Monday, December 10, 2012

Journey West Part 2

We decided that rather than fool around with Mother Nature we would head west to better weather and spend some time in One of our favorite places, New Orleans. So we drove from Panama City along the gulf coast to the Crescent City and set up at the Pontchartrain Landing RV park. This is a nice RV park that is within the New Orleans city limits and on a canal which accesses Lake Pontchartrain. We spent the weekend touring the city, trying different restaurants, and catching some live music. Our favorite restaurant was Coop's Place, which is in the French Quarter, towards Frenchmen street. Great food and a really friendly atmosphere.

Pontchartrain Landing RV Park

There's always live music going on in New Orleans and we happened upon a band playing in the street called the Drunken Catfish Ramblers. The Bird immediately recognized the guitarist as Scottie Swears (aka Stalebread Scottie) who had a recurring role on the HBO series Treme. The Ramblers were quite good and we listened to them while soaking in the sun on the sidewalk.

Stalebread Scottie and the Drunken Catfish Ramblers

While in New Orleans also we took a bus tour of the city, which was educational, and we went to the Po'Boy Festival over near Tulane. There was some great food and drink at the festival but it was too crowded for the narrow streets.

Next, we drove from New Orleans to the Stephen F. Austin State Park, which is just outside Katy, Texas where my cousin lives. Woottie and Janet came to visit and we went out to dinner. The next day Woottie and I played golf on the course which is right there in the state park.

Brazos River in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Golfers are part of the wildlife in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Our next stop was Austin, Texas where we settled in an RV park on Lake Travis, just outside of town. The Boy flew in from school and joined us for Thanksgiving. We had a traditional turkey dinner at the Cool River Cafe, a very nice restaurant in Austin, we went to see the Lincoln movie, and we visited the Cathedral of Junk. The Cathedral of Junk is an ongoing artistic creation that Vince Hannemann has created in his back yard. This multistory accumulation of discarded bicycles, tires, televisions, and everything else you could throw away is put together in a whimsical way that invites you to crawl through it and see what you can find. We enjoyed talking to Mr. Hannemann and he seems to enjoy his role as a local who is doing his part to "Keep Austin Weird".

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin

After the Boy went back to school we stayed for a couple of more days in Austin so the Bird could get some work done and I took a nice bike ride around Lake Travis. The lake water level is very low due to the ongoing drought in Texas, but there was still some nice scenery in the Texas hill country.
From Austin we headed out across west Texas, which is a long trip without much to see. We overnighted in San Angelo at the state park there, which is on the shores of the O. C. Fisher Reservoir. The reservoir levels were low due to the ongoing drought, and the next day there was a scheduled "wildlife management activity" which I learned meant they were going to let a bunch of hunters loose to cull the deer population. I decided to leave the bike packed up and keep on traveling.

Our site at the San Angelo State Park

The next day we made it to New Mexico and the Brantley Lake State Park, which is just outside of Carlsbad. This is a vast expanse of New Mexico desert with a man made lake which looks like it would be popular with the locals during the summer. Of course the lake water level was very low due to the ongoing drought (do you notice a theme here?) but the camping facilities had everything we needed and we met a very nice couple there, Bob and Fran from Illinois. They have been touring the country in their RV off and on for some time, but they had just gone "full time", which means they had rented their house and moved into the RV. Bob had a huge Meade telescope that he set up, and despite the fact that it was a full moon, we were still able to clearly see Jupiter and four of its moons, the Andromeda galaxy and the "dumbbell nebula".
We spent the better part of the next day touring Carlsbad Caverns, which is an amazing spectacle of natural beauty, unlike anything we have ever seen.We opted for the self-guided walk-in tour over the elevator ride-n-guide and were glad we did. The caverns are so big and it was so unusual to be exploring around that far underground on our own. In this 24 hour period we had seen natural wonders thousands of feet below the earth's surface and millions of light years away. Only in the Southwest!

It's hard to see, but the Pinnacle is set up under the 4th tree from the left on the horizon.

Brantley Lake in New Mexico

The switchback trail that leads you down into Carlsbad Caverns

The Bird next to a stalagmite and stalactite that in a few hundred more years will connect to form a column.

