Monday, December 5, 2011

Jam Week - String Cheese Incident/Dark Star Orchestra/Donna the Buffalo

I had the good fortune last week to see three different musical performances, all by bands that would be loosely categorized as "jam bands". The first was String Cheese Incident at the Baltimore Lyric Opera House, then Dark Star Orchestra at the 9:30 club in DC, and finally Donna the Buffalo at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD.

The first show, or "Incident" as String Cheese likes to call their shows, was my first visit to the Baltimore Lyric Opera House. There have been previous performers there that interested me, but I felt that the ticket prices were too steep. But the Incident pricing was reasonable and it is rare for this band to tour on the East Coast so I bought a ticket.  It was not quite a sellout, but a house full of devoted Cheeseheads who were totally into the music. I've listened to this band plenty of times, I think they're very talented musicians, but none of their songs have ever really stuck with me. Guitarist Bill Nershi often tours the festival circuit with Drew Emmitt (of Leftover Salmon). Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth is originally from Baltimore and he commented during the show that he performed as a child at the Lyric in a holiday concert. (Someone next to me believed that his parents were watching from offstage). The Lyric Opera House is over 100 years old, but was recently renovated. It seems to seat about 2500 people (compared to the Warner Theater's 1800). The sight lines and acoustics are excellent and there is a reasonably priced parking garage immediately next to the theater. The only thing that I didn't like (along with other folks that I talked to) is you can't take your drink from the lobby into the theater. So you can drink or listen to music, just not both at the same time.

A couple of nights later we decided to catch Dark Star Orchestra at the 9:30 club, I've commented on this band before in this space, unlike most cover bands who play songs by other artists, Dark Star performs entire Grateful Dead concerts. The date of the concert being recreated is never announced until the end of the show so during the show audience members discuss and guess which one of the 25,000+ Dead shows they are listening to. This one turned out to be from October 8, 1989 at the Hampton Roads Coliseum. I thought the Dark Star lost a step when John Kadlecik was promoted to play with Furthur and was replaced with Jeff Mattson. But this was the best performance that I had heard from them since John's departure, it was really quite enjoyable. In line for tickets we found ourselves standing next to Senator Al Franken (D - Minnesota) who seemed to be having a good time hanging out with real people and not having to deal with the clowns in his workplace a few blocks down the street. He got on stage to introduce the band for the second set, it's kind of funny, you can watch it by clicking here.

The final show of this jam band trifecta was Donna the Buffalo at the intimate Ram's Head Tavern.  This was a very enjoyable show, we've seen them plenty of times before but they are always entertaining, especially in a nice venue like the Ram's Head. They played a wide variety of songs, old and new, many of them audience requests. That was the especially nice part of the show, because of the intimate setting, the band members frequently interacted with the audience, chatting them up, Tara even told a dirty joke while Jeb was tuning. She seemed to regret that, so she asked an audience member to tell one, and someone quickly complied. It was great seeing and hearing DTB in this intimate and casual setting. I should also mention that Amy LaVere and her band opened the show. I never had heard of her before, but she was very impressive. She plays stand up bass and sings in a style that reminded me a little of Amy Winehouse. All original material, although she did perform "Candle Mambo" by Captain Beefheart!

So at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the first show was a great new venue for me, the band was good but the content (i.e. the songs) were not very strong. The second show was a favorite band in a favorite venue, but nothing really new or exciting. And the last show was "just right", great setting and great music.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Furthur/Back Porch Orchestra/Warren Haynes Band

I was able to catch the Furthur show on November 8 at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. This was the fifth show on their fall tour, the last time I was at JPJ it was to see the Dead in 2009. This is a nice arena because it's small, it's on a university campus, and I always like hanging in Charlottesville. As I've said before here, Furthur continues to improve as time goes on and this show was no disappointment. What was really special for me was the inclusion of Pink Floyd's "Time" (from Dark Side of the Moon) in the second set. It really blew my mind, or maybe it was the cookies and punch that I had in the parking lot before the show?  Whatever, by the "Time" they kicked into that song I was comfortably numb. They also did a couple of Dylan tunes ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue") which are always fun.

