking over the beginning of songs ("We take a long time between songs, that's one of the reasons we're not famous."). Joziah's wife, Tink Lloyd, who plays a variety of instruments but mostly accordion. She also is a very accomplished player of the theramin (does that make her a "theraminist"?). The theramin is often used by musicians simply for novelty or as a sound effect, but she was able to truly make music with it. The lead guitarist is Sharkey McEwan, he uses the slide a lot and he is quite good. The rhythm section is Tony Zuzulo on drums and Chen Longo on bass and keyboards. Chen also happens to be the son of Joziah and Tink.
So what kind of music do these guys play? Well their web site calls it "punk-classical-hillbilly-Floyd" and I certainly won't argue with that. You can definitely hear a sound similar to early Pink Floyd, especially with Sharkey's slide guitar work. Joziah's voice at times sounds like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Their songs are very entertaining and original. They didn't do any covers, but they started one of their songs singing the lyrics of "Pinball Wizard" to the tune of "Folsom Prison Blues" (it works!) and their encore was a combination of the Christmas song "Angels We Have Heard on High" and Van Morrison's "Gloria", which was quite clever.
The Black Rock Center for the Performing Arts has a beautiful little theater that seats about 200. Perfect for someone like the Seldom Scene (who will be there in a couple of weeks) and a solo acoustic performance, but with a rock band like GM & SCoD you need room to move around and dance. Not to mention the fact that the average age in the room must have been about 68.
I look forward to seeing GM & SCoD again, they would be perfect for Floyd Fest. And I hope to go back again to the Black Rock, to see a musical act that is more suitable for the intimate theater.

I've posted a widget to the side of this entry that you can use to listen to some of their songs, give it a try, they're fun to listen to! And thanks to Ed and Nancy for the tickets!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yes - February 15 - Warner Theatre

This show was scheduled for Saturday 2/6, but the Snowmageddon pushed it back to Monday 2/15. Yes was such an iconic band in the early 1970's, they were far and away the most popular "progressive rock" band. Now forty years later they're still doing the same thing, but the line up has changed slightly. Lead singer Jon Anderson is sidelined with health problems and is replaced by Canadian Benoit David. Benoit made a name for himself in Yes cover bands and was drafted into the real band when Jon went down. Also keyboard maestro Rick Wakemen has been replaced by his son, Oliver. I don't know why Rick is retired, maybe he just doesn't care anymore.

But original band members, Chris Squire (bass/vocals), Alan White (drums), and Steve Howe (guitar/vocals) are still kicking out the progressive rock classic jams and they look like they're having more fun than ever. We had some great seats, in the first couple of rows, directly in front of guitar virtuoso Steve Howe. Steve Howe looks like one of those guys you see sitting in the lobby of an assisted living facility, but when he straps on that Gibson guitar he is simply amazing. Chris Squire is full of energy and approaches each song with utmost enthusiasm.
And the band performed all of their big hits from the heyday, starting with "Siberian Khatru" (someone in the audience yelled "Welcome to Siberia!" with 2 feet of snow outside) and they whipped through "I've Seen All Good People", "Your is No Disgrace", "Heart of the Sunrise", and "And You and I". Each song was close to the studio version, but did include extended solo's for everyone (except Wakeman for some reason). They also did a wonderful version of "Machine Messiah", a song from the Drama album that I'm not very familiar with, but this might have been the musical highlight. Steve Howe played two songs solo acoustic that were just marvelous. And of course they did "Roundabout" for an encore.
The audience was all old guys and a few wives (including the Bird, who is a big Yes fan). The Boy was there as part of his Continuing Music Education. In January we saw Dweezil Zappa play his tribute to his father's music, then we saw the Furthur show, which is a tribute to the Grateful Dead with a couple of original members and several younger players, then Yes with three original members and two youngsters filling in. I'm a little tired of "recreating" musical experiences from decades past and ready for some young musicians playing some new music. Bring on the festival season!

