Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bowlings At City Winery

Went for a nice late-summer kayak on the Sudbury out of Lincoln with Dave on Saturday the 15th, and then we all drove into the city to see Holly Bowling solo at City Winery.

The room was already a quarter full when we arrived, but we found an empty table way up front on the right-hand side.  Couldn’t see Holly’s fingering from there, but saw plenty of her action on the pedals and the sound was excellent.  The lid of her grand piano was open right in front of us, and the strings reflected off the polished under-surface.  This was great, because at times she used a mallet to hammer them, used a salad server kind of thing to pluck them, used a weird pen-laser thing to make them resonate, or manipulated them or the hammers manually.

One of Dave’s Twitter friends joined us and clued us in a bit to the Phish songs.  She did all Dead and Phish covers and was excellent.  Her first-set covers of China Cat, Estimated, and Row Jimmy were just full of richness, and her second set was a seamless journey in and out of Terrapin.  Here’s a setlist:

Set 1: China Cat Sunflower > Taste, Estimated Prophet > Row Jimmy, Divided Sky
Set 2: Twist > Terrapin Station > Twist > Terrapin Station > Mercury > Steep > Terrapin Station > I Know You Rider

Holly didn’t talk much, this was a piano recital after all.  But when she did she beamed at the audience and seemed to really appreciate the large crowd filling most of City Winery.  She came back out quickly and treated us to a beautiful Brokedown Palace as an encore.

Holly asked us to stay to talk and get signed stuff, but we took off.  Luckily, her parents were there.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Wailin' Jennys in Some Dump

Was just sitting there at work minding my own business on a Wednesday when WUMB sent an email offering Wailin' Jennys tickets to the first few who answered.  So I answered (as did Sarah, a little later), and I got a pair of ducats to see them Thursday night (8/23) at Sanders Theatre.

Well, we'd never seen them before, though I've been enjoying their music for years.  And we'd only been to two things at Sanders Theatre.  Don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly beautiful place in a building (Memorial Hall) built as a monument to the Civil War in the middle of frickin' Harvard College, the oldest college in the World (ok, the Western Hemisphere).  The whole place is built out of wood as intricately as a Chinese puzzle box and the sound in the theatre is like melted butter over just the best toast.  But the seats in it can be as uncomfortable as in Fenway Park and you're crowded and jostled and sometimes it can be hard to enjoy.

But whatever ... we were psyched and it was a beautiful Thursday night and we got a great parking space on Mass Ave. and walked through campus to get there ... apparently freshman orientation had started already.  And the amazing thing was that we jostled through the crowd and got our tickets and they said "Orchestra Row C."  We'd stumbled on free tickets to the concert and they were third row center, up in the quasi-pews where the seats were comfortable ... and the people next to us never showed up so we had plenty of room.  I never knew a Brahmin could be this happy!

Comfortably ensconced and the three Jennys (with two male accompanists) came on ... left to right Adam Dobres on guitars and mandolin, Heather Masse on bass, Nicky Mehta on percussion and guitar, Ruth Moody on guitar, banjo, and bodhrán, and Richard Moody (Ruth's brother) on fiddle and mandolin.  And this was a wonderful two (short) sets of music!  The incredible setting put a little pressure on the band however.  Moody referred early on (sarcastically) to what a dump they were playing in, and Mehta said bitterly that they'd just started a tour and this kind of ruined it because how could it get any better?

As I say, the Jenny's have been around for a while and know their craft, and they sure made that hall resound, with assists from the crowd when they called on us.  They do some traditional songs, some modern country songs, and some originals, and all of them featured meticulous arrangements which fit their voices like a calf-skin glove.  For instance, they did Zevon's Keep Me In Your Heart with not a trace of the bombast Zevon didn't need any longer when he wrote it, Simon's Love Me Like a Rock like your mother singing you a lullaby (they're all recent mothers), Petty's Wildflowers, Emmylou's Boulder To Birmingham, and on and on.  Masse did a song she had written as homage to jazz standards, which could have stood up with any of them.  And Moody closed with their anthem, One Voice, with the Sanders Theatre ringing with us all echoing as one voice.

Just a wonderful, out of nowhere, night of music!  And a pleasant walk back to the car through a humid Harvard night, and then a slow drive back past the Mystic Lakes.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Crimson, White, and Brookline Ave.

The year rolls around to Jerry's birthday, almost in the middle of summer (8/1).  And they were showing another GDMUATM!  We actually didn't get tickets to it right away ... we'd seen so much good stuff lately that another late 80s stadium video was not immediately overwhelmingly appealing.  But then we realized that ... what the heck ... we'd really enjoy it anyway and we got tickets.

This was the concert (at soon-to-be-demolished JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, 1989-07-07, the next concert after the Truckin' Up To Buffalo concert) released as the Crimson, White, and Indigo record.  They apparently released the DVD with it, so this wasn't exactly an unreleased video ... in fact, the opposite.  But the album/video was out of print so kind of it was ... but just re-released the album/video and was trying to get us to buy it, so maybe it was another shameless cash grab.

Whatever, that's all kind of besides the point.  I was delayed at work but had a pretty quick trip in to the Fenway area and parked on Van Ness and met Sarah and Dave at Yardhouse for another excellent dinner and couple of beers.  Didn't have to rush more than a modicum to make it across Brookline Ave. to Fenway 13, got another beer, and settled into our comfortable stadium seats just in time for the movie to start.

The sound could have been louder, but the seats were fine and we had a great time!  Here's the setlist:

set 1:
Hell In a Bucket
Iko Iko
Little Red Rooster
Ramble On Rose
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Let It Grow
Blow Away

Very short break, being a movie ...and then:

set 2:
Box Of Rain
Scarlet Begonias
Fire On the Mountain
Estimated Prophet
Standing On the Moon
The Other One
Wharf Rat
Turn On Your Lovelight

Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Wow, that was really fun!  Phil was in complete nerd garb, Bobby was wearing his short shorts but also sneakers and socks ... no full 80s kit, and Jerry was dressed in what he woke up in that morning and was playing that Tiger guitar like nobody's business.  I had recently told Dave about going to see the Dead and how as much as you knew you were going to see the best band in the world, at least 50% of the rationale was to see the greatest guitarist who ever lived.  And of course Brent was at his peak (that Blow Away "live" was incredible) and the drummers were inscrutable.

As much as I loved the first set (great Dylan song and many other highlights), the second set was just riveting.  Box Of Rain could have been better, but that's what Phil sounded like back then and the playing was superb.  And the Scarlet > Fire was just fantastic, Standing On the Moon was iconic, and then we got to enjoy a booming TOO and a surprisingly good Wharf Rat, not to mention the surprisingly good Lovelight, with Bobby being really tasteful instead of over the top.

And the encore was another great Dylan song!  Very fine icing on that cake.

The theater had been full, mostly with middle-aged people (I had to direct one of our row-mates back to the theater from the bathroom before the pic).  Dave was by far the youngest I saw in there.  And when we all stumbled out and queued up for the men's again after the flick, the young bearded guy right behind me mumbled, "What movie just got out??"  I filled him in and he was stunned.  "I would have loved to see that!" he said, "Do they publicize these things?"  I told him they did but you probably had to be on the right mailing list.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Hot Club One More Time

The Hot Club Of Cowtown, whom we are nuts about, seems to have pencilled in a visit to the Bull Run every summer.  We missed it the last two summers but were some of the first to buy tickets when they announced their gig this July 27th.  We got a ticket for John too and though we didn't get the front center table, we were right behind it and sight lines were excellent.

It's been an incredibly hot and humid summer and that Friday was another stifling day.  Left the new office in Waltham about 4:20 though, and had not too many issues with traffic while picking up Sarah and Dave at Alewife, though the Western exodus was at (late July) high tide when we left there.  Got out to Shirley in decent time anyway, arriving around 6 for an 8:00 show.

Which left plenty of time to yuck it up with John (who'd arrived a few minutes before us) and have an excellent meal with a few People's Pints.  They had left a little "dance floor" where the 2nd and 3rd row center tables would have been and I don't think anyone danced (which gave us more room at our table, especially when the other four seats there were not taken, though the Sawtelle Room was otherwise pretty packed).  We're from Massachusetts and though we dance when the situation warrants it, we were all there to see the damn Hot Club.  Everyone there knew how excellent these guys are and we were all really looking forward to it.  We hadn't seen them for three years, and that's way too long!

