Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ol' Brown Shoe Again!

Again, it had been way too long since we'd seen Ol' Brown Shoe, and things aligned perfectly so Sarah and I could go out to see then at Katrina's in Gloucester on the night of Saturday, December 5th.

It was crowded in Gloucester but we got a space a few blocks away and sat down at a table for a nice dinner.  The band arrived and set up while we ate, and then the show started!  Besides Larry and JeffL on guitars, Jack and Ryan on percussion, and JeffR on bass, they had a new keyboard player, Tim Walsh.  He was a great addition and had some fine solos.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

JRAD Overwhelm Paradise Again

We heard a while ago that JRAD were booked for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, but wondered if we'd be able to make the Friday one and so just got tickets to the Saturday one.  As it turned out, we weren't able to go to Ithaca for Thanksgiving and so could have made the 11/27 concert, but by the time we realized this they were both sold out.

So on Saturday 11/28 we drove down to Brighton for a meal at the Sunset Cantina, then went across the street to a madhouse of a Paradise Rock Club.  The doors had just opened but the place was already busily filling in.  If you like good rock, and especially Grateful Dead music, you have to hear these guys.

We were at stage right and I won't belabor things ... I'll keep this short.  But as I've said, Joe Russo is one of the most talented drummers I've ever heard and is spectacular, as are Marco Benevento and the rest of the band.  Dave Driewitz in particular was excellent last night.  Here's another inside-out set list ... inside out for a traditional GD set that is, but not for them, they bring so much to this music it's incredible.  This the "OCD setlist" from their Facebook page:

Set 1 (9:31pm - 10:55pm ish)
Bertha (TH) >
Throwing Stones @ (SM) >
Black Peter (TH) ->
Estimated Prophet # (SM) ->
The Weight $ (see notes) >
Scarlet Begonias % (TH) ->
Fire On The Mountain % (TH)

Set 2 (11:22pm - 12:53am ish)
Jam ->
Here Comes Sunshine ^ (TH) ->
Feel Like A Stranger & (SM) >
Help On The Way (TH) ->
Slipknot ->
Jack A Roe (TH) ->
Cumberland Blues & (All)
One More Sat Night (SM)

E: Shakedown St * (TH)

@ MB def jammed on a very familiar theme in this one, but I can’t ID it yet
# With Shakedown Street Teases (Band)
$ First Time Played, The Band original. TH sung verse 1, SM sung verse 2, MB sung verse 3, JR sung verse 4 & All sung verse 5 & the choruses.
% With a China->Rider Transition Tease during the transition b/t Scarlet->Fire
& With a Duo Jam
* With Feel Like A Stranger Jams from MB & then TH

This was spectacular!  Here are a couple of notes:

  • Probably the highlights of the night for me were Black Peter and Here Comes Sunshine, two of my favorite Dead songs.  In both cases they got at the deep soul in the song and played parts of it that have always echoed in my head but are rarely brought to the surface.
  • Slipknot! into Jack A Roe was totally unexpected and a real treat.
  • Joe wasn't wearing shoes!?!  He had on colorful socks but how can you hammer the kick drum and high hat like that without shoes?
  • There was the usual dentist convention on the sidewalk at 1AM when we left.  Kind of bizarre!  Oh well.

Pictures here!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

the sound of the tide turning

I'd been hoping to do a late-Fall kayak, probably my last of the year.  Things fell together on Saturday 11/21 and so I put Ruby on the top of the car and headed for the put-in at the Rowley town landing.

I hadn't been there for a few years.  This is far up the Rowley River and it's a fun place to go if the tide is right and the people are gone.  This Saturday the temperature never got above 50 (especially at the shore), and though it was mostly sunny, there were still a lot of clouds in the November sky and the sun never beamed down.  An hour or two before low tide, the end of the ramp was coated in mud, and there was no one else at the Rowley marina.

I put on a lot of clothes and my spray skirt, got into the kayak without an accident, and started plugging down the river under the railroad bridge.  Soon I was striking up a steady pace and the tide was sweeping me out to sea, though we had miles to go.  The weather guys got the wind right that time: 10 to 15 knots from the North (i.e. chilly, even in the depths of the salt marsh), but then dying to 5 and clocking around to the Northeast as the day wore along.  This meant it was against me as I paddled down the river.

I got out into Plum Island Sound about a half hour before the tide was due to turn.  The visibility was fantastic and I could see the houses at the North end of Plum Island way to the North, Grape Island right across the Sound from me, and beyond that the Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.  There were a few osprey towers in the Refuge, sticking up here and there,  The houses of Ipswich's Great Neck neighborhood were a burst of civilization to the South, but behind that I could see the trees of Castle Hill and out into the ocean.  Beyond that to the South the dunes of Cape Ann's northern shore looked close enough that I could kayak over there without much trouble.  Like seeing the Rockies from eastern Colorado.

I'd poked out into the inner channel of the lower part of the Sound, and the tide was very busily pushing me out to sea, along with the diminishing Northeast wind.  I was floating down quickly, usually able to peer down into the water and see the low-tide bottom, sand and mud and widely scattered bits of lobster shell, rocks, and kelp.

I was able to listen, and I realized that I was hearing a steady low roar that was the surf pounding on Plum Island's ocean coast, a mile or less to the East and over the marshes and the dunes.  I could also faintly hear a high roar, which was the tires of the intermittent cars crossing over the causeway to Great Neck.

And then I heard the tide change.  Ripples were streaming down-tide with me, and down wind.  Suddenly, one tinkled and then another when they had been silent before.  One broke over itself a bit and then another.  What was happening was that the tide was turning and suddenly it was not compatible with the wind.  I looked at my watch and it was 1:05, the exact time that the chart had told me the tide would turn.

The wind still had me and Ruby, but was washing us into a bend of middle ground.  I laughed and counted my luck, and then after a while got the paddle going again and headed back up to the mouth of the Rowley River, by now far away but open to the incoming tide.