 The Boy, Greg Barnes, myself, the Bird

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Furthur - February 13 - George Mason University

For those of you that don't know, Furthur is a band put together by Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, to keep Dead music alive and out there. Joining them for this tour are keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (from Bob Weir's band Ratdog and he also played with the Dead last year), drummers Jay Lane and Joe Russo (we've seen him before with Benevento/Russo) and a couple of backup singers. But what had me most perplexed and anxious was the presence of guitarist/singer John Kadlicek. We've enjoyed John's performances for years as the lead guitarist for Dark Star Orchestra, which is the very popular Grateful Dead cover/tribute band. He plays and sings just like Jerry Garcia and when he plays with Dark Star and he has been essential to their ability to "re-create" the live Dead experience. So I was apprehensive when I heard that this Jerry imitator was filling in with Phil and Bobby. I did not have this feeling when the Dead toured last year with Warren Haynes as the lead guitarist. Warren didn't try to be Jerry, instead he brought his own sound and his own style which meshed really nicely with the Dead songs.

We rolled in the GMU Patriot Center, it was a near sold out crowd, a suprisingly older demographic. Of course you expect there to be many gray hairs there, but these shows usually attract a good number of young folks as well, especially on a college campus, but for whatever reason it was just us old folks.

They opened with "Playing in the Band" and my apprehension quickly slipped away. The band was tight, they were having fun and the music was good. Unlike earlier shows in the tour, Saturday night turned into a greatest hits sort of show, with "Friend of the Devil", "Ship of Fools", and "Truckin'" in the first set. I was particularly impressed with Jeff Chimenti's \crazy piano solo on "Wang Dang Doodle".

The second set kicked off with the superb trilogy "Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin's Tower" from the Blues for Allah album. This was followed by a really nice version of "Cassidy", it was here that Phil, Bobby, Jeff, and John seemed to get into a synergistic state where they were really listening to each other and playing together well. "Lovelight" had a nice part where the backup singers and Bobby were calling back and forth, almost gospel style. However the backup singers were mostly redundant on the other songs as they only sang the chorus lines where the crowd sings along anyway.

The band jammed on with "St. Stephen", a loose version of the Beatles' "Revolution", then "The Eleven" and "So Many Roads". Now I've always thought that John Kadlicek really sings "So Many Roads" very well, he sort of makes it his own song (as they might say on American Idol) and he rose to the occasion here as the band let him take the spotlight. So what was I all worried about? Let the music play! They finished up with "Let it Grow" and then slipped back into "Playing in the Band" to put a nice bookend on a fine evening of music. The crowd called for more so they came out and ripped through "Johnny B. Goode" to get us fired up for the long trip home.

Furthur is named for the bus that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters drove through history in the 1960's. Phil and Bob were there and it's inspirational that some 40+ years they're still out there playing music and having fun. In fact watching Phil on Saturday night I've never seen him in such an great mood, laughing, singing and playing. I salute him and wish him the best as he celebrates his 70th birthday next month

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zappa Plays Zappa - January 15 - Ram's Head Live

This was my fifth time seeing Dweezil Zappa and his band perform his father's music. Each time has been a superb evening of live Zappa music. In past tours, ZPZ has included guest performers who are alumni from Frank Zappa bands (Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, Ray White, Napoleon Murphy Brock, et. al.), however on this short tour it was pure ZPZ with no guests. But that was fine since Dweezil has assembled a band of very talented musicians who can play the heck out of a wide range of Zappa tunes. They had a new singer, Ben Thomas, who I had not seen before. He did a very good job with the challenging vocals and the improvisations that always made Zappa music fun to watch live.

The band started out on time and seemed almost in a hurry as they whipped through "Broken Hearts are for Assholes", "Bamboozled by Love", and "Dirty Love".  Then a very nice version of "RDNZL". Dweezil introduced "You Didn't Try to Call Me" saying that it was a rare arrangement that was only used briefly in the mid seventies when Frank had a female vocalist in the band (I missed her name). Scheila Gonzales handled the lead vocals this time and it was really nice. That was followed by "Road Ladies", a gem from the Chunga's Revenge album and version of "T'mershi Duween".

The band seemed to loosen up some and relax as they went back to the Joe's Garage album and played "Catholic Girls" and "Crew Slut" (with a superb guitar solo by Jamie Kime and some nice harmonica work by Ben). By now Dweezil was joking with the crowd, asking where to get good crab cakes.

