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Whirlygig: 100: Out on the Town

Tall Stacks docks with cool musical acts and the people swarm en masse

By Brandon Brady · October 22nd, 2003 · Whirlygig
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Tall Stacks in all their glory
Dale M. Johnson

Tall Stacks in all their glory



Tall Stacks: Five Days of Peace, Love and Understanding
I attended a couple of days of Tall Stacks last week with the intention of taking photos of some of the acts that performed and maybe some of the boats and such. I gave up on the boats pretty quickly because they seemed to be covered from every conceivable angle by the hoard of people that attended. The only novel thing I could think of were "river nudes," and I don't think the Tall Stacks folks would go for it, no matter how artistic my ideas. Also, there was the matter of getting people to do it and I had no takers. Some people are no damn fun at all.

Wednesday, Oct. 15: I went to the media tent to pick up my media badges in the late afternoon with my 8-year-old son, Stu. I figured it would be kind of a kick for him to go with me on a job and see bands and such. I was told that there was a media boat that would take members of the media (natch) around, but we couldn't find it nor had any of the volunteers stationed along the river heard of it. I'm now convinced it was a deliberate ploy to throw me off the scent of the real story to be had at Tall Stacks: the scandalous behavior of Mark Twain impersonators.

Oh sure, they seem pleasant with their rustic wit and white suits, but beneath their cottony hair styles beat the hearts of anything-for-a-thrill beasts. One minute they're dispensing folksy, home-spun wisdom; the next they're tearing up their hotel rooms and going through re-enactment groupies like they were tissue. One day, I'm going to write a hard-hitting exposé on the dark underbelly of the whole sordid mess, I swear (actually, none of that is true about the Mark Twain impersonators as far as I know. Fun to think about though).

Anyway, Stu and I couldn't find the media boat and we had to get over to Covington to Jack Quinn's for an afternoon gig by Lovely Crash. I gave Stu the camera, and he acquitted himself nicely.

After that, it was back over the river to Tall Stacks, parking blocks away to avoid paying the $15 parking fee offered by places by the riverfront. I must say I admire the parking lots' adherence to modern prices despite the "olde tyme" atmosphere. Hell, makes me want to buy some lots myself. There's money in paved, lighted parking areas, I tell ya.

Since we had eaten at Quinn's, we were able to miss out on the pricey grilled cuisine for sale at Tall Stacks. We did, however, splurge on $6 worth of lemonade, into which was put half a lemon rind. Stu asked me why they were putting something we usually throw away into his drink. I replied I had no idea and to "drink around it," which, in retrospect, doesn't seem like it's actually possible.

We then fought through the crowds of people to Lucinda Williams' set. Down by the stage, we ran into Messerly & Ewing, which I was glad of, because Brian Ewing is easy to spot in a crowd since he's very tall. Stu and I were let through the security barrier in front of the stage ("the pit") for the first three songs. Tall Stacks' rules dictated that photographers can photograph the acts inside the barrier for the first three songs only, which is pretty standard. "She looks sleepy," my son said of Lucinda, "and she's slurring her words."

"Well, when you go to as many places as she does and talk to so many people, you get pretty tired."

"She seems drunk, dad."

"How do you know?"

"I dunno. I just think that."

"Where do you learn this kind of stuff?"

"I dunno. I just think that."

"Well, you and I are going to talk later when it's quieter."

"OK. Are we done here? Can we go find Mark and Brian?"

"Sure."

And thus we did, as well as finding Sean Rhiney, Dave and Amy Purcell, Justin Lynch and his wife Jonni, Jackie (Brian's wife) and Christie (Mark's wife) and Lincoln and Owen (Mark & Christie's kids) and Michael Kerns as well as Mark and Brian.

Dave immediately set the tone for the rest of the evening by seeing Stu and shouting, "Stu, man! What the fuck is up!? Oops." I think he made Stu's year. "Never do or say anything Dave does or says," I told Stu.

Lucinda turned in a competent but lackluster set. Stu managed to finagle a dollar out of Amy Purcell by beating her in a race. I'm so proud. Creedence Clearwater Revisted had begun to play. "People will listen to anything" was the consensus. Then our merry group went over to the StoneWater set on the Public Landing, from which Stu and I regretfully left from early because it was like 10 o'clock and he's just 8 after all.

Thursday, Oct. 16: I skipped Thursday night's bill of performing fare because the Bluegrass-to-music I actually enjoy ratio was too heavily favored toward Bluegrass.

Friday, Oct. 17: I arrive and there has to be something like the entire population of the city plus Dayton and Columbus at Tall Stacks. I'm told the final count was 50,000, and right then it seemed like it. A vast sea of people from all walks of life and all of them moving slower than a glacier.

