Monday, August 5, 2019

Ipswich River In Mid-Summer 2019

I haven’t been blogging about my kayak trips lately, but I took a trip up the Ipswich River this past Sunday (8/4) and had to write something about that, it was so beautiful.  Took off from the usual spot on the road from Topsfield and soon was just enthralled.  It was almost exactly the middle of Summer and the flowers and trees were beautiful and the dragonflies were thick.

You probably can't see all the bees buzzing around the flowers above.  I really like lily pad flowers and many of them were as decadent as they ever get.  Most bloom a pure white with an intense yellow interior, but some of these were blushing a bit, and some were entirely a startling pink.

I also passed two swan family groups with two adults and a gaggle of cygnets, who were almost as large as their parents already, but still in juvenile colors.  Lots of turtles of course, hundreds of birds (I even saw one cormorant and one kingfisher), and a couple of muskrats.

There were also some of the red spiky flowers you get later in Summer.  They usually show up as isolated splashes of color but there were some groups of them exhibiting a deep shade of scarlet.

And it was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it on the river.  Probably all of the Foote Brothers canoes and kayaks were out, and most of the Audubon canoes.  I passed two young girls (10?) with matching kayaks/paddles who were doing great against a strong current in the narrow part where I passed them, and singing songs from The Jungle Book incredibly well.  I complimented them on it and they thought ok, and launched into another.  They must have the record and had the parts down perfectly.

After one song, one girl said to the other, “Can I be on top for this next one?”

The other girl said, “No, your part goes like this [sings the opening of the lower part].”

“But I just thought maybe we could switch for this one.”

The other girl stared at her and gave her the dreaded pause.  “You’re Mowgli!”

The first girl shrugged.  She knew that was the end of the conversation.  I mean, what was she going to say, that she didn’t want to be Mowgli??

Another interaction was that two young women were headed downstream as fast as they could and you could tell they were in a bit of distress.  I stopped to take a flower picture and they got close enough to me to shout.  “Excuse me, excuse me!” they said.  “Yes?” I said.  “Uh … how do you get out of here?” one of them asked.

We were on the river, miles from anywhere.  I said, “Just head downstream.”  I could see they were in a Foote Brothers canoe and must have been driven upstream on their truck and then sent downstream.  “Foote Brothers is in a couple of miles still, it’s the first building you’ll see on the left,” I told them.  They moaned.  “Just stay in the middle of the river, the downstream current is strongest there,” I advised.  That made them stop and look around them, they were stunned that there was such a thing as a current and there was a strategy to dealing with it.  “You learn something new every day,” I said.

“Yeah,” one of them said, “I’ve learned that I’m NEVER GOING IN A CANOE again!”

“Oh come on,” I said.  “By the middle of the week you’ll be bored back in your office and telling your friends about what a great time you had on the river this weekend.”

She considered it.  “I hope so!” she said.

I told her I hoped so too and took off quick before they could ask me to call them an Uber.

Friday, August 2, 2019

GDMUATM 2019, Giants Stadium 1991

Went to see this year's GDMUATM at Loews Boston Common this Jerry's birthday.  This was the famous June 17th 1991 show from Giants Stadium, which featured Bruce and Vince and is an absolutely fantastic show in many ways.  The GD people concurrently announced a "Giants Stadium" box set, which includes this show, and a DVD of the movie.

We met Dave at Stoddard's on Temple Place for dinner after Sarah and I fought thick Summer traffic into the city on another hot, sunny day and parked in her building.  Nice Old Boston atmosphere and architectural details, but not much in terms of beer list or food.  Went down to the theater, got a Lagunitas, and settled into our great seats.

And boy, it didn't take me long before I was thinking, "Getting it!!!" about the box set and the DVD.  Dave had selected the show for his 30 Trips, but I wasn't that familiar with it.  This is an amazing show, with a killer setlist and killer playing.  And they weave Dark Star all through it, you have to hear this show if you haven't.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Back To LFF, 2019

Nobody goes to the Lowell Folk Festival, it's too crowded!  And I had several other reasons, just as logical, for not having been there for several years.  But they sometimes have some really good musical acts, and they had a couple in their 2019 lineup.  It was a beautiful summer weekend, we had nothing better to do, and we got in the car and sneaked on up to Lowell for the Sunday of the 2019 Festival.

The acts we wanted to see were going to be playing at Boardinghouse Park, and we figured if we got there not too late we could park close by, get good seats, and get out of there easily.  We didn't figure that even early on a Sunday the crowds would be massive, but things worked out.  And we were reminded again that this is such a great Festival!  It's free and there were thousands of people having a great time there.  They always have an incredibly well-curated set of artists, which sometimes coordinates very well with my strong musical tastes, and if not that's my problem.  And they also have an amazing range of food vendors (cotton candy to Filipino cooking and beyond), crafts exhibitions, and political and social tents.  This year they had street magicians too!

And the Festival fits so well in downtown Lowell.  They've got an array of great performance spaces, all in a very walk-able area, centered on the National Historical Park in the center of Lowell, where historic canals, mills, and 18th-19th century urban architecture all coincide.  I can't think of another city that would approach this ambiance.

So anyway, we got up there and wanted to park in the John Street garage but instead settled for the Market Street garage, which was fine.  We walked the 6-7 blocks or so down to Boardinghouse Park and were a little alarmed at the number of people already there at a little after noon on a Sunday, a beautiful, hot day with not a cloud in the sky.  Then we were suddenly confronted by a long line when we turned the last corner.  But we realized it was a line for the Filipino food truck, which smelled amazingly tempting.

Boardinghouse Park itself was already packed ... around the edges in the shade at least.  But we walked right up to the stage in the hot sun (like the day when we saw Dave Keyes do A Closer Walk With Thee on that very stage at about that time of a Sunday) and pulled up a piece of lawn, slathered on the sunscreen, and immediately started enjoying ourselves even more than we had been on the walk there.

Mangum and Company was up first, and they were playing Sam Cooke's A Change Is Going To Come as we got seated.  What a great way to start the musical day!  This was a very different kind of band for us.  They're a "gospel shout band" from North Carolina with a vocalist with a good, deep range, and they were led by Cedric Mangum, a fantastic trombonist who was tuned to the baritone range.  He was accompanied by three other trombonists, all tuned differently, a tuba player, a drummer, a percussionist (on cymbals), and a baritone horn player.  Their next number was Oh Happy Day and they stretched it out, trying to get the crowd to participate.  We were psyched, but it was hot!  Their final number was When the Saints Come Marching In and this was another extended exercise in crowd participation, trying to form a parade but not get out of range of the mike.  Kind of succeeded and lots of people had lots of fun!

Woo!  The afternoon was off to a great start.  All bands do just 45-minute sets at that stage on a Sunday, and we barely had time for a quick trip to the car and back before reconvening on the rapidly-filling-up lawn for one of the bands I had come for, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

Let me digress a bit to talk about the sound.  I think that I give lots of credit when the sound engineers do a great job, or even a decent one.  But the sound at Boardinghouse Park that day was not up to par.  I've been there many times and the sound has been fantastic ... I particularly remember seeing the Taj Mahal Trio there once and can still feel how good that vibe was.  Maybe it was equipment malfunctions, but I think the fault was in the sound engineers.  There was an open mike on stage that they didn't detect until Eirini Torneski would not go on until they found it and killed it ... we could all hear it.  There were feedback problems all through Doyle Lawson's set.  And the lower end of the PA cut out at least 6 times in Albert Lee's set.  It was very annoying and I have to suspect incompetence, especially when engineers were staring daggers at each other across the field.

Anyway, we tried to concentrate on the artists and we were very psyched to see Doyle Lawson's band.  This was traditional bluegrass, with Lawson leading on vocals and mandolin (and rocking a beautiful rose-embroidered jacket).  From left to right they were Stephen Burwell on fiddle, Joe Dean on banjo, Lawson on mandolin, Jerry Cole on tenor vocals and electric bass (on a stand so it *looked* traditional at least), Jake Vanover on tenor vocals and guitar, and Josh Swift on bass vocals and dobro.  The right-hand four were the gospel quartet and broke for a few a capella numbers.

Vanover and Swift were fantastic both on vocals and on their instruments.  It was hard not to concentrate on just them, though the arrangements themselves were very democratic, as good bluegrass should be.  Lawson may have lost a bit off his vocal fastball but those two made up for it.  I especially loved Swift's runs on dobro, which he attacked with his left hand like it was a snake he needed to keep back.

I wandered around a bit after that, back to the garage for a sandwich in the shade and checked out the street scene, where people clustered in the shade.  Back to the Boardinghouse Park Stage and next up was a delightful Greek band playing traditional instruments, the Pharos Ensemble featuring Berklee grad Vasilis Kostas on laouto (different Anglicized spellings abound), Eirini Tornesaki on vocals and castanets, Panos Aivazidis on qanun and harmonies, and George Lernis on percussion.

These guys were very good, though perhaps the hot Summer early-afternoon wasn't the best place for their atmospheric vocals. But a little concentration was very rewarding, as Kostas on Greek guitar produced an amazing, crisp sound, and Aivazidis on qanun was just amazing.  I'd never heard that instrument and, though it went out of tune easily since there were so many strings, he rocked that thing, playing it like he'd sold his soul to the devil to play zither.

