Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alison Krauss In the Windy City

Another tough (not really) concert decision we made this late summer was to not go see Alison Krauss at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.  Reasons that we wanted to go were that this was kind of a come-back tour for her after taking time off because of problems with dysphonia, and she’d recently released a solo record (not with her long-time band, Union Station) that featured another side of her great talent (she is the most-awarded singer and most-awarded female in Grammy history).  Reasons for passing were that we’ve already scheduled many concerts for this Fall and that BHBP sucks: it’s inconvenient to get to and park near, their sound system is pitiful, and their prices for tickets and concessions are outrageous.

BUT, on the day of the concert, Friday 9/22, I saw I had email and it was a flash from WUMB that they had tickets to give away and the first five to reply would get pairs.  I replied and got them!  So that addressed one of our concerns for sure.

It was the last day of Summer (and first evening of Fall) and another concern was that the remnants of Hurricane Jose were causing a storm near the New England coast and, though there probably wouldn’t be torrential downpours, it would be an evening of very un-Summer-like weather and temperatures.  Oh well, we could take that for free tickets!

We went home after work to eat dinner and get prepped: sweatshirts, slickers, and gloves as well as good footwear and warm socks.  And it’s a good thing we did, the wind was absolutely roaring on the waterfront, the temperature must have been in the 40s, and it was spitting rain off and on all night.  There were some people there in t-shirts and shorts and they didn’t last long, the wind cut right through you and though it may have been a sell-out, lots of people couldn’t take it and left early.

We’d decided to drive right to the Seaport rather than park in Government Center and walk, and we miraculously snagged an on-street parking spot when someone in front of us pulled out.  That upped the amount spent for the evening to $1.25, but we soon made up for that with beers in the venue.

Our seats weren’t that bad … one thing about that amphitheater is that most seats have good sight lines and aren’t too far from the stage.  But as before, we were amazed that they thought that the small stacks of speakers they had suspended from the tent, left and right, were enough for quality sound.  They sure weren’t, especially because they hesitated to turn them up!

David Gray was the opener and, though I read that he’s had several chart-toppers in the UK, he’s flown under my radar.  I recognized a couple of his songs, but only faintly.  He was mostly on solo guitar or piano, though he was joined by some accompanists later in the set.  I found him kind of boring I hate to say.  One example was that he featured sampling himself on guitar and playing those loops while he went in other directions … a modern thing to do, and he was skillful at it.  But at one point he had one bass loop going, another little rhythm loop going too, and then he played a line of melody, sampled that, and started it repeating while he put down his guitar, stood back and clapped.  I found this boring!  I mean, you knew exactly what was going to happen in the next measure and you had a pretty good idea what would happen in the measure after that, and the one after that, etc.  It wasn’t that compelling.

Another criticism, and this was the venue rather than the artist, was that their sound system SUCKED (have I mentioned this?) and that they barely had it turned up at all.  He could have been singing a cappella.  And with the howling wind you needed some boost from the PA.  It’s like the BHBP was reluctant to drown out the conversations of the many, many people chattering away during the opening act of a CONCERT!

But there were a lot of David Gray fans there straining to pay rapt attention too, and his songs were greeted with lots of whoops and hollers and he had fans singing along at the drop of a hat.  I was glad to see that, though his set wasn’t really to my taste.

Anyway, then Alison came on and they turned it up a bit, and she was awesome.  And she was joined by Suzanne and Sidney Cox!  I had no idea … here’s the band we saw: Alison Krauss on fiddle and vocals, Ron Block on guitar and banjo, Barry Bales on stand-up bass, James Mitchell on electric lead guitar, Jerry Roe on drums, Matt Rollings (from Lyle Lovett’s band and many other gigs) on grand piano, AND siblings Suzanne Cox on vocals and Sidney Cox on vocals, dobro, and acoustic guitar.

Alison stuck mainly to ballads from throughout her career and though her wispy and delicate voice wasn’t the best to combat a windstorm, the music she and her band produced was excellent.  As with other concerts I’ve seen, the difference in quality of sound between the opener and the main act was astonishing.  We thought Gray was good, but these guys were perfect.

Of particular note was Sidney Cox playing some killer dobro, Rollings being just more and more astonishing on piano as the night went along, and of course Block and Bales from Union Station.  As with other excellent concerts I’ve been to, I could almost see the music with Rollings staring at and bonding with Roe and Bales on a solid groove which was illustrating the sound coming from the other side of the stage, where you had Block doing his best Bob Weir on guitar, punctuating the lead stylings of Mitchell on electric, the flourishes by Cox on dobro, and of course by Alison on fiddle.

But the best thing was naturally the wonderful vocals, with Alison solo, her duetting with Suzanne, the small group unisons with Sidney, and the ensemble vocals when Block and Bales joined in.  As the evening went along they shrank into a smaller and smaller group, and for the encore they actually brought out an old RCA mike for the boys (and girls) to cluster around.

Can’t remember the setlist exactly, but here are some songs they played:

River in the Rain, I Never Cared for You, Stay, Forget About It, Baby Now That I've Found You, Broadway, Ghost in This House, The Lucky One, It’s Goodbye and So Long to You, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby, I Am Weary (Let Me Rest), Down to the River to Pray, Restless, Gentle on My Mind, Losing You, Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues, When God Dips His Pen Of Love in My Heart, When You Say Nothing at All, A Living Prayer

I was delighted that she did Now That I’ve Found You from the very beginning of her career, and of course the O Brother songs.  I was a bit disappointed that she didn’t do the title track from her new record, Windy City, both because I wanted to hear it and also because it was fucking windy in the city that night!  As I say, people were leaving in droves all through the evening because they were freezing and couldn’t take it anymore.

A bunch of us stayed until the end, but when it was over you can believe we all took off as fast as we could.  Not too far back to the car and only a few blocks over to a ramp down to the expressway and back over the Zakim Bridge to home.  Again, lots of fun and very well worth the price, but I wish they had a better amphitheater downtown, or would upgrade this one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Midnight North at Thunder Road

We've seen Phil Lesh a lot, you know.  And we'd seen and greatly admired his son, Grahame, for a while.  Sometimes show biz offspring can be a little painful, but sometimes they can excel and threaten to eclipse the old man/woman.  I can't imagine anyone eclipsing Phil, but Grahame has shown himself to be a true talent on his own, and a dedicated working musician, which counts a lot in my book.

His latest band is Midnight North, with the excellent Elliott Peck joining him on guitar and vocals.  Geez, he should stick with Elliott, who's quite a talent.  As a young band they don't go on many world tours, but they finally came this way and we were psyched to go see them in Somerville on a Monday night, September 18.

With the demise of Johnny D's, it seems a lot of music clubs have sprung up around Cambridge-Somerville, and Thunder Road is one of the newer ones.  We'd been tempted to go there a few times but this was our first.  After a quick nap for me and Sarah after work, we met Dave in Davis at Redbones for dinner, and then drove the 1.3 miles down Somerville Ave to the Northern edge of Union Square.  Grahame was outside pressing the flesh but we stopped for a toke (totally legal) before we went in, and missed our chance to ask him the tough questions.  And when we got inside the place was empty!

Well, not empty-empty (there were bartenders), but at the height of the evening there were maybe a few dozen people there at most, which means we had plenty of room to spread out.  There were a couple of Deadicated people there, but mostly it was locals looking for a good rocking Monday show.  And I think they got their wish with this band.  We grabbed stools right off the dance floor, but we were up and dancing after a few numbers, as was most of the crowd.  These guys are good.

Grahame and Elliott were accompanied by keyboardist Alex Jordan, bassist Connor O'Sullivan, and a drummer.  Lesh has written some great songs for the band, and Peck has written some even better ones.  Jordan is not only a great keyboardist, but is an excellent country-rock backup singer, and they were in the groove all night.

They played a bunch of songs from their new record (Under the Lights), opening with Roamin' and following that up with The Highway Song.  Lesh was very good on lead guitar and soon had the sparse (but enthusiastic) crowd whooping and hollering.  I think most of the people there were delighted to see such excellent performances on what they thought was a lazy night in a back corner of Somerville.  And Peck was supreme, perhaps most impactful when she backed up Lesh with that little bit of twang and lots of feeling that a good country rock song can hold.

Then they said they were going to do a Levon Helm song, and started into the blues beat that I instantly recognized as one of my favorites ever, When I Go Away.  Larry Campbell wrote it and Levon recorded it (on a Grammy-winning record), and Midnight North killed it.  The vocal arrangements they featured all night were challenging, and pulled off excellently, and they sure had this song down.