I could see little jets of brine spit out by the low-tide clams.  Flights of swifts flashed across the sun, and some landed to my left.  I realized that they were floating on a pond a foot or so startlingly above me, a pond that had been left by the outgoing tide, landlocked in the sand bar.  Hundreds of them were there, waiting for the turned tide to wash over the bar and flood their pond, and maybe bring in a snack.

Made it back into the river and had my sandwich, now floating back towards town with the wind and the tide at my back.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dave and Ronnie at TCAN

The word came down through Walter that college friend Dave Keyes would be playing at the Natick Center For the Arts on 11/19, accompanying Ronnie Spector.  Perhaps a little hesitation at first ... 60s girl group doo-wop is not my first cup of tea ... but this was something we'd been waiting for for a while: our friend DaveK playing in a venue that worked for a lot of college friends in the area!  And only Godzilla could have stood in the way of our being there.

Barb arranged a great place for us to meet for dinner and we all showed up, some delayed by rush-hour traffic.  Dave showed up too and clued us in on the fact that he'd been playing with Ronnie for years and what kind of band would be on stage.  Bummer that his well-rehearsed (as would be the rest of the show) piano solo would not be included, but I was glad to hear that he'd be on the right side of the stage, since our seats would be tucked into that corner.  And Al clued us in to the fact that they would have beer there.

Headed on over a bit before the show, found our seats and settled down.  The converted firehouse that's TCAN, in the center of the traditional outer-Boston suburb of Natick, which is on the commuter rail line and so is being gentrified, is an ok place for a music hall.  The place was packed; most of the people there were "arts" types who couldn't care less who was playing as long as they furthered some agenda.  But a lot were Ronnie Spector devotees (most importantly the folks up front), and they led us all in having a good time.

Seth Glier opened with a few originals, with his accompanist Joe contributing great harmonies, sax, and harmonica.  Then Ronnie and Dave came out and rocked our souls.  Dave was right in front of us (stage corner right) with a big Yamaha piano, and they had a cracker section of drums, bass, and rhythm guitar.  They also had another keys guy on organ at the far end of the stage, three singers (one of whom picked up a few instruments), and Ronnie headlining it all and taking a seat between the songs while she gave us the back story.

They did a nice job with the back story, showing some slides and videos on the screen of her and her sister and cousin making their way as The Ronettes in the entertainment world of the early 60s.  You had to fill in between the lines and realize that she must have been (and must still be!) a tough woman to have made it.

My review?  I recognized a bunch of the songs and enjoyed them all.  The rhythm section was dead-on, and the backup singers were the most entertaining part of the night for me.  And Dave's structural bits on piano were fantastic.  The band was great and made the whole night rock.

Afterwards we had a chance to hobnob for a long time, both in the hall and out on the sidewalk, where old friend Larry showed up.  We'd all known each other 40 or more years ago and were stunned to be able to get together with so many of the people from back then.  This was truly a wonderful, blessed night!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dave Rawlings Machine At the Wilbur

It had been way too long since we'd seen Gillian Welch.  And even though both Sarah and I are in stages of flu, we sucked it up and went to see them at the Wilbur last night.  Luckily we got seats this time ... great ones in the first row of the balcony.

Did the normal Theater district preludes, and got over to the balcony of the Wilbur on 11/16 almost in time for a quick nap before they came on.  Gillian's partner of course, is David Rawlings and they sometimes release records and tour under the name of the Dave Rawlings Machine.  Their most recent record (a few months old) is Nashville Obsolete and is another quirky masterpiece.

They're touring with Brittany Haas on fiddle, Paul Kowert on bass (two thirds of the fabulous Haas Kowert and Tice of course, though you might associate her with Crooked Still and him with Punch Brothers), and Willie Watson of Old Crow Medicine Show.  Just a few incredible musicians to try to keep up with Dave and Gillian!

We really enjoyed the show, especially details such as Haas's tone and Gillian's harmonies.  But I can't say we were enthusiastic concert-goers with the flu problems we were having.  However, though the place was not sold out (the balcony was only a quarter full if that), the crowd response was beyond enthusiastic so that was good.  Since the first time I heard a whisper of a song from Gillian I've been a massive fan and there are plenty of us.  This is the good stuff!

They played most of the tunes from the two Dave Rawlings Machine records and threw in a few surprises like Lily, Rosemary and the Jack Of Hearts and Stewball.  They did some of the songs I most wanted to hear, like Wayside Back In Time, Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home), Bells Of Harlem, To Be Young, their fantastic arrangement of Bill Monroe's He Will Set Your Fields On Fire, etc.  And they finally did a GD song, attempting to finish with Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad.

But the crowd wouldn't let them leave and they came back out for a second encore (after three songs in the first).  We took off at the last notes of The Weight, and just caught a bit of Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby as we walked out into the Fall cold.  Here's the full list:

Set 1
The Weekend
Wayside/Back in Time
To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)
Bells of Harlem
Keep It Clean
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
It's Too Easy

Set 2
The Last Pharaoh
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire
Sweet Tooth
Short Haired Woman Blues
Method Acting / Cortez the Killer
Queen Jane Approximately

Encore 1
Look at Miss Ohio
Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home)
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

Encore 2
The Weight
Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby

Made it back to Beacon Hill and then back to Woburn and soon to bed!  Probably would have been a record time for Wilbur-to-bed if we hadn't been walking slowly up the hill.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dead & Company Rock Worcester

As mentioned, Dead & Company are in the middle of a tour, and this is huge to Grateful Dead fans.  The Core 4 (Phil, Bobby, Mickey, and Billy) got together for Fare Thee Well this summer, and then several things happened, like discovering that John Mayer meshes incredibly with traditional Grateful Dead music/consciousness, Phil announcing that he had bladder cancer and continuing to express a desire not to tour, and Billy and Mickey being re-indoctrinated into the world of GD spinoff bands, after taking a few years off.  This is not to mention the incredible talent shown by "the bench" recently, such as by Jeff Chimenti, John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, Neal Casal, Reed Mathis, Jason Crosby, and on and on.  There is a next generation of GD musicians out there, but the old(est) guys are sticking around.