Another quick set, though this was riveting all the way through.   We had a nice chat with Kostas after the set and then it was time for another break.  The shade had almost reached us in the middle of the park by then, and the crowds were creeping in with it.  We took a break in the shaded beer garden with some acceptable beverages, and we soon noticed that Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne had come on and that we'd be fools not to go back up front.

Kenny was dressed in a powder blue leisure suit and wore a color-coordinated hat with a color-coordinated feather in it.  Don't know if that was the best sartorial choice for the weather, but it worked.  He had a great Telecaster player wailing away to his right, a great bass player (beautiful walnut instrument) to the back on his left, and a drummer on a riser way at the back of the stage.

They turned in an incredible set of ballads, boogie-woogie blues tunes, and balls to the wall rockers.  They closed with Muddy Waters' Hoochie-Coochie Man followed by one of the most infectious takes on Leiber and Stoller's Kansas City I've ever heard.  And they were fun too.  At one point Kenny started on a jazzy right-hand riff and seemed to get captivated by it, he played it over and over.  The bass player woke from his own vortex and slowly approached.  He ended up looking over Kenny's shoulder and shaking his head until he broke the spell and went back to his corner.

Yikes!  We were hot and sweaty and though the shade was approaching it was still not on us in the center of the lawn, about 15 feet from the stage.  We had said that we hoped to stick around for Albert Lee's set, but if it got too much we would be willing to bag and go home.  But at this point we just had to stay for fucking Albert Lee.  I mean, how authentic can an English country rockabilly guitarist be?  This guy has an amazing pedigree and, as mentioned above, was one of the two world-class acts that had attracted us.  I don't think I'd ever seen him before, maybe one of the first few times I saw Emmylou.

Anyway, the afternoon was ending and Albert came on with his custom guitar (guys next to me were saying it was a tricked out Telecaster), a drummer, a bassist, and a keyboard player, who were all just great.  But this was a case of rocking along to the song a bit and then just being floored by Albert's guitar leads, over and over and over.  Or being floored by the sound suddenly dropping out, which was very annoying and had several of us gesticulating angrily to the soundbooth.

OMG, what didn't he do?  Well, he didn't do ... never mind.  He played a great set of tunes he'd done with Emmylou and/or the Everleys (Restless, Wheels), some classic Gram and Rodney songs (Luxury Liner, Song For the Life), and some off-the-wall tunes like Highwayman and Two Step Too by Delbert.  We'd seen both Emmylou and Rodney on that stage, though not Delbert.  He switched to piano and did another great Rodney tune, 'Til I Gain Control Again, though the sound guys didn't deign to get his fucking vocal mike working until the second verse!?!  Good thing we were up front.

And then he just floored me with his last song, which was one he wrote and has been recorded by Ricky Skaggs, Country Boy.  You have to believe I was singing along with every word.  Albert's not a great vocalist but he sure did some fantastic songs in that set.

That was a fun afternoon but it was time to go.  We packed up quickly and got out of the swelling crowd, back up to Market Street and to the garage.  Fired up the car, cranked the AC, and then it wasn't a very long drive home.

I may look like a city slicker
Shinin' up through his shoes
Underneath I'm just a cotton picker
Pickin' out a mess of blues
Show me where I start
Find a horse and cart
I'm just a country boy
Country boy at heart

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Showdown Kids at the Haymarket Lounge

The vastly talented Scott Metzger has put together a band (Showdown Kids) with his close friend Katie Jacoby and accomplice Simon Kafka, and we were pleased to see they were playing the Haymarket Lounge at City Winery, Boston on July 23rd.  This was their first gig outside of NYC!  I guess you gotta hit the big time sooner or later.

Met Sarah and Dave downtown again, right at 5:00.  We strolled on down to our new North End restaurant, Beerworks on Canal (it was Taco Tuesday!) on another non-busy, beautiful mid-Summer day.  We stretched out dinner a bit, but still ended up getting over to the Haymarket Lounge (the smaller performing space in City Winery) at about 6:30, an hour before the concert.

The thing was that this was general admission, we really prize good seats, we'd never been in that room before, and we didn't know how soon we needed to get there in order to procure them.  In any event, there were only two other tables occupied when we arrived and so we were seated in a fine place and ended up having a fine time nursing their few beers and talking for an hour before the set.  Dave's friend Nate showed up too.  This was a stealth concert for [almost] Dead fans, and the room ended up with a pretty good crowd of devotees.

But the thing was, we'd seen Scott with JRAD and with Wolf! and this wasn't going to be like that, this was gypsy jazz and all expectations were off the table.  The three of them sat in chairs close together, Katie with a slinky dress and a traditional fiddle, Scott with a big booming hollow-body guitar with a pickup, and Simon with a small walnut guitar.  The sound was just perfect and I loved that room, though with a larger crowd it might not have worked that well.

Ridiculously long fingers on Scott and Katie!  Scott was playing a huge guitar but it could have been twice as big with his elastic fingers.  And Katie made that fiddle's fret board look like a cribbage board.  She's going on tour with The Who for her next gig.

They opened with a surprise: Tumbling Tumbleweeds!  They did a few jazz standards and mixed it up a lot with a Phish song, some traditional folk songs, and a couple of originals.  These were all instrumentals; Scott picked up a mike and tried to address the "crowd" at one point.  But the mike wasn't on and he could speak in a regular voice and be heard well by all of us in that intimate room.

They seemed to be having a good time and to be pleased to have such a good reception in their first gig.  We all loved it and could have stayed there all night.  But they finished up by 9:00 (Scott said, "That's all the songs we know!"), and we got back up the hill and then home in good time.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

King Of California At City Winery

This is the 25th anniversary of the release of Dave Alvin's great record, King Of California, and he's touring to promote the reissue.  This may sound a little cheesy but really, this was a *great* record and marked a significant change in his career and (to some small extent) in roots music.  And he was touring with his original producer, Greg Liesz and longtime accomplice Christy McWilson.  So this was another case of as soon as we heard about him coming to City Winery Boston on July 19th, that we got tickets right away.  And they were pretty good, dead center and just a couple of tables back.

Met Sarah and Dave downtown and we had dinner at Beerworks on Canal Street, just a couple of blocks from the Winery, on a Friday night in late July.  Luckily there was basically no crowd for a Friday night (the Bruins weren't playing) and we got a good dinner and several good beers.  Over at the Winery of course they did not have good beer, but we did what we could and settled in.

Christy McWilson opened and did a fun set of California folk with a little Laurel Canyon mixed in.  Specifically, she closed by bringing up the woman from the merch tent she'd bonded with lately over a Linda Ronstadt song and the two duetted on Different Drum.  Of course we all sang along.

Pretty soon after that Dave and Greg came out, Dave on a beat up old acoustic that he stuck to all night and Greg with a rack of guitars, laps steels (he had two lap steels, one of which was a beautiful walnut thing that almost looked like a dulcimer), mandolins, and probably a few banjos and ukuleles.

They'd been doing the album track for track and basically stuck to that:

King of California
Barn Burning
Fourth of July
Goodbye Again
East Texas Blues
Every Night About This Time
Riverbed Rag
Bus Station
Mother Earth
Blue Wing
Little Honey
(I Won't Be) Leaving
What Am I Worth
Border Radio

Dry River

This was edge-of-your-seat stuff for a Dave Alvin fan.  Every song was true to the record in one way, but included a few opportunities for Dave and Greg to expand it out.  Christy did a very good job of backup, though the performances by Rosie Flores and Syd Straw on the record are iconic and can't really be matched.

And then they encored with two of Dave's best songs.  We would have loved to see him cover this setlist with his full band, but this was lots of fun.

Saw Kate and Mager and a bevy of SMC fans on the way out.  I think the room had been sold out, there were only a few tickets left when I last checked.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Green River Festival 2019, mellow Sunday

The second night's sleep in a strange place is usually better, and it was, though the sun started blaring through the curtains early again.  Whatever, it was another great morning in paradise and after exercises and shower I trundled down to breakfast, and Sarah and I were actually able to grab a table.  This was the standard Hampton Inn breakfast, which is ok.  They had fresh fruit but none of it would have passed muster to be on the buffet in France; they had very good chocolate chip scones, pretty good coffee, and fruit smoothies!  Tristan and the boys came along just after us and we gave up the table to them.  Rory exploded a box of Froot Loops.

Two of the acts I most wanted to see were going to be on the main stage that day, and the rest of the lineup didn't look that compelling.  My plan was to be even more mellow than the other days and stay up at the main stage as much as possible, keep the wandering to a minimum, and maybe leave early so we could get Dave back at a decent time and then rescue our kitties (Uncle Andrew had stopped by to feed them on Saturday).

Most of the others were going tubing on the Deerfield, but we were bound for the Festival again and ended up leaving at about the same time we did Saturday, maybe a little earlier.  It was another beautiful, hot Summer day but the sky was not at all perfectly clear as it had been the day before.  Some huge clouds were drifting slowly, and threatening to maybe become thunderheads at some point in the afternoon.  Whatever, they kept the sun from withering everything in the vicinity and so we were glad for them.

Another strange weather(?) note was that there were no balloons at the Festival!  Well ok, there were 2 of them (one the corporate-branded one that's always there) and they were offering rides up and down.  But there are usually 6 or 8 balloons and they always inflate to great fanfare, escape the surly bounds on un-tethered rides, making a spectacular sight, and then get brought back in the evening for a flame extravaganza.  This time none of that happened, though the weather seemed perfect for ballooning on both Friday and Saturday.  Was this another cost-cutting measure??  Wasn't this supposed to be a balloon festival as well as a music Festival?  Harumph.