I was in North Carolina for the weekend and my cousin took me to hear a local band called Back Porch Orchestra. Just four players (guitar, mandolin, bass, and singer) they were quite good, playing a mix of covers (Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty) and original songs. I'll have to keep them on my radar and hopefully see them again soon.

I raced back from North Carolina to get to the Fillmore in Silver Spring to catch the Warren Haynes Band. I made it in time to hear the last of the first set and all of the second set. Warren has formed this band and released an album as a tribute to his love for soul music, we saw them at the All Good Festival and this show was the last show on their tour. The addition of singer Alecia Chakour has made their vocal sound stronger. They did do some great soul tunes, including Sly Stone's "Let Me Have it All", Mother's Finest "Baby Love" and the Sam Cooke classic "A Change is Gonna Come". Then they started rocking things up with Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" and Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic".  During the encore, which of course included Warren's "Soulshine" they sequed into Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey". This was truly a magical musical moment, I think all of the players were inspired trying to make this last show really special. A special nod of appreciation goes to sax player Ron Holloway (from Takoma Park). I think if the Stones ever need a replacement for Bobby Keys, Ron is their man. The Fillmore is starting to work through some of the initial issues that I had with this venue, like no good beer on the menu and a little too much "corporate presence" from the Live Nation folks. The sound is great and look forward to more/better shows in the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Journey Across America

I've seen a great deal of live music since my last blog update, just haven't found the time to write it down. We saw two great shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Steely Dan in the first week of August and Zappa Plays Zappa/Return to Forever in the second week. The ZPZ/RTF show was particularly good, although I was disappointed that Jean Luc Ponty did not join ZPZ for a song or two. We also went to the Frank Zappa Day in Baltimore in September , caught several good bands including the All Mighty Senators. And we saw a really special show in September at the Jammin' Java - Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and others did an amazing performance of original and King Crimson music that needs additional comment. I spent the first two weekends in October at the Misty Mountain Music Festival and the Festy, two great festivals in the hills of central Virginia (with a nice Bruce Cockburn show at the Charlottesville Jefferson Theatre tossed in there). 

But for this blog entry I'm going to diverge from the live music theme and share some photos and comments of our Drive Across America. We wanted to establish a winter home away from home in the Southwest so we decided to relocate our Pinnacle from Maryland to Arizona.  What follows is a summary of that trip.

Thursday 10/20

The Bird, the F-350, and the Pinnacle - ready to start 
The Bird and I set out on Thursday 10/20 with the Pinnacle in tow, heading south and making our first stop at Natural Bridge, Virginia. We stayed at the Yogi Bear campground which is in a nice rural setting and plenty of space. Our truck was reading 9 miles of fuel remaining on the trip computer, so we headed out Thursday evening in search for a quick diesel fill up. That turned into a white knuckle driving adventure as every gas station in the Natural Bridge/Buena Vista area was either closed/out of fuel/or no diesel on the menu. We must have driven 30 miles before we finally coasted in on fumes to a station with available fuel.  Later that evening I watched the last few innings of Game 2 of the World Series, Rangers win 2 - 1.

I lived in Virginia for 25 years but for some reason never visited this natural wonder. We were one of the first to arrive at the Natural Bridge Friday morning, I had rather low expectations, thinking it would be a little bridge that you looked at for five minutes and then that was it. Instead this thing is huge, with a beautiful trail that winds underneath and up into the mountains. It is higher than Niagara Falls and the Lee Highway still runs over it. We really enjoyed it and I was glad the Bird suggested checking it out.

Natural Bridge

Here is where a young surveyor named George Washington carved his initials in the bridge in 1750. 