To recap: Bobby and Billy and Mickey wanted to keep things going after Fare Thee Well because it worked so well and was so much fun.  They got a great guitarist on board in John Mayer, but Phil opted out, partly because he had already scheduled concerts during the rest of 2015, and partly because he was not up for touring.  It may be that there's also an element of "we (Core 4) said 'Fare Thee Well' and we need to live up to that and treat our musical adventure as over, let's move on."  But I don't think so, I think they wanted to continue to play with Phil (he performed a show with Mayer before Bobby did, and the two of them produced some supernova explosions) and he wanted to continue to play with them, but it just wasn't going to work out for 2015H2 and so they went with plan B.  Perhaps plan A *will* work out in 2016H1?!?

But in the meantime the Core 3 and John needed a bass player and a keyboardist would be nice.  How about Oteil Fucking Burbridge and Jeff Fucking Chimenti?!?  They suddenly had quite the all-star band together, practiced a lot, and scheduled a tour.  Deadheads throughout America (and the entire solar system) were starved for great GD music after the super feats of this summer, and we felt incredibly lucky that they announced a gig at the DCU Center in Worcester as part of the tour, which will hit large cities in the South and the Midwest next (after starting with Buffalo tonight) and then Vegas, SF, and LA.  Worcester is probably the smallest city on the tour.  I was barely able to get tickets, but did!

They opened in Albany (as discussed in the previous posts on Phil and Stanley), hit MSG, Philly, and DC, and then showed up in Worcester on Tuesday, November 10th.  Tragically, Sarah was at the height of the Fall flu that I had just had and opted out of the show, but Scott was able to take her place.  I met Dave at the train in West Concord, we grabbed subs, and then we headed for the Worcester evening traffic maelstrom, getting to the parking garage across from the DCU Center in time to wolf down the subs, have a couple of beers, and then meet Scott (who'd just arrived) and head over and in.

Saw several friends inside who were just as excited as we.  We waited to get beers at the only good bar there (very efficient bartender) and then headed up to our seats in the front row of section 308, stage left about at the faceoff circles in the far zone if there'd been a hockey rink set up.  These were fine seats except for the detail that a speaker stack was in the way of the Stealie projection set up behind the band, which was the central part of the visual show during the concert, decorated by shapes, colors, and film clips.  Oh well, not much lost.

Is it time for me to start gushing?  I'd been told that sight lines in the DCU Center were fantastic and that sound in there could be great.  Even though I was several hundred feet away, I *saw* the band almost as if I was right up front with them, being able to follow chording patterns on guitar frets and see them emoting while they sang.  I think part of this was lighting and part was that it just seemed like an intimate venue.  And the sound was incredible!  For the first quarter of the first song I knew I was in a hockey rink, but then they made some adjustments for the fact that the seats were filled now rather than the way they'd been at sound check, and the sonic atmosphere was incredibly good!  Perhaps we were lucky here, being in the first row of the overhang, because we could feel the whole arena reverberating all around us with quality music.

It's almost unreal how well John Mayer can play Grateful Dead music.  He describes his introduction to the music with wonder (see his quotes), and GD head after head will tell you that they don't see why everyone from Bach on up doesn't latch on to the same thing.  These are great songs and you can spend your life on them.  It's validating that a pop star like Mayer is so turned on to them.  But the key thing here is his interaction with a band, not his individual capabilities, and he seems to have learned that as much as the songs themselves.  He meshes so well with Bobby and the others it's almost like Garcia.  Not in the way that he fits the mold of Garcia, but that he's able to play the role of the GD lead guitarist and set the pace, be a foil to Weir (and the others), and really take the lead when the dynamics indicate it in that subtle but titillating way that Garcia always did.

Nothing against Anastasio, who did a sterling job this summer under incredible pressure.  But he didn't take the role of a lead guitarist for the fucking Grateful Dead the way Mayer did.

So what happened next?  They came out with Oteil far left, John next, Bobby next, and then Jeff way over on the right with his grand piano, B3, Rhodes, and synth.  Behind them was the awesome drums setup, fully as well-realized as it had been this summer.  They tuned up and then launched into Cassidy, which as far as I know has *never* been an opener (wait, this just in: they opened with it once, on 1983-08-21).  This was just the beginning.  Here's the first set:

Row Jimmy
Ramble On Rose
Big River
The Music Never Stopped

This was one of the most excellent sets of music I've ever experienced.  I know I gush a lot in this blog, but I can't imagine much being better than this.  Subjectively, it was better than the Phil and Stanley show last weekend, it was better than the Alvin's at their utmost, it was better than Emmylou and Rodney playing every song they knew, it was better than the Allman Brothers with Derek Trucks.  This was just incredible music.  Maybe my impression of it and my ranking of it will fade over time, but maybe not!

From the first note to the last I could hear every instrument; as mentioned, the sound was incredible and the technique of all the band members was unreal.  They went from a long, jammed out Cassidy that might have been the crescendo of a first set but was just the opener here into a funky, spacey, slow but crackling with energy Row Jimmy.  Bob started rowing with his guitar neck while singing the chorus, tapping a few notes on the fretboard like, Stanley who?

I can't begin to describe everything that was great about this set.  The vocals could have been better.  Ramble on Rose could have been longer and more syncopated.  Big River could have been more country, and Peggy-O could have been played less academically.  But the positives were all around us with every note.  Oteil was messing around on a palette that Phil never used and was arguably as good (he also had an awesome thick-leather guitar strap featuring a beautiful leather, painted carving of the Virgin), the drummers were distinct and loud and like the clocks of eternity (Billy on sticks and Mickey on mallets, with his white gloves), Jeff was jumping between his keyboards like he had been when I saw him with Ratdog and playing them all excellently.  Bobby was riveting, strumming his strat with a tempo and a feeling that can't be equaled by anyone else on this Earth.  And John was just aching to play lead, like Garcia, filling in where he was allowed to and then rearing back and ripping one off when he got the chance, stopping just a millimeter shy of the next verse.