They broke into Tennessee Jed after a few originals and that got the crowd dancing faster than a whistle on an evening train.  If you watch their videos on YouTube, Midnight North kill a number of CSN songs, and they soon lit into Long Time Gone (David Crosby) like they wrote it.  This had some jaws on the floor, it was so good.  They mixed in a number of other originals, like Peck's great Greene County.  But then they got the crowd back on the floor for good with Viola Lee Blues and later Mr. Charlie, sung by Peck with a great growl.

For a closer they did the whole Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Steven Stills, perfectly.  This was great stuff and though they were sticking pretty closely to the way CSN had done it, jeez, how could you argue with that?  They finished the song and then kind of trickled off stage.  They left all of us in a pool of sweat on the dance floor and we didn't know whether to shit or wind our watches.  But then we realized they were done, and we recovered.

They half-heartedly manned the merch table at the back of the room ... there wasn't really a crowd there to besiege them.  But the three of us got our stuff together and then migrated back there and had a nice talk with Elliott and Alex.  I told Elliott about just missing Larry and Teresa do When I Go Away with Phil & Friends at the Cap and she was nice enough to sympathize.  They were anxious that we'd come back the next time they were in town, and we were anxious that they'd come back to town!

Got out of there and wove through the faster- and faster-changing Kendall Square area over the Longfellow Bridge to drop Dave off at Charles, then got on the road back home.  Not in bed too late, though it was well past our normal bedtime for a Monday.  But this was really worth it, we saw a great young band in a great new venue without any crowds or hassle, and this was fun all over.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Benevento After Wolf!

We'd seen Marco Benevento, the amazing keyboardist for JRAD (etc.) at the 2016 GRF ... loved him, and he's been scheduled for Sinclair in Cambridge a couple of times since then.  Dave saw him the first time and we all were psyched for the next time.  But he was cancelled by snow early this year and rescheduled for ... September.  Oh well, we could wait.

In the meantime we saw that (JRAD guitarist) Scott Metzger's band, Wolf!, was going to be opening and were almost as psyched to see them.  The middle of September finally came around and we moseyed into Harvard Square after assembling in the newly-refurbished house for dinner on Friday the 15th.

Doors were at 8 and we had a good time waiting in the slight drizzle and hanging out with other enthusiasts, including the young guy I'd met at GDMUATM back in April.  When we got in at 8 for the show at 9 we had our choice of standing room spots, but ended up hanging back in front of the soundboard, which is very good in some ways (sound, sight lines), but not in other ways (endless streams of people passing by left and right).  The air conditioners were also going full tilt and dripping water onto the floor ... that is, if it didn't hit our heads first.  Don't look up!

Anyway, we were there with some PBRs, having a good time, and then the opening, opening act came on right at 9.  This was Spencer Albee from Portland (ME) on piano, with a bassist and a drummer (note the start of a pattern here).  He was really good and had some good rocking tunes and a tight band.  His penultimate song was Zevon's Lawyers Guns and Money, and that was right in his sweet spot.  The crowd was pouring in and we, and a lot of Cambridge, were having a great Friday night already.

Then Wolf! came on and they were fantastic, as good as we imagined they would be and better.  Though Scott is a great vocalist, they eschew vocals for fancy instrumentals and for the freedom to be able to pivot on a dime, fuck the lyrics!  Scott had a bassist (Jay Foote subbbing for regular Jon Shaw) and drummer (Taylor Flores) with him, and both knew enough to stick with him around the slippery curves.

Scott stuck to his Telecaster and milked so many styles from it in such rapid succession that our minds were spinning, let alone our ears.  He played classic rock, surf rock, rockabilly, blues rock, acid rock, country rock, a little prog rock, and lots of rock and roll.  No feedback, but that's cool, he didn't have time.  Can't name any of the songs he played, probably mostly originals; on listening to this archived performance with the same band, a bunch were definitely covered, so those may be the titles.  The one song he introduced was Sock Full Of Quarters.  Scott really showed us and the almost-packed Sinclair that he can do it.

Then it was time for Marco, the Sinclair let in the last few before closing its doors, and the air conditioners continued to drip.  It was getting near 11 by that point but we weren't paying much attention to the time, though we knew we were exhausted.  Oh well, can't rock and roll all night without a little inconvenience.

With Marco was his long-time second-string (but-almost-as-much-fun-as-Dave) bassist, Karina Rykman and substitute drummer Dave Butler (from Guster).  They were a great band and the third trio we'd seen on the night.  Guess there was some kind of rule about that.  There were times when Marco could have used a guitar, but in general he's just an incredible, incredible keyboardist with an overflowing sonic palette.

Karina and Dave were wearing white t-shirts with matching slogans (We're Using Time For Fun) and white khakis, and Marco had his top-hat and pink glasses but besides that was dressed in a white suit and t-shirt himself.  This meant they all glowed in unison when they started the trippy lights, though they were never that far from a trip.

Marco opened with the whole Fred Short suite and played an eclectic set list, mostly from his earlier records (after the opener).  He's a great showman and had the crowd at his beck and call throughout, ending with three encores and teasing the crowd to beg for more.  It didn't hurt that Karina and Dave were smiling all night, and that Karina showed some great ability to jump around the stage with her huge electric bass and rock our worlds with some booming runs.

He closed with At the Show, but we were a bit disappointed that he didn't do Heavy Metal Floating Downstream or Dropkick, two of his catchiest tunes.  Oh well, we had a great time and will definitely see him again.  It can be surreal to watch a great keyboardist tinkle on the ivories and then work them and work them, like they're an extension of his hands and fingers.  He's nick-named his stand-up piano "Gib" (I assume it's a Gibson) and he let it take a number itself, on which it excelled of course.

OK, we were done and dragged ourselves out of there.  It was already too late for the Red Line and so Dave came home with us and we all got to bed before 2, though it was close.

Beers From All Over Again

Haven't added to this list in a long time, but thought I'd get it down on electronic paper.  Current list of countries I have beer bottles (which contents I drank) from:

Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
New Zealand
Sri Lanka
United States Of America

This is 45 countries and as you may notice, contains places that may not be on your current list of countries of the world, which is endlessly debatable.  I figure these are "beer" countries: if they have a distinctive national style and/or advertise on their label that they are from a particular country, I figure that merits inclusion in the list of "beer" countries.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

GDMUATM 2017 Part 2!

For some reason, and it may have been a good one, they held two Grateful Dead Meet-Up At the Movies events this year.  Well, two so far!?!  There was the one back in April, and then they announced another for Jerry’s Birthday, August 1st.  That was the original annual date of the event, so maybe they’re going back to the old schedule.  Anyway, you won’t find us complaining about too much GD!

The August one was another premiere from footage originally shot for stadium display screens, on July 12 1989 at RFK Stadium in DC … one of the great tours in GD history.  All players were at their peak, though Brent was looking a little depressed and doomed, Bruce Hornsby (looking very high) joined them for a couple of tunes, and it was all in all an excellent concert.

They announced just before the event that they’re releasing the July 12th and July 13th shows (both from RFK) on CD.  We’re considering buying them, since the playing was so great and the setlists were very good.  But we’re also wondering why they don’t release the film on DVD??  We’d rather have that.  And there are many other videos from around that time period that should be released.  Oh well, maybe that’ll happen sometime.

Met Sarah and Dave at Outback Steakhouse (we had a coupon) in Assembly Square, Somerville, after they got stuck in a maelstrom of Orange Line commuters.  For once, I got there long before they did.  After a rushed meal, we hurried over to the cinema and found our center-center seats just as the film was starting.

As mentioned, Brent was in top form both on the keys and singing.  Phil did a really goofy, 1989 Tom Thumb’s Blues.  Other first set highlights (not that the Phil vocal was really a *highlight*) included one of the best Far From Me’s I’ve ever heard, a very high-level Minglewood from one of the best Bobby eras ever, and a cerebral FOTD.

Bruce appeared for the first two songs of the second set, which opened with Sugaree(!) and then went into a just fantastic Man Smart Woman Smarter that had the whole theater roaring and stomping their feet.  At one point during this Brent was routinely brilliant and then Bruce slung his accordion on his back, pushed Brent aside (to his surprise, but he dealt with it), and the two of them banged on the piano at the same time, this was excellent!

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
Touch Of Grey
New Minglewood Blues
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Far From Me
Friend Of the Devil
Promised Land

Set 2
Sugaree >
Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Ship Of Fools >
Estimated Prophet >
Eyes Of the World >
Drums >
I Need a Miracle >
Dear Mr. Fantasy >
Black Peter>
Turn On YourLovelight

Black Muddy River

Monday, July 17, 2017

Green River Festival 2017 - Sunday

Another pretty good sleep on the small and squishy Red Rose beds, and then another brilliant, beautiful early-Summer morning (7/16) that threatened to get very hot very quickly.  We still had plenty of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, cinnamon-raisin bagels with cream cheese, iced tea, and orange juice, so had a fine breakfast on the veranda along with the normal morning repartee.