Lace Falls, near the Natural Bridge
After that we drove five miles up to a "drive through safari" where you can see and feed a wide variety of exotic animals from the comfort of the front seat of your vehicle.  

This llama was the first to greet us.

Ostrich at the Safari

The camels were the most assertive in getting food. One of them decided to grab the whole bowl rather than  eat out of it.

After the safari, we went back to Yogi Bear's place, hooked up the Pinnacle and headed south. Our propane system had been acting strangely, so we stopped at the Camping World in Roanoke to have a professional take a look at it. Turns out the switch that allows you to switch between primary and backup tanks is installed exactly backwards, which was causing me much confusion. The folks at Camping World were very helpful and soon we were on our way. The town of Sevierville, just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee was our next stop at the Two Rivers camp resort. This place is right in the middle of a commercial district, many outlet centers and fast food joints but it's right on the French Broad river (what a name) and the facilities are top notch. The on site manager, Ken, helped me back the Pinnacle into the snug site and his wife had hot coffee ready for us in the morning at the main building. 

We pulled out Saturday morning and rather than taking the interstate, we decided to take a more scenic route.  After getting through the over the top touristy attractions in Gatlinburg we wound through some beautiful fall foliage in the Great Smokey Mountains.  Then we nipped across the northwest corner of Georgia and on to Birmingham Alabama. We found a nice state park (Oak Mountain), set up the rig and headed into town in search of barbecue (or is it bar-b-que? or BBQ?). We found some good meat at Jim N Nicks which is right in the downtown area.  Saw some of Game 3 of the World Series in the restaurant, caught an inning or so on the radio on the drive home, then finished up watching the bloodbath in the Pinnacle, Cards win 16 - 7.

From Birmingham we headed due south to the Gulf Shores state park and got a great campsite location, this is a park where you could spend several days. We had a nice seafood dinner in Orange Beach, and enjoyed the peaceful serenity of the state park. Watched Texas get their game back and win Game 4 with a score of 4 - 0.

The Pinnacle in Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama 
In the morning I took a nice bike ride over some trails surrounding the state park and the Bird and I then spent some time on the beach. We met some guys who were using nets to pick up very small tar balls from the beach and we saw some fishermen pull in a few whiting.
Me monitoring Gulf Shore cleanup activities.

Pavilion on the Beach

Fishing on the Gulf Shore
After visiting the beach, we loaded up and drove across the bottom of Mississippi and on to New Orleans. We found a funky campground in the grounds of an old plantation about 45 miles outside of the city. It's called Poche Plantation, right on the Mississippi River, and has a lot of character. After setting up the rig we soaked in the hot tub, made some dinner and watched a tough battle (Game 5) where the Rangers prevailed 4 - 2. During commercials I watched the Ravens take a terrible drubbing against the weak Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Pinnacle at Poche Plantation, outside of New Orleans
Tuesday 10/25
We decided to take a break from traveling on this day and do some sightseeing in New Orleans. Cafe au lait with beignets at Cafe du Monde, then searching the old St. Louis cemeteries for the crypt of Maria Laveau, a voodoo priestess mentioned in songs by Dr. John, Canned Heat, Dr. Hook, and others.  We didn't find her but the search was fun. Then beers and oysters at the Royal House, a drive through the lower 9th ward to see how it was faring, and dinner at Jacques-Ismo's with our friend Mariah and some of her Tulane college buddies.

The band takes a break 
The Bird checks out the cemetery while keeping an eye on the Powerball.
This might be Madame Laveau's crypt.

View from our table at the Oyster House

Jacques-ismo's Restaurant

With our new friends from Tulane
Wednesday 10/26
Heading west from New Orleans it was a long drive to Katy, Texas just west of Houston. We stopped for a tasty etouffe lunch in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Then we made it the Stephen F. Austin State Park which was very nice. Large campsites in a beautiful wooded setting, the place was crawling with deer and other wildlife. My cousin Woody, his son Jack, and Jack's girlfriend Kayla came by to visit. We had a good time catching up, showing photos to each other, and the Bird even helped Jack with some of his calculus homework. We would have watched Game 6 of the world series, but it was rained out.

