Friday, September 4, 2015

Like Him: Lauderdale at Johnny D's

Ack!  I’m a failed Deadhead!!  I had the chance twice to buttonhole Jim Lauderdale about how the fate of the universe hinges on his getting back together with Olabelle to revive the American Beauty project (and come to Boston), and/or how his vocal on Eyes of the World proves that he needs to be concentrating more on Grateful Dead music.  But I didn’t.

Jim was back in town for one of his rare visits on September 3rd and was headlining the Thursday night show at the fey Johnny D’s.  I had to go, got a solo ticket, and showed up at 7:40 or so for an 8:00 show, expecting a huge crowd.  But even though Davis Square itself was already writhing in the clutches of the Thursday college wave, Johnny D’s was an island of calm, with about half the tables full and only a few people at the bar.

I grabbed a beer and a table behind the soundboard, and then joined in on a conversation with Jim, who was cruising through the bar area but stopped to talk, as warm and friendly as ever.  As it turned out, all three of us fans in the conversation had been at the Me and Thee to see Jim the last time he was in the area.  He remembered that well, especially since he had shown up in Marlborough when he was really looking for Marblehead.  Small mistake.

The opener was The Darlings (Kelly Knapp and Simon Ritt), but their lead guitar player had just broken his arm (by punching it through a wall).  And so they did an acoustic act for us, the two of them strumming guitars and trying to fill in with a harmonica once in a while.  Nice voices, but this act didn’t really work.  They covered some old stuff (opening with a few lines of Bill Monroe’s Those Memories of You), and did a couple of well-crafted originals, but were a little boring.  In fact, the sound guy was playing solitaire on his phone soon after the set started (I could see over his shoulder) and missed it when Simon’s mike started acting up.  He had to be woken from his stupor to go fix it.

But then Jim came on solo and was just fantastic.  He’s got a mastery of his voice and his style that’s reminiscent of the best bluegrass singers, but his sound is so uniquely his own.  He did a long set, including some of the best songs from throughout his career.  He sent a shout-out from the stage to Cousin Kate, hoping she was there, told his story about Nick Lowe, and played song after song co-written with his buddy, Robert Hunter.  Possibly the highlight of the set for me was when he did Like Him from his album with Ralph Stanley, which is one of those devotional songs that just brings chills up the backbone.  Another one was his early song, Whisper, which also showcases his voice but also his wonderful control of the tone of his guitar.

Jim ended a long set and strolled to the back of the club, then around again to the stage while everybody hooted and hollered.  Johnny D’s had filled in a little: all the tables were taken but there were only a handful of people in the standing area and the bar itself was only half full.

Jim made it back up to the stage and I guess he figured that if we were sticking around then he’d keep on playing.  And he did a five song encore!  He’s written enough songs so he could go on for a while and we sure wanted him to.

After the show I stopped by the merchandise table to talk for a bit (and to be enlisted as photographer by the gaggle of young women gushing over Jim).  Then headed on out of the rocking Davis Square and made it back home by 11:30 or so.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Does a Barnyard Shovel Fit Your Hands?

Loretta F. Lynn was going to be at the South Shore Music Circus on August 22nd, but when we heard we had no idea what we'd be doing in late summer and so didn't get tickets.  Then the time approached and Cousin Kate was giving away one last pair of tickets and it was a trivia question: "Who played Loretta Lynn's father in the Oscar winning biopic?"  Easy question!  We won the tickets and got excited.

Late summer Saturday evening traffic to Cohasset wasn't bad, and we got there in plenty of time to pick up our tickets at the Box Office, get a beer/cider, and mosey down to our seats for the opening act at 7:00.  The South Shore Music Circus is a big tent around a circle of seats, at the center of which the stage rotates slowly so everyone gets a chance to see the acts up close, but also is looking at them at weird angles for much of the rotation.  A novelty, but not successful IMO and lots of sound challenges because of the round tent.

We also felt we had landed in the middle of an old people's colony.  I guess most of the people there a) were old and rich enough to be able to afford to live in or near Cohasset and b) were season ticket holders who really didn't care whom they were seeing, they just wanted a night out.  There were a few enthusiastic types, and I saw one guy with a backwards baseball cap, but by and large the canes/walkers and over-made-up elderly ladies dominated.

Speaking of being overdressed, the opening act, Walker County, was a little out of hand.  They were a great act, but the Dad and lead guitarist (Billy Walker) was dressed in boots and tight jeans like he was twenty years younger, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist (Ivy Dene Walker) was wearing a white, full-length, sequined, and fringed gown and shit-kicker white high heels I can't start to describe, while the other daughter (Sophie Dawn Walker, who would have been on drums if the production had allowed it) was wearing a full-length pink nightmare.  And between the three of them they'd run New England out of hair spray.

Apologies for being so snarky, they were really entertaining, though I pick a few nits.  Great guitar runs by Billy Walker and some excellent singing by Ivy, though the sound system and the tent were not kind to her voice.  They said they played "traditional" music but then ripped into Townes's Pancho and Lefty and later did Haggard's Mama Tried (the first Grateful Dead song of the night).  Not exactly traditional as I would define it, but whatever.  They also did an excellent original.