No Whit or Jake in the bathroom but as I was exiting about half an hour before show time, a blonde in a beautiful dress came bursting out of the ladies and I stopped short to let her by.  Took me a second to realize it was Elana, and she was booking back for the green room, apparently hoping not to run into any fans.  As she turned in I essayed, "Are you going to be playing Exactly Like You tonight?"  She turned on the charm (though she didn't turn her head, maybe not made up), and said, "Sure, we can do that!"  I told her, "Thanks Elana" and she was gone.

Back to the table and they came out right on time and surely satisfied our wishes for a great Hot Club show.  Whit's excellent old amp had died three years ago in Shirley, but he had a "new" old one that sounded great, and of course his fingering on the fret board was obscene.  Dave later tried some of those chords and almost broke his hand in the attempt.  Jake was booming and holding the whole thing together, actually bringing out his bow a few times for the ballads.

But the most amazing thing about this band for me is the power and volume Elana brings to the fiddle.  There's a recorded conversation between Jerry Garcia and David Grisman where David says, "It's louder but is it better?" and Jerry says, "Louder *is* better in this world, David."  I've seen plenty of fiddlers who can get the tone and the power Elena gets, like Carrie Rodriguez, Jason Carter, Allison Krauss, Tim O'Brien, Brittany Haas ... I even saw Vassar Clements once.  But Elana also has her volume turned up to 11 and when she touches a string with the bow ... well, she doesn't just touch it, she attacks it, and that's for the soft notes.  For the loud notes she's sawing away with an earnestness that makes you pity the poor instrument, though it seems to love it.  As much as Whit is amazing to watch and listen to (he played some great rhythm guitar during her leads) and as dominant as Jake can be, my head kept turning back to Elana because she's so unique.

Elana's singing wasn't as good as we've heard it, possibly a little cold or allergies.  She also announced that her wonderful dog, Eva, had died.  I remember seeing them at Passim and having a nice conversation with Elana outside while Eva on the leash charmed all passers by.  Whit was singing very well though, and this was such an entertaining concert.

They played a bunch of hits and then got to the part of the concert where they had to catch up on requests, and played mine.  The last song of the (2 hour!) set had me in ecstasy: this was the first time I'd ever seen them do Orange Blossom Special and they nailed it.  And the song I was really hoping for was Whit's incredible cover of the 1906 song, Chinatown, in which his fingers actually leave his sleeve.

What a great show and what a fun night!  John had a word with Jake and then we packed the car with the things he'd brought for us rather than discard them on his way down to Florida (he was taking the Orange Blossom Special).  And we made it home in the normal time on a beautiful mid-summer night.

"Hey, talk about a-ramblin'
She's the fastest train on the line
Talk about a-travellin'
She's the fastest train on the line
It's that Orange Blossom Special
Rollin' down the seaboard line"

Saturday, July 21, 2018

JRAD On the Harbor

OMG, it had been over 6 months since we last saw JRAD and we were suffering serious withdrawal!  In the meantime of course we’d seen Tommy’s band, Ghost Light, back in April and or course Marco a few days ago.  But there’s nothing like Joe Russo’s drumming and they were coming back to Boston on Friday, July 20th.

The perhaps bad news was that they were going to play the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.  There are a lot of things wrong with this venue, like getting there, steep prices, a lousy sound system, airplanes taking off overhead, cold rain and snow, etc.  But as it turns out the 20th was a beautiful summer day and everything turned out right (except for prices) to say the least.

Picked up Dave on Bowdoin Street (after a quick beer at the Red Hat) and we really had a remarkably easy ride down to the Seaport, where we parked in the public garage right across from the venue for only(!) $40.  Sarah had made reservations (for 5:15, only time available) at a pricy Mexican restaurant right next to the pavilion, in the same block with Legal Seafoods.  And she walked down there after work to claim our table in case Dave and I were late.  It’s a good thing she did, it got very packed very soon.  But it was a lovely setting, we were just inside the open doors looking out over the harbor and the fish pier.  Boats came and went from the docks right off the restaurant with confusing tumult.  The water was incredibly choppy and the docks apparently charged a steep price by the minute.

Anyway, had a very good meal and a few beers, and then moseyed on out onto the harbor walk to gawk at the large crowd some more, and at a dead fish floating by.  Then walked over to the pavilion and were some of the first few in about 45 minutes before the concert was going to start.

We had great seats in row 12, just left of center.  We cruised around some, got a couple of beers after we arranged loans with our bank, and then hung out right at harborside.  Can’t overstate what a lovely evening it was, with a very gentle breeze, great temperature and humidity, a clear blue sky, and lovely Boston Harbor rife with activity.  Fortunately the wind was apparently from the right direction and there were no planes taking off overhead, they were heading out to sea.  Time to get to our seats and then the guys came out right on schedule, though the venue was not at all full yet.  It did fill in and must have been close to a sellout eventually (people had been waiting in line for tickets when we entered).

There was plenty of tuning, but there were no false starts.  Joe was in charge and finally he lifted his sticks, looked at everyone in turn, and then hammered his kit and suddenly they were doing Good Lovin’ on a summer night in the city.  Just as long as you are there...

Joe was playing a slightly bigger kit than when we’d seen him in December and wasn’t as far forward on the stage.  Marco was over to the left with his grand and organ, powered by a massive Leslie in back of him.  Tommy was playing Wolf again and had no scarf on … he even took off his jacket after a while but of course still wore his cap.  Dave was on the other side of Joe and from the start was playing like a demon, he was not delicate all night long and that’s a good thing.  And on the far side was Scott, singing and playing as well as ever.

Here’s Costello’s notes:

Show #157
Blue Hill Bank Pavilion
Boston, MA

Set One (7:38PM - 8:56PM)
Good Lovin’
Iko Iko @
Cumberland Blues >
Shakedown Street # ->
The Wheel Jam -> Jam ->
I Need a Miracle $ >
Ramble On Rose

Set Two (9:22PM - 10:52AM)
Uncle John’s Band % ->
Space ->
Morning Dew
China Cat Sunflower ^ ->
I Know You Rider

Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream &

Entire Show with Tommy playing Wolf.
@ - With a Man Smart Woman Smarter Tease (MB)
# - Unfinished
* - Not played since 2017-01-13 Music Farm, Charleston, SC, a gap of 60 shows
$ - With an Unknown Tease (TH)
% - Unfinished
^ - With a DD Bass Solo & The Wheel Teases (TH & Band)
& - Not Played since 2017-10-05 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, a gap of 36 Shows

It was a wonderfully long Good Lovin’ and the crowd filled in fast with spasmodically dancing people.  And then they went on from there in their adventurous JRAD ways.  I called Iko Iko and they soon came out of space and were feeding us that NOLA beat.  Dave called Cumberland next, and after a long, spacey outro from that they then picked us up and shook us with the opening of Shakedown.  Joe had his band cracking.

And the sound was really fantastic for that venue.  We were up close and it probably could be criticized by the people in the back.  But as I say there was no wind and we had a huge stack of speakers right in front of us.  It wasn’t like being in a HOB where the room gets filled with the sound … we were in a big tent.  But no complaints on that score.

Another thing to mention is that it was your typical Friday night crowd.  Not sure what it is about Friday nights, but that's when all kinds of things happen and crowds get rowdy.  Date night?  End of week??  Anyway, there was a constant murmur (at least) of conversation all during the show, some of it loud.  When you looked around you realized that the great majority of concert-goers were there to listen to JRAD and were distressed by the sound.  But there was a loud minority of people there who thought it right to shout at each other during the show ... probably much worse in the back of the amphitheater.

Great first set, though perhaps a little confusing.  They never finished Shakedown and then took a long time to finally end up in The Wheel and then didn’t really play that once they got there.  They ended it with a neat, wonderful Ramble On Rose, though of course we had to boo the line about New York City, being baseball season.

The place had gotten packed but the lines at the bathrooms and the beer stands were still pretty non-existent.  I managed to elbow back up to the harborside with my fancy beer and had some nice conversation with other delighted JRAD attendees.  The tide had been very high before and now was a couple of feet lower, but it was a nice night on the seaside and there was no marine smell.

OK, back to the seats and then they came right out and lit into the second set … many people had to scramble back to their seats when the music started.  I think the band was conscious of the venue curfew and probably of the start of a challenging tour.  They had played in Brooklyn the night before and would be playing the Peach Festival in Pennsylvania the next day.

Althea was perhaps the song of the show, it was done with a rollicking panache that Dead & Company can’t approach.  Perhaps not as soulful as DeadCo does it, but composed in a balls-out, all-play style that really made you feel like you were listening to a spicy woman telling us to cool down Jim and then all right, that’s fine … I’ll go on with life and you’re the one who’s going to be blue.