We all agreed that Saturday had been exhausting but very worth it, and we were psyched to see the LSD spinoff bands that afternoon, and of course JRAD.  Dave had been working on some possible setlists.  Note that usual band members, Dave Dreiwitz and Marco Benevento, were going to be substituted for by Jon Shaw and Jeff Chimenti respectively; so that was quite a significant trade-off and fueled further speculation.  If LSD was going to be sticking around for the afternoon, might they stick around for the evening?  Can you imagine Rachael belting out Caution or Lovelight (she (AND Teresa) had sung the part of Grace Slick two summers before with the Jefferson Airplane reunion)??  Would Larry and Teresa be hanging around?  If Alicia Shakour melded with the band so well on Two Souls In Communion, can you imagine Teresa doing the same thing??

But in the meantime, we had to get there.  Luckily we’d be coming back to the hotel that night, and so didn’t have to do major packing to get ready.  We hit the road at 10, just as we had Saturday.  Scott had toyed with coming with us so he could be in time to grab a family spot in the shade, but opted out.

It was another jolly trip to Greenfield over the Old Road and, as expected, the Greenfield Police still had orders to not let non-vendors onto the College entry road before 11.  But this time they let us queue up on the shoulder and things were much more sane.  By 10:47 or so they figured that was close enough to 11 and it was time to hang out in the shade with some cold drinks, so they waved us on in … a very mellow morning and mellow guys, why don't we live out in Western Mass?

In the meantime of course, Sarah had walked in and set up a camp in line at almost exactly the same space as we had yesterday.  We also had exactly the same neighbors in front of us and behind us in line!  Much jollity ensued.  P&D showed up soon and we encouraged them to join us … most of the other people “in line” were actually representatives for larger groups who were waiting in the shade or circulating around.  This is its own particular society, and we all were having a fun time, though roasting in the sun.  As mentioned, that morning featured a full parade of obscure and traditional GD/related t-shirts, and the parade started early.

OK, it was finally (close to) noon, they opened the gates, and it was every one's opportunity to go, go, go!  We front-runners were a choreographed group though, and we all got in and gracefully grabbed our preferred spots.  We got almost the exact same patch of grass that we had gotten on Saturday and had the same neighbors.  Steve showed up later and said, "What, did you guys reserve these spots for the weekend?"  Well, yeah, though it took some effort.

Sunday at the GRF and it was one of those magic moments!  I got into a Dead-heavy conversation with the guys at the beer tent and wandered around through the great vendors and the hordes of people piling in.  The line outside was never going to end.

I was psyched to see the latest incarnation of Twisted Pine; they've gone a step beyond the entry-level band they'd been before.  They've pared it down to a four-piece, with Dan Bui back to his incredible mandolin, a new tall bass player, and Rachel Sumner on guitar and Kathleen Parks sticking to the fiddle (none of this scratching her ass about what to play next tune).  And they've also put Kathleen in a slit-to-here red dress and red lipstick, possibly thinking that a newgrass band needs sex appeal.

Had a chance to move up front for once and was really digging their sound.  They did a few originals and I waited until they finally let Rachel sing one.  She's my favorite, a Kathy Kallick clone.  But then I screwed downhill because, as before, I was on a mission!

Wait a minute, who was that woman who was rushing uphill by me as I rushed downhill by her?  Her hair gave her away: it was a sun-glassed but not made-up Rachael Price who was on a mission herself, no doubt heading for the backstage bus/makeup artists after helping the guys set up.  I thought for a second about saying something to her, like proposing marriage, before I remembered that I was already married and we were both in a hurry.

Got down to the Parlor Room Stage and Sarah and Dave were already there.  We'd conjectured that at that time of early afternoon, standing at the left side of the seats about halfway in would offer the best combination of shade, ventilation, and sound, and that's where we ended up.  Rachael (now in full regalia) ended up there too by the time Madam Uncle came on (the two Mikes' band), and the crowd was not far behind.

So that afternoon I missed the end of Twisted Pine's set, all of The Dustbowl Revival, whom I'd liked so much last year, and all of The Infamous Stringdusters, whom I'd have loved to see.  But this was because the Parlor Room Stage was hosting the three LSD spinoff bands in a row, and I was so glad I saw them!  I'd make that sacrifice again a thousand times.

First up was Madam Uncle, as mentioned, and they opened with just Mike Calabrese and guitarist Lyle Brewer on a few raunchy, crunchy numbers.  Then Mike Olsen joined them to make it even raunchier and crunchier.  This was their college band reincarnated, and they played some early stuff, including one song that had been released on the mythical first Lake Street Dive record (which is very much not for sale).

I'd grabbed a seat next to Sarah, and Rachael was sitting a few rows in front of us, being supportive like a good bandmate.  The guys played a really short set, but it was a great glimpse into Lake Street Dive's raw genesis and roots.

The guys had Rachael up for the last number, and as soon as they were done Sarah, Dave, and I took turns scooting down to the porta-potties, beer tent, and water station while the others saved the seats.  The crowd was already packing in tight.  I caught a song by Sweet Crude on the Four Rivers Stage while I waited in line down at the bottom of the field.

Got back and traded off, while they re-set the stage for the set I was really looking forward to.  Bridget Kearney played GRF last year with her accompanist Benjamin Lazar Davis (in the present day, introduced as "Ben" and wearing heart-shaped sunglasses), and was enthralling.  In the interim she's put together a solo record (Won't Let You Down) that you have to hear.  I swear she's the fifth Beatle at times.  She came out with a flower tiara that kept falling down over her eyes, a comfortable looking dress, and some shades that had people saying, where's Bridget?

Besides Ben on guitar, she was accompanied by a brilliant keyboardist (who's name we didn't catch), and by her producer, Robin MacMillan, on drums.  They were a fantastic, tight band (even when the tiara got in the way), and they basically did Bridget's whole album: Won't Let You Down, Serenity, Daniel, What Happened Today, Love Doctor, Wash Up, etc.  It was fantastic and I couldn't help but hoot and holler, sentiments expressed by many others in that suddenly small and rocking tent.

Dave's only complaint (he was still standing) was that Rachael was standing right in front of him and obscuring his view with her hair-do.  She finally got bothered one too many times by guys who just couldn't resist trying to engage her in conversation ("Hey, I'm listening to the band!") and she retreated backstage.  But the message of support was delivered to her bandmates: we're a team!

Bridget was just fantastic and the coolest guitarist ever.  Last year when we saw her on guitar she stuck mainly to the bass strings, but this year she was all over that sucker and ripped off some crunchy leads herself.  And the other guys were great too.  She then got the whole band up on stage and for the last number, So Long, one of her most Beatle-esque ballads.  She was joined by the two Mikes (tambourine and trumpet), Brewer, Rachael, and her band for quite a perfect set closer.

Woohoo!  This was fantastic stuff and she was probably glad to get backstage and throw that tiara far away, though it was well intentioned.

Time for another frantic round of scooting to water and porta-potties.  This time I caught two songs by Kat Wright, including a rocking Fleetwood Mac cover (Go Your Own Way).  Then it was time for Rachael's side project!  She's been playing with another NEC graduate, Vilray.  He plays a small finger-picked guitar, though he later switched to a Stratocaster, and has written some songs that sound like jazz standards from the 30s or 40s, they're so happy and grooving and snappy in that way.

The heat was building in the tent but the two of them were riveting in their own right, hitting all the harmonies perfectly ... or close enough ... and basically leading everybody in having a good old time.  Rachael and Vilray shared a very old-school mike and the one sound engineering glitch of the Festival occurred in their set, when the mike stopped working.  The sound guys fixed it right away and were kind enough not to say, "*We* didn't tell you to use that old POS!"

No guest appearances in their set except for a saxophonist (from The Sweetback band) who stayed on the sweet and mellow side.  They kept it traditional and presented some wonderful music that was probably the farthest away from the LSD sound of the three acts, though of course ... it was Rachael.

Wow, that was a great afternoon of music, and we were so lucky to have seen the three spinoffs back-to-back-to-back.  Wonder if they'll ever share a stage again?  The electricity in the tent had been throbbing (as well as the heat), and we took a second to gather ourselves back up.  Slowly got out of there and wandered up the hill, where we re-hydrated for sure and got some dinner at the vendors.

