Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red Wing Roots Festival - Mt. Solon, VA - July 12-14

The Red Wing Roots Festival is a new festival in the Natural Chimneys Park near Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is hosted by The Steel Wheels, a great four piece ensemble with deep connections to the Harrisonburg area. First time festivals can be a treasure or a bust, depending on how well prepared are the organizers and how many patrons are in attendance. This one was a real treasure, the Natural Chimneys Park is a beautiful site and the organizers were ready but not overbearing with too many rules and regulations. It was well attended but by no means crowded, I'm sure in the future there will be more and more coming to this one.

We arrived a day early on Thursday and were assigned one of the huge RV sites. Three of the four adjacent RV sites were occupied by tent campers, which gave us even more open space. We walked around the park and saw the Natural Chimneys, a natural geological formation that towers up to 120 feet, and the nearly dry North River. That evening there was a big downpour, but we were comfortable and dry in the cozy confines of the Pinnacle. The next day was clear but the rain had turned the North River into a raging torrent.

Pinnacle Base Camp

North River after a night of rain

This festival is described as a "roots" festival and, for me at least, each of the three days of music had a separate theme. Friday was a bluegrass day, each musical act that we saw had close ties to this southern genre. We say New Country Rehab, a band from Canada that plays high energy original songs. Then it was a great set by Virginia native Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. I always enjoy Larry's shows and he seemed particularly inspired this day delivering some of the best guitar picking of the weekend. Joining him on stage was Jay Starling on the dobro, he's the son of the Seldom Scene's John Starling. The Steel Wheels did a late afternoon set on the smallest of the festival's four stages, it was packed with festivarians and the band did not disappoint. There was lots of audience participation with little kids up near the front being called upon to help out. This set was one of the musical highlights of the entire festival and it propelled the Steel Wheels on my "must see again" list. 

Steel Wheels on Friday       image from DJBWeblog
Next the bluegrass theme continued with Tim O'Brien, a great writer with a deep catalog of well known songs. He's no slouch as a musician either and for this performance he was solo, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Tim was followed by a band we've seen several times over the last few years, Brooklyn based Yarn. They're not a bluegrass band but more rock and roll and they performed a high energy set of great originals and covers. Next up was the Duhks, a band from Canada that plays their own original interpretation of folk, old time, and Brazilian samba (!?!).  They were a lot of fun and seemed to be happy to be performing again after an extended hiatus from touring. The bluegrass day finished up with what has to be the best band performing bluegrass today - The Del McCoury Band. These guys are true professionals and they did not disappoint the Friday night crowd. As always they encouraged folks to shout out requests and each of the five talented musicians took turns shining in the spotlight. 

The Steel Wheels are very much into bicycling and on Saturday morning they hosted three bike rides. One for mountain bikers, one for serious bikers that was 40 miles and included a climb to the top of Reddish Knob, and a more casual 15 miler around the Shenandoah Valley. I wimped out and chose the more casual ride, Eric and Jay of the Steel Wheels joined us and we had a very nice ride. We were unable to complete the full planned circuit due to a road being closed due to high water, but it was fun anyway. Next year - I'll be ready for the Reddish Knob!

Bikers gathering for the morning ride

Here's where we turned around on the bike ride
If there was a roots theme for Saturday it might have been "singer/songwriter".  We caught Nathan Moore, a Staunton native, who tells stories and sings original folk type songs. He was followed by Scott Miller, also from the Shenandoah Valley, who was very entertaining. I may be biased because he is also a W&M grad, but he really got my attention with his song about a Chevy Citation with an 8-track player (my mode of transport in the late '70's).  From there we wandered the grounds and caught some of the Wiyos (old time folk and blues), our friends from Crozet - Yankee Dixie, and JD McPherson. Then as the sun went down the Steel Wheels did a great set on the main stage and were followed by the Sam Bush Band. We've seen Sam plenty of times before but we were pleased that he's updated his festival set to include some different songs, including the Beatles "I've Just Seen a Face". And of course no Sam Bush show would be complete without some weather, just at midnight when the set was ending it starting to drizzle, three minutes later we got a full downpour on the walk back to the Pinnacle. 