Stephen F. Austin State Park
Took a nice but short bike ride in the State Park in the morning, then it was a relatively short travel time from Katy to Austin, where we set up camp in the McKinney Falls State Park. Nice setting, but it was a bit of a challenge to our back up skills to get the Pinnacle in the campsite. Once we setup, we headed into Austin and took the bat watching cruise. There were about 20 of us on a open air party boat that sailed around on Lady Bird Lake ending up at sunset under the Congressional Bridge. 1.5 million bats live under the bridge and at sunset they all fly out to go bug hunting. It is quite a sight to see. Cap'n Dave kept us entertained with fun facts about Austin and the bats throughout the cruise. Afterwards we went to a barbecue joint called Green Mesquite, super service, great atmosphere and tasty smoked meat. Game 6 of the World Series was on a TV in the restaurant, but it was out of my sight, so after eating we headed back to the camper and watched the last half of the game, Cards win 10 - 9 in a wild extra inning extra inning affair. 

Here's a one minute video that I took of the bats taking off from under the Congress Street Bridge. In the background you can hear Cap'n Dave giving us bat facts.


It is a long drive west from Austin to get to New Mexico. In fact it's too long so most folks stop about halfway in Ft. Stockton, TX. I think this is the only reason this place exists, but we found a very nice campground and an even nicer Mexican restaurant called Mi Casita. There was no real television reception in Ft. Stockton, so I listened to Game 7 on the satellite radio, Cards win 6 - 2 and clinch the Championship.
Beautiful Fort Stockton Texas

There was a barbecue contest at the campground where we were staying. Check out this Texas style Barbecue cooker.

Our next day took us to Alamogordo, New Mexico where we set up at the Boot Hill RV resort. Alamogordo is not much of an attraction, but just 20 miles north at the Three Rivers National Park are these fascinating petroglyphs carved into rocks by Native Americans some 1,000 years ago. It is a National Park and the park rangers that live out there in the desert with the petroglyphs are a hilarious couple, almost like a southwestern version of Stiller and Meara.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Our truck is parked in the parking lot down there.

This one looks like a Peace sign. 

Sunday 10/30
We set out from Alamogordo with the intention of making another stop in New Mexico to check out their hot springs in City of Rocks or Gila Forest, but once we started rolling we decided to push on to Picacho, AZ, the final destination for this trek. We made it just as it turned dark, all in all over 2,700 miles on the truck and 10 days of traveling.

Picacho Peak in Arizona

Monday, September 12, 2011

Floydest X - July 28 - 31 - Floyd, VA

This year's Floydfest was billed as "Floydfest X - The EXperience" but for me the theme was more about passing musical legacies to the next  generation. This was the tenth annual Floydfest (thus the "X") and the ninth consecutive Floydfest for me. This is absolutely, hands down, the best organized festival in the most beautiful setting that I have eXperienced, the tenth edition brought even larger crowds than years before, but the venue and the organizers handled it eXtremely well. The beautiful setting along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County Virginia includes at least nine stages, ranging from the ever so intimate Virginia Folklife Workshop Stage to the stunning Dreaming Creek Main Stage. Throughout the four day festival there is superb music being performed on each of the stages and as a festival goer your challenge to see and hear as much of it as you can. 

