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!!