Monday, July 22, 2013

Green River Festival 2013, Sunday

I woke up on Sunday for the last day of our Summer Music Tour (actually, it'll continue next month but is now on hiatus) in pretty good shape.  It helped that I had slept late in the quiet and homey Oxbow Resort Motel after a late night of sitting in lawn chairs, swatting bugs, and talking about stuff.  It was another hot one and golf was again not for me, though some of the other boys hit the links after breakfast.

Sarah and I replenished the ice supply, filled up the cooler with assorted liquids, drank lots of coffee, and sweated though our clothes before we even left the air conditioning.  Oh well, we made it to the Greenfield Community College parking lot just as the gates opened and couldn't get our exact same spot in front of the Main Stage, but settled for one about 10 feet in front of where we were Saturday, where we hunkered down and drank some more iced coffee.  This was from the "artisan beverages" booth rather than the "coffee grinders" one and they seemed insulted that I wanted just plain black coffee.  They asked me about 30 times if I wanted a shot of this or to mix it with that ... their purpose in life was to manufacture exactly the beverage the customer wanted, and they were upset when the customer wanted one off the shelf.

Well ok, the temperature was a little better than the day before, but not by much.  The good thing is that you could tell this wasn't going to be a day of adventurous weather, though in New England in the summer thunderclouds are always a possibility.  We saw:

Milton -- Had never heard of this singer-songwriter from New York, who was accompanied by an excellent bassist.  He played a very assured guitar style and did a bunch of songs on the basic folk music themes of no love and no money, but in a very clever vocal approach, mixing talking blues, intricate rhymes, literary forms, pop-culture references, and some quick melodic runs on the flat-top.  Again, very enjoyable, especially for an opening act on a hot Sunday morning.


See more Milton pictures ...


Heather Maloney -- Another artist we hadn't heard ... we (and some people sitting next to us) were surprised when Anand Nyack, the stellar guitar player for Daisy Mayhem, came out and tuned up a mandolin with Heather's band.  We soon figured out why: she must be a lot of fun to play with.  Her music is advertised as "adventurous folk" and I can see how for a player it would be liberating and chuckle-producing; there's always a lyrical twist or an unexpected coda.  Heather played mostly her own compositions, including a few that I absolutely loved such as Dirt and Stardust.  She then closed with a number she introduced as "a song I used to jump up and down on my bed to," Her Majesty from Abbey Road.  Now that was a surprise, especially when she arranged it as an epic romp rather than a quick ditty, though she didn't add to the words.


See more Heather Maloney pictures ...


Todd Snider -- I've gotta admit that I took the proto-typical hippie folk singer Todd Snider's set as an opportunity to buy food, check out the craft vendors, and basically walk around.  I got back to our seats eventually for a few of his songs, and he really is an entertaining performer, though I was a bit burned out on folk singers strumming acoustic guitars and singing about the same stuff (though he was meta-oriented enough to comment on that in his catchy songs and his self-deprecating between-songs patter).  Pretty good if you don't know him.


See more Todd Snider pictures ...


Lake Street Dive -- Time for one of the most talented bands of the weekend, Lake Street Dive, fronted by the amazingly lovely and amazingly talented Rachael Price but also featuring one of the best stand-up bass players I've ever heard in Bridget Kearney (she has this twitchy habit of constantly adjusting the tuning pegs, perhaps to get the string slightly more in tune but more likely so it'll produce exactly the sound she wants at that moment, she's that good and that quick),  a wizard of a guitarist (and trumpeter) in Mike Olson, and a lovely jazz/pop/whatever drummer in Mike Calabrese.  They're all New England Conservatory-trained and  feature beautiful ensemble precision.  They write most of their own songs but also do covers and can play anything and make it into one of the most most ear-catching tunes you've ever heard.  All this and I have to admit that Rachael Price at full emotive swing is one of the most eye-catching females I can imagine.  All of the songs were sterling, but perhaps my favorites on that afternoon were Bad Self-Portraits and Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand.


See more Lake Street Dive pictures ...


Spirit Family Reunion -- Some devil of a schedule-maker put them in between Lake Street Dive and Miller-Lauderdale, but I managed to time it right and catch a couple of their songs between the power sets at the Main Stage.  Spirit Family Reunion has made some waves with an unexpected performance at the Newport FF last year that got rave reviews, and I was dying to see them.  They sure delighted me in a short time, with their traditional/classic sound of frailing banjo, simple drums, and great group vocals.  I'd love to see more of these guys.  But then I walked as fast as I ever have and got to my seat just in time for...




Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale -- These are two of the best musicians in the world, good friends, and they've recently recorded a ... hopefully not one-off ... album together that is (or should be) at the top of any list of albums done recently.  And they were joined on stage by the legendary Fats Kaplin on fiddle, though the airline had not delivered his pedal steel.  Sarah was not at the seats and I knew she was up front for this but I wasn't sure where.  I saw my friend Kate sneak up front after a couple of songs and I followed her, as did her husband Majer.  We moved up past a few people and suddenly there was Sarah standing in front of us!  We all grooved to some of the best country music that can be.  Not only did they do most of the originals and most of the classic covers from their record (such as I Lost the Job Of Loving You and Down South in New Orleans), but they did A Wide River to Cross (which has been covered by everybody), Buddy soloed on All My Tears, and Jim soloed on King Of Broken Hearts, which he dedicated to Gram Parsons and George Jones.  We'd seen some talented people that weekend but no one that could come close to these two, they were (and are and will be) that good.


See more Buddy and Jim pictures ...


Brandi Carlile -- Brandi's become very popular, and you have to love a musician who doesn't fall in love with her popularity and continues to play Johnny Cash songs.  Of course, she did mix a Fleetwood Mac song in there and did perhaps play a little too blaringly loud and the band did spend an inordinate amount of time rocking out and pointing to each other.  But what the heck, she was great and she set the place on fire for the last act of another fabulous GRF.  The most charming part of her set (she's got great charisma) was when she motioned to the guitar tech that she needed the big guitar, he tuned it and got it to her in record time, she strummed a chord to test it, then grinned with delight, turned it up, and absolutely wailed on it.  Jeannette, Dave, Rebecca, and some of the kids joined us for this one and we all jumped up and down ... lots of fun!


See more Brandi Carlile pictures ...


Exiting the GCC took forever after the concert, but we caught glimpses of the almost full moon as we waited through endless phalanxes of over-hyped rent-a-cops ... oh well, we were listening to our tape of Furthur from the other night so it was ok.  Six days of music were over, but there was still a night of barbecuing, sitting in lawn chairs, and laughing waiting for us back at the hotel.

See more Green River Festival 2013 pictures ...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Green River Festival 2013, Saturday

Woke up on Saturday at the Oxbow Resort Motel to another scorcher.  Morning golf was out of the question ... too brutally hot already.  We moseyed over to the motel's excellent (and mellow, open the refrigerator and help yourself) continental breakfast separately.  I was actually on the same schedule for breakfast as Tristan most mornings.

Got ready slowly and then headed over to the festival in late morning, arriving in time to join the long line to get in around 11:45.  The gates soon opened and we grabbed a great spot, stage center about 50 feet back, just about where we sat last year.  We got iced coffee immediately but were still suffering from the heat and a bit of exhaustion from being out late rocking the night before (and the night before that, etc.).

BUT, soon the music started, our bodies adjusted, we ate a few cold noodles from one of their Thai-style food vendors, and we were off!  There was a short rain shower later in the afternoon and that relieved the heat a bit.  The forecast at the beginning of the day was for greatly changeable weather and there was even some fear of a tornado or bad lightning storms, but the rapidly changing sky didn't turn threatening and we all breathed a sigh of relief to make it through the day unscathed, though they cancelled the balloon flights (they held the balloon illumination though).

Here's what we saw:

Slaid Cleaves -- Slaid was one of the excellent known quantities among the spotty (by their standards) lineup at this year's GRF.  He played with his current accompanist, Chojo Jacques on mandolin, and ripped through a number of his excellent songs.  He did Broke Down, Horses and Divorces, and several other early songs.  He also did some of the new stuff, including Still Fighting the War of course, Welding Burns, and God's Own Yodeler.  He also did a Don Walser original and was able to rip off some excellent Maine yodeling.


See more Slaid Cleaves pictures ...


Jeffrey Foucault and Cold Satellite -- I'd heard a couple of songs from Foucault's new record and was not that impressed, but live I felt his sound was excellent.  David Goodrich (last seen accompanying Peter Mulvey at the Festival last year) playing guitar helped of course.  They did some great rock and blues, but were at their best when they toned it down a bit and let the irony of their new songs shine through.


See more Jeffrey Foucault pictures ...


Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside -- We'd seen a few songs by Sallie on YouTube and were psyched to see her let loose in person; Scott and I moved up front, and Sallie did a great set in her typical flowered sun dress, fancy glasses, and eclectic band, rocking our world with her unique brand of bad girls' psycho surf rock.  Highlights were Addicted, Lip Boy, and the poppy Do Me Right.  For me though, the best part of her set was when she covered Loretta's Fist City; no one there had any doubt that she'd be more than glad to knock that girl's head off if she made her do it.  Sallie signed her new record for me afterwards and seemed tickled that her music can entertain middle-aged guys as well as her core audience of bad girls.