We started on Thursday with two raucous sets by Trampled by Turtles and Old Crow Medicine Show. Trampled by Turtles has the traditional bluegrass instrumental lineup, but they play really, really fast. Their singing seemed to be much better than the last time I saw them. These guys are a lot of fun and I heartily recommend them. Old Crow Medicine Show is one of our favorite bands these days and at the Floydfest they delighted the crowd with a two hour set. They started out played each song straight through without any long instrumental solos or "jams", however this changed over time as Willie Watson commented "2 hours is a long time and our songs are so short. We're going to bring out every thing for you tonight". Soon thereafter they did a very nice spacey jam, but not really very long. They played several new tunes (I probably don't have these names right) "Carry Me Back to Virginia", "Tobacco Farmer Song", and "Levi" which was about a guy from southwest virginia who was killed in Iraq. As they played that song I thought of the soldier who sent a very moving email to the Floydfest organizers. He explained how he was on tour in Iraq and would not be able to make to the festival this year. I highly recommend you read it (click here).  A week or so later I was disappointed to see posted on the Old Crow website that they were taking a performance sabbatical to "seek health and wellness in the coming months". I certainly hope that they find it and are making great music again soon.

Bicycling by the Festival on the Blue Ridge Parkway
On Friday we went to the Virginia Folklife Workshop Stage to see Sam Bush. The Workshop Stage provides an amazing opportunity to see top notch performers up close and in an informal setting where folks can ask questions and learn about the person behind the music. Here's a picture that I took of Sam playing (along with guitarist Stephen Mougin) that shows how close you are to the artists (there is no zoom in this picture).

Sam Bush and Stephen Mougin
The workshops are hosted by Jon Lohman, who is Virginia's "State Folklorist" and director of the Virginia Folklife Program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Jon does a good job of spurring the discussion with the performers and then getting out of the way to let them play. 

To kick things off Jon asked Sam if he was considering another run for the presidency and Sam said perhaps, if he could convince Senator Arlen Spector to join him. Then they would have a "Bush 'n Spector" ticket... Har Har.  Sam spent some time talking about how he got started playing the mandolin when he was a kid and he demonstrated some of his playing styles, comparing and contrasting to other well known mandolin players. As he was doing this I looked out at the audience and noticed how many young people were there. And I got to thinking how when Sam was young, he watched Bill Monroe and other players of that time, and he has eXpanded and grown their music in his own way. How many future musicians were sitting this audience, and would say 30 - 40 years from now "I remember seeing Sam Bush back in 2011 and that's what got me started in music"?

Later in the day I listened to Railroad Earth at the Porch, it was good but their Smilefest set is still number one in 2011 for me. 
Railroad Earth
Later on Saturday we watch Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey, who are a crazy group of musicians, with a heavy emphasis on percussion. Then our friend whipped up a great meal of shrimp, clams, and burgers at his deluXe RV, Thanks JD! The evening (for us at least) concluded with a very entertaining set from Robert Randolph and his Family Band. They were joined by the guitarist from New Monsoon and our old friend Sam Bush on the fiddle. 

I knew from studying the schedule that Saturday was going to be a Hot Tuna day. We started off with a terrific Hot Tuna acoustic set on the main stage. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves and the feedback from the audience. 

Hot Tuna (acoustic, Barry Mitterhoff not shown)
Rodger and I enjoying the Hot Tuna show
After Hot Tuna, we stuck around the Main Stage to hear Donna the Buffalo, they were sounding tight as ever, but after a couple of songs I chose to hike back to the Workshop Porch where Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff were joined by Larry Keel for more acoustic virtuosities. This was another exceptional Workshop session, Jon asked Jorma what was it like to be a teenager in Jefferson Airplane during the 1960's, and he replied that he has two perspectives. One: "How could anyone let me go out in public dressed like that?" and Two: "It enabled me to have a career as a folk musician."  Jorma has obviously long ago left the Jefferson Airplane and that type of music behind and now eXpresses a different artistic vision through Hot Tuna and his solo projects. But he was happy to talk about it and they played some great tunes at the Porch, Jorma seemed particularly impressed with Larry's guitar playing skills (he said "I need to go home and practice some more!"). 