It was recently announced that the City of Baltimore had selected a place to put a statue of Frank Zappa that was being given to the city by some dedicated fans in Lithuania. You can read about it here. Dweezil improvised the lyrics to "Pigmy Twylyte" to say that he'd be glad to attend the dedication ceremony if someone would tell him when it would be.

They closed with an encore including "Stinkfoot" and "Muffin Man" (which is a great song for an encore).  We grabbed a bite to eat before the show at a Mexican restaurant/night club next door to the Ram's Head where Vanilla Ice was scheduled to perform. I don't know why I'm mentioning that, it just seemed weird. My complaint on the Ram's Head is still that unless you're packed in the front, your choices are places where you can see well or hear well, but not both. Otherwise it was a good crowd with a high percentage of females for a Zappa show, the Bird suspects that Dweezil is gaining a following of his own with the ladies. In fact when Dweezil asked the audience in "What should I eat for dinner tonight?", one girl in front answered "Me!". Dweezil said his wife wasn't fond of that recipe.

A couple of other notes. Someone named Fred Midgett posted a very nice review of the show earlier in the week on the Zappa Plays Zappa web site. Fred is a huge Zappa fan and he wrote a loving note of thanks to Dweezil. You can read it in its entirety here. Scroll down to find Fred's posting.
Dweezil also mentioned a new web site called that has a bunch of cool stuff on it, especially details on DZ's guitar rig and a great video of Dweezil playing with Tenacious D!

Finally as I look at my first three concerts of 2010 I notice an interesting common thread. They're all shows with bands playing music from the sixties and seventies, dare I say "re-creating". My next concert is Yes, with some original members, but the keyboard player is the son of the original keyboardist (Rick Wakeman) and the lead singer is a replacement (who sounds exactly like Jon Anderson). That will be followed by Furthur, which is Bob Weir and Phil Lesh and several other talented musicians playing Grateful Dead songs. And of course I just saw Dweezil, faithfully performing his father's music. I'm not sure what it all means, I'll share my perspective over the next few weeks. Perhaps a few years from now all the shows that I go to will be cover bands consisting of sons and daughters of the original artists. But at this point I'm happy to see Dweezil any time he wants to bring his band to town and play some tasty Zappa tunes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

City Farm - January 9 - Tiffany Tavern

Last Saturday the Tiffany Tavern and City Farm teamed up again and provided a warm refuge from the frigid winter with great music, drink and friendship. Brother Ed was absent due to another commitment, but the remaining five members stepped up to the challenge and provided a evening of fine musical entertainment. Without Ed on guitar, Paul had to keep the mandolin mainly in the case and take out the six string. But Paul is a really fine guitar player so while Ed was sorely missed, it was nice to hear Paul's tasty finger picking style.
The atmosphere is always that of a neighborhood bar, though the neighborhood is thirty years ago and two hundred and fifty miles away. The bar was full (as normal) with a healthy representation of Danville expats and I was especially pleased to find a couple of pals from my college days in attendance. When City Farm plays at the Tavern there is a definite synergy between the band and the patrons, with everyone enjoying the music and making requests, and the band (I believe) getting inspired and motivated by the warmth and positive feedback from the crowd. The cramped, er.. well let's call it "intimate" space at the Tavern encourages you to strike up a conversation with those sitting or standing next to you. Saturday night a guy said to me: "These guys are great! What's the name of this band?"
"Why, they're the City Farm," I said. And while I didn't get his name, I expect I'll see him back there again real soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Year End Summary

Now that 2009 has come to an end I thought that I would look back and review my live music experiences, which after all was the primary reason for starting this blog at the beginning of 2009. Live music is one of my favorite “hobbies” or “recreational activities” and this tool has turned out to be a good way for me to document and somewhat preserve my memories. I look forward to continuing this blog in 2010 and I hope that I create some great new memories to save here. I’m toying with adding new features, perhaps live “tweets” from shows, certainly adding more photographs, and I would like to figure out how to add relevant music downloads.