K&M showed up soon after the music started and between sets we all went outside and yucked it up ... great to see them!

Then we went back in for the main act and had to endure a bit of build-up.  Loretta's twins Patsy and Peggy came out and did an extended info-mercial for Loretta's albums and other merchandise.  Then the band came out (they were excellent) and struck up a song that would have been better if they sisters hadn't tried to sing along.  Then the band backed up Loretta's son, Ernest Ray, who proved conclusively in a couple of short numbers that he was not a lead singer, but what the heck.

Then everyone stood and they led Loretta on stage in a beautiful, glittery, purple gown and full makeup.  To me she was not overdressed ... she looked exactly like Loretta Lynn.  And she immediately took over the night.  She was awesome and riveting, a living legend at age 83 singing powerfully and with her signature inflection right in front of us.

It was a great setlist, mixing her big hits with a gospel medley and some more obscure numbers.  The gospel ended with Where No One Stands Alone and was spine-tingling.  She opened with You're Looking At Country, did a great Fist City, Don't Come Home A-Drinkin', You Ain't Woman Enough (another Grateful Dead song!), and One's On the Way with a short segue into her perhaps most topical song, The Pill ("I'm tearing down your brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill").

Loretta visibly was getting tired and she was beginning to miss a few notes.  The first time this happened she grinned and said "OK boys, back it up!"  She had a chair/throne on stage and eventually sat in that, arraying her beautiful gown around her like the regal presence she is.  She eventually let the band take a few numbers while she nodded and grinned along.  Finally she ended with the expected and cathartic Coal Miner's Daughter.  Some of us in the crowd were going crazy, while most of the elderly set looked a little less bored.  Oh well!  Loretta's gentlemen escorts came down and helped her off the stage and out the East exit.

It was a short set, everything was over by a little after 9:00.  But we felt graced by a superstar; lots of fun!  Sarah and I dashed out the exit, rounded the tent to our car, got out of the packed parking lot with surprisingly little trouble, and were back home by a bit after 10:00.

pictures here

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Amy and Sarah at Johnny D's

There’s some panic with Johnny D’s planning to close soon, and Amy Black apparently felt it, as she suddenly added a Tuesday night date there to her latest tour.  She’s delved into her Muscle Shoals roots lately and is touring as the Muscle Shoals Revue with Sarah Borges.  So we got tickets, since we’re a bit panicked ourselves!

A band called the Southern Belles was suddenly put on the bill as an opener.  When they went on pretty much all the tables were full of people eating, though the club itself was less than half capacity … the bar was non-crowded.

And we loved Southern Belles!  They’re a young country-rock jam band from Richmond VA, had gotten a gig up in Burlington, and were desperate for another gig or two to help pay for the trip when they stumbled upon this date at a small place of some sort in Somerville MA.  They were stunned that there were actually people there listening to them and cheering them on, as opposed to a barroom of people more interested in drinking than in being at “a concert.”

Drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard and these guys rocked and played all originals.  The funny thing was that the organ/piano player looked and sounded a bit like Marco Benevento (though not as good), the drummer looked and sounded a bit like Alex Koford, and the guitarist looked and sounded a bit like a tall Ross James, though with no hat.  They did 4 or 5 songs only, really stretching all of them out.  I particularly liked Getaway, had a nice conversation with their bass player Andrew afterwards, and bought their CD.

Amy had been way delayed by traffic but was just in time for the main set, though she hadn’t had a chance to change or get made up the way she wanted to for a “Revue” show.  Whatever, she and Sarah were fantastic.  Those two are made to sing together.

I’m not really familiar with a lot of Muscle Shoals material, but recognized most of the songs, though I’d only heard them a few times here and there.  They opened with You Left the Water Running, did Starting All Over Again, Please Don’t Give Up On Me, and of course You Gotta Move (that the Stones had recorded).  Their band was excellent and I loved the sound, switching mellowly from soulful ballads led by Amy (whose voice can be incredibly powerful, she's born to sing soul music) or Sarah to funky earworms that the girls harmonized on.

Not a long set on a Tuesday night, thanked Amy and Sarah as they walked off-stage, and then got out of there through the light August traffic.

pictures of Amy and Sarah

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hot Club Burns Up Shirley

The Hot Club of Cowtown had never been booked at the Bull Run, until this past Wednesday!  The place was only about two-thirds full, probably due to being in the dog days of August and a lack of familiarity with them in central Mass.

Those of us who were there were true devotees, and when they asked for requests they were called out thick and fast.  One woman came up to the stage and gave Elana an envelope on which she'd written a list of requests!  Imagine somebody doing that!?!  One guy (the youngest in the room) even called out for Ripple.

John came down from Peterborough too, and Whit rewarded him with a fantastic performance.  All three played perhaps better than I've ever seen them, but Whit in particular was on fire.  His old amp had given up the ghost in sound check, but he had a substitute that wasn't quite as good, though his playing negated this difference.