I walked back from the Porch to the John Updike Social Pavilion, taking the same route that Jorma must have taken (in his chauffeur driven golf cart) to get back to the artist area. We passed by the Kid's Stage, where bands (often teenagers and kids) play age appropriate music for the young ones. As I passed by the band was playing "Somebody to Love", the Jefferson Airplane hit from 1967. I wondered what Jorma was thinking when he heard that as he rode by. Again the younger generation, taking the music from the previous generation and passing it on down the line.   

Later in the day we listened to some Taj Mahal and then more Hot Tuna, this time the electric version. Saturday evening concluded with one of our favorite live acts, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. She completely delivered on the Saturday night headliner responsibilities, with a big rocking show, full of energy and exciting performances. I was perpleXed by the absence of Catherine Popper (bassist), there was some other woman filling in for her (and she missed 3 or 4 songs in the middle of the set). They did a nice acoustic song and they continue to work and improve what I call the "space jam", some extended instrumental/improvisational sections that I first heard at the 930 club in March and didn't particularly care for. But now these arrangements have gotten better and they seem to work on the bigger stage. When they kicked into the Jefferson Airplane classic "White Rabbit" that has become one of their concert staples, I was so hoping that Jack and Jorma would join them on stage, but I guess that was really too much to ask for. Anyway Grace and the boys put on a spectacular performance to conclude day 3 of the festival.

The festival planners did a good job of programming Sunday's musical entertainment around the current titans of bluegrass/acoustic music, with performances by Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, David Grisman and Del McCoury. Peter Rowan did a funny song about the Tea Party, his vocals are stronger than ever. Tony Rice has had a tough time with his health over the last few years but his guitar playing continues to be masterful. He brought out David Grisman for some nice mandolin and guitar duet playing, but I missed that because I had headed back to the Workshop Porch for an up close and personal session with Del McCoury. This began with a nice interview by Jon Lohman with Del. Del explained how he began his interest in music at a very young age listening to his parents play and going to concerts with them. Then he brought out his band, which includes two of his adult sons (Ronnie and Rob). Ronnie is one of the best mandolin players in the business today and he explained that after he learned to play at the age of 13 his father immediately had him in the band and touring with him.  This was the clearest example I had seen all weekend of the theme of passing the musical heritage from one generation to the next.  

"Musical Mount Rushmore" - Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Del McCoury
photo: Rick Hartman 
After the Del McCoury session on the porch, I made it back to the main stage to hear the David Grisman SeXtet, and their wonderful mixture of bluegrass and jazz that is best described as "dawg" music. 

So for four days we spent time in the mountains of southwestern Virginia with friends and family and heard a wide variety of old and new music. Over and over I heard the musicians eXplain their musical heritage and how musicians from years ago influenced them to become the artists that they are today. I'm comforted in knowing that in the years to come, the children of Floydfest will be creating more beautiful music that was inspired by this summer weekend in 2011.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jim Lauderdale - July 24 - Hill Country DC

Last month we enjoyed a great summer Sunday evening with our friend, Jim X, in downtown DC. This was especially fun because in addition to hearing one of our favorite singer/songwriters perform, we discovered a great new venue for live music. The Hill Country is not far from the Verizon Center and it advertises itself as "honoring the barbecue and live music capital of Texas". There is also a location in NYC.  The food is authentic, delicious, texas style meat that is smoked to perfection. They offer brisket, ribs, sausage, prime rib and other meats, cooked "low and slow" over wood fires. They sell it by weight so you can load up your tray with a sampler platter of your own creation. They also have a big selection of sides, like slaw, mac n cheese, and other tasty items. We had a feast and it was all quite good.

After our dinner of tasty smoked meats we went downstairs to where the live music is served up. It's a small room in the basement with tables and a full bar (seats maybe 75 - 100). We learned that you can reserve a table in the performance room and carry your food downstairs so you can eat and listen to music at the same time. The bartender was very nice and he let me sample some of the Texas beers on draft to help me decide which one I wanted.