Sunday started slowly with a very casual Robin and Linda Williams performing a set of their original songs. Then we watched a demonstration by the Virginia Wildlife Center on raptors and birds of prey.  Then the roots theme for Sunday seemed to swing into jazz from the early twentieth century. Wayne "The Train" Hancock is most often compared to Hank Williams, and he did his fair share of old time honky tonkin', but there was definitely some Western swing going on there too.  Pokey Lafarge was a lot of fun, it really sounded for a while like we were transported back to the 1920's as the trumpet and clarinet provided a background for Pokey's superb singing voice. The Steel Wheels made their last appearance of the festival, bringing on stage many of the musicians that had played before them and then it was the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to close things out. I had seen them before, even earlier in the week on the Jimmy Fallon show, but they surprised me with the energy and excitement that they brought to the festival's final set. From the very first note they were energetically playing a much more modern approach to the traditional form for which they are known. 

Pokey LaFarge
This was a great festival, the Steel Wheels and their management team have done a superb job of organization and putting together a lineup that taps from the local Virginia music as well as the "roots" that are still so vibrant and relative today.  I look forward to Red Wing Roots 2014.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Music in May

Upon our return to Maryland we were happy to get right back into the vibrant local music scene in the DC area. On May 1 I caught the Tedeschi/Trucks Band at the 9:30 club. The 9:30 club is one of the best venues in the country for live music and it had been a while since I was last there. The Tedeschi/Trucks Band put together such a wonderful mix of soul and blues that equally highlights the wonderful slide guitar work of Derek Trucks and the beautiful vocal stylings of Susan Tedeschi. The sold out crowd was totally into it from the start and there were a few moments when Derek seemed to transport Duane Allman's spirit into the show. Greg Allman writes in his excellent autobiography ("My Cross to Bear") of how he sometimes sees Duane in Derek during performances. Gregg doesn't make a big deal about it, but he cites these moments as evidence that Derek is the actual reincarnation of Duane. Anyway it was a great show and Susan Tedeschi's excellent guitar playing should not be overlooked either. They finished with John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" which segued in and out of the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree".

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi    930 club
While in Tucson this winter we met a nice couple who were touring the country in their RV and they were getting ready to pick up their son who is trying to launch a career as a musician. Kevin Van Dort is his name and he plays blues guitar and sings. They explained that they were going through Austin and New Orleans and then coming up the East Coast so we invited them to our house and hosted a house concert to let our friends experience Kevin's music.

They arrived on a Thursday and that evening we went to the open mic night at the Outta the Way Cafe in Gaithersburg. Kevin played a few songs with the house band which was well received and one of the other musicians invited him to sit in with his band the following night. So we went to the Two Nineteen in Old Town Alexandria and Kevin played some tunes with the Capital Blues Ensemble. I was very impressed with this local band, they had horns and a great setlist of rockin' blues tunes. They don't seem to get to play very often but I would definitely like to see them again sometime. Kevin sat in for two songs and the crowd liked it so much they decided to do a third song together. Saturday night was the performance on our porch with good friends in attendance. Kevin played acoustic and electric guitar as well as his homemade box guitar. Neal, from the Capital Blues Ensemble, sat in on harp. Here's a video from the event.

Kevin Van Dort

The following week we went to see the Mickey Hart Band play at the Howard Theatre.  This is another great venue for live music in DC, there was a big crowd there to see Mickey and his band. We saw them play earlier this year in Tucson although this time Adam Theis was playing bass instead of Dave Schools. But the African Showboyz were still with him, adding their high energy percussion to the mix.  They did a nice mix of Dead tunes and Mickey Hart tunes.

My favorite Grateful Dead cover band these days is On the Bus, but I've been wanting to check out another group called the Black Muddy River Band, which is a Maryland based acoustic trio that frequently plays in the area. I finally got a chance a few Saturday's ago when they played at Branded 72, a barbecue joint in Rockville. It took a little mental adjustment to get into the thinner sound of just three acoustic instruments, but in the close confines of the bar it felt right. They played plenty of tunes from all sections of the Dead catalog and I will definitely check them out again soon.

Once again we spent the four day Memorial Day weekend at DelFest in Cumberland Maryland. This was the sixth Delfest and it has risen to the top of my favorite festivals list. It has the "Goldilocks" attributes of "not too small, not too big, it's just right". It also has a great "festival vibe" something that a few other festivals have lost over the years. This vibe is based on a common love and appreciation of the host Del McCoury.