They played a slightly truncated set, explaining that they had to get to Boothbay Harbor Thursday night, then up in New Hampshire the next.  What they didn't get into is the torturous schedule they have coming up in October, going from Texas to Idaho, to Texas, to Virginia, to Nevada, then California, Washington, and back to Texas.  As I've often said, I can't believe that a band this over-the-top great has to struggle to make it.  Oh well, life is strange.

Fantastic set, including Exactly Like You as the third tune (before that weird guy could request it), and finishing with the other song I most wanted to hear, Chinatown.  This song is a great showcase for Whit's talent and he didn't disappoint, eliciting many whoops and wows from the mid-week crowd.  I want to see those guys again!

Pictures from Sarah here!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Golden Gate Wingmen at BMH

It's been quite a year of Grateful Dead and related music, and the beat continued with Golden Gate Wingmen coming to Brighton Music Hall on Sunday the 26th of July.  This combo is fronted by John Kadlecik (who pronounced his name with a liquid "c"), and includes a few other guys, like Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, and Reed Mathis (Billy and the Kids most recently).  We and a full BMH were totally psyched to see them do their thing on a hot Sunday afternoon in a college-student-deserted Brighton.

Sarah and I got a nice table on the back patio at Deep Ellum in Union Square and a sunburned Dave joined us after getting off the Provincetown ferry.  After a few beers we toddled over to the hall about 15 minutes before doors opened and found a small but Deadicated line there already.  People were gushing about Chicago, Santa Clara, the GGW, and all things Dead-related, entertaining the gathering of Brighton street people who had joined the festivities.  Then the doors opened and Dave and I ensconced ourselves in front of the stage, just a little to the right.  Sarah had grabbed our "usual" place against the wall but got kicked out for handicapped accessibility, so she joined us in front of the stage, about three feet from where John picked his psychedelic guitar and about five feet from where [the much younger] Reed Mathis plunked his funky bass.

John and Jeff had pushed past us while on line, apparently going for some eats, and they mingled with the crowd when they got back.  The guys came out and started a bit past 8, and got right into it.  Here's what they played:

It Takes a Lot To Laugh It Takes a Train To Cry
Tin Roof Shack
If One Of Us Should Fall
Stagger Lee
What's Become Of Mary
Takes Two
Bird Song

John and Jeff need no encouragement to improvise, space out, and jam long and hard, and that's what this was.  The opening Dylan song turned into an excursion but then they brought it back with a vengeance and John wailed the last verse by the Bard.

All through the set John was just having a good time, free of any requirements, not being dominated by older band members (hint), past irrelevant expectations about living up to Garcia.  Jeff was being his creative, nimble self on organ and electric and synth, Jay Lane was flexing his muscles and tattoos and playing the skins with an incredible authority (we were close enough to see he was denting his cymbals), and Reed Mathis was playing a supple, effect-heavy, rattling bass.  Reed was the spectacle of the night for me, having never seen him live before.  He had a filter that he worked by sawing back and forth on a foot pedal that moved him up or down one or two octaves and made his bass seem like a whole string section itself.

And the vocals were great too.  John had written many of the songs and led the band and did most of the singing, but Reed stepped up a lot himself and showed a fine tenor voice, as well as incredible delight at the packed house raving on his every note and bass effect.

Highlights of the set were John's old song, What's Become Of Mary, which had the whole hall singing along, and a spacey Bird Song that I'd called soon into the long introduction.

Time for a long set break and we realized we'd have to protect our stage-front camp as the place was packed with frantic people, pushing (gently) toward the front.  That was no problem since it really was relatively mellow and there were three of us to take turns going for bathroom/beer/cider breaks.  We saw a friend from the last DSO show in Boston who was eager to hear about Santa Clara, as well as other friends from the line and the crowd.  The 18(?)-year-old next to me was anxiously writing down the setlist and enthralled by my and others' stories about seeing the Dead 40 years ago.

OK, the guys finally came back out and by now it was well after 10PM on a school night.  What the hell, it was the middle of Dead summer and the future was looking bright.  Here's what they played next:

Cleaning Windows
We Can Run
The Ladder
Sister Smiles
Crazy Fingers>
Reuben And Cerise>
Walking In Your Footsteps>

I was very happy that they opened with Cleaning Windows, the relatively obscure Van Morrison song covered excellently by Tom Russell and Barrence Whitfield, and done by the GGW a few times in this tour (we'd been looking at their setlists).

Nice to throw in a Brent song on the anniversary of his death.  They did a few songs (first set and this one) from the American Spring record that JohnK had done with Melvin Seals back in the naughties.

But then they went back to the GD canon with Crazy Fingers and Reuben & Cherise and the crowd was grooving along with a vengeance.  They did the Police's Walking In Your Footsteps and then closed with a grinding, grungy, far out, intense Ripple like the original guys never tried.

Though the hall was air conditioned we were a sweaty, tired mass by then and it was approaching midnight.  They came back out soon and sent us all on our way with Brokedown Palace.  Fare you well, my honey...