My Dog, these guys were a tight band!  They did not step on each other at all and there wasn't a hint of aimless noodling or not knowing who was going to step up next in that set.  Dave and Scott and I were in a state of amazement.  The others in the front row of 308 had screwed for the floor or something ... there was no security inside and all the aisles and walkways were jammed with fans throughout the show ... and that left plenty of room for us to spread out and dance.

John let his character out on Sugaree a bit more than a mellow San Francisco musician would, but that was fine and he just got the soul of these songs so right.  And in the middle of Sugaree I knew that they were going to go into Music next and it would be the last song of the set.  I told Dave so and then they did it, and this was one of the best Musics I've ever heard.  Play that tape!

Phew, time for the set break.  We'd been standing and dancing all along and sank into our seats like deflated balloons when the guys left the stage and the lights came up.  Hung out and analyzed things for 15 minutes or so, but then Scott decided to brave the beer stands, and then a while later I thought it was time for a bathroom break.  I got back just a bit late for the second set and Scott was on time with the beer; those walkways were a solid mob of people.

So did they do a normal set opener here?  No, they ripped right into Deal, which is always a later-first-set song.  And they did it excellently; they were breaking the bounds of music left and right and up and down, like the Grateful Dead always did.  Expect something, and then something else even more wonderful would occur.  Here's the list:

Uncle John's Band
Estimated Prophet
Terrapin Station
Dear Prudence
Get Out Of My Life, Woman
Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad

I was a bit hyper-ventilated when I took my position in the front of 308, having just run up the arena's stairs (dodging many heads on the way) from the bathroom for fear of missing notes.  But my heartbeat soon dropped to the pace of Oteil's bass and again, I was hearing and seeing every note vividly from all of the players.  At one time in the second set, Jeff stopped tickling the grand and shifted over to the synthesizer, which he just brushed some with his fingers, looking for the right sound.  But we could hear every note of what he was doing!  I don't know what it was, but the sound in that hockey rink was just extraordinary.

After Deal they went into the UJB of your dreams, beautiful precision story-book playing with crows telling tales, silver mines sparkling on sunny days, twirling dancers calling out tunes to ghostly fiddle players.  And then the one song we would have predicted (and did), Estimated.  Bobby pulled out all stops for this one, though he gave it more of a dead-pan crazy prophet take than a wild-eyed crazy prophet.

And this was a most awesome Terrapin.  By that point everyone in the arena was hanging on every word and the musicians were so much in control of their sound that this swelled to baroque proportions you could not measure.  And at the end of it Oteil had taken off a run and then got louder and louder and OMG, what is that sound?  It's Mickey fucking pounding on the thunder drums!!  This was a totally enthralling drums segment, especially when Oteil sat down at Billy's traps while he was trying every drum that had ever been made and laid down a beat on snare and cymbals that you thought would (hopefully) never end.

Space was great too, though the song selections right after it were not the best.  This is how hard it is to criticize that show: this was an incredible Dear Prudence sung with exquisite folk phrasings by Bobby and here I am finding fault with it.  But maybe Stella Blue would have been better.  Whatever!

And Get Out Of My Life (which the Garcia band had covered but was never done by the Dead or Bobby's bands) was a tribute to its composer, the great Allen Toussaint, who had passed away late Monday at 72 after a show.  Time was running short after that, and they finished with a tidy cover of GDTRFB, leaving everyone a quivering mass.  There was a lot of toweling off after they were done, phew!

Short break after the set and then they were back on stage for an encore, John and Bobby both sporting acoustics.  Time for Ripple, and they sang it like it had just been struck, like a perfect jewel.

We gathered our things and started out of there pretty quickly when the encore was over, knowing it would be a long road home.  As great as the DCU Center had been, their common spaces really become chaotic mosh pits when everyone tries to move at once, and it took a while for us to get some breathing room after mashing through endless crowds.  It was spitting rain outside, but better than battling the hordes inside, and we finally made it back to the parking lot.  Dave and I had parked on the 5th  level and Scott on the 7th, and we realized soon that it would be a LONG time before we'd be able to move our cars.  The line was stationary for at least a half hour, and then barely moving after that.

Oh well, had a beer and talked and talked ... nothing else to do.  Finally things started to clear out and we jumped in our cars.  An hour drive home from there for me and Dave but this was so worth it, it could have been 100 hours and we'd still have been buzzing.  Got to bed around 2AM and had to go to work the next day!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lesh and Jordan at the Cap, part 2

Woke up around 9:00 on Halloween morning after an ok sleep in a small bed in the La Quinta in Armonk and went downstairs for what's become the standard American "free" hotel breakfast.  (Overheard by Sarah the next morning, said by a small girl after she joined her parents with her breakfast: "No, it's *not* any better than yesterday.")  Got my fill of food and coffee and USA Today and then we gathered back at the room and reminisced about Friday's show.

I did my blog, we checked for reviews of the concert on the web, and waited for Friday's MP3s to be uploaded by LiveDownloads (they weren't until late that night!).  Finally at about noon we got motivated to go out, had a quick sandwich (we had brought a pile of them), and drove up route 22 to the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, where we had a beautiful, long hike in the Fall forest.

This is a preserved stretch of the river that eventually empties into Long Island Sound, amidst many very expensive homes.  A lot of it used to be farmlands and the whole area is lined with old stone walls, coursing up and down over the gorge's slopes between glorious ashes, beeches, oaks, maples, yellow poplars, and majestic hemlocks.  The river itself was very low, as with most bodies of water this Fall in the Northeast, and when we got to the Havemeyer Falls near the end of the trail, it flowed into an incredibly low reservoir.

By the time we got back it was a little after 4, so we still had time to watch a bit of college football, stare at the LiveDownloands page some more, and get mentally prepared for another night of excellence.