We got to about the same place in the car line waiting on the GCC access road to get in, and this time Sarah grabbed the chair and went in to stake a spot in the people line.  This turned out to be a bit of a grueling experience though because were we were right between the Berkshire Brewing Company refrigerator truck, that had to keep its engine running, and the generator at the BCC tent.  Besides loud noise, they were both making some exhaust fumes and the guys in the tent were also blasting tunes (most of them very good actually).  So this was not a mellow wait, and they didn't let the line in early as they had on Saturday, and this time an unauthorized line for the no-bags entrance started up.  But whatever, soon we were in and though we were not able to get our prime spot, we got another great one at just the right distance from the stage, to the right of the electrical conduit.

First up was The East Pointers, a folk-bluegrass-Cape Breton Juno award-winning trio from PEI: Jake Charron on guitar, Koady Chaisson on banjo, and Tim Chaisson on fiddle. They were really enjoyable and I stuck around for half of their set before the mid-day sun came out from between the high clouds and drove me away.

I hadn't been that impressed by the offerings on the other stages, but saw Dave had managed to grab a standing spot in the shade at the Parlor Room Stage and so navigated over to join him for the Gaslight Tinkers.  And again, I was surprisingly delighted!  They had had a children's musician with them at the beginning of the set, but he had left by the time I got there and they started to get a little rootsy and a little funky, and then kept on going that way.  They did a particularly dark take on the traditional Storms On the Ocean, mixed in a few originals, and finished with another really dark take on The Wind and Rain.  Then they said, "And that was our *children's* set!"

We stayed there for the end of their set and then split up and I was back on the main stage in time for Eilen Jewell.  And they opened their set with a bang.  Eilen was on Telecaster ... that's right, Eilen Jewell went electric!!!  Perhaps this wasn't as earth-shattering to the hordes as Dylan's change of pace 54 years beforehand, but it got me psyched, especially because it reinforced my view that this GRF was all about the things you could do with a guitar.  And you know what they did?  I can't believe no one had done this before, they opened with Creedence's Green River.

 I was kind of afraid (maybe not the right word) that Eilen would have a fiddle or pedal steel on stage from the bits I'd heard of her atmospheric (for Eilen Jewell that is) new album, Gypsy.  But she did not, she had the same old threesome of husband Jason, iconic guitarist Jerry, and the bass player of the day.  And they delivered a classic Eilen set with a few tracks from the new album (which was on sale at the merch tent, weeks before release) and lots of classics.

They finished their set and then came out for an encore and this was one of the cutest things I've ever seen, possibly at the top of the list.  Her daughter, Mavis, is now 5 (amazing!!), and she came out to join them for the encore.  Eilen said that Mavis had been practicing and then Mavis took over the encore, Shaking All Over.  She shook her shaker, she shook her body, she shook her head, and when it came to the chorus she shouted (on key) into the mike, "Shaking all over!!!!"  Mom looked very proud of her, as did Dad, peering over the drums, and this was an incredibly delightful moment.  You've gotta believe that she got a standing ovation from everyone in the vicinity.

Ack!  Time to stop by the Green Room stage, hit the porta-potties, hit the parking lot for a last beer, and then to get back to our seats for Rhiannon Giddens, perhaps the last (and definitely most anticipated) act of the Festival for us.  Rhiannon did a long sound check with her stripped-down band of Francesco Turrisi (her fabulous recent collaborator) and a bass player.  And though Rhiannon was bugged, bothered, and bewildered by her banjo constantly going out of tune and feeding back on her, they really topped all other bands we'd seen for musicianship.

Rhiannon stuck to her mid-19th century banjo reproduction, which produces fabulous sounds, and her bass player was wonderful too.  But all eyes were on Turrisi with his endless assortment of frame drums, tambourines, and an accordion.  Wait, you say that that's not fascinating?  It was when you heard him play them, just astounding in the talent he showed and the responsiveness his instruments showed.

They played mostly tracks for their new collaboration, but I was more than glad to hear them play Rhiannon's most provocative songs about enslaved people, Julie and At the Purchaser's Discretion.  She switched to fiddle later in the set, but this was about her voice and Turrisi's instrumental talent.  We waited in line to talk with them afterwards and were delighted to hear that they'll be playing in London this November, so Sally and Jim can go see them!

Well ok, we'd wimped out on the last couple of acts of Saturday and it was getting to be time to wimp out on the last couple of acts of Sunday's show.  As I say, some GRFs we've been too have had riveting lineups, but there was not much left to see on Sunday, and so we did a last few house-keeping things and then headed to the car.  I hope the GRF has a better lineup next year.

No delay for us, we got in the car (the tubing crew was just arriving as we left!), braved a surprisingly large amount of traffic on route 2, switched down to the Turnpike to deliver Dave back to Quincy, and then got home by 7:30 or so.  The cats were ecstatic to see us, which was very nice.  They had the Welcome Home banner all ready.

So that was another long weekend at the GRF that in retrospect should have lasted much longer.  I bitch about the quality of the lineup, but we still had a great time.  It could have been better, and I feel bad that a lot of the bands I saw did not stick in my mind and so are not reported well above.

And let me repeat that it was thrilling to see so many kinds of guitars played so skillfully.  Besides some beautiful folk/blues acoustics, there were pedal steels, lap steels, a percussion guitar, a bajo sexto, and an endless succession of incredible electrics such as Sean McConnell's hollow-body Rickenbacker and Samantha Fish's solid blues (but gold) Gibson.  That was a delight.

The hotel worked out well and we had some great times hanging with our friends.  I bet next year will be even more fantastic!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Green River Festival 2019, energetic Saturday

Though the Hampton Inn had some advantages, every hotel I've ever stayed in has had faults and this was no exception.  The window curtains were a little short and lots of daylight came in.  Though the mattresses were great, this was not conducive to a lengthy morning sleep.  And the air conditioning was either on and too cold or off and too warm, and their duvet was weird.

So I was not well-rested or full of pep when I got up, did my exercises, and showered (the shower was weird too, not wanting to turn on or to turn fully off).  And when I got down to the breakfast room at a little after 9 (breakfast went until 10) it was packed and there was nowhere to sit!  Actually, most of the chairs in the Hampton lobby were not really chairs, they were some kind of Medieval torture device that you couldn't either slouch in comfortably or sit up in comfortably.

It wasn't a great morning.  We got up Dave later than we should and he was very rushed while we were both ready to leave, thinking that the line was growing and growing and we were going to be late.  But the secret was to be mellow.  I was actually thinking of being so mellow that I might come back to the hotel for a nap later that afternoon ... it wasn't a very compelling lineup as I say.

But whatever, we got saddled up, drove the short distance over and got in the car line (well organized for once!) and Dave grabbed a chair and joined the people line, which wasn't very well organized at first, but then settled in.  We were back, sitting in the hot sun waiting for the GRF gates to open.  We recognized some of the people in line, and I'm sure they recognized us.  Again, P&D were not far behind us in line.

Pamela Means and her guitar came on first right on time at 1:00.  She played some good blues on the guitar and sang some acerbic protest song, with a smile.  She was ok, but what I really wanted to start the day with was Mamma's Marmalade down on the Deans Beans stage.

Dave was up front too and I stayed for their whole set of really entertaining newgrass.  I can't say where a tight band, there were plenty of flubs in their set and a couple of confusing moments.  But they sure made up for this in enthusiasm and they were obviously so delighted to be on the stage at the GRF, it was charming.  Lily Sexton on fiddle, Mitch Bordage on mandolin, Rich Hennessy on banjo, Sean Davis on guitar, and Curtis Bordage on bass all had some great runs.  They shared vocals (except for Curtis) and had some fine moments there too, especially Sean Davis holding nothing back and singing like his feet were on fire, and Lily Sexton doing a great cover of Cold Rain and Snow (only GD song of the Festival!) in which she not only killed the guy insouciantly but then left him out in the weather.

Great stuff, and then brought Dave back up to one of the vendors for his advice on some scarfs that had caught my eye.  Already started on the main stage was The Suitcase Junket and Matt Lorenz was as excellent as ever, with a great ringing guitar sound, some funky beats, and his sister Kate Lorenz accompanying him on vocals.

Hung out for a few tunes from them and then was off again, back down through all the vendors, the kids and art tents, the hammock setup, and the people playing frisbee and twirling hoops down to the Deans Beans stage again.  It really was a beautiful day and though hot, was thankfully not at all humid.

Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward were holding forth, and again I was delighted by them.  I'd thought from the description of their duo act that it might be more technical, jazzy music than I wanted at that time of afternoon, but it was really captivating, if only for a few songs.  Charlie Hunter was sitting on a chair and playing a seven-string guitar, which allowed him to thumb a bass line while finger-picking the other strings.  And Woodward did not try to dominate the sound with her voice, filling in with some tasty wails and hollers.  This was more top-notch music being led by an eclectic and/or excellent guitar.  I was stuck to the ground there for a bit, then moved on in a mellow way.

Checked out the Parlor Room stage and was just in time to catch the last two songs by Session Americana, the second featuring Ali McGuirk.  They were playing every instrument in sight, including a "pre-war parlor guitar."