Wonderful set by everyone involved; this band is great and these guys played very well and we had a lot of fun!  I think it may be that years from now, after the original generation of GD is retired, that we'll be saying that we saw Golden Gate Wingmen when they first started.  Then again, maybe not!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Green River Festival 2015, Sunday

That Saturday was wonderful, and we had another day to go!  Dragged myself out of bed as soon as I could on Sunday the 12th and was feeling more than psyched for another day after a quick shower.  Had some iced tea on the veranda and another peanut butter bagel and then packed up to go.  It's a good thing we're used to this and were able to dress/provision for the day, stow all extraneous stuff quickly, pack up computer/phone/iPod/speakers with a minimum of confusion, and throw it all into the car.  We put all our spent bottles, etc. in one empty cooler, consolidated the rest in another cooler, and had a third cooler ready to take in with us when we got to the festival.

By the time we were ready to leave the others were just getting up.  Paul and Diane were a little more delayed than we on Sunday morning, and so we told them we'd meet them there and took off.  Dave had brought the room key back to Rhianna and we were sorry to say goodbye to the Red Rose, which was so friendly a place.  They had had a bunch of concert-goers over for the night themselves and they were just straggling off when we were.

Hit the Trail TOC for another breakfast with plenty of jalapenos that couldn't be beat.  Novac Djokovic and Roger Federer were playing at Wimbledon for the championship of the world as we ate breakfast (Djokovic won), but we couldn't let that delay us and hit the road for GCC as soon as we could.  Gates were at 12 again, and we were a little later than we had been Saturday, but perhaps got a little better place in line.  When they let the crowds in we were able to grab a spot a few rows in front of the soundboard, left, and Paul and Diane soon joined us.

The Lonesome Brothers were on first, soon after we set up.  They're a couple of Pioneer Valley guys who've been around for years: guitar, bass, and a drummer doing original rock tunes and a few covers.  We were prepared to dig them for a bit and then move on to the other stages but ended up hanging around for a good deal of their set.  Their playing together was tight and nuanced and their songs were really good.  Another delightful musical surprise in a weekend of them!

From there I hurried down to the Four Rivers Stage for a large iced coffee and to see Joe Pug, who's had an interesting start to his career.  He's written some great songs and was a darling of Americana radio for a spell, then disappeared while he apparently tried to decide if he really wanted to do this.  He's come back and is still writing excellent songs and this time I hope he keeps at it.

Wandered around a bit after his set among the vendors downhill.  They really had a whole bazaar set up this year downhill where you could buy anything from wood carvings to quince jelly.  I found a silver ring that was a possibility but let it remain at that.  There were many things that made it a great weekend, and an indication of the preparation that had gone into the festival was this quaint selection of vendors, though truthfully this was a small detail for me.

Twisted Pine was up next on the Four Rivers Stage and I was up close.  They opened with a couple of Bill Monroe songs, but then did almost exactly the set they had done Friday night, including King Willy, Cassiopeia, and Lonestar.  All the repeats was a bit of a disappointment, but I'm sure they're struggling at this point with the sudden loss of their dominant sound, and they did these as well as they had Friday.  I had a great time being right up front and seeing how the singers cued each other, how Bui on bass could set the tempo (they listen to each other, those conservatory students!), and how they centered around Mier's banjo sound, the really important instrument to a great bluegrass band.

When Sumner was introducing King Willy she mentioned shortly how Scottish music had become Appalachian music, and one of several rowdies in the crowd (people were going strong, even at 2:00) shouted out, "How do you know that?"  She didn't miss a beat and responded, "Well, I learned it in college.  And as a matter of fact, there's my teacher, hi Dan!"  He was taking photos in the pit and was kind of embarrassed to be identified, especially when the others said, "What, Dan's here???"  That must be a proud teacher.

OK, enough of that and time to get back uphill for some hydration.  The day was already at least as hot as it had been Saturday and the temperature was climbing.  But first I stopped by the Flying High Frisbee Dogs! and saw a little border collie with a cute neckerchief not quite live up to his billing.  Oh well, it was fun.  Then I cruised by the Parlor Room Stage and there was Dave, grooving to Surly Temple.  I sidled up next to him and fell into their spell immediately.

This is Jim Henry's rock outfit ... guitar, bass, and drums (Guy DeVito and Doug Plavin) ... and they were fantastic themselves!  They played all cover tunes but Henry (whom we had seen often accompanying Tracy Grammer) gave his imprimatur to every song they played.  They did Coming Into Los Angeles, The Maker (Daniel Lanois), I Live On a Battlefield (by Nick Lowe, The Pine Hill Project had played it Friday night), Hey Joe (which Booker T. had done Saturday), and lots and lots of other hits.  The early afternoon crowd at the third stage was digging it and there were lots of smiles all around.  This was yet another unexpected and enchanting moment in the weekend.