When we got downstairs the show had not yet started but Jim Lauderdale was milling around, greeting folks and hanging out. We introduced ourselves and told him that we were going to the Floydfest the next weekend and wishing that he would come back there. He said he loved playing Floydfest and he wished they would invite him back. Maybe next year.

Jim played solo accompanying himself on guitar. He launched into the first couple of songs without intro, but then he warmed up and started talking to the audience. He's quite a funny guy and had great stories to tell between songs. And he played a LOT of songs. Nearly all of them were originals, many from his latest album that he co-wrote with Robert Hunter (lyricist for the Grateful Dead) called "Reason and Rhyme". After 80 minutes of great songs he left the stage to a rousing ovation. As the crowd continued to applaud he acted like the backstage was locked, he twisted and pulled on the doorknob and looked sheepishly back to the audience who continued cheering. He's a funny guy. Then he came back on stage and gave us 6 or 7 more songs.

I heartily recommend Hill Country DC for great food and music and any time you can catch Jim Lauderdale, make the effort.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

All Good Festival - July 14-17 - Marvin's Mountaintop, WV

We've been going to the All Good Festival for many years, it's attraction has always been the stellar line up of performers and the "All Good" vibe that permeates the atmosphere.  This year's edition was no different as there were over 40 bands and a true sense of community and common love of music. We took the Jayco Pinnacle and arrived in plenty of time to secure a good spot in the section reserved for RVs. After a quick and easy set up we were ready for music.

Successful Establishment of the Base Camp
We've enjoyed listening to the albums of the John Butler Trio but never had a chance to see this Australian jam band perform live until this festival. They put on an excellent show the first night of the festival that included some tasty didgeridoo playing.

Friday I started the day by taking a bike ride over to the opposite end of the festival grounds to check out the Recipe, a band from Morgantown WV that always puts on a fun show. Despite going through several personnel changes over the years they continue to deliver a high energy show with some great original songs. Later in the day on the main stage we saw the Infamous Stringdusters play a fantastic set of modern bluegrass originals. Usually the music at All Good tends more towards the jam/rock genre and away from bluegrass, but these guys got a rousing reception from the crowd with their clean and pure string sound. I look forward to seeing them in the fall at the festival in VA that they host.

Infamous Stringdusters
After the Stringdusters we headed back to the secondary stage to see the "Rebel Alliance Jam". This was a collaboration between several members of Toubab Krewe, Umphrey's McGee, and Keller Williams. They did not disappoint and put on a nice jam show.

Rebel Alliance Jam

As the sun went down and the evening set in we made it back to the main stage for the Warren Haynes Band. We last saw Warren (who I call the hardest working man in show business) at the Del Fest as a solo acoustic performer, but for the All Good festival he brought along his full band, including Ron Holloway on sax, and the show was much more energetic and appropriate for a big nighttime crowd. He closed out with the crowd pleaser "Soul Shine".  Warren Haynes was followed Toubab Krewe on the small side stage and then an unexplained 20 minute delay before Furthur started playing. 

Furthur played two complete sets, the first set started off with some Grateful Dead classics ("Jack Straw", "Bertha", "Ramble on Rose") but also included a Rat Dog song ("Money for Gasoline") and finished with Warren Haynes joining them for "Turn on Your Lovelight".  The second set had a very nice "Terrapin" suite and included a sort of new song, "The Mountain Song". I say "sort of" because this song began as a David Crosby composition in 1970 and then Robert Hunter wrote additional lyrics and Phil Lesh's son Brian merged it all together in a new arrangement. They also did a tear it up version of "Corrina".  John Kadlecik sounds as good as ever singing and playing guitar and I guess after repeated shows seeing him play with Furthur I'm starting to be won over that this can really work. 

On Saturday we took it easy and tried to stay out of the sun, we did catch an excellent set by Donna the Buffalo and we also watched Yonder Mountain String Band.  I have to admit I'm ready to abandon YMSB as the last few times that I've seen them they've lost their appeal to me. They know how to play to a large crowd and get them energized, but they don't seem to have much more substance beyond that.  Their bluegrass playing is sloppy (compared to someone like the Incredible Stringdusters) and they seem to me to be nothing much more than a party type band.  