And then wow!  Back up to the main stage for one of the sets of the Festival.  The others were more blown away by Samantha Fish than I was, but only because I was a little more ready.  She had a great band with her, possibly the guys described in this article ... it was the same instrumentation at least.  But the star of the show was Samantha, who cares who else was on the stage.  She was out there with a perm, lots of makeup, high heels, glowing nails, and skin-tight pants, and she was letting the guys excel and then turning up her Gibson and letting the blues flow.  She rocked our asses off and then took names.  And she writes a lot of her own songs, another incredible musician just waiting to be noticed.

But as we discussed, she's not waiting.  She puts on the sexy outfit and then grabs your attention.  This is probably part armoring herself to become what she needs/wants to be on stage, and part doing what she needs to do to get herself noticed.  I saw Samantha later on the Green House stage, solo on a beautiful walnut acoustic, and she was looking not quite as glamorous in the bright sun rather than the stage lights (still very glamorous though).  And she was just as good, perhaps better in a stripped down setting.

Yeah, they had the "Green Stage" thing going again, which was called the Tiny House stage at one point.  It's the little pop-up stage past the beer tent and before the porta-potties, and was very popular again.  Besides Samantha I didn't time it right to see many acts there, but others in our group did.  I caught bits of Ladama, Upstate, and Eilen Jewell there as well as Samantha.

OK, time to keep rambling and I wanted to catch at least some of Lowdown Brass Band downhill.  I was a little disappointed with their style at first but then warmed up to them quickly.  They featured more vocals and beats than jazzy brass, but were very talented.  Their tuba player was so powerful he often turned to the side or even to the back of the stage so his sound mixed with the others better.  And they have two very talented vocalists, including one who can croon with the best of them.

Headed back uphill with another detour over to the Parlor Room stage for a few songs and again, I was very glad I did.  Sean McConnell, who's written some Nashville hits but I'd never heard of before, was holding forth on a big red electric Rickenbacker.  Only took me one second to realize this was not boring solo guitar, this was the good stuff.  One of those guys with a very confident voice, just the right style on his instrument to back it up, and some great chops.

But ... I wanted to catch most of Tyler Childers's set and was back uphill and bellied up to the stage (or as close as I could get), this was authentic modern country and there were a lot of enthusiasts up there.  Tyler was up front with his guitar, his drawl, and his long gaze, as well as his excellent songs.  And he had another great band: keyboards, bass, drums, and two multi-instrumentalists whose default setting was "electric guitar" but also played pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, and probably stuff I missed.  He played most of the songs from his great record, Purgatory, and probably some from his about-to-be-released record, and he closed with a solo version of his popular Lady May.  Had the great thrill of turning around at the front of the stage and seeing a sea of people, back to the umbrella line, all standing up and rapt on Tyler's songs and his great band.

I was king of tuckered out by then and was able to squeeze in a trip to the car, to the Green Stage, and get some food from the La Veracruzana stand.  By then it was time for Low Cut Connie, and the crowd swelled for this act.  He started off on top of his piano, and just upped the theatrics from there.  Again, he had an excellent band and he opened with his hit, All These Kids Are Way Too High.  But it was time to ramble again, he kind of did the opposite to me of nailing me to my seat.

I didn't think I had much choice though, but headed downhill to check out Red Baraat and again, I was very glad that I did.  He probably tops my list of surprisingly good bands at the Festival, and there were many of them.  They had a rocking mix of winds (including tuba and soprano sax) and electric guitars and were led by Sunny Jain on vocals and dhol drum, kind of a double-ended big thick tom-tom that he beat with some sturdy sticks.  With their trap drummer going full speed too they whipped up a musical frenzy that was a lot of fun.

Yikes!  Time to head back uphill, gush to everyone I could about the band they just missed, and to settle in for The Wood Brothers.  I was really looking forward to seeing them, had heard them many times and loved them, but had never seen them.  And they did not disappoint.  Besides the great quirky guitar sounds and vocals of big brother Oliver Wood, younger brother Chris Wood was incredible on stand-up bass.  He bowed it, plucked it, rubbed it, and at one point got some white things out of his quiver and set the tension on the strings in some weird way and got some more sounds out of them.

And Jano Rix on drums and percussion was marvelous himself.  Late in the set, he grabbed a guitar and came up front for the trio to sing together.  BUT he did not play it as a guitar, he played it solely as a percussion instrument.  It had one string on it that he sometimes struck as a drone, had a gourd clinging to the sound box like a remora fish, and he played it between both hands.

OK, we were done and packed up to leave.  We were tempted to stay for The Stone Coyotes and to maybe catch some of Angelique Kidjo's set, but it had been a long day and we were ready to head back to the hotel.  Which we did!

One problem was that I realized I was starving, though I'd had several rounds of food throughout the day.  Tristan and Scott were still at the concert, but we met up with Michelle and DaveL down in the lobby, again with lots of chips and beer and much to catch up on after that great day of music.  Chips weren't going to do it for me though, but the breakfast room was not locked and I peeked in and foraged.  I made myself a bowl of raisin bran and peanut butter, which was fantastic!  That's going to be my new go-to dish.

Tristan and Scott showed up and we talked into the night, and soon it turned midnight.  And Michelle and Scott were ready with a bottle of champagne, which was so nice of them!  It was now July 14th 2019, Sarah's and my 40th wedding anniversary.  We poured champagne all around in hotel coffee cups and Sarah dug up some old pictures of our wedding, which was truly a long time ago.

More great conversation ensued and by the time I made my excuses and staggered up to the room and got to bed it was 2AM!!  So much for my Saturday morning plans of a mellow day with a nap and an early bed time.  But this was a wonderful day of beautiful Summer weather, discovering new and old bands (12 of them), and talking with friends.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Green River Festival 2019, rocking Friday

Again, we had an astoundingly marvelous time at the Green River Festival this past weekend.  It was marvelous because there are just so many great musicians in the world and I had the privilege of listening to a whole bunch of them, and astounding because large events like this are always associated with a long list of potential/real inconveniences when you're trying to plan, but can be delightfully easy when they actually come about, especially if the weather is as cooperative as it was this past July 12-14.

Our gang of GRF friends had decided after the hotel travails of the last few years that we were going to make reservations at the expensive but really close Hampton Inn at the end of Colrain Road this year.  And we did that and then got weekend passes (and parking passes) as soon as they went on sale.  And then we were very let down when they rolled out a totally underwhelming roster of musicians.

I apologize for criticizing musicians; my criticism is meant for the Festival organizers, who took our money and then announced one of the least marquee-oriented lineups ever.  It was only saved by featuring Eilen Jewell (though she'd been there several times before, both with her own band and with Sacred Shakers) and Rhiannon Giddens, and by having some interesting younger acts, such as Tyler Childers and Samantha Fish.  And Thank Dog that when there was a cancellation they were able to fill in with a superstar, Lucinda Williams headlining Friday night.

But make no mistake, GRF organizers.  We're used to churn: a great lineup every other year with some uninspired ones in between.  But this is two years in a row with a *way* below average bill.  We kicked ourselves many times over the Winter and Spring that we had opted for GRF instead of the Levitate Festival (which had a great lineup this year), and we will bail if you keep this up.

But anyway, back to happy.  We packed up our chairs and beer and sunscreen and summer stuff, picked up Dave from a balky Red Line at Alewife, and then hit the road for the Pioneer Valley.  You may be surprised to hear that we followed exactly the same pre-concert routine as we had the last few Julys.  We parked in (I think) exactly the same spot as last year in beautiful downtown Greenfield after sneaking around into town by the back door of route 2A, and then walked the few blocks over to The People's Pint through the hot day and bright sunshine.

We were right at the height of lunch hour and so service was not snappy.  But we were not looking for snappy.  I'd decided and had announced to Sarah and Dave that my attitude all weekend was going to be mellow.  I had had a great time at last year's Festival (and the year's before, and the year's before ... this was our tenth), but had often felt I had to put a lot of effort into it.  Most times the efforts had paid off and I was at the right stage at the right time to see the musicians I love the most.  But I had paid a price, particularly when the weather had been cruel (which for me is high humidity), such as in 2018.  This year my approach would be different: I would wander around with no set schedule and I would enjoy each moment as I found it.  And that's what I did, though you might be surprised to learn that this "mellow" approach led to seeing 23 bands over the course of the weekend!

After a Double IPA, a Soft Stuff IPA, an Artifact By Any Other Name cider, a Hope St. Amber ESB, and a Lawnchair Pale Ale (oh, and lunch, I got a bacon and mushroom quesadilla which was delicious), we pulled on out and moseyed down to the Hampton Inn, arriving a bit before 2.  Got a room (the desk clerk was a robot), stowed all of our stuff, texted our friends who were still on the road or about to be, and then motivated for the concert.

No problem getting our normal parking spot in the shade when we got there around 3:30 and then claiming a space in the rapidly-expanding line to get in.  We were back at GRF and the sun was shining through the emerald early-Summer trees!