Drove down to Port Chester again, parked in the exact same spot, and then checked out Shakedown Corner again.  Everything was a bit busier, being Saturday night and Halloween, and there were a few more vendors there than there had been the night before.  We hobnobbed and gabbed, and I admired a stealie coozie a guy was using.  He said that the guy who made them had been giving them out to anyone who asked and would be back later so ... here, take mine!  An incredibly nice thing for him to do!!

Made our way up to Kiosko for another Mexican meal that couldn't be beat.  The restaurant was almost full already but we got a table right away and were vastly entertained by the stream of cute kids in costumes stopping in for candy from the kitchen crew.  It's a nice, family restaurant.

Then it was time for the concert!  We were in the balcony again, a few rows farther back and a few seats more toward the middle.  The Cap was rocking with people in costumes, ushers in masks, the same setup on stage, their beautiful lights dancing over the ceiling, and their loop of The Skeleton Dance.  There were some very high people in evidence already, and they just got higher as the evening rolled along.  Between sets I saw one woman who was so encumbered by gravity she had to be pushed and pulled up the stairs, though she seemed to have no idea that was happening.

The guys came out and lined up as before, some seemingly wearing the same clothes as they had on Friday.  Must be that Phil told them, "Guys, that was so good, I want you to not change a thing!"  He had the same outfit on himself.  And his strategy must have worked ... though Friday night had been PHENOMENAL!! this was even better ... it was ASTOUNDING!!!  It was also Halloween, so you may detect a theme in this setlist:

After Midnight
Doin' That Rag
Bad Moon Rising
Dire Wolf
Friend of the Devil
Werewolves Of London
  • As I say, this was more excellence, perhaps even better.  See last night and all my gushing can be repeated here.  We were delighted to hear After Midnight, the old J.J. Cale song given a mellow country cover that at the same time hinted at the song gymnastics we were about to experience. 
  • Then they scratched their asses for just a beat or two and launched into one of my longest term, favoritest songs, Doin' That Rag!  I'd never seen this performed before ... it's been up on Dave's list too.  And this was a great version, sung by the extra-sweet voice of John.  Old like a rum drinking demon at tea.
  • And guess who's turn for a vocal was next?  Tony!  Bad Moon Rising was another song from out of left field and was instantly a crowd favorite.  We all roared and sang along.  Who doesn't love singing along with Bad Moon Rising on Halloween??
  • Next up was a sterling cover of one of the best Grateful Dead songs ever: Loser.  John sang the "Sweet Susy" chorus, but the meat of it was the jams.  The dragon was out again already.  At the break people who hadn't seen Jordan before were staggering around saying, "That guitarist is GREAT!!"  We were already aware of that and he was so integrated with Phil, John, and Jason.
  • John took a few more leads than he had Friday, but when he stepped aside and nodded to Stanley you just sat back a bit, tightened your seat belt, and he soared you through the clouds.  Jason was just as good too, ripping off some astounding runs on the piano and some swampy dirges on the B3.
  • They continued to run out all the Halloween-themed songs, inviting everyone to sing along with "Pleee-ease don't murder me," and then "Ran into the devil and he gave me 20 bills, Spent the night in Utah in a cave up in the hills."  Dire Wolf was great and bouncy, but FOTD was another over-the-top highlight.  This wasn't done like the Dead used to do it in the early 70s, or the slowed down later version.  This was an original rendition, concentrating not so much on the descending rhythm as on the tinkling melody.
  • In fact, besides the lyrical theme, the first set had a melodic theme, which was a mellow, country lilt.  It was an expression of how much in control of their art these guys were that such a disparate assortment of songs could mesh so well.
  • Next was the song everyone knew was coming (in fact, Dead and Company played it last night too): Werewolves of London, with Tony on vocals again.  As you might imagine, the people in costume were dancing and twirling, the lights was flashing, and the whole crowd was howling along to Warren Zevon's classic song.  Tony sang, "I saw a werewolf drinking a Lagunitas in Garcia's."
Break time!  One comment I should throw in here was that most people were very aware of the other great events happening in the area that night.  People were checking their phones constantly to try to see what was going on with Dead and Company in MSG.  The Garcia's club in the Cap's entrance was just packed like sardines with people catching up on the Series game on the wall-sized TV screen.  I hung out at the upstairs bar a bit later than I should to see ancient warrior Bartolo Colon in an epic matchup with KC's young Salvador Perez in the top of the sixth.  Colon finally struck him out on a slider outside to preserve the lead ... for the moment.

Back to my seat just in time for the guys to come out for the second set, and we knew that we were in for a good one.  Dave had worked his voodoo to ensure that they'd be playing TOO (he'd done the same with Here Comes Sunshine Friday night).  The band started into a little intro that we couldn't identify, and then devilish John jumped up to the mike and sang, "Please allow me to introduce myself..." and the crowd went wild!!!  Here's the list:

Sympathy for the Devil
Cryptical Envelopment >
The Other One >
Death Don't Have No Mercy
Dark Star >
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) >
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
Fire on the Mountain