After a short detour to the hidden field, Dave and I split up and I reassessed what was next for me.  OMG, no time to get back uphill, I had to return to the Four Rivers Stage for a bit of Parker Millsap!  We'd seen him at the HOB - Boston opening for Patty Griffin and been very impressed.  He was just as impressive at GRF and had a huge crowd watching him already.  He's got some very heartfelt songs that work about gayness and Christianity and life, and had everyone in the palm of his hand.  He's got a beautiful, piercing voice and had a pretty good band to back him up.  This guy is an amazing talent and with the right packaging could really take the world by storm.

BUT ... I was running out of fuel and had to get back up to the Main Stage after three or four songs.  I needed water and over the course of the next hour drank two and a half liters, judging by the empty bottles.  The afternoon sun was just blistering but I could barely move after I settled into my seat and started drinking water.

But (I say again), that was no problem!  The band that had just come on stage was arguably the best of the weekend and would have glued me to my seat anyway: the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  I really can't describe how excellent they were.  Sarah and Dave were both up front for them and were just rocked by their togetherness, stage presence, and virtuosity.  They had a bass fiddle on a few tunes (and a melodica) but besides that stuck to tuba, trombone, trumpet, sax, electric piano, and drums, with some excellent vocals too.

To a fan of everyone-play-at-the-same-time music and the-bass-is-playing-the-melody music, they were a sinkhole of unbelievable sound.  I'm sure a casual fan would enjoy them too ... everyone who could stand up was dancing ... but to someone who listens to music they were simply awesome.  The trombone player (who sang as well, have to fill in their names here) was jaw-dropping, I've rarely heard a trombone played like that.  The trumpet player was awesome, how could you play such leads without slurring on one or two notes?  The tuba player was the band leader and played his big horn as easily as if it was a mandolin.  The drummer was worthy of a solo show himself, and the keys player made brilliance seem normal.  These guys were really good and I would have been jumping up and down and shouting if not for the heat.  Just an awesome set.

I should mention the √©minence grise here.  When we'd been waiting in line to get in a huge, blacked out bus with Tennessee plates, towing a trailer, passed us slowly and parked.  Steve Earle was on site and he took the opportunity to see as much as he could.  I spied him and Eleanor Whittemore watching Joe Pug, and he was a fixture in the wings watching Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Punch Brothers.  Dave reported he was also watching Arc Iris that afternoon, and who knows what else?  He was no "star" sitting in his bus waiting to go on; he was out there in the sun digging on some fantastic music that might lend him a riff someday ... or that he might just enjoy.

Dave showed up at the end of Preservation Hall, and we booked down to the Parlor Room Stage to check out the Brothers Comatose, who had done an excellent cover of Brokedown Palace for the Songs Of Their Own project.  This was yet another unexpected treat!  They played with a full band  (banjo, mandolin, etc.) and were distinctly West Coast bluegrass, as opposed to the kind we get in the East.  Their songs were excellent, well sung, and unabashed, singing about tripping down the mountain, rolling a joint to forget your lover, and other ways your mind can be on a separate path from the reality you're faced with.  I particularly liked their fiddle player.

Back to the Main Stage and the Punch Brothers were up next.  This represented a great time for a dinner break.  I could go on with reasons why I don't enjoy this band, but won't.  Suffice it to say that they're excellent in their own way, but sound to me like bluegrass music played for and by people who don't really like bluegrass music.  There was just some great, technical stuff laid down by Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Gabe Witcher, Chris Eldridge (especially), et al.  But I'd try to listen and find my mind wandering.  Oh well, my feet wandered too and I got some beer and dinner.

Geez, where had the time gone?  It was that time of the weekend where the festival shrinks and all the people from the satellite stages return to their seats for the main act.  A bunch of people also pack up and leave at this time ... Monday morning is not far away.  You rarely see a closing act of a festival that's one of the best acts of the day.  Steve Earle and the Dukes did not blow us away, but they were a solid ending to a very, very good weekend of music.

A funny moment before their set was when the Mastersons had set up their rack of instruments, stage left, and then the festival organizers brought up all the volunteers for a bow on stage and they started encroaching on the bit of real estate that Eleanor and Chris held sacred.  They looked at each other and then decided wordlessly to stand guard and keep the hoi-polloi away from their most precious possessions.  Can't argue with that decision, but it was a human/humorous touch.

They opened with four songs from their latest, Terraplane, including Better Off Alone, Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now (the song I most wanted to hear live), and Steve's excellent duet with Eleanor Whittemore, Baby's Just As Mean As Me.  They did a quick nod to The Hits, covering Guitar Town and Copperhead Road.  Then they did a few from all over, including Earle's cover of Hey Joe (third time on the weekend)!  It was clear he'd been listening.

Earle still wasn't singing as well as he used to, but the playing by Whittemore on fiddle and tenor guitar, her husband Chris Masterson on ripping lead guitar, and Earle's long-time bassist and drummer was top-notch.  Earle even showed some emotion on Little Emperor, though he blew it right back to hackneyed by drawling the formulaic Go Go Boots Are Back.  Oh well, this was at least a very good set.

The festival was over, oh no!  I like to see a lot of music when I go to a festival, and I felt that I'd been pretty successful: my final count was 25 acts (including two twice).