Pinnacle Base Camp at Delfest
The lineup at this year's DelFest was another top notch collection of premier Americana and bluegrass bands, with the Trey Anastasio band thrown in to keep the kids happy and plenty of McCoury band members sitting in with the other musical acts. Thursday night the Jerry Douglas Band did a wonderful set (we saw them for the first time in DC last summer, definitely worth checking out if you get a chance) followed by old friends Leftover Salmon. Friday's highlights were Trampled by Turtles, a great set by the Del McCoury Band, and then two sets from Trey and his band. I was not expecting much from Trey, but I wanted to see him playing with the McCoury's. So I watched the second half of the first set and then a good portion of the second set (Del, Rob, Ronnie and Jayson came out for several songs). I must say I was very impressed by his band, they really have their chops down now that they have been playing for some time.  Saturday at DelFest was a big day and we enjoyed sets by Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams with his Richmond based funk band "More than a Little", another quality turn by the DMB and to close things out, Old Crow Medicine Show. In the afternoon we also saw what can best be described as an All-Star newgrass band which has the unfortunate name of "Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla & Bales". Seems like you could try a little harder on the band name. But they were great, playing top of the line progressive jam based bluegrass. Members are Noam Pilkelny (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), Bryan Sutton (Kentucky Thunder, Hot Rize), Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett Band), Barry Bales (Union Station), and Ronnie McCoury.  Then Sunday was another busy day starting off with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, then the Infamous Stringdusters, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Between these sets I spent time in the rec center enjoying two very special musical treats, Keller Williams and the Travelin' McCourys and the "Masters of Bluegrass". The Masters consist of Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Jerry McCoury. Between them they have four memberships in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and two memberships in the Grand Ole Opry. It was a rare honor to see such "masters" enjoying their craft. Yonder Mountain String Band closed out the festival, but I'm not a big fan of theirs so I listened from the Pinnacle base camp. In summary I have to say this was another excellent DelFest and Old Crow Medicine Show gets my blue ribbon for best performance, they have really stepped up their game and put on a big time Saturday night show.

Larry Keel at DelFest
My musical May continued with a visit to the State Theatre to see what was billed as a "Jam Band Fun Night". Opening was a three piece ensemble called "Djesben", which consists of Topher Dunne on the Chapman stick, Katy Gaughan on percussion, and Christian Crowley playing an amplified string dulcimer. On this particular night they were joined by the keyboard player from On the Bus and a drummer (whose name I did not catch). Also sitting in on electric fiddle was none other than John Kadlecik, who of course is the guitar player in Furthur and happens to be the husband of Katy. They did some very nice jam/jazz tunes, I was glad they had the extra musicians to create a fuller band sound. Then they were followed by On the Bus, who does Grateful Dead covers. John K sat with OTB for a few tunes playing fiddle. These guys are always great and this was especially nice as they brought out local hero Ron Holloway to play sax. The night concluded with a band called Covered with Jam, I listened for a while, but I had a long drive home and I was full of good music.

All in all a full month of great live music, can't wait to see what June brings!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cross Country Trek - part 2

Tuesday we left Durango and headed east, crossing the Rockies through Wolf's Pass towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was a beautiful drive and not as stressful with the truck and the big rig as I had been worried about. This park is very unique, basically the tallest sand dunes in North America. They were formed by sand left behind from a prehistoric lake that has been blown into dunes by the predominant southwest winds funneling through the Sange de Cristo Mountains.  The winds blow from the valley toward the mountains, but during storms the winds blow back toward the valley. These opposing wind directions cause the dunes to grow vertically.  But upon our arrival at the RV campground next to the park there were sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 60 or 70. We made the decision to do a quick tour of the park and continue heading east to somewhere calmer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
We passed over the mountains and found an RV park near Colorado City that was nice and the wind was calm. But the next morning there was ice forming on the Pinnacle from freezing mist, there was snow in the forecast, so we kept on heading east. Next stop was Dodge City, Kansas, but it was too cold to do much looking around and we wanted to get ahead of this spring/winter storm.

So the next day we continued on to Joplin, Missouri. While driving through the middle of "nowhere" Kansas there was a loud pop and the Pinnacle started lurching and I immediately realized that we had a blowout. I have to commend GEICO roadside service and the local tire service guy ("Sean" but I didn't get the name of his company) has they were there in 20 minutes and helped me jack up the Pinnacle and put on the spare. The next day in Joplin I went to the Goodyear store to get a new spare, turned out it was located right at ground zero where that terrible tornado went through a couple of years ago and caused so much death and destruction.

After spending the night in Joplin, we motored on to Sikeston, MO where we had dinner in a crazy restaurant called Lambert's Cafe. They are the "only home of throwed rolls". A server periodically emerges from the kitchen with a tray of big rolls just out of the oven and shouts "Rolls!". If you want one you just raise your hand and he wings it across the room to you. There were rolls flying in every direction. The Bird ordered their special fried catfish and it was enough to fill her that night and make a meal for the two of us the next night.