See more Sallie Ford pictures ...


Miss Tess and The Talkbacks -- First hard choice of the day was whether to see JD McPherson or run down to the Yonder Tent for Miss Tess.  I made up my mind early (actually, I guess I'd made up my mind when I first heard Don't Tell Mama on her new record), and Sarah and I were down there right in front of the stage for her set, though a bowl of peach ice cream made me a little late.  We were not quite as blown away as we'd thought we would be; her band seemed to know that they couldn't get the same studio sound that had been so great on the record when live, and so they rocked it up a bit more and this perhaps needed some more practice.  But what the hell, we totally got lost in the beautiful sound of her guitar, her mellifluous vocal phrasing, and the burning leads of Will Graef.  Highlights were Adeline, People Come Here For Gold, and of course Don't Tell.  I ran into Miss Tess in the crowd the next day and gushed about her set ... a charming woman.


See more Miss Tess pictures ...


The Skatalites -- I was going to stay down at the Yonder Tent for The Duhks, but we were exhausted from standing and wanted a break back at our seats and maybe some food.  And we were glad we did, because The Skatalites came on and impressed us so much.  The band formed originally about 50 years ago in Jamaica and was instrumental in the inventions of ska and reggae.  They still have a few of the originals and some killer young additions, including an incredible horn section and a great keyboardist and guitarist.  They played a few jaw-dropping songs but then I managed to rip myself away and hurry back down to the Yonder Tent for...


See more Skatalites pictures ...


The Duhks -- I'd never seen this band but had wanted to for years, especially after seeing their fiddler, Tanya Elizabeth, accompany Mary Gauthier a few years ago.  They were everything I expected and more, definitely the band of the day for me.  I'm not sure how to describe this group of Canadians from the Plains, they're a band you need to hear.  They don't have an unusual lineup: a vocalist, an acoustic guitarist who leads the band, a dynamic fiddler who sings a lot of backup, a banjo player who takes some vocal leads, and a percussionist.  They do some songs in an almost traditional Cape Breton style, but also veer effortlessly into things like R&B, gospel, jazz, bluegrass, and whatever else comes to mind.  They even did a Randy Newman song and then closed with a dark, incendiary version of Traveling Shoes!  Do not miss these guys if you have a chance.  I also should mention that Leonard Podolak played one of the funkiest banjos I've ever heard and that Scott Senior played box, some kind of leather bell contraption on a high hat stand, and a thing that was a cross between a bodhran and a tambourine.  Loved those guys!



The Devil Makes Three -- OK, struggled back up the hill, got some food, and then got just captivated by The Devil Makes Three, from Santa Cruz.  This was another band I'd never heard and the blurbs I'd read about them didn't do much for me.  But they reminded me once again how many supremely talented musicians there are in the world and what a delight it is to discover new ones.  They play what you might call old-timey rockabilly but is all original, and they're all virtuosos on their instruments and can sing like they're not even trying.  You should check these guys out, especially pay attention to how often Cooper McBean changes instruments: at least once a song.


See more Devil Makes Three pictures ...


We were shot after that.  We could have stayed for Gogol Bordello (the crowd was swelling in anticipation of this band like you wouldn't believe) or Bernie Worrell, but later reports made us glad we hadn't.  All reporters agreed that Gogol Bordello was obnoxiously loud and in-your-face ... ok if you like that kind of stuff I guess, and that Bernie Worrell tried to do a cool funkadelic act but was a bit stale.

Whatever, we picked up some ice and some more beer at the Big Y and then were back at the hotel relaxing by then!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rubblebucket at the Shea

Our personal Summer Music Tour continues!  We were heading out to the Green River Festival but before that, there was a little matter of Rubblebucket playing at a small theater in Turners Falls.  This was the official GRF kickoff concert; Rubblebucket couldn't make the main show this year but were booked for the night before with And The Kids, who would perform at the show.

Got on the road for the West at a bit after 1:00 with the thermometer reading an even 100 degrees.  Traffic leaving the city was mid-summer snarl, but it calmed down as we got further and further beyond Worcester and we pulled into the Oxbow Resort Motel just a bit after 3, where it was still crazy-hot.  The others hadn't arrived yet but we broke the ice and took room 25 in the back left of the hotel, a very nice room.

The motel's under new management and they're struggling to get their staff and their act together in some ways.  The golf course isn't really mowed except for a few areas (which is bad for golf) and there are other signs of needing to catch up.  The proprietors were skimming the swimming pool in a mad hurry because they knew their weekend guests would be using it heavily.  One of them told me that they'd recently hired someone to do housekeeping, so she could finally concentrate on the grounds work that she knew needed to be done.