Back to the seats and though I'd been thinking about catching some of Robbie Fulks back at the Parlor Room Stage, I stuck around for The Funky Meters and was very glad I did!  Tristan and family came up for this one and we were treated to some astonishing funk and soul.

The Funky Meters is of course the descendant band of The Meters, one of those New Orleans bands who influenced everyone.  The current lineup has originals George Porter, Jr, and Art Neville and played a long, almost seamless set of elemental soul.  Porter was just jaw-dropping on bass, reaching the outer limits of what the instrument could do, and the rest of the band was dancing on top of his sound.

OMG, it was that time of the Festival again.  The balloons were lifting off on the lower field, the sun was about to set behind the Main Stage, the wisps of clouds were starting to turn shades of purple, pink, and orange, Jim Olsen was introducing volunteers, and the stage was being set up for the final band.

The whole Festival seemed to change gears.  It was time for JRAD!  Dave had decided that he was going to be up at the stage for JRAD or die in the attempt, and he had had the foresight to go up there before The Funky Meters came on and then not move from his spot.  Even so, he was still a few rows from the very front.  Between sets I played "Charlie and the MTA" and threw him a water bottle (or tried to) over the heads of the other Heads, packed in to the very front.  They were psyched up there!

The guys came out, tuned up, and started jamming.  No introduction needed, they were just floating from the beginning and the crowd started floating along with them.  The jam took a left turn, as is expected when you're listening to JRAD, turned into Loser(!), and we were off something serious.  Here's the setlist as posted by a taper (there were lots there) ... I post this list because the notation is closer to what I heard than Costello's list, though he's usually spot on:

Loser >
Feel Like a Stranger >
They Love Each Other tease > Row Jimmy > band intros
Alligator >
Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Mr. Charlie
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo >
The Other One > Dark Star tease > Aliens >
He's Gone bridge > Ramble On Rose
Good Lovin' > Let It Grow jam >
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > And We Bid You Goodnight
Not Fade Away

Ack!!!  We'd anticipated this set so much since December and here was actual fucking JRAD playing in the gloaming of a GRF Sunday and the moment and the band were just fucking perfect.  Again, this band takes GD music and turns it on end and shakes things out of it that you always knew were in there but needed professionals to expose.  Loser as an opener!  Alligator (Tristan's son was grooving to this one)!!  TOO!!!  Let It Grow and then wham, we were in GDTRFB and not feeling bad in the least.

They were scheduled for two and a quarter hours and they started and ended right on time.  So it must have been 2:15, but it sure seemed to me like it was way too short.  It was so good while it lasted but then it was seemingly over in an instant.  I could have stood there and danced and danced for hours.

And speaking of dancing, the crowd was moving as much as they would have been to a Rubblebucket or something.  Seriously, there were some wild gyrations going on all over, and though we weren't jumping up and down like we would be to the Bucket, we were sliding into alternate realities with alarming frequency.

There was a bit of chanting at the end of NFA, but Joe was his usual gracious self and let us all know that they were done and it was time to go home.  "Drive safely, enjoy Game Of Thrones!" he said (season premiere of the popular TV show was that night), waving to us.  And then they left the stage with the same lack of drama with which they'd come on.  They were hippies and so were we all.

Oh no, the 31st Green River Festival was history!  We sure took our time leaving, hanging out on the field for another beer or two and chatting with others who didn't want to leave.  Finally though, we packed up our chairs for the last time and slowly brought them out to our prime parking space.

Drove slowly out of there and back to the Red Rose, where we were the only remaining revelers.  All our friends had gone home already, but we had a longer drive than any of them and were very smart to take it easy for another night, especially since we'd have been returning to more house chaos.  The proprietors at the Red Rose, who usually attend the Festival themselves, did not make it there that Sunday either.

So how was the Festival?  One observation was that I considered the 2016 Festival to be a guitar showcase, with Luther Dickinson, David Hidalgo, Derek Trucks, et al.  This year was a drummer's Festival, with the incredible rhythm of Fulaso, Mike Calabrese, and then finally Joe Russo just to name a few.

For some reason I was not as able to concentrate on the music as at other GRFs.  Others made this same observation and we thought maybe the sudden heat or the crowds were to blame.  As I say, you couldn't really rely on serendipity to get you to the right state/stage at the right time, you had to plan everything.  It wasn't as free-flowing as before.

But in all, I had a thrilling time and the music was fantastic.  I'd have to rank it near the top of all the GRFs I've been to for quality of performance and of sound, let alone for having some of the greatest bands of the present day.  In all I saw at least bits of 27 bands (one of them twice) and I enjoyed the heck out of the whole experience.  Am I going next year??  Maybe I should call up the Red Rose now...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Green River Festival 2017 - Saturday

Not that bad a sleep on the small beds at the Rose, and a beautiful morning greeted us.  Soon enough we were out on the front stoop, eating peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, drinking iced tea, drying stuff on car hoods, discussing whom we'd seen the night before, and talking about strategy for the day.

In the past we'd tried to fit in breakfast before the Festival, but we realized that it would be better to eschew that in favor of an early start, and hence the PB&B.  We planned to leave at 10.  In the meantime, Paul wanted to talk jobs, Sarah wanted to talk house, Tristan wanted to talk smack, and the kids were hanging around, getting a little closer to listening to their parents and weird friends as if they were normal people.  Is it strange to be so motivated by seeing great music acts?  Sure, but there are a lot of stranger things around.  Anyway, the crew all got down to the pool by around 10 and we got packed and on the road,  P&D were not going to be far behind us.

Took the Old Greenfield Road route again.  It had been a very rainy and temperate Spring and early Summer, and the greenery everywhere was wonderful, especially in the woods over the ridge West of Greenfield.  Twisting streams delineated the sides of the roads, gorges filled with ferns tailed off to our left and right as we twisted uphill, and the lilies were a delight, springing up in bunches ranging from 10 to 100 in patches of light over the hills.  We headed down into town and finally under the highway and into suburbia.  Colrain Road appeared in front of us, and we took a left and were soon in a line of cars approaching the circle at the entrance to the Greenfield Community College.

OK, this was a bit of a traffic clusterfuck, and the Greenfield cops soon realized their traffic control techniques were just making things worse.  It was around 10:30 and when we got up to the circle we were told (as all of the other non-vendor cars had been) that the gates weren't opening until 11 and we should go away.  We let Dave out at that point of course, and he walked into the college to get in line.  I turned around and then parked on the shoulder behind several other cars, patiently waiting our turn (Sarah got out and walked at that point too).

But soon the cops tried to wave us on, telling us that we were blocking emergency access.  It wasn't *us* on the shoulder blocking access, it was all the cars on the road waiting to be told to go away!  I tried to explain this to the cop who was waving us on, and what could he say but, "I don't know what to tell you sir."  As I say, they realized they were participating in a clusterfuck and soon just gave up and let us in (after I'd pulled onto the shoulder on the other side of the circle).  Oh well, everyone involved kept their sense of humor and soon we were in, in a reasonable simulacrum of the order in which we arrived.

Parked in the same good spot as the night before and soon joined Sarah and Dave in the rapidly growing line and slathered on the sunscreen.  Saturday was long sold-out (not sure if Friday and Sunday ever reached sellout numbers) and the place was swarming with people by noon.  LSD's bus pulled in around then, and they let us in soon after that.  We hurried up to the same old spot between the soundboard and the standing area and managed to plant our chairs just in time, though one guy we'd met before had the chair closest to the conduit in our row.  P&D showed up soon afterwards and we were able to squeeze them in too.

OK, time for beer wristbands (and a beer) and to check out the setting-up-in-a-frenzy food and record vendors.  I then resumed my seat and was watching people, wearing my Dead & Company Fenway 2016 t-shirt, and wishing I had a lighter color on ... the day showed promise of getting blisteringly hot and the fringes of the field that were in the shade were already packed.  Everywhere was filling up, and the organizers asked us over the PA to be considerate and not take up any more room than we needed.

Then a volunteer security guy started staring at me, and came a little closer, and stared some more, then moved in to say something.  I wondered what I was doing wrong!  He leaned in and said, "Saturday or Sunday?" and I told him, "Both!"  I realized instantly that this was a fellow Deadhead and we gushed about the Saturday and Sunday shows at Fenway the month before (though I was wearing a 2016 t-shirt).  In true Deadicated fashion he rhapsodized about what a special moment it had been for him when they played Ripple on the acoustics.  It's wonderful how music can be so meaningful to people who just listen.  This was Steve and he was around the next day too ... we told him to feel free to use our seats when we weren't there and he did, and joined us in some crazy dancing to JRAD the next night.