I was too tired to take on the late shows by Primus and Pretty Lights, but my friend Davis represented us there and came back with high marks for both performances.  But after a good night's sleep I was ready to rock on Sunday and it kicked off in a big way with the All Mighty Senators playing at noon.  

The All Mighty Senators are a Baltimore based band that is full of charisma and energy. Led by their lead singer/drummer (Landis Expandis), they bring out the high powered dance funk whether its midnight in a downtown Baltimore or Sunday morning in the hills of West Virginia. Given the relative early start to this set, there was not much of a crowd there to see the AMS, but I was pleased when I looked to my left and saw Tim Walther (All Good Festival promoter) dancing away with the rest of the crowd.

The All Mighty Senators crank up the Power Generator
As the AMS were performing their wild and crazy act I caught a glimpse of Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass backstage. They were coming on next and he had a classic look of "WTF?" as he must have been wondering how his bluegrass band was going to follow this insanity.  But the show must go on and they did a fine set of bluegrass tunes in their inimitable style.

After Greensky Bluegrass we took a lunch break and made it back to the stage to see Toots & the Maytals perform one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. This was the first time that I had seen the reggae pioneer perform, he's been making music professionally since 1961.  The summer weather and the rhythmic reggae sounds brought on a real Caribbean feeling making me long to get back to the island.

And on that note we packed up the Pinnacle and headed home after 4 full days of music. It wasn't until we got home that we learned the sad news that Sunday afternoon a truck rolled down a hill over a tent, killing someone sleeping inside.  Despite this terrible accident, Tim and his company continue to do an amazing job of getting so many people together for a weekend of great music and good times. The All Good Festival continues to serve as an oasis of "peace, love and music" in the middle of these crazy times.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Smilefest - June 3 - 5 - Pinnacle, NC

Smilefest is a very nice little festival at a campground in North Carolina. It advertises that ticket count is limited to only 1,499 total and it looked liked fewer than that number were there. But the weather was beautiful and they had a lineup of excellent musicians to keep us entertained. This was the second time we took our Jayco Pinnacle 5th wheel camper to a festival and it performed very well, our friend Wayne stayed with us and we met our friends Steve and Donna there as well.

Our campsite with the Jayco Pinnacle
After getting set up (see photo above) we checked out the music, the stage was at the bottom of a steep natural amphitheater and gave us a beautiful view of Pilot Mountain.  It is widely believed that the town of "Mount Pilot" often mentioned in The Andy Griffith Show was named for Pilot Mountain. Andy Griffith was born and raised not too far from here. So it was a very nice setting and they used the system pioneered by Tim Walther (of the All Good Music Festival) of having two stages side by side. While one band is playing the other stage is getting set up for the next band. Thus there is continuous music and you never have to miss a band due to scheduling conflicts.

Two stages with Pilot Mountain in the distance
Friday afternoon/evening had good sets by Jackass Flats, Pimps of Joytime, and the New Mastersounds, but the highlight for me was seeing one of my favorite bands, Railroad Earth, up close and personal. With such a small venue I was able to watch the entire set from the front rail and the RRE boys put on a fantastic show.

You can in fact download a recording of the Railroad Earth set from the link on the sidebar.

Saturday was another beautiful day, the Bird fixed up some nice food for us and we saw several new (to us) bands as well as a fine set by Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, followed by Melvin Seals and the JGB.  That dude knows how to work a Hammond organ. Late night funkiness was provided by Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, complete with a nice flotilla of paper lanterns flying off into the night sky. 

Sunday's highlight was Jeb and Tara of Donna the Buffalo, playing a relaxed set without the full band. All in all a very nice relaxing weekend with friends and great music, that's what summer festivals are all about.