The others showed up and we all hit the pool.  Sarah and I had to take off a little after that for a nice dinner in pretty downtown Greenfield at the Greenfield Grille with my high school teacher/friend Peter.  On the way to Turners Falls after that we detoured by Poets's Tower but didn't have time to climb the trail up to it ... some other visit.

Crossed the strong Connecticut and the swift-flowing spillway past the old mills in Turners Falls and turned up into the middle of town, where we had time for a beer in a tavern across the street (at about half the price they'd charge in Boston).  We crossed the street to the funky little Shea Theater and made out way inside (no one asked for our tickets).  There's a dance floor in front of some seats there and of course we walked right up to the stage and sat on it.  What's the point of going to a concert if you're going to choose to sit in the back?

And The Kids came on right on time and were a bit freaked out by the fact that a couple of older people were standing in front of the stage.  They thought they appealed to youngsters.  But then some youngsters stepped up to the front too and it was ok.  What helped them relax was that we obviously enjoyed their music too ... guitar, electric piano/vibes, and kit drums.  I was very impressed by the guitarist picking up her mandobird at one point and changing the key with four precise twists of the four tuning pegs; she knew her instrument well.

Between sets Scott, Michelle, and Tristan finally made it and the place started to get seriously packed.  Then Rubblebucket came on and the place exploded.  We all were soon jumping up and down, shouting, and stretching our arms up to the ceiling (and beyond) in ecstasy.  Those guys are great.

They've got a new bass player and one new percussionist instead of the two they'd had previously, but they still had the core of Annakalmia Traver, Alex Toth, Adam Dotson, Ian Hersey on ripping guitar (the guitarist for And The Kids had a great-sounding axe and Ian borrowed it for their set), and Darby Wolf on organ and synth.  They ripped our ears off with their classics: Worker, Silly Fathers, Triangular Daisies, Young As Clouds, etc.  They also mixed in a few songs from their upcoming EP (one of which was very good and got Adam the thumbs-up, which he accepted gravely), their newer Pain From Love, a Doobie Brothers cover, and closed with Came Out Of a Lady.  They waved people up on stage for the last number and then of course the horn players (and the drummer) jumped off the stage after the last song and paraded through the crowd, delighting us all.  Their actions show that they want their music to belong to their audience.

We stumbled out of there after the show and found a nearby bar where the Karaoke was rocking and the beer was even cheaper (I couldn't resist a 20-ounce Bud Light Lime for $2.35(!)).  Soon back to the Oxbow for a few more beers on the veranda and then to bed.




More excellent pictures at:
And The Kids - http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahebourne/sets/72157634757176020/
Rubblebucket - http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahebourne/sets/72157634757175984/

p.s.  We returned home on Monday the 22nd and got an email from Kalmia to her list of fans.  They'd mysteriously cancelled a few upcoming gigs, and we were glad they didn't cancel on the one we had tickets for.  But Kalmia announced the reason for the cancellations is that she's got ovarian cancer and is scheduled for surgery soon.  We feel so strange to remember her putting on her usual incredibly dynamic show on Friday, her and her band knowing what they did and we not having any idea.  What a brave person she is, and best wishes to her.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Emmylou and Rodney at LSMS

We'd crossed the Lowell Summer Music Series off of our list; they pissed us off with their lack of caring about having room for everybody and left us cold with their selection of artists.  BUT ... then they announced Emmylou and Rodney on their 40-year-delayed dual tour, and we decided to take the day off from work (actually not a hard decision seeing as what we'd done the past two nights) and show up there really early in hopes of a decent seat.  We'd seen Emmylou and Rodney back in March and suspected that this would be much the same show, but whatever ... that show was fantastic and we wanted to see it again!

It was a slow morning and we were anxious to get up to Lowell in time to grab a prime patch of grass.  The heat started soaring early and was pretty bad when we finally left the house.  Not much traffic up to Lowell and we pulled up to John Street about 1:15.  I parked while Sarah went looking for a spot on the lawn in Boardinghouse Park; I joined her with the blanket and we were amazed that we could put it down to claim a patch right to the left of the VIP section, basically second row left, in front of where the lead guitar would be.  We were psyched!  As mentioned, when we had seen Emmylou and Rodney in March it was overwhelmingly good and we were looking forward to being overwhelmed to a higher degree.

We immediately went looking for a place with really good air conditioning for a leisurely lunch ... the show wasn't scheduled to start until 7:30.  We cruised around for a bit and almost fainted in the heat, then stumbled upon the Fuse Bistro on Palmer Street.  They have seats on the sidewalk and they were in the shade on a quiet street, but even that was too much with the blaring heat.  We went inside and they had great air conditioning, a great beer selection, and a really good lunch menu.  I recommend the place enthusiastically (for lunch at least, though I assume dinner would be good too); Sarah had a crab Nicoise and I had a pan-seared tuna burger ... both fantastic and not expensive.