Yeeha, time for the show to start!  First up was Dan Bern (with a fiddler and drummer), who tempered our enthusiasm a bit.  He seemed to think that caricature was the important thing to his act, specifically seeming like a cross between Woody Guthrie, Dylan, and a few other funky folk singers.  Wasn't this why people listened to folk music?  Anyway, I'm sure he was a hit later at the kids' tent.

I was off to the Four Rivers Stage soon anyway, bound to hear Hammydown, who'd impressed me some with her videos.  Abbie Morin was holding forth on a borrowed guitar and had a bass player and drummer and they played some angry-young-woman indie tunes that were pretty good.  Someone finally fixed Abbie's guitar and she wailed some fine leads on it when she got it in her hands.  All in all this was fun, but the really good stuff was still to come.

I left soon before Hammydown's set was over and caught a bit of Dietrich Strause & Blue Ribbons over in the Parlor Room tent.  I'd seen him before, opening for Lorrie McKenna, and was totally unimpressed.  But the Blue Ribbons seems to be a good, traditional country-blues outfit and his turns on piano were very nice.  Might have liked to see more of them.

Back up on the Main Stage and realized I'd better eat something before the Festival really got going.  Crammed down a bean burrito from the excellent La Veracruzana people and enjoyed a few songs from The Suitcase Junket while doing so.  I'd been in the merch tent when Matt Lorenz had arrived with his crew, one of them proffering a large valise.  He was met with blank stares except by me, who said, "That's the biggest SUITCASE I've ever seen."  He slapped me five and said to the tent in general, "See, THIS guy got it at least!"  Matt's put out a new record recently and if I hadn't seen him before and knew what to expect, I would have been riveted by his set.  He's the real thing and definitely plays the good stuff ... by himself.

But I had a mission.  Up soon on the Parlor Room Stage was going to be Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams and I, everyone in our group, and maybe hordes of the other Deadheads at the GRF, were determined to see their whole set.  As noted, we've seen Larry live with Levon Helm, Phil Lesh, David Bromberg, Richard Shindell, et al.  And Teresa is not lacking in talent either to put it mildly.

So after listening to a few tunes from the shady hillside and lowering my body temperature a bit, I insinuated myself into the back of the crowd clustered around the end of the center aisle during The Sweetback Sisters' (Saturday) set and slowly moved closer and closer as people bailed.  The Sweetbacks were as great as they had been Friday (mostly a repeat set), but people were milling and I was moving up and before I knew it I was in position to grab a seat, then row-hop up to the front as other seats became vacant.  At the end of the set I moved up and claimed a stretch of seats in the second row on the aisle, where I was soon joined by Sarah, Dave, and P&D.

I've got to say some negative things about the Parlor Room Stage setup they had.  This stage has changed a lot over the years from a small kids tent to the great open setup they had the last few years, though that left the performers and the audience mostly exposed to the sun and the weather.  The beast setup for this stage would be to take advantage of the slope between it and the Main Stage area and make it into a quasi-amphitheater (though there's a muddy area they'd have to worry about).

They certainly had the speakers to do that this year, those were some big stacks and I was drooling over them.  But for people sitting on the hill the sound was loud but muffled, and sightlines were terrible.  They'd put a low, rectangular tent over the stage area and crowded it with uncomfortable plastic seats.  For the people inside the tent, if you could ignore the cramps in your ass and legs, this meant you were out of the sun (though ventilation was limited) and the sound was fantastic.  But unless you were in that packed tent or crowded close enough around the edges, this was a bad setup.  I say open it up again and go back to taking advantage of the topography to make a nice experience for everyone.  Maybe they will next year, they seem to put a lot of thought into things like this and happened to get it wrong this time ... can't get everything right.

And part of the problem was that the whole GRF was a throbbing mass of people by that point and people were spilling downhill and clogging up the lower fields.  The weather was beautiful, the show was sold out, and the Festival was going at full tilt.  No balloons yet actually (possibility of thunderstorms?), but they came later.

And the Deadheads were there, as predicted!  I saw an incredible variety of Grateful Dead/spinoff t-shirts, possibly even more than you see at GD shows themselves.  I didn't see anyone else with the Fenway 2016 shirt that day, but the next day I wore my Golden Gate Wingmen shirt (Jeff Chimenti was playing!) and I saw two other people with that rare shirt.  And there one SMC t-shirt sighting (not me)!

Another thing about the Parlor Room Stage was that over the last few years, it's been at the entrance to the designated pot smoking area (as we call it).  This year that field was roped off and guarded by volunteers, possibly to discourage people from going over there to smoke, or possibly to discourage locals from sneaking in that way.  But pot is now legal in Massachusetts and people didn't miss the lack of a "designated" area.  There was the smell of weed everywhere throughout the grounds, and several over-enthusiastic smokers at the Main Stage even offered to share their pipes, though we sometimes had kids with us.  Oh well, kids have to experience the world sometime.  And it was nice of the people to share.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, Larry came on in his usual denim shirt and jeans, though he must have been a little warm.  Teresa had a sensible loose top and jeans herself.  They were accompanied by a bass player (who looked familiar) and a drummer, lit into their first tune, and immediately brought the level of music at the Festival right up to the top, they were fantastic.

Larry switched between guitar, mandolin, and fiddle of course, while Teresa strummed the rhythm and the bassist and drummer grinned and grinned.  Their second song was one of the best covers of the Louvin's You're Running Wild that I've ever heard live, they later did a sparkling version of Larry's (and Julie Miller's) Midnight Highway, and they did almost as good a cover of Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning as when we had seen them with Phil in Port Chester.  Here's Teresa gathering herself to kill the last few verses of Lamps:

And of course they upped the ante laid down by the Sweetbacks with their "Cry Cry" song by singing "Cry, Cry, Cry!"  Though the tent was hot and cramped and uncomfortable, the sound and playing was amazing and the tunes were rocking.  I was transported and could have watched them play for a long, long time.  They didn't do some tunes I'd hoped for (Did You Love Me At All, When I Go Away), but what they did play was so stellar that my whole consciousness was centered on them.  This was great stuff!

OMG, they ended too soon (Larry pointed to my shirt and gave me the thumbs up while we were applauding) and we all turned and gawked at each other ... how lucky were we to be in the front rows for a set like that in the middle of such a fantastic Festival?  And the best was yet to come.  But fuck sitting around, time to run up to the Main Stage for ...

San Fermin (named after the running of the bulls tradition in Spain??)!  I'd seen them on YouTube and loved them, they're kind of jazzy, kind of soulful, kind of avant garde, and entirely entertaining.  This was a real change of pace and perhaps their thoughtful, stick-with-us-and-you'll-be-rewarded vibe was not the best for the cusp of the Saturday show, but they're really good and I loved what I heard.

BUT (I say again), after some listening and some hydration it was time to run back to the Four Rivers Stage for one of the bands I most wanted to see, Tank and the Bangas!  I had heard the name but hadn't heard the band until I did my YouTube research, and they blew me away.  They won the NPR Tiny Desk Contest unanimously (quite an achievement), and they spin a mix of NOLA funk-soul, hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock, whatever, that is really intoxicating.

Tarriona Ball (Tank) has an amazing voice and amazing control of it, she can go from rapid baby talk to soul screeching to wrenching R&B honesty and right back in half a second and she does that over and over until your mouth is hanging open.  And the rest of the band is made up of incredibly versatile and talented musicians as well, such as her backup singer Anjelika Joseph and drummer Joshua Johnson.

Perhaps the live venue was not as ambient an atmosphere as is needed for them to really weave their spell, but they sure had us and the biggest crowd at the Four Rivers Stage that I've ever seen rocking and jiving and just hanging on Tank's every word.  And she sure had a lot of them, piled on top of each other.

Another note on the crowd: as I say it was jammed at the bottom of the fields, as it was up on the main field.  You could tell that people had come in through the gate, had literally nowhere uphill to set up, it was wall-to-wall people, and so had migrated downhill.  Many people were camped out there for the duration with their blankets and coolers ... they'd given up on the uphill areas ... and this meant that the downhill area was overtaxed.  The lines for the porta-potties and beer were incredibly long, stretching to the horizon, and at one point I went back uphill to take a piss and then returned, and made out better than the people who were still anxiously waiting in line downhill.

Ack!  So much to do!!  Tank went into her tour de force, Rollercoasters, and I knew that would be the last song of their set, so screwed for our seats uphill, where I re-hydrated, gobbled down some more fine food from La Veracruzana, and caught a tune of Amadou & Mariam, a Malian group.  And then it was right back down to the Four Rivers Stage for one of the headliners in my mind, Pokey LaFarge.