Dave timed the no-bags line pretty well when the gates opened, and even though there was a mad dash for the in-front-of-soundboard spots on the lawn, we got some great ones to the right of the electrical conduit and set up our chairs.  P&D were not far behind us with their chairs.  Friend Steve was working the security, the vendors were cooking up a storm, the crowd was pouring in, and the Play It Again tent had used CDs at outrageous prices.  I picked up 10 for $20 (several of us were gleefully poring over them in the shaded tent), though I was really considering upgrading to the 100 for $100 plan!  I could have chosen 100 CDs I just had to have with no problem, but perhaps this wouldn't have been the best use of time.  Whatever, the secret was to be mellow.

OK, wasting time here, got some food and beer and then it was time for the music to start.  It was still brutally hot and bright on the main stage, but I stuck around for a few songs from Upstate, who feature some nice harmonies but didn't nail me to my seat firmly enough to put up with the heat, and so I started wandering.

Down at the Dean's Beans stage (whilom 3 Rivers Stage, etc.) I ran into Dave up front and we were both riveted by the Mtali Shaka Banda Oneness Project.  Wow, they were good!  This is a young and informal band, and Mali Shaka Banda took some time warming up.  But soon his vocal pipes started glowing and they had just the right grooves to get the Festival going for us.  Mtali had a guitarist, drummer, bassist, and keyboard player with him and they would start up a nice tune, and sooner or later Mtali would start growling some words or humming a lead, and then he'd sometimes add some riffs on his alto sax.  This may not sound like a recipe for the kind of music Jon and Dave like, but this was very, very well done and we loved it.  And his pants were on the verge of falling down, so that added a hint of danger to it.

Back up to the main stage (branded as The Tea Guys Stage) and caught a bit of Heather Maloney, whom we'd seen there before.  She's got a very nice indie-folk sound and I loved her guitarist, even before I recognized that it was the great Anand Nayak, whom I've seen many times.  Kept up the wandering as the lovely evening crept in and the temperature dropped just a little, a gentle breeze showed up at the least expected times, and the sun lowered slowly behind the Western hills.  Saw a bit of Ladama back down at the far stage (they had a bajo sexto guitat), and later a bit of Parsonsfield back  up on top.

But the real treat of my ramblings was that I timed it perfectly to catch the bulk of new Northampton band Dez Roy at the Parlor Room Stage.  They're a traditional country band that I'd caught a bit of on YouTube and was really psyched to see.  And even though my expectations were higher than they might have been, these guys just blew me away!  OK, they weren't great, but they had their act down.  Dez is the quintessential tall and skinny Western singer, does a bunch of twangy originals, and plays the heck out of his Telecaster when he gets the chance.  And he had another great guitarist with him (also on Telecaster, like a great Bakersfield band), a bass, drums, and a woman playing some very tasty licks on pedal steel.  I loved this stuff.

As mentioned in the last few years, GRFs have had "themes" to my ear over the last few years.  And to my surprise this year continued that pattern.  It was clear to me already that the theme of this Festival was "cavalcade of guitars."  I'd already seen some great Telecaster work by the country band and Mtali Banda's guitarist, as well as listening to a bit of bajo sexto and a lot of the fantastic talent of Nayak.  And then Lucinda came on with the incredible band, Buick 6 (Butch Norton on drums, David Sutton on bass, and Stuart Mathis on guitars).

I was totally swept up in Lucinda's set and was gushing about it all that late evening.  But the others who saw her weren't that impressed.  She was maybe a little toasted and wrestled with her words between songs.  But it was during the songs that I cared about and she was spilling her emotions all over the stage, with the band filling out her excellent songs and making me shiver in the hot evening. Her setlist was incredible, anchored by two of her most pained songs, Those Three Days and Essence and featuring some other wailing Lucinda blues such as Changed the Locks and Pineola.

Well, that was it for Friday night and it was a very quick trip back to the car and back to the Hampton Inn.  Quick trip up to the room to dump stuff and then down to the lobby, where a bunch of the crew had assembled.  There was a guy trying to get some work done on his laptop in the lobby, but even though we were pretty noisy there were no complaints from him or the desk clerk.  We had some beers and some chips and before we knew it, it had gotten late!  Got to bed around 1:00 or so.

Monday, July 8, 2019

No Filter 2019 At Gillette

It's weird how these things happen: the passage of time, the gradual lessening of expectations, the creep of reality.  But it happens to all of us that we somehow find that at some point we stopped expecting specific things we'd always desired.  It's sad when it's something that could still be achieved, but usually it's something like realizing that one will never be an astronaut.

And sometimes this happens without you really noticing it, just sliding away by small degrees from the "someday I will" through the "maybe I still can" to the "no way am I ever going to."  I for one had made up my mind and accepted at some point, probably way in the past now, that I was never going to see the Rolling Stones.

There are many reasons for this.  For one thing, all of us amateur actuaries thought they were going to kick the bucket at a young age.  And for another the price to go see them was always higher than what I would pay for a concert.  And there's the fact that since the 70s their shows had become ... well, shows rather than what a snob like me would consider a true music experience.  And I had decided that I'd never see a "concert" in a stadium (see prior post).  Without realizing it, in the back of my mind, I had become certain that seeing the Rolling Stones would never happen to me.

But they've always been genuinely one of the few best rock and roll bands in the world; their authenticity can't be questioned, though it might be covered with glitz.  Their most recent record is old blues covers, Jagger is finally showing signs of being human (having recently had heart surgery), and I'd just been to that excellent Dead & Company concert at Gillette Stadium, making me think that maybe another band could fill it with great sound.  I was ripe for my negative expectation to be exposed as false.

When I heard that there were still seats available at original price (not the inflated prices charged by re-sellers) for the Stones stop in Foxborough on their No Filter tour, I looked into it out of curiosity at least.  Because of Jagger's sudden medical difficulties their tour had been postponed and then the Foxborough stop was suddenly rescheduled for July 7th, probably an inconvenient time for a lot of people who had already made Summer plans.  The tickets on the field ($450) and in the first bowl ($350) were still ridiculously expensive, but there were a few at original price ($160) up in the third bowl, and we had no plans for that weekend.

I said to Sarah that if we were ever going to see the Rolling Stones then we were being handed the opportunity, like Satan tempting us to deal away our souls.  And she agreed that we just had to grab the chance.  David was seeing Phish at Fenway that Friday and Saturday and so opted out of the Stones in Gillette on Sunday, a tough decision he may regret many times.  But I went ahead and bought two tickets, sending myself into a state of shock!

We were suddenly going to see the Rolling Stones and I for one got very excited, like suddenly being told you were an astronaut.  I have to mention a few more details, since it was another beautiful early-Summer day and a great pre-concert experience.
  • We decided to get there early again because we did not want to get stressed out sitting in a line of traffic, and they let us into lot P2 (near the Stadium, not across the highway), where we set up our chairs, had a beer and a sandwich, and talked with some nice Deadhead neighbors.
  • There were many Dead t-shirts there (though way outnumbered by Stones shirts of course), including my own Dead/Bruins black shirt.  I was hoping for Paint It Black and dressed accordingly.  And I saw another guy wearing the same shirt!
  • I realized I could go over to the ticket window early and there was no line at the Will Call window.  So I picked up my tickets even more easily than I had for DeadCo.
  • AND ... then the band started up!  They were doing soundcheck and they suddenly were playing Bitch in the beautiful Massachusetts sky.  I and everybody else there (there were already a lot of people waiting for the gates to open) were very happy about this.  I could have stuck around for more soundcheck but went back to the lot for another beer and sandwich.
  • We timed it very well, packing up our chairs and stuff and then making our way in past security after some delay.  A woman in front of us was trying to bring in a full-size purse.  What an idiot.
  • After we got in it was a LONG walk up and up and up the ramps to the third bowl, don't think I've ever been that high up in Gillette before.  But they had great restrooms near our seats and a craft beer place with a lot of choices and no line.
  • We were in the middle of the third row in section 308, about on the visiting team's 45 yard line.  The sight lines from there were excellent.  The stage was about on the home team's 35 and a pier extended out into the crowd to a smaller stage at about the 50.
And very soon after we got to our seats with beer and a mixed drink, Gary Clark Jr. came on as the opener.  He played a fantastic set of funk blues-rock, showing his great guitar style.  We'd seen him in videos with Phil & Friends and with a few other bands, and in the flesh as bandleader himself he was excellent.  There was an echo for us in the third bowl (and maybe lower in the Stadium) for his first few tunes, but they soon got it straightened out and I was pretty impressed by how good the sound was, including the sight lines as I say.  We were up on top and though we were pretty far away, we could see everything on stage clearly.

The Stones stage set had 5 huge (reported as "6 story") video screens, which were not totally fired up for Clark's set, but promised even more visuals.  But we didn't need them.  We could see everyone on stage fine, especially when the Stones set up on the small stage at the 50.

OK, maybe I'm wasting time here.  I really don't know how to describe the thrill of the Stones coming out and opening with Street Fighting Man and then ripping through a setlist to die for.  I could criticize a few things like Jagger's voice not being as dynamic as I'd hoped (they seemed to be mixing him in a tight range, maybe making sure the best parts of his voice were accentuated), Richards not shining on his two vocals, and a few slow spots where they lost their head of steam.  But that's more than enough criticism, this concert/show/whatever it was would have had me in tears if I'd been fool enough to cry.