OK, left there and spent the afternoon in Boardinghouse Park, mostly in the shade.  I took a nap, read, walked up to Dunkin's for iced coffee, ate some grapes, listened to Furthur from the night before, and chilled.  A guy walked Emmylou's dogs through the park and cleaned up after them of course.  The band came out to do the sound check and when Rodney emerged (looking like he'd just woken up and wearing your Dad's Bermuda shorts) he was hanging out near me to the left of the stage.  I walked over and told him how much I had liked his music since 1979 and thanked him for it; we had a nice talk about the Orpheum in March, the current weather, and stuff.  Emmy came out without her stage clothes/makeup also and politely asked the few of us there not to take pictures before the show ... but she was as beautiful as always anyway.  There were a few afternoon showers but the time went by quickly.   They set up Amy Black in front of the main band's stuff and her band did their sound check ... all set for the show!

Amy was playing with a different band than we'd seen her with before.  She's recently moved down to Nashville and then back to Somerville, trying to kick start her singing career.  She's got a new album in the can (Fall release??) and did a few songs from that.  She was really good, opening with Dance Floor and One Time, doing a few of the new songs, and just impressing the heck out of us with her powerful voice ... she filled Boardinghouse Park for sure.  One of her new songs, about her grandfather's love of Alabama, is top quality song-writing.

Break time and then Emmylou and Rodney came out as the sun started to go down and the temperature had dropped to the point where it was just a balmy summer evening rather than a blast furnace.  They had timkered around with Millworker in the sound check (James Taylor's song about a young woman working the mills in Lowell), but didn't do that ... but they did do 26 straight songs without a break and the crowd was in heaven.  We'd seen Emmylou from up close before, outdoors at the De Cordova in the 80s, up in Hampton Beach, and recently at the Green River Festival ... and of course we'd seen Rodney from up close at the Bull Run recently also.  But this was a little piece of heaven to see them sing together from 15 feet away with a killer band in that pretty setting in the Lowell National Park.

They opened with what they called "the old stuff" and then did "the new stuff" ... as they had in Boston ... but then kept on playing songs old and new way beyond what they'd done back in March.  Here's the list:  Return Of the Grievous Angel, Wheels, Pancho and Lefty, Earthbound, 'Til I Gain Control Again, If I Needed You, San Antone Rose, Ashes By Now, Love Hurts, Luxury Liner, Red Dirt Girl, Rock Of My Soul, Darling Kate, Love Is All I Need, Hanging Up My Heart, Invitation To the Blues, Spanish Dancer, Chase the Feeling, Dreaming My Dreams, Back When We Were Beautiful, Still Learning How To Fly, Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight, Ain't Living Long Like This, and Old Yellow Moon.  How about that set list?????  Just incredible stuff.  And these were not done as a "greatest hits" medley; every song was given a full treatment and in particular Luxury Liner, Leaving Louisiana, and Ain't Living' Long went on forever with the proper searing lead guitar riffs.

Emmy was as gracious as ever about introducing songs (calling out Susanna Clark, Patty Scialfa, and Kate McGarrigle (but skipping Townes and Kris)), and Rodney was his self-deprecating, grinning self.  There were all kinds of demons in the sound setup on a hot, humid night, and the PA was suddenly not working when they opened with the killer Grievous Angel, though they got it fixed soon.  Emmy's in-ear monitor failed a couple of times and she looked angrily toward the engineers, but she smiled at us of course and shrugged it off.

The afore-mentioned killer band consisted of old colleagues Byron House on bass (he had 4 of them on stage and used them all, at different times that is), Steve Fishell on wonderful pedal steel and dobro, Jedd Hughes from Australia on lead (he had to wipe his brow after his drenching lead on Luxury Liner), Chris Tuttle on beautiful piano, organ, and accordion (Emmylou pointed out that their "new" songs shone with his accompaniment), and Gerry Rowe on excellent country drums.

So the list above is 24 songs, not 26 ... but even after they said Old Yellow Moon would be their last song, no one in the Park wanted to leave.  We stood and applauded until they came back out, with Amy Black!  Gee, what hadn't they done?  Well how about Stars On the Water and then Even Cowgirls Get the Blues?  People stayed up for these, dancing, singing, waving their hands like crazy people, and throwing their hats up in the air.  Amy brought out Emmylou's dogs for a cameo, and then they all faded away into the night.