Pokey's got a new record out and they played a bunch of tunes from that (opening with Riot In the Streets of course).  He's a bit more concerned with instrumentation over the past few records, and I prefer the more raw sounds of a few years ago, but he's still just a dynamic singer and performer, and he plays one of those smooth rhythm guitars that make your whole body move in mysterious ways.

He had a lot of people on stage, and some cracker-jack horns, but I was right in front of Ryan Koenig and he was rocking the harmonica, the old-time banjo (the only banjo I saw there in two years), and the backup vocals.  They have a particular kind of funk that reminds you of Mark Twain, it's Midwestern!

I was lucky to have timed it right to get up front for them, which had been impossible to do for Tank and the Bangas.  That was another measure of how crowded it was that day and how crowded the Festival has gotten lately: you used to be able to sneak up front for the act(s) you really wanted to see, but now there are people packed in everywhere and you've got to really time things exactly to make it to the front.

Geez, the day was getting on and after Pokey I dragged up back to the seats and settled in for the rest of the evening.  Nothing was going to make me move, especially when Houndmouth (another band I was looking forward to) came on and did a long set of excellent rock, heavy on the guitars, the horns, and the drums, just the way I like it.

Time for the last set, and though I never left my seat, I stood up and looked around at the subtle colors in the late evening sky, the amazing rainbow of the crowd, and the balloon illuminations going on down below.  It was a beautiful evening and it is a beautiful world.  Up on the stage the boffins were scurrying around, getting things ready for ... oh yeah, Lake Street Dive!

Even if you've been under a rock for the last few years you must have heard of these guys and if you haven't, just a little taste will have you begging for more.  They play some of the catchiest songs I've ever heard, mostly originals, and have a style that exposes every note they play and every harmony they pile on top.  It doesn't hurt at all that they have one of the best bassists I've ever heard, Bridget Kearney.  Mike Olson's trumpet playing can be criticized, but besides that they are over-the-top excellent in all aspects of what they do.  And they're Boston products!  They met at the New England Conservatory (we'd seen them perform there this past winter), and spent more than 10 years slaving away in Boston bars before making it big.

They came out like the huge band they are, spread out to all corners of the stage and backlit by spotlights, with Rachael Price wearing her most shimmery dress.

They opened with the incredible Bad Self Portraits, and had the GRF crowd in the palms of their hands.  Here's some other songs they played:  Spectacular Failure, How Good It Feels, Seventeen, Side Pony, Call Off Your Dogs, etc., they can fit in a lot of songs.  They did George Michael's Faith early in the set and Paul McCartney's Let Me Roll It for an encore, but besides that stuck to originals.  Unfortunately, they didn't do any of the new originals that I've heard online ... can't wait for them to release those, or Prince's When You Were Mine, that had knocked me out at NEC.  They stuck to the tried and true songs and the sellout crowd was raving.

In the latter part of the set they clustered around the mike (no pun intended) for some slower songs, and then opened it up again for the last few and the encore.  What showmen and what a band!

Well, that was some fun!  We were feeling fine and had just had a long, long day of music.  We took our time getting out of there but even so, and even though we had a great parking space, we would have had to tag along with a long, slow line of cars to get out of the lots.  So instead we set up the chairs again and had another beer and chilled some more.  Several people honked at us, like hey, they're just sitting there having a good time, that could be us!

Finally saddled up and were lucky to be turning right, out to the West while everybody else was turning left to the highway.  Made it back to the Red Rose with no trouble at all and this time the gang had a long session out at the picnic tables in the cool Western Massachusetts night.  There was a lot to talk about!

So that was at least a bit of 12 bands for me, basically running around (and sitting) from 12:45 to 10:45.  Sunday looked like it would be a less frantic day, but I was beat, as were we all.  Soon to bed and to sleep.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Green River Festival 2017 - Friday

Michelle had apparently decided back in November that we would *not* get shut out of the Red Rose this year, and we all signed up for rooms there back in November!?!  This turned out to be a great thing because it afforded us even more time for the anticipation of Green River Festival 2017 to build.

We traded several off-the-wall theories about what bands they’d feature this year.  And when they announced the first ones back in December we almost fainted.  Not only was Lake Street Dive going to return for a headlining performance, JRAD (by Dog!) was going to be the other headliner!!  We got early-early-bird tickets as soon as they were available of course (@$80 for three nights as opposed to Saturday at the gate for $70) and watched the lineup fill out over the next couple of months: The Mavericks, Larry & Teresa, Pokey LaFarge, The Infamous Stringdusters, etc.  And the crowning touch was when they announced that not only would Lake Street be performing as a band as the last main-stage act on Saturday, but on Sunday the individual members would be performing with their side projects.

Many excited emails shot back and forth between our group, and when they announced the daily schedule, much angst over how to fit in all the bands we wanted to see ensued.  A little research into bands I hadn’t heard of made this even worse, I wanted to see everybody (well, almost everybody).
Oh well, mid-July finally arrived and we gave it our best shot.  In the meantime our house had been torn apart (massive renovation) but we sucked it up, dragged our coolers and lawn chairs from under mountains of debris, made a stack of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, a jug of iced tea, stocked up on ice and beer and cider, and hit the road on Friday the 14th while the painters were going at it on our walls.

First stop was Quincy.  We picked up Dave around 10:30, hit the Pike Westbound, 128 North for a few exits, and were soon out Route 2 past the prison, on our way to Greenfield.  We pulled into that estimable city through the back door on Route 2A, found a parking space, and meandered over to The People's Pint for a great, leisurely, relaxing lunch.  It was a surprisingly cool day after some early summer scorchers and we all had our sweatshirts on.  Their lunch special was barbecued chicken tacos, and that's what I got, along with a couple of excellent beers including a wonderfully flavorful variant of their herb gruit.

Sarah and Dave were looking for Ginger Libation, which has been featured at the Festival in the past few years and they are loyal followers.  The bartender at The Pint told us where we could pick up a few bottles and we stopped at Ryan & Casey Liquors on our way out Main Street to do just that!  Loaded up, we continued to head West, this time over the ridge beyond Greenfield and out the Mohawk Trail, to the welcoming Red Rose, where we met the crew and settled into room 9.

The Red Rose doesn't really have a lot of room for people to spread out in, but we were ready for that and had our food stuff in their frig soon enough (after plugging it in and getting some duct tape from the car to make sure it closed), got the air conditioner pumping to dispel a little must, and got our act together in short shrift.  We were out of there soon and on our way back up the Trail and over Old Greenfield Road toward the Festival by 3:30 or so!

Geez, there we were, back in line for the GRF ... deja vu all over again.  They were letting the cars into the lot just as we arrived and we got what we've decided is the best parking place for ingress and egress.  We queued up with our chairs and stuff, recognizing some of the people (who were as excited as we were, we were all veterans) and of course some of the vendors frantically setting up beside the line.  They wrist-banded us and let us in by a bit after 4:30 and we quickly set up our chairs on our customary patch of grass to the left of the conduit to the soundboard, a few rows back from the line demarcating seating area from standing area.  They had smartly expanded the standing area this year, so this sweet spot in front of the soundboard was only 15 rows or so, as opposed to the 20-30 we'd seen in past years.

Woohoo!  First up was Western Centuries, who came on right after 5 while people were still frantically arriving after a long work day, and were rapidly filling in the beautiful GRF fields.  The most prominent name in this band is Cahalen Morrison, who has had a hand in several excellent roots records over the past few years (Morrison & West), Jim Miller (from Donna the Buffalo), et al.

Friend Suze was there taking pictures from the get go ... she'd been in line in front of us and recommended the new Twisted Pine.

Some settling in and fetching food caused us to not pay a whole lot of attention to their act, but up next was The Sweetback Sisters, who've just released a new record (King Of Killing Time) and had some excellent songs in store for us, such as the title track, Cindy Walker's It's All Your Fault, If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me Her Memory Will, and their incredibly rocking (in a Sweetback way) I'm Gonna Cry (written by band member Jesse Milnes).  Of course they mixed in a few hits, such as Chicken Ain't Chicken.

OK, up next on the Main Stage was Big Al Anderson (of NRBQ fame) and so we figured it was a good time for diversity.  We went our separate ways and I stopped by the Parlor Room stage, which had been turned into the "Next Wave Stage" that evening to showcase a bevy of young local bands.  I caught a couple of song snippets from Court Etiquette which were very good, but then proceeded down to the Four Rivers Stage, which on Fridays is the de facto Latin stage.