Dave had predicted their cover of Bobby’s Gonesville, and that was done with the same rollicking beat.  If you’ve never seen Joe Russo … well, I don’t know what to tell you.  And they kept up that spirit and that aggression through the second set, ending with a great China Cat morphing into the acid-country roll of Rider.

Not too long a break and then they filled in the remaining time with an encore of a long, full Sugar Magnolia with Scott singing his tail off.  This was really a fantastic show.  We’ve seen some top-notch concerts from JRAD but this was a very memorable one, with the great weather, the great seats, and the adventurous setlist, though we would have loved to get a Dark Star!

Back to the garage quickly when they finished and we got out of there with not much problem.  Took Dave down to Quincy and then back home not too late.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Cowboy Junkies in Lexington

We've been fans of the Cowboy Junkies for years and they've just released a very good new album (All That Reckoning) and are touring behind it.  It's wonderful that a band could be around for as long as they have and maintain and keep leveraging the style they started with 35 years ago.  We were lucky enough to have the tour come by us, and we grabbed tickets to their performance in Lexington, at the refurbished Cary Hall.

I drove by a dormant Cary Hall for years on my commute and they've recently done things to the interior and opened it up for concerts, everything from local pops to some "classic rock" things that would attract middle-aged people like us, like the Cowboy Junkies, David Crosby, Brian Wilson, etc.  They supposedly sold out for the Cowboys, and most of the people there were serious fans, though it wasn't really as packed as it could get.  I suppose it was a summer Wednesday night (7/18) and a few people didn't show up for the show.

Ok with us!  We had 12th(?) row seats in the left orchestra and the sight lines were great.  The sound wasn't great; though they had some pretty good speakers (arrays left and right suspended above, big ones on stage), they never seemed to concentrate on getting the mix right.  And that's what you want with that band!  Their strongest point, and it's really a strong one in my world, is that if you get Alan Anton's bass just right and mix in Michael Timmon's guitar you can get this tragic, bluesy sound that's unique.  And though seeing the band was a lot of fun and they all played very well, they didn't really approach that sonic atmosphere.

But it was a mellow mid-week night in a beautiful summer in a beautiful setting.  Cary Hall was probably partly to blame for the generalized sound, as it is modeled like a big hall for oratory, like Fanueil Hall in Boston (Lexington is very concerned with their Revolutionary pedigree).  But the hall was looking excellent and we were in a great mood for a sterling night of music.  They put out a vase of roses for Margot, naturlich, and Michael was on his velvet bench, strumming that excellent guitar sound.  Anton was over on the right laying down a simple but deep bass and Peter Timmons was really the surprise for me, leading lots of the songs on his traps, especially the new ones.

And of course they had Jeff Bird, who's as important as any other member of the band.  He started on lap steel but then picked up his mandolin and got some really, really weird sounds out of it.  The string interplay between him and Michael, who's one of the most original guitarists I know, was top notch all night.  Jeff also chimed in on percussion.

They opened with the first part of the title track from All That Reckoning, and Margot soon informed us that they'd be playing some new songs, some old songs, some more new songs, take a break, and then come back and play all old songs.  And that's kind of what they did, doing Mountain Stream, Missing Children, and the excellent Shiny Teeth from the record.  They mixed in some old songs, like Bea's Song, 'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel, and 200 Miles, which was fantastic.  Then they closed the first set with the reprise of All That Reckoning, just like on the record.

Margot had been up front about their touring behind their new CD and wanting everybody to buy it.  And there were some long lines to buy it (at $20) at the break.  Sarah and I wandered around a bit and admired the evening, but then got back to our seats among the gentlemanly white crowd.  I thought we were all supposed to get off earth?

Whites (and Americans) are silly, but as I say it was pretty impressive how much of the crowd were fans of Cowboy Junkies.  There were silly suburbanites chatting each other up of course, but when it came time for Alan Anton to lay down that line and Michael Timmons to twist us over it, there were people grooving to the sound all over the hall.  Too bad they didn't get it quite right, but it was close!

Anyway, more great stuff in the second set including a totally out there Working On a Building, a poppy Southern Rain that got the feel of the day so well, and of course a climax of a funky Sweet Jane.  But the one I'll always remember is when they were doing an acoustic interlude and Margot introduced a request for a wedding song: Angel Mine done by just her and Michael.

We stood up and gave them a round of polite applause when they were done, but they still came out and gave us a two-song encore: Neil Young's Don't Let It Bring You Down and then a rocker I didn't recognize.  This was a lot of fun, though a summer simmer rather than a really hot concert.

Back home quickly from Lexington, on a school night.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Green River Festival 2018, Sunday!

We were exhausted at bedtime on Saturday and woke up Sunday feeling pretty rejuvenated.  Good night's sleep but we knew we were in for another day of heat.  Went down to the above-average hotel breakfast at the Hampton Inn Brattleboro and mingled with the expected softball players and friends.  Djokovic was in the midst of decimating Kevin Anderson for the Wimbledon men's title.

The others were going to gather for the World Cup final, but we were bound to do the old thing of getting a top spot in line, waiting it out, and then setting up our chairs in our normal spot, halfway between the soundboard and the stage.  And that's what we did!

Packed up all our stuff (with the great help of the hotel luggage dolly), checked one last time in the microwave, and hit the road for Massachusetts by about 9:30 and were pulling into College Road by 10:00 or so.  We felt we were sufficiently early, and it was creepy how we were able to pull right up to the circle at the start of the parking lots without being challenged.  Turns out the staff and Greenfield cops were surprised that anybody besides vendors and volunteers would show up that early!  We were smart and let Dave out to wander in as soon as possible, though we didn't have time to get him out a chair before: a) they realized we weren't vendors or volunteers and b) the cop started waving angrily at us and being as firm as possible.

He told us with a little edge in his voice, "Only vendors and volunteers are allowed in before 11!"  We started to tell him that yes we understood that, we just needed to pull over for a second to get out a chair for our son who was going to wait in line.  Dave smartly started walking towards the line at that point so he was not in the "conversation."  The cop replied by saying a little more slowly and with a little less edge in his voice, like we were simple and just hadn't understood, "Only vendors and volunteers are allowed in before 11."  We shrugged and drove around the circle and then pulled over where there was no question that we were out of the way and I got out so I could open the back and get out a chair for Dave.  The cop ran after us, waving, and shouted, "Only vendors and volunteers are allowed in before 11!!"  I walked up to him calmly and said, "I'm sorry, I'm only trying to get out a chair for my son who's in line already."  He said, "Only vendors and volunteers are allowed in before 11!!!"  I wanted to say, "Just turn around and look 100 feet behind you and you'll see a line to get in, those people are not vendors or volunteers," but I decided I shouldn't burst his bubble.  This guy knew how to say only one thing apparently.  I tried one last time, "But my son is in line already."  He actually went off script and said, "Is he a vendor?" I said no.  "Is he a volunteer?"  I said no.  He raised his eyebrows like he had won the debate and almost shouted, "Only vendors and volunteers are allowed in before 11!!!!"

Anyway, maybe it was I was the dumb one after all.  Probably what he was trying to say was that, "My instructions are to only let in vendors and volunteers until 11 but if people walk in and stand in line it's not my issue and I don't know anything about it but I'm not about to let you give them chairs!  I'm just doing my job, sir."  So we pulled down the road just enough so we were out of his line of sight.  Then we pulled over and Sarah got out with two chairs and walked in to join Dave in line.  Jeez, now I just had 50 minutes or so to kill.

That was fine with me and I drove around a bit to check the surrounding area and then tried College Road again.  By that point the volunteers had figured out what they should be doing is to coach the early arrivals into forming a discrete line of cars, and I was about 10th in that line.  I called up the World Cup on my phone and realized it wasn't starting until 11 itself!  Oh well, they finally let us cars in well before 11 and I grabbed our favorite parking space (minus one), checked in with Sarah and Dave in line in the sun, and then went back to the car in the shade to watch the game.

Dave texted me that they were about to move and I joined the line, though this was a false alarm.  The fact was, they were a little more organized than in the last few years, but were just not ready for the crowds or how soon they'd be arriving.  Not like this should have been new to them, but I've never gone to a music festival where they did things perfectly.  But the GRF again is a nice mellow experience, and we were all talking and joking in line.  I shared news of the first half with our line neighbors, including the oddity that France had only one shot on goal but was currently leading 2-1.

OK at last it was time to get in and we had no problem grabbing seats at our favorite spot between the stage and soundboard, in the bright sun.  And P&D joined us soon.  We were in the beautiful GRF for the Sunday set one more time and life was great!  One thing I should mention was that we were really impressed with the lushness and subtle colors of the Greenfield Community College grounds, looking their best in the first month of summer and holding up well to the amazing crowds.  Don't know if Sunday sold out, but it sure seemed as crowded as Saturday.