For our next stop we needed a reliable Internet connection so we stayed at the Sunny Acres RV park in Las Cruces, NM. The drive though Cloudcroft and Alamagordo in the Lincoln National Forest provided us with some fabulous views of the mountains.
From Las Cruces we headed to Arizona and stopped at the Lake Roper State Park near Safford. What a great find this was! The lake was at normal levels and full of all kinds of migratory shore birds that had stopped there on their way to Mexico. The mountain views were spectacular, and there was even a natural hot mineral springs spa that we were able to enjoy as the sun went down.

That's Roper Lake, with the Pinnacle on the left and the Pinaleno mountains in the distance.

From Safford we drove through the mountains around Globe and Superior AZ, that gave us some breathtaking scenic views. Then we descended out of the mountains to Phoenix, or more specifically Tempe, where we're going to stay for a few weeks.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Journey West

During the summer of 2012 I was so busy going to hear live music that I didn't have time to update this blog. I had declared this summer to be the "summer of the Allman Brothers", I read Greg Allman's autobiography, My Cross to Bear, I've been listening a lot to his "Low Country Blues" album from 2011, and we saw them in concert 3 times over the summer. We saw great shows by Furthur, Jackie Greene, Todd Snider, and John Hiatt. We saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time. And we made our regular round of Festivals (DelFest, All Good, Floydfest, Misty Mountain, and the Festy). And this year we added to the rotation the Peach Festival in Scranton PA, a great new event hosted by, of course, the Allman Brothers.

But now the leaves have fallen, the temperature is doing the same, so it's time to take the Jayco Pinnacle back out to the Southwest where it's warm and sunny. For the next few weeks I will try to document our travels, recording them for posterity in the digital web. The fantastic music of the summer will probably remain unblogged and only foggy memories.

Saturday we pulled away from home and drove south through Virginia to Greensboro, NC. Our friend Wayne was nice enough to host us for the evening, dinner and local brews at Harper's followed by a nice evening of Grateful Dead concert recordings played on Wayne's spectacular sound system. I was able to slip some live Allmans on the system at the end of the evening. We parked the Pinnacle on the street a few doors down from Wayne's house, an older neighborhood with large trees and narrow streets. As we were loading up to leave Sunday morning one of Greensboro's finest pulled up and said he had a report of a "suspicious vehicle" in the neighborhood. I gave him a tour of the Pinnacle and admitted that I put that envelope under that garbage and we had a fine time and he bid us farewell.

Sunday we went on to Camden, SC where we spent the night with my uncle and aunt, two of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He's got plenty of space around his home so we just pulled in the side yard. They served us some great food, we watched some football and we caught each other up on all of the family news.

Monday we headed down to Savannah, GA and found a nice spot in the Skidaway Island State Park. After setting up the Pinnacle, we headed into the historic district of Savannah. We checked out the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful French Gothic church that was built in 1873. Then we headed down to the river walk and had some tasty oysters and crawfish washed down with the local Bernie's English Ale. The next morning I rode the bike around some nice trails in the state park and then we headed south to Florida.

The Pinnacle at Skidaway State Park in Savannah, GA.

Skidaway State Park

We found a nice RV park on the beach in St. Augustine and paid the extra $10 for a beachfront spot. After doing some beach combing for shells, we toured around the colonial Spanish quarter in St. Augustine. We listened to a singer/songwriter accompanied by a fiddle player (didn't get their names) in a neat bar called the Milltop Tavern. It's an old outside bar on the second floor of a building that's half building half tree. We felt like we were in a treehouse. Then we headed over to the marina area for a seafood dinner. Again there was live music, this time from a fellow playing guitar along with accompaniment from pre-recorded bass and drum parts. He played familiar classic rock tunes, but it was fun.

Wednesday morning was cloudy and windy but we walked the beach anyway and then headed into town and toured the Dow Historic Houses, a group of houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, where we learned about the early residents of St. Augustine.

Thursday we hit the road again and made it to Panama City Beach, where we got a great spot for the RV in St. Andrews State Park. Our front door was no further than 20 feet from the water.