Again, what can I say??  Oh well, let me try.
  • The country lilt was abandoned and we were all in the belly of the dragon.  I've talked about being able to see the music and that hallucination was still there, along with a deep comfort with this band.  It's strange, but there was an overwhelming feeling that I could trust them to take my ears and my mind along for a thrilling ride, and I would never be sorry.
  • Sympathy For the Devil finished and the guys just took a few beats before ripping into a loud, majestic Cryptical.  And we all knew where that was leading.  I trusted these guys and there was no doubt in my mind that they would stretch out Cryptical and start booming, and that's what they did.
  • I hugged Dave during TOO and he was quivering with delight, saying later that it was a perfect The Other One.  I agree and the word "perfect" had occurred to me too.  Dave also called it, "The Other One I've always been waiting for."  Phil was just detonating our reality, Jason was running up and down the ribs of the beast, and Stanley was bending our minds with his sound and his technique.
  • Time to calm down a bit after that, and John continued his wonderful singing with Death Don't.  But then they drifted into a bit of a jam and suddenly Phil took over again, looked the guys up and down, launched into a little intro, and then he was playing Dark Star.  What more can be said about this incredibly multi-faceted song?  This wasn't a guitar-driven version or a tribal drumming version or a bass festival.  This was dark, and spacey, and scary, and weird, like the kind of thing you'd hear on Halloween!
  • OK, it was now time for Stanley Jordan to step up again.  He turned up the settings on his guitar and started wailing and wailing Hendrix's Voodoo Child.  An observation I'd made Friday was that he could go from Hendrix to Chet Atkins and back in the course of a few measures.  But in this case he just stayed in the Hendrix zone and dominated the theater with his volume and style.  Not only that, but he then stepped up to the mike and sang a few verses (this was the "Slight Return" version).  Stanley is not known as a singer but contributed some great harmonies all weekend and did a great lead at that point.
  • And not only that ... the Hendrix persona took him over and Stanley actually did two somersaults on stage while ripping off a lead at the same time!  ASTOUNDING!!  And this from a 56 year old guy!!!  Many of us in the crowd felt a twinge in the back just watching it.
  • What could they do but jam and jam back into Dark Star?  They had to finish it of course.  While they did, Stanley stepped behind his amp and coolly changed a string, then got back on the beat just in time.  And then they stopped again and looked at Phil ... and then he started playing St. Stephen.  As mentioned, this to me is one of the most perfect Grateful Dead songs ever and I'm always thrilled by it.  The ensemble singing was great too, everybody joining in (Jason did some great harmony himself) while our minds ricocheted 'twixt now and then.
  • They were thundering and finally came back to the last verse of St. Stephen, and then they finished something else up!  They had done Scarlet on Friday and couldn't stop until they crowned the night with Fire On the Mountain, with the whole Capitol screaming along.

Whoah!  After the incredible performance on Friday we wouldn't have been that disappointed if Saturday didn't come up to that level, but they had just surpassed it, while still doing a "Halloween" assortment of songs and while suppressing their wild instincts a bit in the first set to play it straight.

And there was still time for a donor rap and an encore.  The crowd was into a very loud "Not Fade Away" clapping session by the time Phil came out, but quieted and let him gush.  He was in a state of rapture himself, just beaming at the scene.  The guys came out right after him and what else could they do but play NFA (though the camera revealed that they had had the Stones' Midnight Rambler slotted for the encore spot)?

We got out of there pretty quickly after the end.  Phil did not introduce the guys, maybe he will tonight.  They don't need introductions!

One more note is that the crowd filing out had a few very depressed people in it.  The Mets had had the lead into the eighth and then lost it on a misplay by (up until now) post-season marvel David Murphy.  As one Mets fan explained to me as we left, "It was a Bill BUCK-nuh moment!"

Back to the car and back to the hotel, still buzzing...

see pictures here

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lesh and Jordan at the Cap, part 1

Phenomenal!!!  Acclaimed fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan started a three-night stand with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY last night, and we experienced jaw-dropping musical talent, technique, and precision like you wouldn't believe.

This is a mega-weekend in the NYC area, as Phil and Friends do three nights (Fri, Sat, and Sun) at the Capitol, Dead and Company pack Madison Square Garden on Saturday and Sunday, and the Mets play in the World Series at Citi Field against Kansas City, Friday, Saturday, and (since they won last night), Sunday.  We're staying in a cheap hotel in Armonk NY on a beautiful Fall weekend, and can feel the whole area vibrating ... or maybe that's just the traffic on 684.

We took the day off work yesterday, slept late, packed up, and hit the road for a 3-hour drive down to Armonk, which was slowed by an incredible amount of traffic and a long traffic jam caused by construction in Waterville CT.  Yuck.  But we got to our cheap hotel, hung out a bit, and then headed for the 15-minute drive to Port Chester, where we parked in the usual lot, at the same time as a thrilled couple who'd traveled up from Florida on a Dead vacation.

The people around there are all very friendly to concert-goers and we stopped by the corner where Heads had set up a mini-Shakedown Street (Shakedown Corner?) and were eager to engage in repartee.  Dead and Company had opened their tour Thursday night in Albany and we'd heard about half of it (streamed by a taper), and gushed about the show with some people who'd been there and were planning to continue to tour down to Philly and DC with the band, after a brief side-trip to see Phil!

Had another leisurely Mexican meal that couldn't be beat at Kiosko, and then pushed our way into the packed Capitol.  The merch table was set up with some nice dragon t-shirts (Dave got one), and Halloween trimmings.  We made our way up the well-appointed stairway and past the classy balcony bar and the steps up to the funky men's room, and sat down in the first row of the balcony (not the loge, which was the first three rows of the overhang).  People were walking in front of us all night, but this was no problem when we were standing up, and we got close-up views of Deadhead after Deadhead twirling, doing ballet steps, staggering to and from their seats, and just rolling their heads and limbs and wonking out to the music.

Phil and the guys came out just a few minutes after 8 and lined up in the classic P&F arrangement with Phil and his huge amps on the right (looking at the stage that is), Tony Leone on drums close behind him, Stanley Jordan (the featured guest) at stage center, John Kadlecik between him and the keyboards setup, and then Jason Crosby at the keys: the quintessential B3, Rhodes, and (Kurzweil) electric piano rectangle, this time with two Leslies backing him up.  Before we could even settle down: duh-duh, duh DUH ... and we were off on the crest of a wave.  Here's the first set:

Help on the Way >
Slipknot! >
Franklin's Tower
Ship of Fools
Here Comes Sunshine
Sitting on Top of the World

Dave, Sarah, and I were just delighted, as was everyone in the packed Capitol.  The signal from starting with Help/Slip/Franklin's was that they were feeling it right away, and they showed in that triptych a preview of the phenomenal talent and execution we would see all night.  John set the pace immediately with his fine voice, Phil was psyched, rolling those tones over us and around the hall, and Stanley Jordan was riveting.  Slipknot! especially went on and on and they could have stayed in that groove all night, it was so excellent.  And then Phil stepped up to sing Franklin's and he was in top-notch voice himself, perhaps because it was the first night of the tour.  The crowd was a vocal factor to say the least, as well as the people on stage; Phil stepped back and let the crowd sing one of the "Roll Away the dew" choruses themselves.