Dave and Sarah ended up down there too (as did Michelle and others, can't believe we were all down there at the same time and I only ran into Dave), and we all agreed that Fulaso (short for Funky Latin Soul) was fantastic.  They were the band that most exceeded my expectations that night, by far.  I can still see them playing: an incredible percussion core of traps, congas, and a third member on bongos, güiro, and other percussion, and a quartet of horn players who produced a wonderful sound.  They had an alto and baritone sax and a trumpet and trombone, and their groove was deep and throbbing and relentless.  Added to this was an excellent bassist, the bandleader on keys, plus the dynamic Erica Ramos on vocals, who shimmied us into Latin heaven (she also took her turn on the güiro, a very democratic band).

Wow, I meant to not stay there too long, but Fulaso was just riveting.  It was one of those moments when you thought, "Why leave, what could be better than this?"  But Dave and I finally tore ourselves away and hastened back to the Parlor Room stage to see Nomads vs. Settlers, the young band that had most caught my ear during my YouTube research.  Only caught one song of their's before the set ended, but it was a good one.  They've got a great mixture of a loose, slacker kind of vibe and some make-you-take-notice talent in their solos.  Would have liked to have heard more of them.  Sarah luckily was there too!

Back up the hill for the close of Big Al Anderson's set after that, and some more jockeying between water station, porta-potties, beer tent, food lines, etc.  Ultimately we all made our way back to our seats, the sun set, and by Dog, The Mavericks came on!  What a great cap for a rockabilly/Latin/indie night.

This was the first time I'd ever seen Raul Malo live, and he nailed me to my seat.  As with most great vocalists he was just testing the pipes for the first few songs, and then he started to let it rip and didn't stop until the whole ecosystem was reverberating with his voice.

Let me take a sidebar here and say that the GRF sound technicians did it for us all once again.  The sound was just fantastic throughout the whole weekend (though the Parlor Room stage setup had acoustic problems, see below), and challenges like a Raul Malo (or a Rachael Price the next night) blasting the Main Stage PA were handled with absolutely no hiccups.  Sarah complimented the soundboard guys after it was all done and they were surprised that anyone had noticed them.  They were the stars of the Festival as much as anyone.

Of course, abetting Raul was Eddie Perez on guitar and jerky dance moves, as well as the entire crackerjack Mavericks band.  I was beyond counting how many people they had on stage, but the sound, the lights, the snapping leads from Perez, and above all the wailing but soothing voice of Malo were rocking our world, and then Big Al joined them for a balls-out encore.  If you've never heard Raul Malo, you need to!

Yeeha!  What a start to a great weekend ... saw at least some of seven bands that night.  As I say, it had been a little chilly earlier in the afternoon and it was kind of raining/drizzling through the whole evening.  I was telling the folks back at the Red Rose that I felt like I was a pampered plant and God kept misting me with his spray bottle all night.  So my glasses got a little obscured but it was all good, not like it had been last year!

The whole gang was there at the Rose (except for P&D, who arrived late) when we got back, and we eventually retreated to the picnic area for a quick beer.  They'd caught some of the show but had to get back in time to get to bed.  We were all really tired for some reason (maybe the sudden cool temperature), but agreed that Saturday would be another hot day and that we'd better get ready for that!

Figured out where to lay all our wet stuff and soon to bed.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dead & Co "Summer 2017," Fenway part 2

We woke up really earlier than we should after staying up late for Dead & Company’s first Fenway show in their “Summer 2017” tour, but that’s what older people do I guess.  It turned out to be good, because we had a full morning of getting ready for a planned short vacation and for the second show, as well as the housework that had to be done.  In any event, we were ready to get going by mid-afternoon and this time drove into the city and parked at the Dalton Street garage so we wouldn’t have as far to walk after the show.  Smart!

Met Dave at Bukowski’s for a beer and some highly important recapping of last night and predictions for tonight.  Trundled over the [Green] Muddy River and past an urban rabbit over to Yard House and had another excellent late lunch and couple of rounds of beers.  We were psyched, and did the now familiar truck into Fenway and out onto the field(!), this time settling into section B5 in excellent seats on a very humid and very hazy-bright late Spring day.

We’d had an easier time getting good seats for Sunday than we had for Saturday, but by the time the show started we realized it was almost as packed.  I had some nice time to spread out in the seats and enjoy the late afternoon, the funny clouds whipping by (the wind was blowing out to left, promising quite a game), and the arriving crowd.  Many people wore my t-shirt of choice that day, Fare Thee Well; I also saw one woman with my second choice, Golden Gate Wingmen.

The guys came out a bit after 6:30 again that day, and started right off into their classic Sunday song.  But before I get into the first set, let me get a little meta here.

There’s a school of thought, which is a pretty good one, that one of the things that makes “Grateful Dead music” so compelling is the element of risk and unknown possibilities woven into it, and that a band playing that type of music should be pursuing that fine edge of improvisation over rote capability.  One possible criticism of Dead & Company is that they haven’t really been pursuing that edge, though in lieu of that they’ve been pursuing performing excellence IMO, and have been pleasingly successful at that (to put it mildly).  But in their Fenway concert on 6/18 they showed an ability to walk their own edge that made the concert incredibly exciting, though it might also be labeled a bit strange.

Their recently-rolled-out twist of switching to acoustics for the last bit of the first set, their doing songs out of turn such as Dark Star and Let It Grow, their innovative vocals such as Oteil singing FOTM, and their ability to add other beats and textures (à la JRAD) to set-in-stone songs like FOTM, NFA, and Days Between, are all exciting in a new way.  And isn’t that what we want, to be excited in new ways?  Though I’ve criticized some of Dead & Company’s choices, I can’t help but admire their style, and I immensely have enjoyed every second of their performances that I’ve heard.

Well anyway, enough of generalization.  I hope to describe the event, and my point is that this was far from your ordinary “Grateful Dead” concert, if there is such a thing.  John is still new and every measure of his leads has the promise of something new, and Jeff and Oteil have a lot to say.  Bobby lets them say it and Billy and Mickey egg them on; this is quite a band.  Here’s the first set:

Samson and Delilah
Brown-Eyed Women
Big River
Let It Grow
Friend Of the Devil
Dark Star

Samson was as great as can be, with the drummers pounding out a rhythm that echoed through the Fens.  Big River was short, and Candyman was long … the kind of up and down you’d expect in a first set.  They did a great Let It Grow, though this is a song they could really add to (like, maybe do the whole Weather Report Suite!?!).  But then they switched to acoustics so quickly after the end of Let It Grow that you could tell they had lots up their sleeves and were eager to let those ferrets out.

FOTD was fantastic, including an amazing lead from Jeff on piano.  And what was next?  Dark Star on acoustic guitars over the Fenway and into American history.  Geez, you had to be there for this one.  Of course, I don’t think this will become as famous as the 1970 Fillmore East acoustic sets; but this was a rarity, a first.  And it was as successful as a lot of things this band does: John’s leads were firecrackers in the late afternoon, and Bobby’s ability to deploy his great variety of sounds was on full display.  Bobby’s had a lot of time to play this sucker, and he knows where the darkest rooms and the brightest vistas are.

And just as you were wondering if they were going to go into a second 20 minutes of the song or wind up the second verse and move on … they shared one of those “we know what we’re doing” glances and changed down into Ripple.  At the time we were amazed and delighted, but the full impact of what they were doing was a little lost in the gloriousness of the moment.

Wow, I say again!  What a first set!!  The Saturday show had been stellar to me, and I wondered if Sunday’s show would come up to that level.  Damn, it was on a whole different level and was already beyond comparison.  Oh well, time for our pedestrian between-set concerns, such as waiting in bathroom lines and trying to get around the Park without freaking out at the crush of people.  The rain was holding off and the sky was beautiful as the sun set, far behind the left field grandstand.

And then we waited … it was a long set break, seemingly over an hour.  Oh well, the guys came back out and started up into a jam.  Dave called it at the first change and a few minutes later one of the guys in front of us whipped around and said, “Wait a minute, did you call that??”  These guys were Deadicated but big … I spent a lot of the concert trying to see around or through the guy in front of me, who was wearing an Isaiah Thomas jersey (though he was maybe twice his size), and I was unsuccessful at that most of the time.  Anyway, it was Jam > Truckin’ of course … here’s the second set:

Fire On the Mountain
St. Stephen
Dark Star
Days Between
Not Fade Away

Geez, only a 7(ish)-song second set?!?  Don’t worry, we were not ripped off.  This was a feast.  Truckin’ was slow, stately, mellow, and resonant.  FOTM was sung by Oteil, only his second vocal on the tour (twice on China Doll) after many hints that he’d be doing such.  And St. Stephen was sung with reverence by John.