St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL

Crowded beach scene in Panama City Beach

The weather was still cloudy and cool, so we stayed in Thursday night. The Bird cooked a nice red snapper that she bought at the local fish market and we watched Crossfire Hurricane, the new Rolling Stones documentary on HBO. I thought this was a very well done film, with lots of material that was previously unreleased.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Nature's Child - Sunset Grille - June 16

Sunset Grille

Nature's Child

While vacationing on the Eastern Shore of Virginia last week, some friends suggested that we go check out the Sunset Grille for some live music. The Sunset Grille is a bar/restaurant near Kiptopeke, there is a covered deck right on the beach where bands play every weekend. Lots of folks were on the beach and boats were anchored in the bay just off the shore. The band that was playing the day we were there was Nature's Child, a reggae band based in Virginia Beach. I have to say that sitting in the sun by the water, listening to fine reggae music, and knocking back a few cold ones, it had a real Caribbean vibe that was quite relaxing. Nature's Child played a great mix of original tunes and covers (lots of Bob  Marley of course) and they were able to get us old folks off the chairs and out on the dance floor. You can check out some of their music by clicking here. I would recommend going to see them if you get the chance and I would definitely recommend spending a weekend afternoon at the Sunset Grille if you're on the Eastern Shore this summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DelFest 2012

It's been a while since I've been able to sit down and provide some bloggage on my live music experiences. In early April we traveled back to Maryland from Arizona, stopping along the way in Memphis to visit Graceland and the famed Sun Studios. This was quite a treat and I highly recommend touring both places if you're ever in Memphis. 

Once back on the East Coast, I started immediately sampling from the live music smorgasbord that is available here in the DC-MD-VA area. We saw the John Jorgenson Quintet on April 12 at the Weinberg Center in Frederick. I was not familiar with John Jorgenson, but he has been playing acoustic gypsy jazz with a wide variety of artists for many years. He has played with Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, and many others, including David Grisman. Next we caught two great sets by our friends the City Farm at the Tiffany Tavern, they're sounding good as ever and it's always a fun night. Check their upcoming shows here. Then the following week we saw the amazing and incomparable George Clinton with his wild ensemble, Parliament/Funkadelic. This show was at the Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, it was the first time that I had seen them close the upper levels of this venue and they packed the crowd on the first level for a cozy and crazy performance.  Next up was John Kadlecek taking a break from Furthur and performing with his own band at the State Theater in Falls Church. Todd Schaefer (singer and guitarist of Railroad Earth) performed a solo set to start the show. We've also become fans of the Alive @ Five series happening almost every Thursday evening, nice outside space with free music and great beer. 

Anyway, now the festival season is in full swing and leading off is the fifth annual Delfest. This festival, at the Allegheny Fairgrounds in Cumberland Maryland, is distinguished by its torrential thunderstorms and top quality bluegrass musicians. The line up for this year was incredible, so much good music packed into four days. On Thursday after establishing our base camp, we went over to the main stage to hear the Del McCoury Band soundcheck, which is basically an informal performance by the host band. Informal because they're in casual clothes (instead of their normal suits) and the crowd pretty much shouts out requests for them to play. Del and his sons are the hosts for the weekend, they often sit in with other musicians and you can run into them nearly anywhere throughout the weekend.

Pinnacle Base Camp at DelFest
Later on Thursday evening we saw Devil Makes Three, a band that I was unfamiliar with, but they were certainly quite good. I would say they are genre unspecific rocking trio. I was also impressed that their new album is called "Stomp and Smash and Slash and Crash and Bust and Burn" which is of course a line from "Trouble Comin' Every Day" by Frank Zappa. The headliner Thursday night was one of our favorites, Railroad Earth. They did a great show (as usual) this one a little more song focused and not as much "space jam" as the last few concerts that we've seen.  Great music on a beautiful spring evening, the festival was underway!

On Friday we started off with Split Lip Rayfield, another band that was new to me, but I grew to like them quickly. This trio (mandolin, banjo, and bass) plays high energy original bluegrass and they were just the ticket to get us up and movin'. One interesting aspect of this band is the bass is constructed from the gas tank of a car. Check the photo below of Jeff Eaton playing this auto-musical conglomeration. 