From Sikeston we drove on to a campground next to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We spent a day touring the longest known cave system. We obviously didn't tour all 400 miles of the cave, but we had a nice park ranger tour guide who took us down a few hundred feet and through a couple of miles of the cave. He did a great job explaining the history of the cave,  how it was explored over the centuries and why it's a national treasure.

Entrance to Mammoth Cave

Graffiti from 1839 in Mammoth Cave
From Mammoth Cave we went on to a nice state park in West Virginia called Stonewall Resort and had a nice spot right on the lake. But we didn't linger as we were ready to get home to Maryland. It was just a half day drive from there to home.

This was a great cross country trip, we met a lot of interesting people and we enjoyed touring several of the National Parks. Over the next few years we hope to see many more National Parks. We've now stayed in 24 different states in our Pinnacle 5th wheel and we look forward to the next 26!

Here's a map of our trip to Tucson in the fall and our return trip in the spring. For a more interactive view of the map you can click here.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Cross Country Trek - Spring 2013

Here's a sporadic update from the road on our trip back to Maryland from our winter base in Arizona. (You can click on the photos for a better view.)
For the second consecutive winter, we stayed at the lovely Lazy Days RV campground in Tucson. We really like Tucson and all of the interesting things that it has to offer. This year we found three brewpubs that offer tasty local brews and good food, every Monday evening we competed in trivia night at the Sky Bar, and we frequently enjoyed the natural beauty of Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, and the Sonoran Desert Museum.

In terms of live music, we saw Bob Weir (solo acoustic) twice, once with Jackie Greene and once with Jonathan Wilson. We went to Alice Coopers Christmas Pudding, which is an annual fundraiser that he hosts in Phoenix. There were all kinds of musical talent performing for this event and Johnny Depp played guitar in Alice's band. Other concerts attended in AZ this winter were Keller Williams (Club Congress), Leftover Salmon (Rialto), Mickey Hart (Rialto), and a really special performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Booker T. Jones at the Fox Theater. There was plenty of local live music too, including some good Dead cover bands and a Pink Floyd cover band (Atom Heart Mother) who did an excellent rendition of the complete "Dark Side of the Moon" on the 40th anniversary of its release.

We also loved it that so many of our friends came to visit us and escape the winter weather on the East Coast and keep us company in the Old Pueblo. Davis McPherson and I biked to the top of Mount Lemmon, which was a lot of fun and an accomplishment that I am proud of. But as winter winds down and there are some scattered reports of warming weather back in Maryland, it's time to back up and take the Pinnacle back home.

So on Thursday, April 4 we started the journey by intentionally heading the wrong way, i.e. West, to California to visit the Boy at school and see our friend Erin in LA. We stopped halfway and spent the night near Quartzite Arizona. Quartzite is sort of a Mecca for RV'ers, I'm not exactly sure why, there's not much there except open desert spaces and warm weather. We had a nice dinner at the Yacht Club, which is a running joke since there are obviously no yachts within hundreds of miles.


Upon reaching Southern California we set up in a lovely RV park on the shores of a reservoir in San Dimas. The park has great views in a very nice setting and it served as a perfect base camp for our weekend visit.

East Shore RV Park

After the weekend in LA we headed east and spent the night in Las Vegas in a RV resort on the southern end of the strip. It was a little different staying in Sin City in an RV, but we enjoyed it, I watched the Nats game in a bar while the Bird hit the casino floor.

Tuesday, we traveled to a campground on the eastern edge of Zion National Park where we spent three nights while we toured both Zion and Bryce Canyon during the days. These are two national treasures full of beautiful, breath taking vistas. We hiked in both parks and I took tons of pictures.

Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon

On Saturday we packed up and headed to the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We set up in a KOA campground near the park and spent Sunday touring the ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. Our guide was a park ranger named Sean Duffy, who educated and entertained us while showing the cities embedded in the cliffs some 1,000 years ago.

Monday ( tax day) we took a short ride to Durango, spent the day doing laundry and hitting the grocery store. This was the second consecutive RV campground with a big free run dog park so Cosmic Charlie is getting in his workouts. We finished the day with some excellent steaks at the Ore House in downtown Durango. Tomorrow we'll head east and hopefully get to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park. More updates to follow.

Here we are at four corners, I'm standing in Utah, the Bird is in Colorado with one foot in New Mexico and Charlie is in Arizona but for some reason refusing to face the camera.

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