Checked out a few vendors, talked to some volunteers, looked at merch, and then joined the mellow mash of people in front of the stage at 12:45 for:

Molly Tuttle - Molly is the reigning IBMA Guitarist Of the Year (the first women ever nominated for the award), and there actually was more of a crowd up front to see her than there had been for the first Sunday performer in any other year I could remember.  I guess her reputation preceded her.  And it didn't take long before we were all gobsmacked by her talent, her fingering, and her tone.  There were plenty of bluegrass whoops and hollers even with her first few songs, she was so impressive.  When Dave joined me after one song I gushed to him, "She's playing lead and rhythm and I can't even see her pick the lead she's so fast!"  She did her great cover of John Hartford's Gentle On My Mind, which was just surreal it was so good.  But the most gobsmacking thing for me and Dave was when she closed with the first Grateful Dead song of the day, Cold Rain and Snow.  This is actually a traditional murder ballad, though the murder itself is not talked about, just hinted at.  In her womanly arrangement, she was the one who was walking down the stairs combing back her yellow hair, and it was she who murdered the no good (I presume) man.

Wow, that was a great start!  Got some food and water and watched the late-arriving crowd, they already missed one of the best acts of the weekend.  But it wasn't long before the next main stage act came on:

Ballroom Thieves - Wasn't at all familiar with them but the writeup in the program convinced me that I'd like them and I sure did; this was just the kind of genre-straddling, quirky act I love.  They're a college band themselves (they met at Stonehill College and called themselves "from Boston").  Drummer Devin Mauch kind of sits on the floor with sticks and mallets and plays a djembe and a bass drum, as well as a small kit and assorted percussion.  Martin Earley plays a traditional acoustic guitar and sometimes a shiny electric, but it's Callie Peters who really defines their sound.  She started off on a big red bass more shiny than Earley's but soon switched to an even shinier, spotless gray cello which she struck and sawed on with her bow.  This was an incredible sound!  Her cello seemed to be set so that she could either get a ringing viola sound or a raunchy growl out of each string when she switched a pedal, or maybe it was the strings were rigged alternately through different filters.  As with Tuttle, it was beyond me how she did that and it was enthralling.

Well!  Dave and I were were already pretty toasted and a trip to the car and a sojourn in the shade had mixed effects itself.  We both headed for the porta-potties after that and just as he asked me, "Who is this Chris Smither guy anyway?" and I was about to say, "Who is Chris Smither!?!?!?" ... there he was, doing his small set at the Green House.  We stopped to watch him and suffice to say that Dave immediately made up his mind to catch Chris's full set later that afternoon.

And I want to talk some about my "theme" of the festival.  As loyal readers will recall, I commented that the festival two years ago had the theme of great guitarists (Derek Trucks, David Hidalgo, Sonya Kitchell, David Littleton, etc.) and last year it was great drummers such as Joe Russo and Mike Calabrese.  Took a stupid guy like me a while to figure out the theme of this festival ... it was incredible woman performers!  Just that day we'd seen Molly Tuttle and Callie Peters dominate the show already (see below about I'm With Her).  Saturday it had been Ruth Ungar who dominated my attention with The Mammals, Alicia Aubin with Big Mean Sound Machine, the incredible Allison Russell with Birds Of Chicago, and of course Karina Reykman with Marco Benevento.  On Friday it had been no less than Amy Helm, and the two great singers with Twisted Pine, Rachel Sumner and Katherine Parks.  Geez, though the last couple of bands that afternoon consisted of all guys, the men could have stayed home (or in the audience) that weekend and we'd have all just gone nuts over the talent these women brought.

By that point, as mentioned, the relentless heat and humidity were really affecting me, and I thought I should sit down for the next act with a little food and a lot of water.  Tried this for a while but two things happened: a) I couldn't take the sun and had to move out of the seats as soon as I finished eating and b) the next act cast a spell on me something serious.

I'm With Her - I had caught a bit of them up at the Green House Stage and of course have seen Aoife O'Donovan many times and think she's great.  I'd also seen Sarah Jarosz and she's an incredible talent.  I'd never seen Sara Watkins, and was possibly more impressed with her than the other two.  And I've heard their excellent new record as well as the things they've released on Spotify.  BUT ... I was not prepared for the level of excellent musicianship I saw.  I thought they were another one of those super-groups who get together and have fun but basically take turns playing each other's songs and are not really a band.  I was wrong, they just blew me away with how well they melded not only in their harmonies but also in their ability to accompany the ensemble's vocal sounds on instruments: O'Donovan on guitar (better than I've ever heard her play guitar before), Watkins on incredibly tasteful fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, and multi-instrumentalist Jarosz on fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and whatever else she could lay her hands on.  They had to swap instruments a few times, there was not room enough on stage for all of them.

As I say, the spell had me good and after I couldn't take sitting in the sun any longer I crept up to the stage and got pretty close, though there were hundreds of others up there.  I wondered a couple of times if I was about to fall over, but my legs held up, I concentrated on breathing calmly, and I had what started as a full bottle of water but soon was gone.  Perhaps it was the extreme conditions to some degree, but the emotion of their singing almost had me in tears at various times.

They finally neared the end of their set and Aoife and Sarah turned to Watkins, who picked up her guitar and did her excellent new song, which is just a great road song about wanderlust and how we Americans still can dream, Overland.  And then they were scratching their asses a bit, wondering what song they'd close with.  A woman just to my left was trying to hold it in too, but then dropped her cool and shouted, "Are you *ever* going to cross muddy waters??"  And just as she got out the last syllable of her exhortation, that excellent trio started into their great cover of John Hyatt's Crossing Muddy Waters.  The woman who called it went into paroxysms of ecstasy or something, we were all at least a bit outside our normal selves because of the weather.  Anyway, I'm With Her knocked the place down, all of them smiling beautifully and trying to look cool in the shade up on stage.  Wow, what a set this was!

Yikes, we were all of a sudden getting close to the end of the festival, but I realized I needed some time in the shade immediately if I was going to enjoy it.  I went directly over to the Parlor Room Stage, and hundreds of other people had apparently had the same idea.  Chris Smither had already started his act in the tent, with a lap steel player and also his excellent partner/producer, Goody Goodrich, on guitar.  Dave reported later that he had closed with the second Grateful Dead song of the day, Sitting On Top Of the World.  I'm told that Michelle was in that tent for one of her favorite artists, great that she could get away for her set!

I realized there was no way I could combine "shade" and "Smither," so I went way over to the far side of the hill, sat down in the shade, and concentrated on breathing in time to the wonderful sound of Chris's boot pounding rhythm on the floor.  A few songs (including a great reaction to the topical Nobody Home) and I was as rejuvenated as I figured I was going to get, so I headed back up to the main stage.  There was already a large group of people crowding in front, trying to stay in the shade cast by the lowering sun.  I joined it at the back and was in the sun for a little while, but then a few people shifted so I could move up and the sun set a little bit, and I was soon at least in shade to see...

Robert Earl Keen - I've only been a fan of Robert's for 35 years or so, and most of the others up front with me had probably been fans for a long time too.  As Robert has commented about his shows, the fans seemed to know the words better than he did!  The first part of his set was mainly "the old stuff," and we all bellowed out every syllable to Corpus Christi Bay, I'm Coming Home, Gringo Honeymoon, Feelin' Good Again, Amarillo Highway, If I were King, etc.  Gringo Honeymoon especially resonated so much on that hot day; we were all looking for a cool beer in the shade and Captain Pablo was our guide.  He blew a smoke ring and he smiled at us, "I ain't never going back."

It's kind of amazing how often Robert slurred and/or messed up and/or forgot a line or three but how the crowd kept on singing.  And he had an excellent band that could turn on a dime from a pure bluegrass sound to textbook outlaw country, but mostly stayed in between in Robert's sweet spot.  Again, I wasn't sure how much longer I could take before I fell right over, especially when he went from the great old stuff to his just-good newer stuff that didn't have us rocking in quite the same way.  Anyway, he ended with (surprise) The Road Goes On Forever and how can you help but sing along with that and jump up and down a bit?

Oh no, GRF was almost over!  The balloons were pretty much grounded again, there had been some thunderheads in the vicinity and even a welcome sun shower or two that afternoon.  But the balloons were finishing their tethered rides, the Flying High Dogs were grounded, and the Arts Tent and Arcade were deserted.  Everything was concentrating on the main stage uphill.  We all congregated at our seats, the sun was approaching the hillside behind the stage, and big chunks of the crowd were peeling off and going home.