Gas Tank Bass from Split Lip Rayfield
We then caught a set by Della Mae, a bluegrass band with all female players. They were very entertaining, and they seem to be doing fine in the "man grass" genre as they called it. Next up for us was a band I was really looking forward to, Luther Dickinson and the Wandering. This is a new project for Luther, who was formerly guitar player for the Black Crowes (which I didn't know until someone told me at Delfest) and is one third of the the North Mississippi Allstars. The Wandering is a new project where he is playing with four female singer/musicians. They are Shannon McNally (guitar), Amy Lavere (upright bass), Valerie June (banjo) and Sharde Thomas (fife). This was the last weekend of their month long tour in support of their new album and for whatever reason Thomas was not there. Luther assembled this group together because they all had connections to music from Mississippi and this project is a tribute to that music. They did some great songs ("Mr. Spaceman", "Old Joe Clark", and Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do)").  Luther's guitar and mandolin playing was exceptional (as always). I especially like Amy Levere, who we saw back in December warming up for Donna the Buffalo. On Saturday they did another set on the smaller stage at DelFest, Valerie June had left for St. Louis ("to elope" according to Dickinson). They had David Mayfield sitting in on mandolin and guitar. Although they repeated several of the songs from the day before, the intimate setting and the reshuffled line up made it even better than the first time. 

Friday evening continued with the Del McCoury Band on the main stage, you can see this band anywhere anytime and it's going to be top notch, professional bluegrass, played the way that it's supposed to be played. Friday night they did not disappoint. I skipped the Yonder Mountain String Band set, because I knew that I would be going to the late show. The late show is in a relatively small room in a rec building, Friday night's line up was Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth. I had seen Greensky Bluegrass at Delfest before and I really like them, mixing traditional bluegrass with modern more progressive style. And always mixing in a few covers of rock classics. The late night set was full of energy and great tunes, but I was out of gas by the time Railroad Earth took over (2 am), so I stumbled back to the Pinnacle base camp to rest for the next day. 

Saturday kicked off for us with something like I had never seen before. The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys is fronted by three brothers, Tommy age 14 (guitar), Robbie age 13 (fiddle), and Johnny age 10 (banjo). These three kids can cook up some blazing bluegrass and it's amazing how comfortable they are on stage. I was thinking that their parents must have been playing bluegrass music for them since the cradle, but Tommy explained that their parents never listen to bluegrass music, instead they found a copy of  Earl Scrugg's  "Cripple Creek" and got into it on their own. You can watch their recent appearance on David Letterman here:

Next up was Greensky Bluegrass, following up their late night show with an early afternoon set on the main stage. Then it was one of the highlights for me for the weekend, Keller Williams performing with the Travelin' McCourys.  The Travelin' McCourys is the Del McCoury Band without Del, they often perform on their own and are a bit more experimental with the bluegrass form than the DMB.  Keller has collaborated with them on an album called "Pick" that will be released in July. I had high hopes for this performance and it exceeded my expectations. They did a great 10 minute version of the KW classic "Freeker by the Speaker" that started very slow and evolved into a great jam session.  I can't wait for "Pick" to be released, I'm going to definitely "pick" it up (har har).

Keller and the Travelin' McCourys. (Check out Del watching from behind the stage)
Keller did another solo set later in the afternoon with his trademark multi-instrument loop system. It was good, that type of performance was what first got me interested in his music many years ago, but I think he has evolved past that and now his collaborations with the McCourys, the Keels, and others is where his  strength is. 

Saturday night finished (for me) with a strong performance by jam band stalwarts Leftover Salmon. They were joined by Darroll Anger on fiddle and eventually Bill Nerschi (guitar) and Jayson Carter (fiddle) for a great rocking session to end a long day. Later lead singer Vince Herman was spotted next door to the Pinnacle base camp picking and drinking "ice water", but I was busy sleeping in anticipation of Day 4.

Sunday had the best line up on paper and DelFest made good on the promise with a full day of prime music. The Infamous Stringdusters kicked things off for us with a great set, followed by the Sam Bush Band. I was disappointed that Sam didn't ask the crowd "Who's been here for all four days of the festival?" like he has the last 17 times that I've seen him, but it appeared he was having a good time and the music was great. They finished with a song that I think was originally done by Journey and evolved into what could only be described as progressive rock. Definitely a detour from the bluegrass theme of the day but it was fun.  Bela Fleck and a "Bluegrass Allstar" lineup followed Sam, the players included Jayson Carter, Ronnie McCoury, and Rob McCoury. 