Well, let me start with the setlist.  They only did one set but there was a slight break when they moved out to the small stage to do Play With Fire and Dead Flowers with just the core four on acoustic guitars and a small kit:

Street Fighting Man
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
Tumbling Dice
She's So Cold
Ride 'Em on Down (with Gary Clark Jr.)
2120 South Michigan Avenue
Play With Fire
Dead Flowers
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Honky Tonk Women
Slipping Away
Before They Make Me Run
Miss You
Paint It Black
Midnight Rambler
Start Me Up
Jumpin' Jack Flash
Brown Sugar

Gimme Shelter
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

They were changing instruments with almost every song and Jagger played guitar on several tunes, including a great rhythm on Dead Flowers; he also played some great harp, which was delightful.  This was enthralling!  The incredible moments just poured out from them to everyone in the crowd.  Say what you will about Jagger strutting, but he was all over that set, singing to everyone in the audience.  They did the tunes but did not hesitate to crank out measure after measure of the finest blues-rock ever between the buttons (er, verses).

She's So Cold was their crowd choice (they've been having the crowd vote on a song for them to play with every show on this tour) and that's still echoing in my mind.  Ronnie Wood was incredibly versatile, playing an electric sitar on Paint It Black; I was in heaven.  And Richards and Watts were like, Richards and Watts ... but they were right there in front of me.  People have been asking me, "How was the concert?" and I have to say, "It was just like watching the Rolling Stones."  I was there!

And their band was excellent, besides the core four it was: Darryl Jones on electric bass, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Sasha Allen on vocals (she belted out Gimme Shelter like she was born to do it), Karl Denson and Tim Ries on saxophones, Matt Clifford on another keyboard and also French horn, and Bernard Fowler on congas and some excellent backup vocals.  As I say, they had their sound down, it was mixed amazingly well.  And a significant part of it was the support of Jagger's vocals on the low end by Fowler.

I was beginning to wish that they had taken a set break and thinking that maybe I could sneak out for a quick trip to the concourse between songs.  But as I say the tunes just kept coming and I decided that I was not going to miss a second, though the bathroom was a welcome relief when it was over.

They had a rack of clothes on stage for some reason, maybe so Jagger could change in full sight??  But instead he strutted off a couple of times and came back on with a different outfit, which he proceeded to rip off in his exuberance to bare his ubiquitous black t-shirt.  He had started with almost a Bruins jersey, a black and gold jacket-thing.  During one of his wardrobe changes Richards did his two songs, his own Slipping Away and then Before They Make Me Run, which were not up to par.

But then Jagger came back on and the night just went up and up and up from there.  I mean, look at that setlist!  Of many details I could mention, the most perfect touch for me was when they dragged out the bluesy ending to Midnight Rambler and Jagger was all over the stage, moaning, and then they brought it to a climax and he oozed out, "I'll stick my knife right down your throat," just like they did on Ya-Yas and just like my image of the bad boy Stones.

Oh well, what more can I say?  Gimme Shelter with Sasha Allen was as world-stopping as you might imagine.  And then they capped it off with Satisfaction, the first and last rock and roll song.

I was just so delighted I can't tell you.  Probably ended around 11:30 or so, I have no idea.  It took a long time to hit the restrooms and walk back and forth down the endless ramps with a full stadium of people of all ages, and make it back to the car.  We got out the chairs and sat there for another 45 minutes or so talking to our neighbors and chilling out (really, it had gotten a little breezy and I had my windbreaker on).  Finally the cars started moving and we joined the line, Sarah driving.

Still, it was a long slow (Harlem) shuffle out of the lot and up route 1 to 95, where the traffic didn't really let up.  Finally made it up to 128 and the long drive around to Woburn.  Had to feed the kitties when we got home and didn't get to bed until 2, but OMG, this was an amazing experience.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dead & Company Conquer Foxborough

A long time ago I decided I'd had enough of big rock and roll crowd scenes and there was really no attraction to seeing a band in a hockey rink or a football stadium.  I could have listed many reasons for that, and I was fine with it for years.

One huge reason was thinking that you could really not have a "concert" in such a setting, because it would be too difficult to get the sound anywhere near as good as in a theater or a club.  I remember making an exception to this rule for Dawes opening for Bob Dylan in Lowell in 2013.  Though they got the sound pretty good by the end of Dylan's set, it had been like wet cardboard for Dawes, and my prejudice was upheld.

But then I made another exception for the Fare Thee Well concerts in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara in 2015 ... this was one concert event that attracted me as an event itself.  And the sound for it was really much better than I'd imagined it would be.  We were about at the opposite 40 yard line from the stage and 20-30 rows up from the field, and I enjoyed the concert immensely, stunned at the quality sound from all the instruments on stage.

Since then we'd seen Dead & Company in a variety of hockey rinks and the sound was excellent each time, and it was very good when seeing them in Fenway.  But even so, I hesitated when they announced that they'd be playing Gillette Stadium on June 22nd in their 2019 Summer tour (which started in Spring, though it was (barely) Summer by the time they got to Massachusetts).  I said, "Well, maybe we shouldn't go this year."  Dave did not hesitate, "Oh, we're going," he said.

Well yeah, he had a good point.  They've been so great for their almost 4 years as a band that it would be foolish to miss them this Summer.  It's not like they'd been going downhill, quite the opposite!  We even thought that we should go for the whole experience, and we got field tickets.  We weren't going to crowd up to the stage, but we wanted to get reasonably close.

The tour opened on the West Coast this year ... in the past they've gone East to West ... and the stop in Foxborough was their 12th of the tour.  We'd heard and seen a good number of the preceding shows as they slowly made their way East, and they'd been stunningly good.  Though they hadn't played as a band since their three shows in Mexico in January, and before that the 2018 Summer tour, they only showed a little rust in their first show, and after that showed absolutely no sign of the plodding, formulaic shows they've been accused of in the past.

In fact, they'd been uniformly inventive and maybe even a little daring.  They'd mixed in riffs from Miles and Coltrane here and there, pulled out Iko Iko to commemorate Dr. John's death, and opened shows and second sets with very non-formulaic stuff, like a standalone FOTM in Indiana, The Other One and Terrapin Station as show openers in Chicago, and an incredible Spanish Jam theme through their whole last set in Wrigley Field.  And though they'd not strayed from the second set Drums > Space routine, the drummers had an absence of gimmicks (ok, we saw Mickey knocking some shoes together at one point).  In short, they had set the bar very high by the time they got to New England, and we were psyched.

That Saturday had been forecast as sunny, hot, and windy all week, but we were a bit dismayed that possible showers and thunderstorms had entered into the fray by the time we left.  We did get a few showers on the way down there, picking up Dave in Quincy on the way and leaving our new kittens to woman the fort.  When we got to Gillette they had closed the huge Northbound-side lot and so we had to settle for the huge South-bound side lot after some twisting around.

We just had time to get out our chairs and crack a beer and then who should show up but Scott and Michelle?  We'd been hoping to get together with them and voila, there they were pulling in 20 or so cars after us, what great serendipity!  They had their chairs out and beers cracked (or whatever) right away and we had a great time hanging in the lot, and talking non-stop.  There were still huge white thunderclouds circling around us and we had seen some lightning and heard some thunder to the South.  And there was a HUGE turkey vulture flying low overhead.  But the thunderclouds passed, the vulture took off for some other site, and before we knew it it was time to go in.  We had to be there when the gates opened for the field!

We had had to switch our tickets to Will Call for reasons I won't go into, but picking them up was painless and then we had a chance to catch the end of soundcheck while waiting with a hundred or so others for the field to open.  When it did, most of the people rushed to the front but we had other plans.  We wanted something to lean against (and to protect us from crowd back and forth), and we were delighted to find that in front of the soundboard was close enough for our standards, and that this meant not only was there a fence right behind us, there was one to our right and so we had a mellow little backwater, close to the stage and with excellent sound.  We got beers and sat down.  Sarah got a great long sleeve t-shirt at the merch tent too (for $60!).

Gillette was nowhere near sold out as one might expect, but visually pretty full by the time the concert started.  They had originally tried to sell some of the top bowl, but ended up closing that off and mostly filling the middle bowl, as well as the bottom one.  The crowd was kind of late arriving, but the guys came on just a bit past 7 and warmed up.  OMG, it was Dead & Company again, we'd been seeing them get closer and closer across the country and they were finally back in town, ready to rock our heads off.

Wasn't soon before they hit us with another inventive opener, and this was the start to a few hours of what seemed at the time to be close to perfection ... and seems like it on reflection too.  Here's the first set:

Eyes Of the World
Black-Throated Wind
Easy Wind
Big Railroad Blues
Bird Song
Box Of Rain

Again, Dave's blog contains a lot of great detail about the songs and the ways in which they were played.  But besides that these elicited several strong impressions:

  • I realized in a moment that they were opening with Eyes, and that this was a continuation of their adventurous openers.  But I feel this is one of the greatest songs ever written and was afraid it would take a feat of concentration to enjoy it to its utmost from a standing start.  No such delay though, I was immediately thrown into a state of bliss, like jumping into the deep end and finding it warm and fuzzy rather than cold and shocking.
  • Oteil was playing his new bass, which had not impressed me earlier in the tour, but sure was fantastic live.  And John was playing as well as ever, effortlessly turning out astounding lead after astounding lead.  And that's not to mention the others.  This was as good or better playing and singing from everyone on stage than I'd ever seen from them before.  For them to all be at their peak at the same time was one of the reasons this show was so excellent.
  • And the sound was incredible in front of the board!  We had some great neighbors and everyone was dancing and only a few people tried to barge past and then realize they had nowhere to go.  This was like being in a little living room in the middle of Gillette Stadium.  There were no flags.
  • John started off with Big Boss Man when everyone else on stage knew that the setlist said Easy Wind, but he recovered and sang it with panache.  Loser is such a great song and to follow it with Big RR Blues really spoke deep down to the country fan in me.
  • I thought the set might end after Bird Song, but then suddenly they were playing that intro and I was knocked flat.  I hadn't realized they had revived Box Of Rain and this was the third time I'd heard it in a few months, Port Chester in March, Bangor a week ago, and then here.  Once again, who are the Grateful Dead and why are they following my life so closely?  Yes, John blew the words and they had to do a "take 2," but that made it even easier to digest.