Though the weather was challenging, many of the performers commented on what I say above, that Greenfield was looking beautiful that early-summer weekend and it was so much fun to be outside in the real world with the lovely green hills and fields all around us.  Robert Earl commented that this was nothing like Lubbock!  We texted our friends where we were and they pretty much all came up for at least part of the Sunday closing act, which was:

Old Crow Medicine Show - This was another act I'd never seen, though I've been listening to and greatly enjoying them for years.  As with many acts at the festival, they've recently released a new record (Volunteer) and I feel it's one of their best.  They did a number of songs from that and a number of their classics, including the third Grateful Dead song of the day, CC Rider.  They've got such a large and talented band and were tripping over themselves with their stage changes and instrument changes.  It seemed the techs were bringing out new instruments for everybody between each song ... maybe because the old ones were drenched with sweat!?!

Anyway, I say again, we and many of the people in the crowd were reaching the end.  We had a long drive back ahead of us and our exit timing was great: we packed our stuff, folded our chairs, made one last porta-potty run, said goodbye to all our friends, and were ready to leave as soon as they started into Wagon Wheel, which we knew would be the dénouement.  Excellent song and excellent band and we hated to tear ourselves away, but we were ready for some air conditioning.

Got the stuff stowed, got the car started, got the air conditioning blowing cold air in our leathery faces (and weathered hands), and made it out of the Greenfield Community College lots just about as Old Crow was singing the closing chorus.  On the highway soon and the ride back actually went incredibly smoothly.  We were home almost exactly two hours after we started packing up to leave.

So how was the 2018 GRF?  I think it'll take me a long, long time before my first answer to that question will be about anything but the weather.  Maybe the me of ten (or twenty) years ago would have shrugged it off, but the heat and humidity that weekend just sapped me and made me wonder how much longer it will be that I'll be able to go enjoy music in a setting like that.

But enjoy it I did!  We expected that the 2018 lineup would not knock us over with its excellence, such as with LSD and JRAD last year or Tedeschi Trucks and Los Lobos the year before (or the old Rubblebucket before that).  But we also realized that we needed to concentrate on the acts we knew we would like (see comments about being unsuccessful at this the last few years) and we know the rhythms of the GRF well enough that we were able to do this well.  We were in the right place at the right time all weekend and saw some excellent musicianship, as well as having fun with our friends.  What more can you want?

And I have to say that my answer to the question of how was the 2018 GRF, if and when I get beyond how extreme the weather was, was that the women musicians I saw that weekend were extraordinary.  That was the overriding theme of the weekend and the sounds of Katherine Parks singing Heart Of Glass, Ruth Ungar singing Maple Leaf, Molly Tuttle singing Cold Rain and Snow, and many more will stay with me for a long, long, long time.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Green River Festival 2018, Saturday!

Woke up Saturday at a decent time, but I was exhausted and not feeling good.  We had a nice hotel room (except for Dave’s fold-out bed, which looked like a Medieval torture device), but I had had a horrible night’s sleep after a wearing evening.  I didn’t mention it in Friday night’s blog, and I didn’t pay perhaps as much attention to it as I should have at the time, but the weather was gruesome and the energy was just drained out of us.  I think plenty of other concert-goers felt the same way.

We’ve experienced heat, rain, and more heat … yeah, and more rain … at GRF, but this weekend’s heat and humidity has been from another world.  Neither was the worst, but the two of them together just left you in a brain-dead fog if you weren’t constantly concentrating on how you were feeling and taking care of yourself.  Maybe I’m getting older (no!), but there were times, as I said to Sarah, where I could have been in line at Walmart, just spacing out.  You had to concentrate to feel the music sometimes instead of just letting it wash over you.  And a big part of this was that the sun and the mugginess made your body droop and your face melt.

But whatever, it was Saturday morning at the GRF!  I sucked it up, showered, and went downstairs for a nice breakfast with girls in softball uniforms walking around in a heightened state of tension and Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battling it out in the fifth set at Wimbledon (Djokovic finally won).  Possibly the biggest event of that morning, though was about to start…

It had been an excellent 2018 World Cup and the third place game, England and Belgium, was about to start.  Back up in our room we could not find it on the TV but had brought an HDMI cable and were able to get logged into Fox Sports on my laptop and get it on the TV by the time it started.  We texted the group and they all jammed into our large room, sprawled over the couch, furniture, chairs, and bed, and we had a great time watching the game!  Belgium was the more inventive team that day and after England almost tied it but their best shot was swept off the line, Belgium scored again to seal the victory.

Wait, why the fuck weren’t we in line in the hot sun at the Festival by then?  Well, it was because the Saturday lineup was kind of thin and there was no reason to grab great seats at the Main Stage.  Our strategy was to hang out for the game, leave when it was over around noon, go directly to set up our chairs at the Dean’s Beans Stage instead of uphill, and basically to take a mellow approach (for us) to Saturday.  Which was what we did.

Got packed up soon after the game was over and were on the road for the Massachusetts line by a few minutes after noon.  The cars were backed up on College Road when we got there and the sun was blazing and the humidity was frying our brains.  But Dave got out and headed in; they had smartly made a “bags” line and a “no bags” line and Dave went straight in with no bags and got our seats (alongside P&D) downhill.

In the meantime, Sarah and I waited in that long line of cars, got a parking space far from the entrance, and then waited in line for what seemed like an hour (it was) to just get in through the “bags” line.  But the important thing is that we got in, dumped our stuff at the beachhead downhill, and then I took off for the upper stage.  Though there were few great acts up on the Main Stage that day, one of the acts I most wanted to see had already begun!  Here’s what I saw … I think:

The Mammals – I’ve loved Ruth Ungar’s and Mike Merenda’s band for years and had never seen them (I’ve seen Ruth with Sometymes Why).  I think I have all The Mammals records and they’re *so much* in my personal sweet spot for uplifting humanist string music I can’t describe it.  I tell other people to listen to them and they say huh?  They’ve recently re-formed and put out perhaps their best record.  When we finally got past the bag check, Ruth was singing the beautiful Stayin’ Up Late and I hated to run downhill.  But I was soon back up and they were crooning the title track, Sunshiner.  I hurried up front and their music ran all through me (it was early in the day and the humidity hadn’t worked its evil ways yet), as I swayed to Make It True, Culture War, Fork In the Road, and then they closed with perhaps one of the loveliest songs in recent memory, Maple Leaf.  We all wanted to fly like maple leaves, and the day was just starting!  I was so glad to hear the bulk of their set after waiting forever to get in.

Big Mean Sound Machine - I got some iced(!) coffee and slowly made my way back downhill after that, anticipating a band from Ithaca College (Dave's alma mater).  Dave had seen them often in college and had gotten me psyched, he called them "Ithaca's answer to Rubblebucket ... without vocals."  Dave and I got right in front of the horns and had a great time.  The 8-person band was led by Angelo Peters on funky effects-laden bass and synth, and the funk permeated the two percussionists (one on ethereal congas), keys/synth player, guitarist, and trombonist (Alicia Aubin), trumpeter (Jack Storer), and saxophonist.  They spun wonderful grooves and immediately had us all dancing to their long pieces.  Aubin and Storer were particularly fascinating, playing long inventive, note-perfect brass solos ... didn't hurt that we were right in front of them.

But I tore myself away before the set ended because I could tell I needed water, food, and shade badly already.  I got refreshed and then got some nutrition (beans, rice, and guacamole) from La Veracruzana and headed back down to the Parlor Room Stage (set up pretty much the same as last year) to find a shady spot to eat in.  Caught the last few chords of Jack Broadbent's set but didn't see him.  The tent was packed already and gave you claustrophobia just looking at the sweaty people struggling their way out of it.  OK ... after a bit I was full, hydrated, and refreshed, and so headed on into the tent myself and grabbed an aisle seat for easy escape before it got really packed, and it sure did a few minutes after that.  But I was bound to see a whole set of...

Birds Of Chicago - Though it had flaws, the Parlor Room Stage was exactly the right setting for this band at this moment.  I was sitting down in the shade (though I had to get up like 20 times for people to enter and exit my row, this is not a successful "seating" situation) and I was able to concentrate on the music and on the wonderful vocals, flute, and banjo by Allison Russell, as well as the great musicianship of the rest of the band.  They were playing mellow versions of their best songs, and they were smiling, giving way to each other, and just being brilliant in turn.  Again, they didn't do Roisin Starchild, but they covered Love In Wartime, the really fun Baton Rouge, and the earnest Try from their new record.

Oh boy that was fun.  I somehow made it out of that hot tent as soon as their set was over though, and wandered back to our seats over at the Dean's Beans Stage after running into friends playing soccer and frisbee and admiring the sky.

Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express - They were just starting up when I got over there, and they were ok IMO.  Chuck's got some hot licks and they played some great SanFran and/or classic rock tunes ... and you know that's what I like.  But they were a little cliched and the music often took a back seat to presentation.  Which isn't the SanFran ethic I should say!

Anyway, wandered around at that point and saw a tune and a half from:

Yes Darling - This novelty act is Ryan Montbleau and Hayley Jane and they're really godawful.  OK, there's lots of talent there but they're interested in duo acting rather than playing good music.  They probably improvised a bit but had their pieces all ready to act out and Hayley knew just when to react to Ryan's guitar chords and Ryan knew just when to react to Hayley's innuendos.  Perhaps entertaining, and the Parlor Room Stage was as packed as ever, but not what I was going to stand in the hot sun to watch.

So I went uphill and got more water (must have re-filled my water bottle 50 times over the course of the weekend) and...

Interjection here that they had a new stage at the GRF, alternately called the Green House Stage, the Pop-up Stage, or the Tiny House Stage.  They set up a "tiny house" with a porch over in the shaded area between the porta-potties and the beer wagon and it was just marvelous, a very successful addition.  The acts would rotate over there just before their appearance on the big stages, when they were already all kitted up/made up and looking fresh.  They had several video cameras focussing on them with this "living room" backdrop and I'm sure the idea is to make promotional videos that will appear on YouTube or some other channel.

And the performances there were marvelous!  The acts knew that this was their close-up for Mr. DeMille and they rose to the occasion, staring right into the camera and/or the small audience while doing three (this was apparently the limit) of their best songs.  Sarah has some wonderful pictures of the Birds there and I was fortunate to see a song and a half from Chris Smither and most of I'm With Her's tiny set.

Another piece of the great GRF experience was their vendors and information providers.  Had a wonderful (and persuasive?) talk with a guy from Green Mountain Energy and a fun talk with a woman selling Jay Blakesburg photos, that she'd enhanced and framed.  I was captivated by one of a young looking Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, and realized while talking with her that it was from the first time we'd seen them, at Gathering Of the Vibes in 2011.  She told me about her experience of seeing them there on that hot, hot day.

Chuck Prophet was still pontificating and so I kept wandering and was just in time to catch the Mardi Gras Parade uphill that they do every year but I've never seen up close, where kids get to march with the banners, sculptures, and costumes they've made at the Art Tent.  This year's parade was led by the members of Big Mean Sound Machine in mufti, some with kazoos.  And the stragglers in it were the aliens from Bella's Bartok.  After that interlude, I was just in time to catch a bit of ...

Femi Kuti and the Positive Force - Kuti comes from a line of African leaders, both politically and musically, and he had a full band with him, some of the members in traditional costume.  I only saw a few songs from them and have to say they were kind of boring.  Perhaps if I'd stayed longer I would have been more receptive to their groove, but it was a lot of him yelling political lines at the crowd and smiling that they just didn't get how serious he was, and then him pointing at the horn players to lay down another riff.  He also had backup singers who apparently had been told to shake their booties, and this itself was not politically appropriate.  Whatever.

Timing was good then to cruise back to the Parlor Room Stage, where they'd thankfully folded up all the seats and left plenty of dancing room.  This is how that stage should always be configured!  I caught four or five tunes from...

The Revelers - This is an all-star Cajun/Zydeco band (no black members, so favor the former slash term) that lets it all hang out and is very much in my sweet spot of music.  They had seven or eight or five or who knows guys on stage and they were all swapping instruments and a different guy did the lead on each song.  And they did that great heart of the country thing of being swampy and steaming and tender and vulnerable all at the same time.  None of them took the baton and shone with it, but they all took the baton in turn and let his heart shine.  Loved it, but then it was time to get back for ...

 OK, time to go settle down in our seats at the Dean's Beans Stage and enjoy the last acts of the night (by our schedule).

Bella's Bartok - Was just starting and they were a trip.  They had a couple of horn players (one of whom took his shirt off straight-away), a couple of percussionists, a couple of guitar and bass players, one dynamic lead in Asher Putnam, and a lot of facial hair, most of it expressed in mustaches.  Dave had seen them at GRF a few years back and was more than eager to experience them again, and I have to admit that this was really fun.  They sang in Turkish, sang in unison, sang in nonsense syllables, did some cracker-jack riffs on all the above instruments, and did not faint (accidentally).  The sun was just beginning to mellow out by then, though the humidity did not relent, and perhaps the most amazing thing about these very talented musicians' act was that they breezed on as if heat was the least of their problems.  This was very entertaining stuff and very impressive stagemanship.

All of a sudden, it was again getting late on Saturday night at our favorite music festival and one of our favorite bands was about to come on.  There was apparently some atmospheric je ne sais quoi going on that night, and so the balloons weren't really firing up, though they were desultorily lounging on the lower field while the sun was getting a little lower, then a little lower.

Dave and I were up at the rail immediately as soon as the previous act was done ... we weren't about to miss this opportunity to see Marco Benevento from up close.  Scott also knew that this was one of the acts of the festival, and we were so glad when the whole Taylor entourage showed up at stage-front!  The crowd filled in pretty well while Karina and Dave and Marco were doing their sound check.  And then finally it was time for...

Marco Benevento - We've seen these guys several times, see earlier blog posts.  And of course Marco is an essential part of JRAD.  Dave had seen Marco delivering pizza and hanging out with his daughter during Bella's Bartok and that added a nice touch.  But they were up on stage now and Marco had his super-cool super-funky cyberpunk green piano and Karina Reykman was looking fine and sounding finer and rocking the fuck out of the place with her white get-up and her excellent bass and her waves of sound, and Dave Butler was kicking the shit out of the atmosphere and egging on Marco and Karina.  They played the first part of the Fred Short suite to start and then went on from there to say the least.  They did an excellent cover of Dropkick and that was not all.  They did a mashup of a Butthole Surfers song, a Pink Floyd song, and an Elton John song.  Marco got the whole crowd singing along to Benny and the Jets.

No At the Show, but they couldn't do everything.  Their stagecraft was as impeccable as always.  Karina did her routine of running off stage and then dashing back on just in time to deliver a rip-the-world-apart bass chord.  Marco twirled a bit for the crowd and ended up climbing up on top of his piano and jumping off, a feat more precarious than it sounds.

But the meat of it all was the runs Marco took on that piano.  You'd notice him start to chord with his right hand and then that his left hand was scratching that itch and then pounding down into the nether regions, and then that the right hand was tinkling in ways that had never been tinkled before, and then that the two together were about to explode into the ionosphere.  And then they would and then he'd take it from there, sometimes playing the most Shortnin' Bread kind of Jimmy Rogers riffs that had us all nodding, and then sometimes drawing baroque tapestries and sometimes bursting through gauzy curtains.

Well jeez, I could go on.  The balloons were surging and alight, the crowd was thundering with applause when he stopped, and the stage announcer came out and urged us all on to an encore.  We were certainly using time for fun.

Well it was finally over and we were done.  It had been a long day and though Michael Franti was laying down a heavy (but poppy) beat on the upper field, it was time for us to exit stage left.  Hung out at the seats a bit and did last porta-potty stops (they had turned off the lights and you never know how scary a porta-potty can be until you do it in the total dark).  Then bundled up and found the car in the far reaches of the parking lots and slowly got rolling up to Brattleboro.

As it turned out, we were a little ahead of the others.  We took turns in the shower to wash off dirt and sweat and sunscreen and grime and don't-ask and more sweat and crud.  Finally we were presentable and rendezvoused with our friends downstairs.  The girl's softball team and their hangers-on were rocking the lobby again ... we never found out where they were from or how they did in the tournament, but they were having a good time.  We couldn't take the hip-hop music and we found the "Board Room," where we assembled and had an excellent time, showing PPTs to each other and eating chips late into the night!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Green River Festival 2018, Friday night!

I was a little disappointed this year when the Green River Festival lineup was first announced.  I kept hoping they’d add some acts I was really excited about, but excitement was slow to come.  They announced Josh Ritter, Michael Franti, and Old Crow Medicine Show as the nightly closers early on … one half-exciting act out of three is better than none.  And then they did add acts like Robert Earl Keen, Amy Helm, Chris Smither, I’m With Her … and Marco Benevento!

OK, I was excited though it could have been a lot more exciting.  But how do you follow the great acts of the last few festivals?  I and the others in our group realized that this might be a down year, but that was no reason for us to be down.  We were all psyched for another great GRF and it finally rolled around on the calendar.