Sam Bush
At 10 pm (after a rain delay) Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers took to the stage. Their album "Rare Bird Alert" was one of my favorites of last year and I was really looking forward to seeing them perform. The sound was top quality and they played some great music. There was more comedy interjected into the show than I expected, but Steve is quite funny and kept it all very entertaining. By the end of the set they were joined by most of the McCoury's, Sam Bush, and Bela Fleck for an all star finale.  Delfest offered more music late into the night (including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) but I was satiated with four days of music and I retired to the Pinnacle on a very high note.

All in all it was another great Delfest, I saw some of my favorites, made some new favorites, and had a great time. Del Yeah!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Normal Bean Band/Top Dead Center/David Gans - Rialto Theater - Feb. 13

The Rialto Theater is an old movie house from the 1920's in downtown Tucson that has been converted into a performance space. Looking at the posters on the wall in the lobby, I learned that many of my favorite bands have performed there over the past few years. Last night's lineup was David Gans (journalist, host of Sirius/XM's "Tales from the Golden Road", and musician), Top Dead Center (a Tucson based Grateful Dead cover band), and the Normal Bean Band (a truly weird and fun band from California I guess).

Mr. Gans started things off with his solo performance, playing electric guitar (with loops) and singing. He did some original songs, some Dead tunes, and "Down to Eugene" a song I really like that I first heard John Kadlicek play last fall. As more folks arrived in the Theater Mr. Gans was joined by the Top Dead Center Band and they began a set of Dead songs. This band is quite good, they say that they're not a tribute band or a cover band they just try to recreate the feeling of a Dead show. They have two drummers, two guitar players, and bassist and keyboardist. On this particular night they were joined by a woman playing electric violin who was also quite good (I couldn't catch her name). Mr. Gans played with them for three or four songs and he came out for their finale ("We Bid You Goodnight").  Top Dead Center's set included "Alabama Getaway", "Bertha" and a very nice version of "Mississippi Half Step".

Then the Normal Bean Band took the stage, led by Mr. Normal Bean who sings and plays guitar. This band also has an electric violinist, along with bass, drums and a guy that plays the washtub. They also have a woman who sings some background vocals but mainly dances in front of the band. They started with  a rocking version of "All Along the Watchtower", with Mr. Bean playing some tasty guitar leads. Soon into their set they brought out most of the members of Top Dead Center to join them and they performed a wide range of songs including "Fire on the Mountain", "Run Through the Jungle", and "Another Brick in the Wall". Mr. Bean led the way with his guitar playing, but encouraged all of the other  7 or 8 musicians on the stage to take solos throughout the set.

Although the crowd was small the overall vibe was good feelings and great music, a nice way to spend Valentine's Day Eve with the one you love.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Todd Snider - Club Congress - February 1, 2012

Last night we went to the Club Congress in downtown Tucson to see Todd Snider. We checked out this great music venue the last time we were in Tucson a couple of years ago. It's an interesting place that fills the first floor of an historic old hotel, there's a small barroom, an outside cafe, and the music room, which also has a bar. There's even a coffee bar for folks more interested in caffeine and desserts. Todd Snider has attracted an increased amount of my attention over the last few years, this was my first opportunity to see him perform, save for a brief appearance on the small stage at All Good about three or four years ago. He calls his music "stoner folkie" but I say that he's more like a modern day John Prine. There's also an element to his style that is reminiscent of the "talking blues" made popular by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Most of his songs are stories, some quite funny, some very touching, many are both. He does mostly all originals but there were a few covers last night. I particularly like "Alcohol and Pills", "Beer Run -> Age like Wine", and one called "Kids" from his new album to be released in a couple of weeks. His roadie opened the encore with a killer Elvis impersonation ("Don't Be Cruel"). This was our first live music adventure since establishing our winter base camp in Tucson and Todd Snider was a great way to kick things off. For my friends back on the east coast, Todd will be playing at the Rams Head in Annapolis and the Jefferson Theater next week, I strongly recommend that you check him out.