OK, everyone take a breath after that and then it was time for a ballad.  John continued his fine, mature singing with Ship Of Fools, and emoted more and more through the song, building to a thrilling, emotional climax.  Dave had never seen this song live and it was great rendition.

I haven't mentioned Leone and Crosby but just wait!  This was not just a rock and roll show, this was a full tilt fusion show, as was fitting with a cleanup hitter like Jordan (in nice jeans and a bit of eye shadow), and Tony and Jason were in their element.  Tony kept up an incredible groove all night, banging out the chorus when it was time, but in the meantime keeping up a shuffle, a syncopated beat, or a full-fledged tom-tom barrage and just backing the other musicians excellently.

Crosby deserves a paragraph or more himself.  I've seen him on video many times and live a few times and been more and more impressed by his talent on keyboards, though not as much by his fiddle.  But he blew us out of the water last night, probably because he was let loose to dabble in jazz chords and solos, with John drooling over him, Stanley nodding at him with massive approval, and Phil looking like this was the place he was happiest in.

Phil announced very recently that he has bladder cancer, and canceled a couple of dates at Terrapin Crossroads this October.  But his announcement also said that the cancer is "under control and not aggressive" (the word remission was not used).  He was right on time (well, 5 minutes late) for his date at the Cap with his whole entourage (including grandson Levon, see below), and the crowd gave him a very, very heartfelt welcome.  He was so moved by the occasion that he almost got distracted during his donor rap, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Where was I?  Oh yeah, after Ship Of Fools we were treated to an ethereal, jazzed up, spaced out Greensleeves featuring Jordan's amazing tap guitar technique and Crosby's flights of fancy on the Rhodes.  Kadlecik has recently returned from a world tour with his band, and as I say was singing and playing as well as I've ever heard him.  But you could tell he was concentrating on filling the role of a "glue" player, constantly deferring to Stanley or Jason (or Phil!) when they looked ready, and pushing the pace along with his singing.

Then was Here Comes Sunshine, another one which Dave had never seen performed live and was just killed by this band.  He'd called it, and boy did they play it!  And it was so perfect for this lovely, sunshine-filled, Fall weekend.  Then Sitting On Top Of the World was another jazzed out treat, drifting farther and farther away from the old folk song as the players topped each other and made us smack our heads in disbelief, and then somehow coalescing back on the next verse.  After that, nothing left but to close the first set with Bertha, John for once being the featured player here, leading the sing-along and ripping off the standing-on-your-ear leads.

That was a phenomenal first set!  I couldn't stop saying that.  Phil thought so too apparently and had the guys gather for a group hug in the middle of the stage, after the first set!?!  This was incredible stuff.

Got another beer, right before the crowds gathered.  They have a fine beer list at the Cap, including IPA from the hyper-local Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, that I of course quaffed.  The second floor men's room, as mentioned, is up a stairway from the balcony lobby and consists of some of their vintage marble urinals, mixed in with modern ones stuck on the wall here and there, wherever they'd fit.  Truly funky.

Reconvened back at the seats for the second set (actually I was a bit delayed at the bar), and they opened with a beautiful, beautiful version of Phil's classic.  Here's the list:

Unbroken Chain >
All Along the Watchtower >
Little Wing
China Cat Sunflower >
Eyes of the World >
Standing on the Moon
Scarlet Begonias >
I Know You Rider

The magic continued and intensified.  Phil's singing was ethereal, as was the powerful but delicate ensemble playing on Unbroken.  Watchtower was as funky as I've ever heard a rock band do a Dylan song, and then Stanley just took over and melted everything in sight.

Everybody caught on slowly that Watchtower had ended and that he was gearing up for something serious, and then he was suddenly playing Little Wing and all extraneous thoughts disappeared.  This was beyond riveting: he had everybody on the Eastern Seaboard floating on his incredible cascade of notes, some strummed, some tapped, and some plucked.  Even over at Citi Field, the game stopped for a moment while everyone gazed up and around them and asked, "What's that music??"

There was another monitor and an orphan mike stand set up over on the far right of the stage, to Phil's left.  We thought that *maybe* Bobby or John Mayer from Dead and Company would come out as a surprise guest (they weren't doing anything that night!), but then we saw that it was actually a jungle gym!!  Phil's toddler grandson, Levon, was along for the ride and spent much of the second set pushing his plastic scooter around on the right-hand end of the stage, climbing/falling over the extra monitor, and every once in a while staring/pointing at his grandfather, who was standing tall, playing that huge bass and singing like an angel.  This was very cute (of course, Levon was wearing sound-defeating headgear)!  At times Levon pushed his scooter all the way over to where his grandfather was standing and bumped into his boot, then looked up in surprise.  Phil beamed back at him and didn't miss a beat.  He was happy and so were we.

What else?  China Cat into Eyes!!!?!?!  When you talk about a great Dead-related concert you talk about the dragon coming out, usually sometime in the second set.  This dragon had come out back in the beginning of the first set, and was flying back and forth through the wonderful Capitol Theatre, spouting flame.  And though I wasn't tripping, things got to the point where I could almost see the music.  Most often when Jordan was standing in the middle of the stage, rocking his head back and forth to watch Phil and Jason, and each of them had one eye on Leone, the foundation of the sound.  And then you realized that it all centered around the chords and fills Kadlecik was constructing.  This was truly dancing about architecture.