Let me digress a bit here.  One of the best things about the 2016 tour IMO was the tandem backup vocals by John and Oteil.  This layer is almost totally lacking in their current tour and the result can leave lots of holes and raggedness, as in the Here Comes Sunshine in Atlanta.  They really haven’t replaced this part of their sound, but the lead vocals so far have been so excellent it’s not missed as much as it could be.

Ok, what next?  How about a great Drums/Space segment with Mickey tooting those clown horns again and cranking up The Beam in the sudden Fenway night?  And then, one of the most magical stretches of the night: a reprise of Dark Star on electrics (including the last verse), and then a beautiful, beautiful deconstruction of the sound into a Jeff Chimenti piano solo that has to go down in history … slowly leading us by the hands and minds into Days Between.

As mentioned, Bobby has done a few fine things on vocals, and he was sure up to this one, singing one of the ultimate Dead anthems (maybe THE ultimate Dead anthem) into the humid dark in front of tens of thousands of awe-struck pilgrims.  No Sailor/Saint this time, or GDTRFB, or Dew, but this was the touch that we all wanted and needed.

And then they shrugged it off and ended it all with a rocking Not Fade Away with some fantastic, screwy drumming, and a masterful transfer to the crowd of the chorus.  They’ve done this before.

Back out for the encore after just a minute, and they did the Brokedown Palace we’d all been waiting for, most of all us legions with the Fare Thee Well t-shirts.  This was an epic second set, but we turned to each other after it was over and said, “What did we just hear?”  How great was this?  We’ll have to let time tell, but it sure was good.

Damn, the Fenway shows were over, and we had to get out of there through the hordes and hordes of people.  Oh well, we’ve done this before ourselves, and it actually went pretty well.  Shuffled out of the stadium and back over the Fens and finally back to the parking garage, where the attendants showed some unique incompetence of their own.

Out to Boylston at last, down to Berkeley, left Dave at Charles Circle, and then back up to 93 North.  Have to wake up early the next morning to continue the adventure!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dead & Co "Summer 2017," Fenway part 1

Dead & Company are touring again this year, they're calling it a "summer" tour, though almost all of it is taking place in the Spring.  As you might imagine, we've been filled with anticipation, especially since they've adopted an unheard of innovation, offering the first three songs of each night (the whole show in Atlanta) for free, live streaming and of course on YouTube thereafter.  This allows those among us who follow their every move to obsess even further, and it seems to have worked to bump up interest generally since last night's Saturday show was sold out and Sunday will probably be almost full.

And how have the shows been you may ask?  Well let me give you my Dead-drenched opinion: they've been great, though they could be better.  As mentioned earlier, their schedule of touring once a year and the number of side projects they all have makes one think, is Dead & Company really a working band or are they an oldies act that gets together every once in a while with a minimum of practice and entertains stadiums full of people with the old chestnuts?  The answer is that they're such high-level musicians, their ensemble performances are tight, innovative, and riveting.  They've only added three (well, one and two half) songs to their repertoire with this year's tour, but the ones they do (well over a hundred in fact) are progressing from fantastic into the stratosphere.  I wish they'd practice together more and add more new songs, but they follow their own muse and I can't fault musicians for that.

We parked in Sarah's building and walked uptown on an overcast day with the sun threatening to come out and the temperature threatening to approach 70.  The Tall Ships were returning to Boston that afternoon and the waterfront must have been a madhouse with the millions(!) of people projected to be there, but it was pretty crowded uptown too.  Made a left turn in Kenmore Square and trundled down to Yard House, where Scott and Michelle were waiting, and Dave, Leen, and Andrew showed up soon.  We had some great beer and lot of conversation about our house project and of course music.  Time rolled by and before we knew it it was time to check out Shakedown Street and then head into the Park!

Went in through the main gate and followed the normally shut-off tunnel around to the left to enter the field by the left field wall.  Fenway was as magical as ever and we were on the goddamn field.  Stopped by to have a close-up look at the visitors' dugout and the beyond-perfect infield before finding our seats in section C6 ... more center this year than last, but not close.  Getting turf tickets for Saturday had been hard and I had to make two purchases as they wouldn't sell me 4 together, so Dave and Leen were over in C2.  The rain was definitely going to hold off and the guys came on and lined up soon after 6:30.  And then they started into Music and we were right back there.  Here's the first set:

The Music Never Stopped
Cold Rain and Snow
Me and My Uncle
Big Boss Man
Ramble On Rose

As mentioned, the band was playing as tightly as could be and the sound in Fenway was excellent.  We could hear every note and flourish and every beat of the drums.  Mickey's setup is less wild this year and I think it's added even more to their rhythm section to have him playing with Bill instead of around him.  Oteil seems so comfortable with this music it's incredible and his funk and nimbleness is amazing.

John continues to ascend in the Dead milieu and some of the leads he's been cracking off this tour are phenomenal.  I've gotten beyond being gob-smacked by him, and perhaps am a little less accepting of his small miscues and forgetting exactly when the lead is supposed to come in and end, but when he gets going the world revolves around his guitar and his fingers are a blur on the fretboard.  He kills Cold Rain and Snow and though this was a bit of an up-and-down set, it sure had a lot of highlights, such as his leads on Big Boss Man (on the 45th anniversary of Pigpen's last performance) and Sugaree.

Jeff continues to get better also, contributing great organ runs and sparkling piano to songs like Ramble On Rose (we booed the "just like New York City" line, we *were* at Fenway Park during baseball season after all!).  And Bobby is as good as ever, he's obviously enjoying the heck out of this band.  He closed the set with a powerful Passenger, perhaps to make up for mangling it a bit at Fenway with Donna last summer.

Here's the slightly poofy review from The Globe from the next day.  And here's a link to Sarah's pictures.  And here's a really nice piece about Mayer appearing at his alma mater, Berklee College Of Music, earlier in the day.

Though it was only 7 songs, that was a long first set, but the bathroom lines were not too crazy and we were soon back out on the field, enjoying beautiful Fenway and gabbing about the first set with neighbors and friends.  A bunch of guys in front of us were not the best neighbors; a couple of them were loud and extremely drunk to begin with, before smoking pot throughout the evening.  To their credit though, they made it through the whole thing, though a few of them had to sit down for stretches in the second set.

And speaking of the second set, the guys came back out in the gloaming and ripped off one of the best live sets I've ever seen performed.  It's not a great setlist, but these songs were played exquisitely:

Dancing In the Street
Help On the Way
Estimated Prophet
Eyes Of the World
Eyes Of the World
I Need a Miracle
Standing On the Moon
Franklin's Tower

Oh my Dog, this band just performed those songs so well!  Every one of them showed incredible talent and technique, and as an ensemble they were almost perfect.  I should mention, again, John's leads, Oteil's ability to add funk to anything, and Jeff's presence.  And as has happened before, Bobby raised his vocal game beyond what you might have expected from the first set.  I told Dave later that I couldn't believe I was saying it, but that was the best "I Need a Miracle" I've ever heard (a song I sometimes dismiss as formulaic).  And his emoting on Standing On the Moon brought tears to your eyes, perhaps he was again thinking of Pigpen.

And a note about one the best songs ever, Eyes Of the World.  Oteil makes this so fresh with his runs throughout, and this featured a great solo section by him after the last verse.  They then went into Drums (which Oteil participated in and in which Mickey cranked up The Beam and gleefully shook the bejeezus out of the venerable old ballpark, and then even more gleefully tooted some clown bicycle horns) and a beautiful but short Space and then wham, they were back doing a last chorus of Eyes!!!

And they sandwiched that long, excellent second set with a funky, rocking, rabble-rousing Franklin's that had everyone singing along.  They stretched and stretched the "Roll away the dew" coda and then almost wrapped it up, and then burst right back into another vocal coda with all of Fenway rolling back that dew as hard as we could.  This was beautiful, well-played, and above all cathartic.  Wow!!!

They came back out for an encore pretty quickly and burst right into a small jam which turned into Black Muddy River.  I recognized the song but couldn't believe until John started into the words that they were going to repeat what they'd encored with at their first Fenway show last summer.  But I guess John was reminiscing about his student days, and perhaps back then he spent some time walking beside the Muddy River in the Fens (not too far from Berklee) and dreaming a dream of his own.

And then another encore repeat, but this was expected: closing Saturday night in Summer (actually Spring) with One More Saturday Night.  Short and sweet, and then the guys were gone into the wings.  See you tomorrow!  In fact, I have to get ready to leave for tonight's show.

Sarah and I had a long walk back to Beacon Hill, but we finally made it and were back home by midnight or so.  Will I do this again next year?  Well, of course.