Ack!  Time for set break and they switched on the glaring football lights, then realized they didn't need to do that and mellowed them out just enough.  It was already almost dark and we needed just a bit of light.  I took off for the bathrooms (way up on the concourse) and the long wait for good beer.  There was only one stand nearby with the good stuff and they ran out halfway through filling my cup with ale! I told her not to dump it, to top it off with some pretty good witbier that was still on, and the result was palatable.

Almost time for the second set by the time I struggled back and again, they came on without much delay ... just about a 40-minute break.  The tuning was purposeful and Dave called it, a powerful beginning to another amazing set:

Help On the Way
Franklin's Tower
He's Gone
Dark Star
Stella Blue
Not Fade Away
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Not Fade Away

As wonderful as many DeadCo concerts we've been to have been, this very likely would have to be at the top of the list.  So many things about it were great:

  • I can't emphasize enough how fantastic the sound was.  I had to turn around several times to verify that yes, I was in the middle of a huge football stadium, but the harmonics and echoes were tuned just right, like in a concert hall, and the power blasting from the stage was just perfect.
  • Slipknot! was remarkable for its inventiveness, length, and democracy.  Everyone on stage had something to say about it.  And He's Gone was sung as beautifully as I've ever heard it, and with an incredibly infectious pace.
  • During the jam after He's Gone I turned to Dave and commented that Dreamflower was out of luck.  Dave's friend had never heard a live Dark Star and was there that evening.  They hadn't played it since the 7th in Washington and we anticipated they would that night, but by that point in the set I figured it was too late for them to start it.  And then ... Jeff tinkled the first inkling of it and they all fell into place.  Again, see Dave's blog for more details, but this was one of the best Dark Stars I've ever heard ... and this song is at its best when filling a large space.
  • And I have to comment on this Drums > Space segment, which was just fantastic.  Oteil joined Mickey and Billy in a furious attack on the tom-toms, and later Mickey did some amazing things on the beam.  When the band joined them for Space it was a soundscape you could float on.
  • I'd predicted either Stella Blue or Morning Dew for the after-Space song, and when they started up Stella Blue it was more perfection.  Bobby's voice was at its strongest and most emotive.
  • Crowd pleaser at the end, and this was the full thing, though the transition to GDTRFB could have been a bit more gradual.  Oh well, NFA had the whole stadium on its feet.

We were just gaping with open jaws and stunned expressions at each other and at our neighbors.  In our little living room in front of the soundboard this had been one of the best concerts I'd ever experienced, maybe the best.  Who cares how far away we were from anywhere else, we were where we should have been at that moment.

Very short break before they came back out and lined up for the encore.  They did The Weight and the only regret of the night was that Oteil and Jeff only had their verses on this to shine at lead vocals.  Bobby got the crowd going again with the vocal coda, and this was a great ending to a great night of music.  They waved and namasted and were gone.  We'll see more of the tour from the couch, but we'd just had a great one.

Headed up to the concourse for the bathrooms, and then down the long pedestrian ramp to get out, then up the huge stairway to traverse the shopping area.  But it actually wasn't very far back across route 1 to our car.  And just before we got there, we ran into Dreamflower and friend, and had some company.  The line out of the parking lot wasn't going anywhere, so we pulled out the chairs and had another beer and sandwich.  It had gotten kind of chilly by then.  It had been windy all day and the temperature had now dropped to sweatshirt level, not bad for a late June night.

Finally got on the road and, as expected, they made us go South out of the parking lot!  JFC, this was a pain but we got turned around safely after a while, made it back up past the Stadium, and then finally onto 95, 128, and back home where the kitties were waiting anxiously.  Got to bed around 2:00 or so, not bad for a Saturday night.  Hey, they didn't play that!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Phillie Tour In Bangor

Boy, all this stuff about vacation, travels, and reality had kept us from our true what-we-really-should-be-doing stuff, which is going to concerts.  Specifically, summer concert season.  And the big kick-off to summer concert season this year (even though it’s still very much late Spring in New England, especially up North) was that Willie Nelson’s annual extravaganza was starting their tour in Bangor Maine on June 14th!

If you don’t know who Willie Nelson is and what he means to the culture of this, our planet … I have no idea where to start (well, “The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock Montana rode into town one day…).  And what really blew us away when we first heard about this tour, was that he’d be playing with Phil Lesh & Friends, Alison Krauss, his sons’ bands, and a host of others (Outlaw Music Festival 2019).

They weren’t coming close to Boston, but that’s all relative.  They were opening at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor in mid-June (that's my sister's car dealer!).  And though that’s 3.5 hours away, when you get there it’s just a hop, skip, and jump from our house in Maine.  We signed up as soon as we could and got 7th row seats, though they were disappointingly far left.  This meant we were near the beer, bathrooms, and exit.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Anyway, the three of us took that Friday off work and were going to drive up that morning, but at the last minute we decided to go up Thursday after work.  This meant we drove through a Biblical rain-storm, but we stopped at the BBQ place in Augusta for dinner and had a pretty successful trip up … we’ve done this before.

One thing led quickly to another on Friday morning and before we knew it it was time to leave, armed with sunscreen, bug spray, rain slickers, sweatshirts, sunglasses, food, and all kinds of summer concert stuff.  This was Maine after all, and though the mid-June day seemed temperate, the forecast called for scattered showers and lows perhaps dipping into the 40s that night.

Pleasant drive up to Bucksport and up the Penobscot River on 15, and then over to the big city on the 1A bridge and soon we were at the Pickering Square Parking Garage, where we had a late lunch of a few sandwiches while watching the other concert-goers assemble.  Then a nice (but windy!) walk down Main Street to the venue.

This was a real mixed crowd.  There were a number of older people with flannel shirts and cowboy boots (or the Maine equivalent) there to see Willie, a number of people with flannel shirts over tie-dyed t-shirts there for Phil, a number of people with flannel shirts and a polite demeanor there for Allison, and a number of people with flannel shirts and work boots there for the rock bands.  OK, there was a common thread here.  It was a beautiful day on the waterfront in Bangor, and we all milled around.

We three detoured to the park at water’s edge and emptied our water bottles in preparation for going in.  We had our stuff in clear plastic bags as prescribed, and were prepared for one of *those* concert entry experiences.  One woman in front of us did her best to slow down the line, but it was really pretty painless.  It was a long slog past the food vendors and the port-a-potties to get in, but when we got to our 7th row seats things were pretty good.  The beer tent was 50 feet away, the bathrooms 100 feet, and the stage less than that.

Brief paragraph on Darlings’s Waterside Pavilion, based on our subjective observations that day, including a tour around the environs.  Though there were several good things about it, there was a lot that was sub-prime about this place.  If you had a seat in the front few sections the sight lines were very good, but the back and lawn seats were pitiful, you might as well stay home and watch it on TV since that’s what you were going to do anyway.  I think from most of the lawn seats you physically would not be able to see the stage.  The beer was expensive and they ran out of everything except Bud Light halfway through the concert.  The bathrooms were just a row of port-a-potties and sometimes had long lines.  And they wouldn’t let you bring in any food and then when you were inside you had to wait in line forever to get gruesome, fried fare.  Dave waited in line at what should have been a less-busy time but was in line for 40 minutes.

And when we got to our seats we were delighted in some ways, but overwhelmed in others.  The first act, Particle Kid (Willie’s son Micah), had started right on time at 3:30 when we were just entering the venue.  And at our seats the volume was deafening.  I don’t often complain about things being too loud, but this was intense!  Particle Kid is a really fun power-rock (with a little bit of indie or emo) trio with Micah shredding it on guitar, and a driving bass and drums.  And they had it turned up to 11.  We could not hear each other, shouting as we were from one seat to another.

But they were really pretty good and Micah Nelson was being a showman in unlaced work boots, windmilling on his guitar when the mood went from moody to excited, and jumping on the speakers at the front of the stage when he thought people weren’t paying attention.  He had a spaceman wandering around stage and had a filter that made his guitar sound like a laser gun.  A lot of people did pay attention to him and and we gave him and his act a good reception.

As we asked ourselves (and the friends we met at our seats) about most of the acts that day, how you could not like something like that?  They were good musicians laying it down for us and though their genre or song-writing choices might not be to your taste (Particle Kid has a song (and a video) called “Everything Is Bullshit” and the chorus went, “Everything is fucking bullshit,” which was quite the twist!), this was authentic American music with no trace of irony, though it had a lot of angst.