Emmylou commented during the show that she'd keep on doing this until she dropped because she loved it so much, and I hope to be there too!

Pictures taken by Sarah at:

p.s.  Furthur played Boston again that night and we were definitely bummed not to be there (especially after we heard they did Alligator, Eyes, and Dew!), but in all I think this show with Emmylou and Rodney was more enjoyable and will be a memory that sticks with me more than another Furthur show would have.  That makes three nights in a row of music, now off to Rubblebucket tonight and then the Green River Festival this weekend!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Furthur in Boston 2013

So the next day we went to see Furthur again!  Their tour visited Boston for two days at the BOA Pavilion on the beautiful Boston waterfront and that's, naturally, where we were headed.

We parked in Sarah's building a little after 5:00 and hiked down there through the heat, the tourists, and the organized chaos of evening rush hour.  We stopped at The Daily Catch in the Federal Courthouse building for a great meal of Sicilian-style mussels marinara.

The crowds got pretty thick as we passed the Fish Pier and snaked our way into the Pavilion, though there was no Shakedown Street per se ... too crowded.  We ran into our neighbor from the show Tuesday night, he was just a few rows in front of us last night.  We also talked and talked with a bunch of guys behind us who were coincidentally all named Rob and from Westford.

The crowd was very late-arriving and there was a rush to pack the pavilion during the textbook opening rocker, Passenger.  The followed that with a spacey Crazy Fingers, I Need a Miracle (*lots* of people had been walking around with a finger in the air outside), a slow Wang Dang Doodle, picked up the pace just a bit with a great Mississippi Half-Step, kept up the mellow vibe with Let It Ride, and closed the first set with Sugaree.  Sugaree has been played so many times it's sometimes a bit formulaic, but this was a great one, definitely one of the stand-outs of the evening.

Break time again, and we picked up a couple more $13 drafts(!) and hung around out by the patio talking it up.  Again, the band beat everyone back and I had to dash back quickly for the second set opener: WRS Prelude.  They went on to play the rest of the suite and this appealed to me totally, they should not break up this song, it's one piece.  From there they did an excellent He's Gone, spaced out a bit, and then did a long, slow, spacey Speedway with John and Bobby trading verses, more jamming, and then a cool, mellow UJB.  Looking back at the set list I think how lucky I was to get some great songs from Wake Of the Flood and then some classics from Workingman's.  Great stuff, but then they did another song from Workingman's and it all went downhill.

Bobby has a very hard time singing Black Peter well.  This is one of those songs that bring forth associations in my mind of specific times and places; it's very personal to me as well as being a great song.  Jerry sang it with an apocalyptic, Americana, folksie soul and Bobby can come nowhere near that.  Guess you've got to hand it to him for trying, but I think the rest of the band needs to do an intervention here.  Oh well.

OK, enough Bobby-bashing.  They then got it going again with Not Fade Away and did the full Monty with this one, segueing into GDTRFB and then back into NFA.  Joe Russo was banging those things, the band was singing their hearts out, Phil was running up and down the fretboard and dropping bombs, JeffC was doing things to his keys that had never been done before, etc.  The Boston crowd got into the idea of clapping the NFA chorus as the band disappeared, but it was too hot to be really enthusiastic about this.

I should mention that Jeff's keyboard had been replaced by a grand piano!  Jeff played the B3 a bit but then seemed to look around and say, "What's that thing?  Oh my Dog, it's a fucking GRAND PIANO!!!"  He then spent most of the rest of the show on that and produced some excellent sounds with it.

After a donor rap we could barely hear (well ok, people shut up and listened politely after Phil got a few sentences in), they encored with Ripple ... another song from their most fertile period.

We hung out a bit after the show because we'd ordered CDs from Gnomes and Hobbits and knew they wouldn't be ready yet.  And as we walked out, we realized that Sunshine was walking right in front of us, she'd come out to mingle with the crowd at the patio, a very classy move.  We had a short conversation with her and she seemed to appreciate my opinions that she should get a lead with Furthur and that she and JeffP really put the band over the top.  Without them the vocals would definitely be a weak point of the band IMO.

Finally got out of there and made out way through a few blocks of dazed hippies wondering where their cars were, then climbed up through downtown Boston to Beacon Hill and found our car!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Furthur Summer Tour in New Hampshire

Earlier this year I'd been watching and watching Furthur's site like a one-eyed hawk, ready to pounce when they announced a Northeast tour.  They played Port Chester NY in April and I almost, almost got tickets for that but it's a bit far for me and I was sure they'd come closer.  The finally announced a summer "amphitheater" tour with two dates in Boston ... and for the second of those dates I'd already gotten tickets to Emmylou Harris.  Oh well, I snapped up tickets to Meadowbrook in Gilford NH and the first Boston show and spent a long time smiling and smiling.