Looking back at 2009 the first major highlight is definitely our seven show Dead experience in April and May. We caught the first show of the tour in Greensboro, NC only hours after returning from our Jamaica vacation and we finished five weeks later in Mountain View, California. This was wonderful for me on so many levels. The band reinvented itself for this tour with new energy and provided some of its best performances (I believe) in over 20 years. As I noted in the blog, I finally realized how the tour is really one long show and that is why so many people make the effort to see as many concerts as they can. I also saw my first show at the historic Madison Square Garden and one of the last shows at the venerable Philadelphia Spectrum (“we’re going to tear this old building down!”). It was a great experience to share with my wife (“The Bird”) who loves the Dead so much and I think it was an excellent new chapter in the continuing rock music education for my son (“The Boy”) who went to the first and last of our seven episodes.

Music festivals have always been great fun for us and an excellent way to experience many different bands in a beautiful outdoor setting. As is tradition for us, we went to the All Good and the FloydFest Festivals again in 2009. These two festivals are very different in their character and environment, but both deliver a nice mix of new bands and old favorites. We went to DelFest this year for the second time, and although a near tornado ripped through the festival site on Saturday afternoon the spirit and the music prevailed. In October of 2009 I went to the Crozet Music Festival (just outside Charlottesville) and had a wonderful time at this small local event. The weather and setting were perfect and there is plenty of local music talent to keep this festival on the “repeat” list.

The concert with the most “star power” for me in 2009 was probably Steve Winwood/Eric Clapton in June at the Verizon Center. For some strange reason I had never seen Eric Clapton before, but his performance with his old partner from Blind Faith was top notch professionism and a 2009 highlight for me.

Other musical artists that truly impressed me in 2009: Old Crow Medicine Show at the DelFest. After the storm, everyone was sort of wet, down, and wondering if the festival was going to go on (the main stage took major damage). The OCMS moved to the indoor rec center and created a positive storm of musical energy that got everyone dancing and back in the zone of good vibrations. Jackie Greene at the All Good Festival. I would love to see him again soon, he’s got just the right combination of original songwriting and musical skills that leave you wanting more. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the FloydFest. This performance made a big impression on me and I made the effort to see them again (a short set at the Rt. 29 Revue at Merriweather Post and a rocking show at the Ram’s Head Live). She is a very talented performer and continues to win fans nationwide. Mark my word, she’ll have a hit single someday and Grace Potter will be a household name.

Another super highlight for me was the City Farm Benefit show in August, seeing so many Danville friends, young and old (well I guess old and older!) in such a positive setting was a ton of fun. My parody of the event in my blog got a lot of favorable comments, except from the band members who thought it was a factual report of the event.

There were many other highlights, seeing Dave Matthews in California with the Boy after touring the college where he’ll be for the next four years, a killer Allman Brothers performance at the Merriweather, watching Donna the Buffalo from the shelter of the VIP seats at FloydFest while it poured down rain (thank you John!), the list goes on and on. In fact, by my count I saw 29 shows (counting each Festival as one “show”) and over 90 bands this year. I’m afraid to run the total on my Quicken account to see how much $$ I spent on concert tickets, that’s a number that’s probably best left unknown.

As I look over the 2009 list a few things are missing. No shows at the Birchmere or the Strathmore! This is a sin to live so close to such treasures and not take advantage of it. I still have yet to see Bruce Springsteen live and I missed his tour again this year. My calendar didn’t line up this year with Bob Dylan’s never ending world tour. These things will be addressed in 2010. And speaking of Bruce and Bob, check out Jon Stewart's tribute to Bruce Springsteen at the Kennedy Center Honors. It's brilliant.

We finished 2009 in Austin, Texas (“the live music capital of the world”) and I was able to catch a few sets (the Evans Johnson band played some rockin’ rock-a-billy at Antone’s and I saw a fun bar band on Sixth Street but I forgot their name). Austin is a town where you can hear great live music every night if you want so we’ll have to get back down there again soon.

It looks like 2010 will start off with some good music, I have tickets already for Zappa Plays Zappa in January, in February it’s going to be Yes and Furthur. And I have tickets for DelFest and FloydFest, and I’ll pick up my All Good tickets as soon as they go on sale. Thanks for reading this, I appreciate your comments and I hope to see you at the next show.