Next up was another of Willie’s sons, Lukas, with his band Promise Of the Real, which has been around since 2008 and is currently Neil Young’s regular backing band.  They delivered a very polished set of country rock at a slightly lower volume, though Lukas had his brother Micah on lead guitar and he tried to rip it up.  Some of their songs are really well-written and this was quite an enjoyable set, as the afternoon threatened to end sometime.  We were shaded by the tent around the stage, but the sun was starting to get pretty brilliant as it got lower in the sky.

It was another one of those experiences when you think that the day will last forever, and suddenly the first two sets were gone.  Next up was The Revivalists, a New Orleans-based rock band (on the poppier side) who have a pretty good sound themselves.  They’re not really the kind of band that grabs me, being not very funky, not very guitar-driven, and not very anything distinctive.  This was just good solid original rock music with feeling and a baritone sax.  And the lead singer looked like a rock guy, he was wiry with a lot of hair.

OK, halfway through and the great part was about to start.  Dave had waited in the interminable food line and got me a decent hot dog when he got there.  The guys were setting up the stage for Alison and this was quite a production.  They lowered a backdrop of some attic windows, brought in a gas lamp and a dollhouse(??), and scattered several Ionic pedestals around.  I think they were going for a “Windy City” kind of visual atmosphere but it mostly fell flat.

This was especially true for us because we couldn’t really see it.  Though we were in the 7th row we were pretty far left.  Not far enough so we couldn’t see and enjoy the musicians (there was even another section to our left), but we were at a severe angle to the stage and there was a cameraman in our way, so though we could see the musicians, we couldn’t really see their setup or the cute bits on the stage.

The cameras (one on each side, pretty close to the action) were there to feed the real-time TV screens flanking the stage, which were probably all the people on the lawn could see, as mentioned.  You could understand why they were there, though the camera on our side was kind of a pain for us, it was right in the way.  As close to the stage as we were, many of the people around us watched the TV screens most of the time anyway.  Not me.  I glanced at them from time to time to (e.g.) see Willie professionally lit or to see Bobbie Nelson on piano (not at all visible from the audience), but most of the time I was riveted on the stage.

So anyway, Alison came on and what a band she had.  We’d been wondering about Phil’s band and there had not been good information about this (see below), but even more lacking was information as to what kind of band Alison would have.  She brought the A-team.  How’s this: Jeff White(!) on mandolin and vocals, Sidney Cox on dobro and vocals (they were both in a “trio” mike arrangement with her at mid-stage), Matt Rollings on piano, Barry Bales on bass, Ron Block on guitar and banjo, and a lead guitarist and drummer whose names we didn’t catch.

Alison was great, though a jarring juxtaposition to the loud and frantic rock that came before her.  As I say, many of the people there were there to see her, and she sure brought the goods, backed up by that incredible band.  They opened with a couple of songs from her latest record to set the pace, and then hit most of her big ones:

  • River In the Rain
  • I Never Cared For You
  • Stay
  • Forget About It
  • Baby Now That I’ve Found You
  • Ghost In This House
  • Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson
  • The Lucky One
  • Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us
  • It’s Goodbye and So Long To You
  • Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground
  • Go To Sleep You Little Baby
  • Let Me Touch You For Awhile
  • Sawing On the Strings
  • Down To the River To Pray
  • Gentle On My Mind
  • When You Say Nothing At All
  • When I’ve Done the Best I Can I Want My Crown

Yikes, this was 18 songs and she did them in at most 90 minutes.  These were all pretty short renditions, and the stage crew was doing the thing of thrusting the instruments for the next song into the musicians’ hands before they’d really finished the one they were working on.  But this pace was great for us and great for the delighted crowd.  Though she did nothing approaching a rocker and so may have put some people to sleep, this was music of the highest quality and had me on the edge of my seat.  Some highlights were the trio vocals and Alison’s fiddle of course, Block’s guitar work, and just amazing runs from Rollings on piano.

OK, time to get ready for what we were really there for.  As mentioned, it was a little mysterious who was going to be on stage with Phil.  He had played with Jorma Kaukonen, John Molo, Rob Barraco, and Grahame Lesh earlier in the week in Port Chester, and that band was going to be with him the next day at Mountain Jam.  Between those two gigs there was this stop on the Willie tour, and we hoped that that same band would be playing.  But we had heard late that Ross James and Alex Koford from his other band were going to be there, so we weren’t sure (I saw Ross and Alex at the beer tent during the first act).

Though we were disappointed that Jorma wasn’t there, Phil ended up playing with the rest of that great band of Molo, Barraco, and Grahame, and also added James, Koford, AND Elliott Peck.  Just say “Elliott Peck” to me and I will be happy.  So let’s say you’re playing “rock stars trading cards” and you get offered the chance to trade your Jorma Kaukonen card for three others: Ross James, Alex Koford, and Elliott Peck.  Would you do it?

Whatever, this band hit the floor running and turned in a neat 90-minute set that had us in ecstasy.  Molo reinforced his nickname of “White Cloud” right before they started, and I tried to emulate him.  Here’s the list:

  • New Minglewood Blues (RJ)
  • Jack Straw (RJ, GL)
  • Box Of Rain (PL)
  • Ramble On Rose (AK)
  • The Music Never Stopped (RJ)
  • The Wheel (all)
  • Help On the Way (RB)
  • Slipknot!
  • I Know You Rider (all)
  • Brokedown Palace (EP)

This was just excellent, excellent stuff, a whole evening of Phil Lesh music compressed into a short set.  Ross started it off with a breathtakingly funky take on Minglewood, including growling over the Maine phillies.  The intro to Jack Straw was pure Furthur.  I hope Phil is singing Box Of Rain when I die, or if and when he dies.  Ramble On Rose did not really take off but had Elliott on vocal and her style is enough to knock the wind out of you.  Then what I thought it was an exceptional Music … until Elliott stepped up and sang those parts and it went from great to epic…

There was a woman dancing in front of us, in ecstasy at hearing and being so close to Phil.  Elliott stepped up to the mike and the woman grabbed herself and shouted, “She’s singing the Donna parts!!!”  Yes she was, and she got them down.

The Wheel was done with all the trimmings, and then it seemed like the second set had started when we calmed down from that and Rob got us right back up with an excellent vocal on Help and the band went full tilt into a shortened Slipknot!  Then we all realized it was time to end the shortened Dead show when they wound it down with Rider.  But what would be the “encore?”  Elliott’s turn to shine again and she knocked out a fantastic Brokedown that left not a dry eye in the house.

But what was I doing during all of this?  Watching Phil of course.  Rob was really on that night and Grahame unexpectedly chimed in with some fantastic leads.  Koford is a surprisingly tasteful rhythm guitar player and the interplay between the three guitarists was great (Ross switched to pedal steel for The Wheel and made it sound like first Garcia).  And Molo was great, though I couldn’t really see him.  But as ever, the player of the night was … Phil!  I could just listen to his bass pounding and soaring and coloring my world for a long time.  We were pretty close to the stage, and there were a lot of people and things between me and him, and we were outside in the middle of a huge crowd.  But I was watching him and he was right there, somehow becoming more vivid to me as I watched.  I was looking through a perceptual tunnel and realized what a wonderful time he was having, doing what he likes to do best.  He was ageless and so was I.

I had thought we might get an abbreviated donor rap, but they had a schedule to meet.  They all bowed at center stage like a proper P&F band, and then Phil’s only remarks were to get ready for Willie!  So we did.

Oh boy, were we really nearing the end of the night?  They took forever setting up the stage for Willie, and teased us with a couple of his music videos on the big screen, which didn’t seem to hurry him up at all.  Finally he came on at about 10:20 and treated us to an hour set.

With Willie was his sister Bobbie on tinkling piano of course, a bass player, son Micah on traps, a percussionist, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and son Lukas on electric guitar.  I have to say that their set was not great, though seeing Willie is an electric thrill.  His tempos were as oddball as ever but this is his style, and when he would take over a song on his beat-up old guitar, which he did not hesitate to do, he was enthralling.

The played very much a “greatest hits” set for the Maine country crowd, opening with Whiskey River and cruising through such stuff as Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, On the Road Again, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground (though Alison had covered it earlier that evening), Always On My Mind, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me, It’s All Gone To Pot, etc.  Dave was amazed when he’d be singing a verse, suddenly point his mike to the crowd, and we’d finish it for him.  This was a crowd of Willie freaks, though a lot of people left in the middle of it to try to beat the traffic.

Willie at one point whipped off his hat and threw it into the crowd, and later got a bunch of bandannas that he tossed hither and yon.  This wasn’t a really inspired performance, but what do you expect of an 86-year old musician on the first night of a tour?  Also, it was getting kind of cold by that point.  There had been a few sprinkles of rain, one almost approaching a steady drizzle, and the temperature had dropped.  This was Maine though, and we were all prepared … everyone got out their rain slicker and/or sweatshirt.

And then sooner than expected, it was over!  I’d been thinking we’d go until midnight but apparently there’s an 11:30 curfew for music acts in Bangor and they stopped even before that … must have been 11:20.  I was afraid it would take us forever to get out of the amphitheater but it actually went pretty well, and though it was a long walk back to the car that went well also.

Of course, once we were in the parking garage we realized it would take a while to get out of there.  As anticipated, we were starving and this was a great time to chill out and have a sandwich.  Sooner or later the backup started moving and we joined the end of it.  The drive back to Sedgwick was not too painful and then we were back in our house in the woods, having seen a great concert nearby.  Bed at just about exactly 1AM.