There had been some fuckups about accommodations and tickets this year, like our hotel going belly-up on us (the ex-Rodeway Inn in Greenfield, which didn’t even have the courtesy to tell us it had died) and some in our group not getting tickets to all three days.  But we got rooms at the Hampton Inn in Brattleboro, which turned out well, and we had the chance to give endless shit to those who had missed tickets!

Worked Friday morning at our new office in Waltham and then back-tracked to Woburn to pick up Sarah and Dave, who had spent the night.  We threw everything in the car and took off for The West soon after noon on a hot, hot day that presaged a hot, hot weekend.

Got out to Greenfield and cruised into town where we had lunch at a pretty busy People’s Pint.  BBQ chicken wrap for me and a couple of IPAs and similar stuff for S&D.  Then we stopped for beer and supplies (Ginger Libation at Ryan and Casey’s), and drove straight-away over to the Festival.

The crowds had been so intense there the last few years that we figured the only way to get great seats for the great Friday lineup was to get there early, and we were right.  Our timing was great and we were in line behind just a few cars, and then got our good parking space and jumped into line, 20th or so.  The gates opened soon and we were on our way … but wait!

For years the GRF was “no alcohol” and they pretty much turned a blind eye to people slipping in cans or bottles of this or that in their coolers as long as they were discreet.  Then they realized that they had become immensely popular and had to become more of a big league Festival … another case of success ruining things … and they got the super-cool Berkshire Brewing Company a license and had them sell beer.  But people continued to smuggle stuff in and you knew it was going to happen that eventually they’d have to crack down more.  They announced that this year they were really going to inspect bags, and they did a pretty good job of balancing this with letting the long lines of people flow.  There were still a few people who smuggled in (just guessing here actually) mixed drinks in orange juice bottles.  But they were plastic!

And you've gotta understand what time we're living in.  One of the (disappearing?) charms of the GRF is that it's so mellow.  You (and your kids) can walk around barefoot with not a second thought!  The big rule was that you weren't allowed to bring in glass bottles and I'm all in favor of people policing themselves not to do this.  I'm all in favor of parties too, but seeing people smoke pot at their seats with kids (and other non-smokers) around last year was kind of a shock (didn't happen this year, perhaps because the designated pot-smoking area was open again).  I hope GRF stays mellow.

Anyway, got in soon after a bit of delay for inspection and grabbed great seats at our regular position from the stage, but to the right of the electrical conduit.  Yow!  It was the GRF again, people were streaming in, we were getting beer tokens and inspecting the used records.  Friend Steve the security volunteer was there again, and life was just perfect.

The lineup for the Main Stage (rebranded as the “Tea Guys Stage”) was pretty good, as I say, but I planned to head downhill for the Latin Stage (the whilom Three Rivers Stage which is now the Dean’s Beans Stage) at some point.  Here’s what I saw:

Twisted Pine – This band of young Berklee products has come a long way and has re-invented themselves several times since we first saw them.  They had the same lineup as last year (Kathleen Parks with a lot of makeup, Rachel Sumner looking as young-Kathy-Kallick as ever, Dan Bui on mando, and Chris Sartori on bass), but some new songs.  I liked their old lineup and the traditional songs they used to play, but I have to admit that this was fantastic stuff, perhaps the most impressive set I’ve seen from them.  Bui was flawless as ever, Parks was excellent on fiddle, Sumner rocked my head on guitar and smooth as silk woman bluegrass vocals as she always does, and their arrangements are great.

AND ... they were well into their set and then they took a breath, and then sang Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.  This caught me totally unawares, I didn't know they covered this.  "Lucy" means a lot to me: Sergeant Pepper's was the first album I bought, and there have been several situations in my life when I've been watching the plasticine porters and then By Dog there's suddenly somebody there at the turnstile.  'Nuff said.

Their climax was Blondie’s Heart Of Glass, and as weird as this was (no more weird than Emmylou doing a Beatles song in the 70s??), it is an immensely successful earworm and played in my head all night.  But I wish they'd smile a bit more ... maybe it was glare but they all took some serious turns frowning at us all.

Amy Helm – Amy’s changed a bit too over the last few years.  In the past we’ve seen her with musicians who really challenged her and that had a certain tension that we loved.  She’s more in charge of the band now and though these guys may have been able to upstage her themselves (fantastic guitar player, bass player, keyboardist, and drummer), they stayed more in the background and let her vocals shine out.  I think she’s great and was fine with this!  She opened with Didn’t It Rain (we were hoping it wouldn’t and so far so good) and climaxed the set with her new song This Too Shall Light (her second album (with this song) has not yet been released) as the balloons took off in the still-bright evening, and she brought out Allison Russell to help with the encore.

Birds Of Chicago – I missed these guys a couple of years ago at GRF and was kicking myself.  They’ve recently released Love In Wartime and that is an incredible record (though they didn't play my favorite song from it, Roisin Starchild).  So I was psyched and was not at all disappointed by Allison Russell’s crystal-beautiful vocals and JT Nero’s grit.  They were perhaps a little cautious in this Friday-night set, but they let it all hang out the next day.

Before they were done I grabbed some food from La Veracruzana and then ran down to the Latin Stage for…
Orquesta Akokán – Managed to time this perfectly and was front and center on the rail when this huge Cuban band came out.  I was eager to see them but ended up being a bit disappointed.  They played a very formal style and even though there was probably enough talent on the stage to sink a ship, they were content to stay in the background and let the singer/bandleader, Jose Gomez, strut his stuff in his white suit and point to them in turn to take short leads.  As the woman next to me said, “He’s just like a small Ricky Ricardo!”  Anyway, did some dancing and some grooving but soon it was time to leave.
Back at the Main Stage Josh Ritter had started his set but it didn’t hold our attention and we packed up quickly and left, as we had planned to do.  It wasn’t a long drive up to our hotel in Brattleboro but we didn’t want to arrive really late, and our friends were waiting!

We checked in to the Hampton at exit 3, texted with the folks, and then mostly assembled downstairs in the lobby where a girl’s softball team and their parents/hangers-on were already assembled and making more noise than we could.  We tried our best to join in and had a fun time before dragging ourselves away to bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dead & Company Back in the Theatre

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the really important things in life when work gets in the way, like trees, the sky, and another Dead & Company concert.  And sometimes Hartford can seem far away, especially when you’ve gotta get there through mounds of traffic and you realize you have to drive back that night.  So there was some hassle in planning the logistics for going down to Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre on June 13th to see Dead & Company … and there was a possibility of rain, thunder, and lightning, but we knew it would be worth it (unless the show was truncated by weather!) and it really was.

Grabbed iced coffees to go on another beautiful but turning tumultuously overcast late Spring day.  Met Sarah and Dave at the train (Dave and I had the same t-shirt ... very embarrassing) and then we picked up subs/wraps/quesadillas and hit the road for the Southwest.  The traffic through Worcester was as bad as ever and the rain started coming and going.  But we eventually made it to the Pike and down 84 into Connecticut and the clouds started backing off and the showers cut it out.

Pulled onto Market Street in Hartford, eschewed Yard Goat parking, and joined a line of cars wending their way up around the car dealerships and into the free lot (a.k.a. the toxic waste dump) that extends North from the Xfinity Theatre.  We considered going for VIP parking or at least some kind of lot that held out some kind of hope for easy exiting after the concert, but none really did unless you paid them a lot of money.  We figured, how bad can it be?  And we found out … it was even worse than our first time there.

Oh well, grabbed a patch of crumbled asphalt and toxic waste in the lot and settled down to eat our subs and get psyched.  They actually had a few porta-potties there this time but a lot of people used the woods anyway.  And guess who pulled up 50 or so cars behind us and parked right next to us, Dave’s friend whom he runs into at every Dead event!  That was a cosmic coincidence, and later Jimmy and friend showed up too and we all had a good time hiding our beers from the mellow cops cruising the lot and inspecting vendor wares when they came by.

And those mellow vendors were smart to come by because almost half of the long walk into the amphitheater was lined with more serious vendors who had brought booths to set up and spread out in.  Of course there were some with coolers selling beer by the can and probably whatever else you wanted.  This was by far the most extensive Shakedown Street I’d ever seen, though we didn’t slow down to look at it for long … we wanted to get in and get in position for a good spot on the lawn.

Inside at last we found our way up the the lawn entrance, where about 50 people were already waiting for the gates to open.  We joined them and had some nice conversations with people there, then the gates opened and we all ran up the stairs or around the wall onto the lawn and found where we wanted to sit.  We really had a great spot, just high enough up on the lawn to see over the people in the back rows of the seats, even when they stood up and sat on each other’s shoulders at the end of the concert.  And we were just right of center … center was dead on to the “Section 600” marker painted on the overhang, and we figured we were about in section 569.