The calmed it down for the second set ballad, Standing On the Moon, another wonderfully emotional vocal by John ("Old Glory waving stiffly, crimson, white, and indigo").  We all knew the second set was nearing the end but that there'd be a few more magic moments still.  And then they paused for a beat and went into Scarlet!  The whole theater roared as one and writhed in unison, including a crowd of dancers and twirlers who suddenly appeared in the corridor in front of us.  This was another massive sing-along.  I forgot to mention that at one point during Eyes, Phil hadn't even bothered to sing the chorus because everyone in the crowd was, and it was just as loud.

And after Scarlet they decided to finish what they'd started with China Cat and meandered into an epic I Know You Rider (though they'd teased GDTRFB).  The Cap was in folk-rock heaven, listening to and shouting out that classic song, watching Phil and his grandson like a motif of life and art, and remembering who had first thrilled us all with the words, "I wish I was a headlight on a Northbound train."

Thundering applause, and then Phil somehow had the energy to come out for the donor rap.  He was beyond beaming, and thanked and thanked us all for giving him the opportunity to do this.  As I say, he almost forgot to do his "Cody" bit but somehow made it through, though distracted by Levon grabbing the bass, and then running around the stage and trying to re-set all Phil's filters.  The happy grand-dad grabbed him up and delivered him back to his mother (perhaps thinking at the same time that his cancer surgeons had told him not to do any heavy lifting).

For an encore John stepped up again and sang George Harrison's Any Road.  An excellent, though non-incendiary ending to a beyond fantastic night!  We're currently throwing around ideas about how they're going to follow it up tonight!!

see pictures here

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guilty at the Bull Run

We’ve seen Dave Alvin many times, and several times with his brother Phil.  And we’d been to the Bull Run Restaurant a great number of times.  But the two together on October 23rd was quite the combination, they’d never been there before and Shirley was waiting for them.

The Bull Run was packed more than I’ve ever seen it.  I don’t think they technically sold out, but the parking lot was already overflowing when we got there at about 6:45 for the 8:00 show and the Sawtelle Room was jammed with every table they could fit in there, many of which were already full over an hour before the show.  We jammed into two of the last three seats at table 63 in front of center stage, and then Scott showed up shortly thereafter and took the last one.  We managed to get beer and food, but the waitresses and the kitchen were struggling to keep up all night.

The band came on late as Chris Miller was apparently delayed, and the room took a long time before getting anywhere near settling down.  Finally Dave and Phil came on with the normal “Guilty Ones” band of Chris, Lisa Pancratz, and Brad Fordham.  I’ve said this before, but they all played excellently, perhaps better than I’d ever seen them.  They’ve become an incredibly tight, well-disciplined unit that can rock your ass off.

And were they loud!!!  It possibly wasn’t as loud as when we sat right in front of Dave’s amp at Johnny D’s, but I’ve never heard the Sawtelle PA turned up like that (it handled it great), and Dave’s Strat was just blasting.

And what a great setlist it was too.  They did a superb mix of tunes from their last two albums, some older Dave Alvin songs, and some classic Blasters tunes.  It went something like this:

I Feel So Good
This World Is In a Bad Condition
Mister Kicks
Southern Flood Blues
Border Radio
Sit Down Baby
All By Myself
Cherry Red Blues
Hide and Seek
Truckin’ Little Woman
Johnny Ace Is Dead
Dry River
American Music
What’s Up With Your Brother
Marie Marie
Turn On Your Lovelight

I may have missed a few and gotten the order wrong, but I think you get the point.  I was thrilled to hear Phil step up and sing Border Radio!  He was in as good voice as ever, tackling the incredibly difficult Cherry Red Blues with ease, hitting all the lyrics to Truckin’ Little Woman perfectly, and singing Marie Marie like he meant it: “I just want to be your loving man!”

Chris and Brad were fantastic too, and as usual, Lisa was phenomenal.  The sight lines in the Bull Run are sometimes a challenge and though we were at the front table, Phil was almost totally blocking Lisa for me.  But I could peer around him once in a while and get a sight of a polka-dotted arm, a puffed-out cheek, and sometimes the iconic Lisa Pancratz eye rising up above the curve of Phil’s guitar, fixated on the band leader.

And who was leading the band?  Dave was incredible himself, just permeating the room with his vision of the blues, straight out Stratocaster sound filling our brains.  And I think they were really having a good time too.  The Bull Run is probably a fun place for a band to play: great sound and enthusiastic crowds in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts.

At one time after Lisa’s drum solo in Dry River a perhaps tipsy woman ran up to the front and shouted at Dave, “She’s great, she’s fantastic, she’s wonderful!”  Dave said, “I know.”  She shouted, “Tell her how great she is!!”  Dave said in his way, “You tell her,” and stood back.  Lisa smiled.

As they’ve been doing lately, they closed with a background rave-up of Turn On Your Lovelight, alternating between Dave singing a few of the lyrics, ripping off another incendiary guitar run, and the band introducing each other.  Really, Phil was as integrated into the band as anyone else and he did his part in the mutual introductions, again calling his brother a triple threat: singer, songwriter, and guitar player.  What a band and what a fun night!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fred and Tif at Passim

Fred Eaglesmith was finally back in town on October 14th, and Club Passim was pretty much sold out with dedicated followers.  His backup band, led by (his wife? ... sources differ) Tif Ginn opened.  She was accompanied by her sister Brit on bass and long-time Fred bandmates Matt Simpson on guitar and piano and Kori Heppner on drums.

After a few songs and a short break, Fred came on and spouted his brand of anti-political venom mixed with hard-core songs.  He did some really old ones, including Cha Cha, Alcohol and Pills, and an incendiary 49 Tons, and basically whatever he felt like playing at that second.  He'd go on about some topic, then launch into a song and the band would scramble to figure out what he was playing and pick up the right instruments.

Tif had a mandolin, two different squeezeboxes, a ukelele, a melodica, and some kind of cittern(?) onstage, but mostly stuck to the accordions.  Her voice is excellent backing up Fred and their harmony arrangements were stellar.

Short show on a Wednesday night and we got out of there by 10:30 or so.

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!

Pictures here!

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!