I've been to the Green River Festival six times now and I have to say that this was my favorite.  I just had a great time from start to finish.  There were several things that made it stand out for me: the variety of musical styles, the quality of almost every band, some incredible band and individual performances, and the complete entertainment.  There wasn't a dead spot all weekend, from the bands playing their hearts out on all three stages, to the perfect weather for the balloons, the frisbee dogs, the circus tumblers, the dancing aliens, the food, and everything else.  There was also the delight shown by the performers, who time and time again seemed to have been expecting a zonked-out midday festival crowd and instead were adored by hundreds of dancing, cheering people. Yeah, the heat was ridiculous, but I survived.

We packed up for the final time and joined the long line of cars leaving the parking lot.  Soon made it to 91 North (with a little fancy footwork), and we were on our way home.  It only took us an hour and 45 minutes to get back, not bad at all for a summer Sunday.  We have to do this again next year!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Green River Festival 2015, Saturday

I'll have to admit that I wasn't at the top of my game on Saturday morning after a long day Friday and a late night.  But I was very psyched for Saturday at the GRF and got up in plenty of time to grab a refreshing shower, drink some iced tea from the cooler (I'd made a jug to bring), and eat a bagel with peanut butter on the veranda of the Red Rose.

Landlord Rhianna's dogs were cruising for affection, the cat next door gave a few plaintive meows when he saw people out being mellow, and our friends slowly woke up.  Gates were going to open at 12 and music was going to start at 12:45 or so.  So we targeted leaving at 10:30 for the Trail TOC Diner.  Paul and Diane were ready to go too by then (the others were in or about to visit the pool) and so we took off back East on route 2 and had a breakfast that couldn't be beat, a Western omelette with lots of jalapenos for me and plenty of coffee.

That was just the ticket and from there it wasn't far to the line of cars trying to get into the lots at Greenfield Community College.  I jumped out with a chair and a book when the line paused and tried to grab a good spot in the line of people waiting to get in.  I was alarmed to see that the line already had several hundred people in it and stretched almost all the way back to the academic buildings.  Whatever, we set up our chairs in line, waited and read, and Paul and Diane understood the urgency (well, by our aesthetic) and weren't far behind us.

Time to get in finally and the line started moving.  Several people had hung out by the entrance ("Oh we have to wait here in the shade!") and then cut in line to get in.  Sleazy, but this wasn't as urgent a stampede for closeness to the stage as in some concerts; in fact, most of the people dying to get in before everyone else were doing it so that they could grab a spot in the shade on the fringes of the main field.  A minority of us were doing it to grab a spot in front of the soundboard, and we were able to do so, planting our chairs about 30 feet behind where we had been the night before.  We saved space for Paul and Diane and they showed up soon after.

OK ... Saturday at GRF!  First thing for me was the CD tent and I bought more used CDs than you'd want to think about (they were 5 for $20).  Check out the food offerings, get a wristband from the beer tent to avoid later lines, watch the hordes of people filling up the pace, and soon it was time for music.

Note that this weekend was beautiful, sunny, early summer weather, but that both Saturday and Sunday were very, very hot.  The sun was blaring down on the main stage and even with outrageous amounts of sunscreen, more water than they could imagine in California, hats, hoods, sun panchos, and parasols, we suffered from the heat and the sun all weekend.  It was high 80s on Saturday and mid-90s on Sunday.  As Sarah says, it only *felt* like it was 140 degrees.

First up on the Main Stage was the Suitcase Junket.  I'd heard some tracks by this band on the radio and was intrigued, especially when I heard it was really just one person.  Matt Lorenz has played in several New England bands and recently has been trying to start his own act, with great success.  He plays a wicked guitar (regular acoustic or resonator ... both of which he sang into at times), and has an array of percussion instruments, including a high-hat hitting a bin full of forks and bones, a beater with a baby shoe on the end hitting a gas can, a cooking pot, a suitcase of course, etc.  He's also got some great original songs and was just a jaw-dropping opening act.  He, as with many artists throughout the weekend, was tickled pink by the number of people listening seriously to him and enjoying his music in the hot, hot sun.

The next act was perhaps the band I was most excited about seeing that weekend, the Stray Birds.  Charlie Muench buttonholed the sound guys while Oliver Craven tested all the mikes, and Maya de Vitry (in a sexy red dress and cowboy boots) made sure the instruments she shares with Oliver were arrayed just right.  They're perfectionists and can approach perfection in my mind; I just love them.

They didn't sing any of the "old" stuff (meaning a few years old at most) from their first album, but did a great number of originals and recent tunes.  Muench is just note-perfect on bass, Craven is the combination of soulful and laid-back that you want in a lead singer ... and he's not afraid to take the lead and to emote on his cowboy songs.  And de Vitry is not only a great fiddle and guitar player, but has written some funky, heartfelt, *original* tunes that they've arranged incredibly well.  She may actually look weirder than the early Gillian Welch when she sings :).  They arranged themselves around one mike, dipping in and out for instrumental and vocal solos, and then singing the piss out of those tunes all together, harmonizing to the hot, early-afternoon sun.  You have got to see these guys.