We had brought in one of our clear plastic Dead Concert bags with some snacks and some empty water bottles, which we’d filled up on the way in, as well as getting a big cup of Sweetwater 420.  We had plenty of time to settle in to our spot on the hardy, long grass (it must take a beating and so they keep it a little long), and to then wander around.  This time when I looked over at the load-in access area, there were 9 tour busses (John must need two, but who else?) and at least 17 huge tractor-trailer trucks.

And the clouds actually started to part … we could see a little bit of gray-blue sky and it sure didn’t feel like there was any lightning approaching the area that night.  We were glad to get in early, because it must have been a madhouse out in the lots as 8:00 approached and the frantic crowds streamed in.  Strange that every other show on the tour started at 7 and this one was at 8, but strange things often happen at Hartford concerts.

Have I set the scene well enough?  The guys came out and launched into the first song.  It wasn’t Stranger but the jam instantly was familiar and it was close.  Here’s the first set:

Hell In a Bucket
Next Time You See Me
Ramble On Rose
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Cumberland Blues
Black Muddy River
Don’t Ease Me In

One of the things to watch about the tour this year has been the instruments.  Bob changes guitars so quickly you wonder how he doesn't get confused [sic].  He has that wonderful green guitar that we love, but also switches between a blonde guitar, a red one, the walnut one we loved last Fall, and one of his old chika-chika guitars ... and at least one acoustic.  John pulls out his acoustic once in a while but mainly stays on a tiger striped one for the rock songs and a gray-blue one for the blues songs.  But he switched his on-stage amps at some point between the first few shows ... going from a custom setup to all Fenders.  Oteil sticks to his great green six-string (Alembic?) and the drummers, as noted, have a more compact setup that still features lots of gadgets.

But the great instrumental twist is Jeff's piano.  He started the tour in Mansfield with a grand, which he's always had with this band before.  But then in the third or fourth show(??) he switched to a studio grand, a kind of snub-nosed baby grand with some chrome detailing.  And it sounds great!  One would have to say that Jeff is the straw that stirs this drink (notwithstanding the excellence of all the other musicians), and the sound from his studio grand is so much him.  There's a little ragtime, a little schmaltz, a lot of old-time rock and roll, a little ethereal omphaloskepsis, and a ton of Jeff's particular style.  The action seems to be perfect for him and he doesn't seem to be working hard on it at all, though you're just gob-smacked when he takes a lead at the sounds that come out of it.  I've thought over and over, "How can you do that without having three hands or 20 fingers?"

So anyway, there was Bobby back at the mike singing about black leather suspenders while the rest of the guys were getting the sound just right.  That sure didn't take long and they started jamming and jamming as soon as they could.  John was leading the pack and this soon became a very deep and long Bucket, which was fantastic.

Dave has some great detail of all the songs they played in his blog.  I'm in agreement with him on all of them, especially how they killed Ramble On Rose in the first set, a song that you wouldn't think is made for them but that they do incredibly well.  Also the Cumberland was excellent and they pulled this off with no mistakes.  I was on a trip up to the bathrooms during that and realized how crowded the place had gotten.

The back of the lawn was way, way away from the stage and people were talking there almost in normal voices, though down in our lawn spot the sound was great.  I couldn't get over the fact that we didn't see that many speakers, a small stack was suspended from the roof a little to our right and there was another small stack over to our left.  But the sound from under the roof seemed to be projecting well besides those, and in particular Oteil and Jeff's bass notes made a perfectly rounded sound.  This was the sound that had first grabbed me about this band at our first concert in Worcester and it was back!

John did another sterling vocal on Black Muddy River, which must be one of his favorite songs.  And then Don't Ease Me In was done with a tempo and verve worthy of a great Garcia song.  I was lost in the dark for these two songs.  I headed back to our seats from the bathroom and though I got pretty close, the lawn was so huge and so dark down by our spot that I would have had to stumble over a lot of people before finding Sarah and Dave, so I just hung back and enjoyed myself.

Break time after that and I quickly found my way back when things thinned out a bit.  I wasn't about to leave and get lost again, that amphitheater is huge and was packed!  And what a great first set that had been.  To rob a phrase from descriptions of the Bobby & Phil shows, they were thrillingly loose.  As I've said, I like it when this band rolls the dice and changes tacks.  I like it when they're tight of course, and this can be thrilling itself.  But they seemed so relaxed that beautiful night in Hartford and willing to walk up to the edge of the cliff and look over it.  The first setlist had been very good and the playing was fantastic, and though the second setlist was weird and they didn't play what we were sure they were going to (like, Dark Star!), the concert as a whole was delightful.

And the night really had turned beautiful.  The clouds continued to recede and the late evening glowed a lovely violet-blue.  And then it got a little darker and Venus popped out over our heads and a little to the left, looking just right in its own spot in the sky.  "It's the spiral light of Venus!" I told a few people, pointing.  They just looked at me like I was a crazy Deadhead.

Well anyway, not a very long set break fortunately (we were worried about curfew with an 8:00 start and maybe they were too).  Here's that second set I was talking about:

Feel Like a Stranger
Viola Lee Blues
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Viola Lee Blues
Looks Like Rain
Not Fade Away

This may not look like the most dynamic setlist and you'll get no argument.  We were disappointed that they didn't play Dark Star into TOO into Caution into Sing Me Back Home.  But wow, this was great!  Viola Lee is one of the most down and dirty songs you can get and they played it with such an edge (but a loose edge if you know what I mean), after opening with a sudden Stranger that had us all back on our heels.

And then China Cat rushed on us with Bobby slurring the words but John and Jeff winding all around us like a silver kimono.  And I particularly liked this Rider, which went on and on and into folk heaven, except Oteil was booming and the drummers were crunching it.  And then John would roll into another lead and then Jeff would top him.

I speak in riddles perhaps but again, see Dave's blog for more specifics.  I was delighted when they went into Man Smart next, such a great beat and they handle the vocals so well on this.  And then it was fantastic how the beat morphed into a powerful Drums segment, with Billy leading the way but then Mickey taking over.  Then they did another unusual thing, which was to come to a full stop at the end of Drums.  The drummers were done, and then the guys came out and immediately struck up a jam more than a "Space" per se.  Which morphed back into Viola Lee and we were all shaking our heads about our friends getting lifetime here.  Maybe a lifetime on the Hartford grass wouldn't be as bad as being Nashville bound.

Then Bobby really stepped up big-time with LLR.  There sure wasn't much chance of the clouds coming back at that point and I guess we had predicted that he'd sing this in the first set when rain was in the forecast.  But he capped a set of unexpected charms with a beautiful vocal on arguably the most classic of Barlow songs, a song about losing love by someone who hadn't found it yet, but would.  And this was a great substitute for the classic Garcia second set ballad.

I'll have to admit I was a little disappointed by NFA, because I knew it was the set closer and because I knew they'd keep it short (curfew approached) and because it's turned into kind of a gimmick song.  Oh well, the crowd loved it and was clapping along while they ended quickly and waved as they hurried off the stage.  They came back soon though and finished us off with a lovely Brokedown Palace, with a great vocal arrangement.

I immediately said that that was a great concert!  It was weird and loose and there wasn't much that stood out about it, but the sound and the quality were top-notch to my ear.  The long Bucket, the professionally played Ramble On Rose and Cumberland, the second set opener of Stranger on a strange night, the power of Viola Lee, and the beauty of LLR were highlights.  And the entirety of the show was great.

Still not entirely done yet, still a long way to go!  We trucked over that immense and tilting lawn out a fortuitous exit, but then had a long walk back through the dregs of Shakedown Street, back to the deepest part of the toxic waste dump, where our car (and many others) were parked.  There were people who didn't want to be selling t-shirts trying to bully you into buying one, an extensive dentist convention of course that you thought might break out into ugliness at some point, a lost guy mumbling to himself who told me he lived somewhere in Connecticut but he couldn't remember exactly where, and a long, long line of cars trying to get out, let alone all of us who were still parked.

It was a little before midnight by the time we got to the car and cracked another beer while waiting for the line to show any sign of moving.  And it was about 12:30 by the time we got in the car and joined the line.  Once we got on the highway things weren't much calmer, but things finally settled down a bit and we finally got Dave back to Quincy by 2:30 or so, and then got back home.  It was long past bedtime and a last look at the clock showed 3:22 when my head finally hit the pillow.

Oh well ... Hartford sometimes seems close and sometimes seems like another planet.  But we had seen a brilliant concert and this one goes in the memory banks.