Tuesday the 16th finally arrived and after a busy day at work I left at 3, picked up Sarah in Billerica, and headed on up.  Meadowbrook's tucked right next to Lake Winnipesaukee with lovely scenery and beautiful mountain backgrounds and the drive up on a hot, bright, summer day was gorgeous.  We had tickets to their West Entrance lots and arrived at around 5:30 ... with barely any traffic delays ... to find exactly what we'd expected: a dirt and rock parking lot in the middle of NH forest already half full and soon packed with hippies playing frisbee, grilling, drinking beer when the security wasn't looking, and mostly being very, very mellow in the hot sun (90 degrees when we arrived).

The car we pulled in behind was a VW bus with CA plates, and the people living out of it were delighted to be iconoclasts.  They set up a tent that brought us some grateful shade and set up tables to peddle their pottery and posters.  Security was omnipresent though, and the bastards soon confiscated their posters, probably because they were in copyright violation.  Pretty harsh.  I also saw a Gilford Police paddy wagon roar through the crowd and pick up another hippy who'd obviously done something to piss them off.

Oh well, as I say it was exactly what you'd expect.  Scott and Michelle showed up about a half hour after we did and we all had a few Sobes and sandwiches, and then trundled past the crowd/Shakedown Street into the site.  When we got there I realized I'd left my wallet in the car!  What is it about me with Furthur and forgetting my wallet?  Sarah had money though and we paid for a CD of the concert we were about to see at the Gnomes and Hobbits booth.

Scott and Michelle had seats a few rows back from us and we all found our places, which Sarah and I were a little bummed about.  We were in the 11th row in a great outdoor-with-canopy venue BUT we had the two farthest left seats in the row and from there we wouldn't be able to see the drummer, the backup vocalists, and maybe the keyboard player.  Oh well, we had a TV monitor in front of us (which turned out to be kind of sucky picture-wise, they need to upgrade).

But then a guy in a wheelchair with a well-chewed cigar in his hand came up and introduced himself, Patrick.  He could not get his wheelchair to his seats and so asked if we wanted to trade ... being right at the edge of the 11th row was ideal for him.  And his seats were 11th row, same section but about 25 places farther right ... and they were VIP tickets!  We thanked him profusely, he thanked us profusely, and we took our places right as the band appeared and tuned up, then launched into Scarlet Begonias.

What can I say, we and everyone else in the packed amphitheater were instantly back in one of the finest places in the world.  Strangers stopped strangers just to shake their hands, we all danced and danced (I got blisters on my feet from my sandal straps), and the band was as good or better than ever.

The show's probably still too recent for me to be objective about, but this was unquestionably a well above average Furthur show.  Some observations are that Bobby was not jumping around but was still as on fire as I've ever seen him; he was taking this absolutely seriously and his guitar playing was phenomenal ... several times during the show I had to force myself to stop listening to Bobby and listen to the other players.  John had an excellent evening himself, and I think some of his ... not just leads ... but his leading guitar presence on some songs, was approaching Garcia territory.  Russo and Chimenti are just so good and I don't want to damn them with faint praise but here goes: Russo's cymbal sounds took me away, how do you make such delicate noises when you're being an octopus all over your traps?  And Chimenti on the other side was all over his keys, from piano to organ to synth and back; from our angle we could see his skinny/hairy bare legs working the pedals on his organ, though we couldn't see his hands.

And though our seats were great, we could not see Sunshine at all, except for her expressive hands once in a while.  I wish the camera had shown her more because she and Jeff are a big part of what puts this band in the stratosphere IMO.  Who's left?  Oh yeah, that tall old guy on the bass.  Phil is a musical genius and he seemed to recognize that the rest of the band was in the sweet spot and so didn't feel he had to or should step up and dominate.  His bass soared above and through the rest of the sound.

First set was a Scarlet Fire sandwich: Scarlet Begonias, Big Bad Blues, Brown-Eyed Women, Tom Thumb's Blues, Corinna, Fire On the Mountain.  This was perhaps the best BBB I've heard, drawn out to a proper bluesy tempo and sung with the winsome conviction the words require.  Phil nailed the vocals on Tom Thumb, as did Bobby on Corinna.  The drumming on Fire was beyond infectious.

OMG, that was good!  We resumed normal breathing, hung out with Scott and Michelle, high-fived with Patrick, hit up the VIP bathroom, and did our between sets thing.  Between sets at a Dead/Furthur show is a surreal experience where you are still in awe from what you've just seen and heard and you know that it'll just get better.  And then it did.