Dave left at that point for Polaris on the Four Rivers Stage, but I stuck around to see a bit of the next act, Langhorne Slim & The Law.  I'd checked out these guys on YouTube before the concert and was not that impressed, but they were really good live.  They played some swampy, blue-eyed soul with plenty of pop mixed in.  Your grandmother would probably have liked them, especially when Slim mixed it up with the crowd, crooning onto his remote mike, and kissing old ladies and babies.  They were fun!

... but I took off after 5 or 6 tunes (and after downing LOTS of water) and headed downhill for the other stages.  I missed Hayley Reardon on the Parlor Room Stage, so checked out a couple of songs from Polaris on the Four Rivers Stage.  Kind of formulaic Brit-rock with tortured bass leading up to showy guitar bits, but good if you like that kind of stuff.

Strolled among the vendors, ran into our friends on the field, and hobnobbed with them for a while ... it was much cooler walking around as opposed to sitting and broiling.

Then I got a good spot for the Milk Carton Kids on the Four Rivers Stage and they were as good or better than I expected!  Other people may have used this simile before, but they're like a cross between Simon & Garfunkle and Welch & David Rawlings.  Joey Ryan even plays a tenor(?) guitar that is shaped and sounds remarkably like Rawling's, though it has different sound holes and a handkerchief on the upper frets.  Kenneth Patengale is a spookily-great singer and guitar player, and has a deadpan sense of humor that had the crowd cracking up.  They were in suits on that hot day and he said that they had fired their staff for telling them that it was a "business-formal" occasion.  These guys may have played the most enjoyable set of the weekend for me.

BUT!  Had to take off before they were done because I needed to get back up the hill.  Stopped by the Parlor Rom Stage on the way and saw Arc Iris (particularly Jocie Adams, in glitter jumpsuit and fairy cape) for a tune.  Their keyboard player was going nuts and I could see Dave down front (as well as a bunch of other 20-somethings) digging the hell out of it.

Got back to my seat at the Main Stage in time to drink a bunch more water and to groove to J Mascis.  I knew he had a big name on the grunge rock scene (Dinosaur, Jr) and I really liked what I'd seen of him on YouTube.  His set was very good: aurally aggressive (your grandmother ran away screaming), laid back (when he broke a string he apologized and reached for another guitar, no drama), and catchy and tuneful at the same time.  This was a beautiful time to mellow out to weird sounds while the afternoon sun slowly turned a little bit less hot and more orange.  I got a chicken fajita from La Veracruzana with a bit of guacamole and some of their hottest sauce and was in love ... had a few more of those that weekend!

Time to take off again.  I wanted to catch a little of Lydia Loveless but wasn't sure of the timing.  I went by the Parlor Stage first and was just in time to pull up a patch of grass in front of the stage (my shorts got muddy from sitting on the ground, but who cares?) and see Charlie Parr, Kris Delmhorst, and Matt Lorenz (The Suitcase Junket) doing an "in the round" thing.

I've commented on Lorenz above, and he was perhaps even more entertaining than he'd been to open the afternoon, and I could see his setup better.  But the great part of this was Charlie Parr, a wizard on slide steel and way-blues songs about seeing the sun when you're far down, and Kris Delmhorst, whom I've seen several times before and am enthralled by.  She'd held back the emotion when I'd seen her perform before but shone in this setting, playing Bees, asking for percussion help from Lorenz on her second tune, and then just melting us all with Homeless.  These guys were an odd lot but were so much what you want in an "in the round," stepping up the ante all the time (though have I mentioned it was a hot, mellow day?) and causing each other to think, "That was great, oh I know how to top that!"  I stuck around for three songs from each of them, which was pretty near the whole set.

Tore myself away and realized I'd totally missed Loveless so went back up the hill for Booker T. Jones.  If you've never heard Booker T. and the MGs than I pity you.  His sweet spot is where R&B became soul music.  Dave was up front for this and grooving away, as he should be.  After the big-time intros, Booker T. came out and hammered the heck out of an electric piano/organ setup and sang some tunes from our collective memories.  He also had his son Ted on guitar and played some guitar himself.  One of the first songs he did was a cover of a tune by "a skinny guitar player who I met at the Monterey Folk Festival," Hey Joe (actually written by Billy Roberts) ... which was awesome.

BUT!!!  Stray Birds were playing again and after weighing the options I had to head back down to the Parlor Room Stage to hear them.  It also worked into the equation that even though the sun had started to go down it was still dang hot and I needed a break.  I sat down on the hillside and watched Charlie and Oliver do the same thing they had at the Main Stage, driving the sound guys crazy and getting the sound exactly perfect.  Then they went on and played another excellent set.   Sarah joined me for a bit for their set but then headed back uphill to catch more of Booker T. ... and more water.