A word about security, they were all over the place in the first set and were very strict about keeping people out of the aisles, showing wanderers to their seats or kicking them out, etc.  But then in the second set they were nowhere to be seen, like their shift had ended and they went home, and the pipes and joints came out and the aisles started to get clogged with people wildly dancing.  As I say, exactly what you'd expect.

The second set topped the first, it was a sandwich within a sandwich!  Here's the list: China Cat Sunflower > All Along the Watchtower, Mountain Song, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Throwing Stones, Wharf Rat > Franklin's Tower, and then I Know You Rider (of course) as an encore.

Second set observations: China Cat was lovely, right off the bat Bobby emphasized that he was leading the band and he was playing some great guitar; they also did a nice vocal arrangement where they swapped lines (not just verses) between Phil, John, and Bobby.  Watchtower was maybe the throw-away song of the set; so many people have done this song so well it seems futile to do it unless you can top that; they did a good job of jazzing it up, particularly with JeffC on organ, but failed to knock it out of the park.  The people in front of us were *so* delighted to get a Mountain Song that we could not help but rave with them, this is one of the great things about Dead/Furthur concerts, that a song can mean so much to you and/or your neighbors and that's what it's all about.  I'd predicted a few songs they played, and the Help On the Way troika was one of them; there have been some great versions of this through the years and this would not rank with them, but was still beyond delightful.  I'm a bit burned out on Wharf Rat, it's a great song but I've heard it so many times, but this cover of it was extraordinary ... just listen.

We all let out a huge breath of relief?  sorrow?  end-of-delight? at the end of Franklin's and perhaps began to think about the drive home.  Of course we all knew what was coming up for the encore.  After a lovely Donor Rap they teased us with bits of La Cucaracha (to the best of my encyclopedic musical memory) and then launched into a killer I Know You Rider complete with copious Phil bombs that had everyone in the place rocking and reeling.  Oh how perfect and wonderful!

After the show, paid a last visit to the lovely VIP bathroom, picked up my CDs from Gnomes and Hobbits, wondered where Scott and Michelle were, and then made our way out to the parking lot.  The traffic was not moving so we set up our chairs, Scott and Michelle appeared, and we all had a few beers and sandwiches until the traffic freed up and we could start on the road back.  Sarah drove and I have to admit that I was asleep almost as soon as we left the lot, though we had the CDs of what we'd just heard cranking on the car stereo.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Southern Rail at the North End

They really have a great concert series going in Woburn, at the North end of Horn Pond in the pretty area known as Ice House Park (ice harvesting and storage happened there between 1873 and 1939).  When we heard that Southern Rail was going to be playing there ... and saw it was a free date on our calendar ... we were psyched!

We hadn't seen Southern Rail for maybe 20 years, through no fault of theirs.  They exemplify some of the truest merits of bluegrass music: well-worked harmonies, well-chosen covers of the classics, democratic arrangements, and some hot licks.

We showed up a song-and-a-half into the first set and it was amazing how far back from the stage all of the 50-75 people there had set up.  Most were there to enjoy a cool evening (at last, after an incredible heat wave) and let their kids/grandkids run wild on the grass on a Friday night ... it was a relaxed community event.  I moved up front though and others followed, which the band really appreciated.  They thought we didn't like them, but some of us *were* there to hear the music.

The music was fun, spattered with some goofs here and there, but as energetic as you might want on a summer's night.  They hadn't worked up one of my favorite Southern Rail songs, Just a Little Man, but did I Didn't Ask, Caroline Lightning, a great cover of Coal Tattoo, Rodney Crowell's seminal Song For Life, a number of Scruggs covers, and a couple of excellent originals by Jim Muller's brother Damien.  Of course Jim leads the band (and has written their iconic songs), backed up by his wife Sharon on bass and beautiful harmonies.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Mallett After Croquet

After a great week-plus of relatives, family reunion, endless croquet games, kayaking, and touring historical and heart-memory sites, we and some relatives went to Club Passim for an American/folk/Harvard Square thing and saw David Mallett, one of the foremost poets of Maine.

We forgot how tough (no pun intended) it can be to order well from the Veggie Planet menu, but we all got fed, had a few Cambridge Brewing Co. beers (they actually had two of them on!), and then settled in for a hot evening (literally) with David and accompanist Michael Burd on bass.

David was as fantastic as ever, if not better.  He whipped through his songbook and I was delighted to hear Red Red Rose early in the set, along with a bunch of newer songs and also the classic Garden Song.  He even threw a melancholy Elvis song in there.  Our relatives from away were stunned at how much they enjoyed the evening.  Live music can be such an invigorating experience, especially with an experienced artist like David, who knows exactly how to shape the evening.