At one point between songs Oliver said, "Wait ... are there balloons lifting into the air behind us??"  He had seen something in our eyes and when the answer was "Yes," he and Maya put down their instruments and ran off the stage to go look.  Charlie was at first dismayed by this lack of professionalism, then realized that it was a damn festival and we were all there to have fun, so he went and joined them for a quick look.

I'd thought that the crowd for Marco Benevento might already be filling in by the end of the preceding set, but the hillside at the Parlor Room stage remained pretty empty at that point.  There were an incredible number of people wearing Dead t-shirts and other gear this year, probably related to it being Dead50.  There was also an incredible amount of pot smoking!  I'd maybe seen one or two people in previous years sneaking off to adjoining fields, and had a good idea what they were doing.  But this year there were actually people passing joints and pipes in their seats at the Main Stage!?!  Had pot suddenly been legalized??  Even if so I thought it a little rude of people to smoke it in a crowd with likely a lot of non-smokers around, and lots of kids too.  Oh well.

Wandered a bit and saw a little of the last circus performance of the day and got some close-up looks at balloons being inflated and wafting away.  There was a bagpiper serenading them as they cut their ties with the ground.  I got some pictures of the aliens who'd suddenly appeared at the GRF and had marched in the Mardi Gras Parade uphill.  At the height of the afternoon there were seemingly more people on the GCC grounds than I'd ever seen before.  The whole set of fields were jam-packed with people, vendor stands, stages, balloons, circus performers, and aliens.

Then Dave joined me and is was time to smoosh up in front of the stage, standing with the late-arriving crowd.  Marco Benevento is twice-removed from the Grateful Dead.  That is, he's played in bands with people who've played with the Dead.  That's close enough!

And this was another finest set of the concert.  Scott joined us for what he first thought was just a quick look ... he was excited about seeing tUnE-yArDs on the Main Stage.  But he was amazed and after a few songs uphill he was back downhill for the rest of it.  Benevento was accompanied by an excellent drummer and by Dave Dreiwitz (whom we'd seen him with in JRAD) on bass, and those guys ... with the aid of lots of sampled tracks ... just blew us all away with songs, sounds, and jazzy, synthesized beats.  Benevento is an incredible keyboardist and knocked us over with some of his runs.

Marco was playing an old upright and had a really large number of filters and effects.  Not all of the switches he needed would fit onto the piano ... they were crammed in every free space.  Dreiwitz was holding down the funk and the drummer (after a stoned attendee insisted that his tom-toms weren't miked right and that they had to be fixed) was awesome.  In the crowd, dancing up in front with us, were the guitarist from And the Kids (who weren't playing the GRF this year) and Jocie Adams and her keyboardist from Arc Iris.  Marco invited the women up to sing with him.

And then the aliens invaded!  Scott was back for that and we were all pretty smooshed in already in front but dancing wildly, and then the whole crew of aliens bulled their way in and made it even more wild and crowded!  Marco asked some of them up on stage too and it was wonderful how many windows between performer and crowd and reality and dancers and life on Earth were being shattered!  This was incredible fun and I wish I had pictures of that, but I was dancing too hard.  The stage announcer actually had Marco come back up for an encore; there was a lot of love between the performers and the crowd in that set.

But it was finally over ... and then it was time to dash back up to the Main Stage for Rubblebucket!!!  This was one of the acts we most wanted to see.  When they'd announced the lineup back in April and we saw Rubblebucket would be back we just couldn't resist.  The crowd had thinned out a bit by then and there was room for our friends to all rush forward and join us in wild celebration.  I had told myself that I shouldn't feel obligated to jump up and down to Rubblebucket, but before I knew it I was doing that, and so was everyone else all around me.  Their sound is amazingly infectious.

And they put on a fantastic show.  This was the sixth time we'd seen them and we were amazed by how professionally they run their shows compared to the raw, explosive talent we'd seen when we first saw them.  They opened with Silly Fathers but only did a few of their early songs, Came Out Of a Lady among them.  They concentrated on their later stuff and did some great tunes I hadn't heard before, as well as the best tracks from their new record, Sound Of Erasing and Carousel Ride, as well as a weirded out mix of Save Charlie.

They had the core of Kalmia, Alex, Adam, and Ian as well as a keyboardist I think we've seen with them before, a great new bassist who joined in on all the dance moves, a drummer/percussionist, and a flugelhorn player who joined them for the last few tunes.  Of course they jumped off the stage and mingled with the crowd.  But then they got invaded by the aliens too!  The aliens were moving almost as well as the band while the crowd jumped up and down and roared in delight.

OK, we could have gone down hill for a little more music but we were spent by then and it was time to leave.  Gathered our stuff and headed back for the car after a long, long, hot, fun day.  Made it out of the parking lot (with a glimpse of Antibalas rocking the Four Rivers Stage) and through the traffic, and then headed West while everyone else turned East.  Got back to the Red Rose just before the others, but then joined Scott, Michelle, and Tristan for a long session of yucking it up as the night got later and later.  A train came by on the tracks on the other side of the Deerfield River and spooked us all.  Finally made it to bed by 1:30 or so.  One more hot day to go!