Note to everyone, everywhere: If you're attending a large, crowded event and there's limited room to move due to sponsor booths or what have you, WALK. Don't stop to chat in the middle of a pathway. WALK, so I don't have to be tempted to start heaving you out of the way by the waistband of your pants, no matter how richly you deserve to have this done to you and how much I dearly want to do it. There'd probably be charges of some sort, and you're busy and I know I'm busy and we really don't need to go through the whole arrest-and-court thing. To sum up, get out of my way, I've got things to do. Thanks.

My first stop was the Steve Earle show, which was packed. Ran into fellow CityBeat-er Mike Breen and hung out for a bit with him. Bottles (or, more properly, "plastic containers that look like beer bottles") of Bud Light were $5 a piece. The bathroom lines looked like flights into the Promised Land. So naturally I bought a beer, because I'm kind of stupid sometimes. Steve turned in an OK set that the crowd seemed to like.

Then it was over to Emmylou Harris' set, which was fine indeed even though she spent a lot of time at the beginning of it trying to get her guitar in tune. That was fine because she sang like an angel. Met up with some ASMP photographers and some photographers from "other publications" as they say in the pit in front of the stage. Took some pics of some of the crowd who said, "Take my picture." Then it was out of the pit and into the crowd, where I met up with and promptly lost Dave, Sean, Brian, Amy, Jonni and Mike. Walked with Jonni over to get something for her to eat, then it was into the pit for Los Lobos. I stayed only for the first three songs, which were as rocking as they were expected to be. Upon looking out at the crowd, however, it freaked me out -- all those people.

I caught a cab up to The Cavern to hang out with Spiff and Odd Man Out and Waterproof Blonde from Louisville. Sure I can see those bands whenever, but sometimes ya just gotta be around a few people you know instead of several thousand.

Saturday, Oct. 18: I had a 6 p.m. meeting with Jon Shepard (formerly of folk?, now of The Spectacular Fantastic and www.free-the-music.net) at York St. Café in Newport with the intention of attending Tall Stacks after I met with him. My attendance at Tall Stacks was not to be. On the drive over, the Newport exit was jammed and, by the looks of it, so was every sane and convenient way out of Newport. So I hung out at York St. and saw Kit Malone from Indiana (he was good) and The Spectacular Fantastic (featuring 2003 CEA nominee Mike Detmer). Both Kit and The Spectacular Fantastic were very good, and I advise you to go see them when you get the chance.

I had an interesting conversation with a woman who told me, "I'm not a groupie, I just like to have fun." Well, don't we all, is all I could say to that. When it seemed safe to hit the roads unmolested by traffic, I left.

Sunday, Oct. 19: I had every intention of going to the incredibly successful and well-attended Tall Stacks celebration, but I had to prepare for my court date the next morning on charges that I heaved an elderly woman out of my way by the waistband of her pants. Lies, I tell you, all lies.

-- Dale Johnson

Letting Out a Good Wine
All I know about choosing a wine is red wine for red meat and white wine for fish or pasta. That's what was going on in my mind when our waiter at Macaroni Grill in Tri-County was taking our drink orders. Jen decided it would be a good idea to start off our Sunday with a glass of wine with our lunch.

She had a two-minute conversation with our server about the wines, trying to figure out which wine wasn't two dry or fruity for her chicken salad before she settled in on her choice. I didn't even know where to start, so I just ordered the cheapest white wine on the list to go with my "Create-Your-Own Pasta."

I was extremely surprised how good my first sip of wine tasted. It was the best cheap white wine I had since the wine tasting I went to at the Wine Merchant. Jen, on the other hand, had a big frown on her face after sipping her wine. It took a couple of seconds for us to realize that the server accidentally switched our glasses.

After Jen took a sip of her correct wine, she smiled and said, "That's what I was expecting." I took a sip of mine wine and frowned, "That's exactly what I was expecting." I think later this week I'll go and buy an idiot's guides to wine.

As we were waiting for our entrées, a middle-aged lady, with a haircut that was 20 years younger than she, was seated a couple of tables away from us. A few moments later her daughters showed up. The first one looked dead on Britney Spears. The second looked like Christina Aguilera, at least when Christina had long black hair.

I couldn't help but point this out to Jen. I was sent off into sexual fantasyland when Jen said, "Maybe they'll start making out."

After a few moments of daydreaming, I said, "Remember it was Madonna and Britney that made out at the MTV Video Music Awards. It would be my luck that one of the daughters would start making out with the mom."

It was just my luck that the normal din that goes on in the Macaroni Grill died down right when I made my comment. The mother of Britney and Christina heard my smart-ass comment. She turned around and started staring right at me with a look that said, "If my daughters weren't here right now, I'd walk over and bitch slap you."

I didn't help matters any when I just kept smiling back at her. She finally turned back around when I started winking at her.

After lunch, we decided to walk off our wine buzz by doing a little shopping at Best Buy. Our goal was to go into Best Buy and only buy the new OutKast CD that everybody and their mother is raving about, the new Black Keys album and nothing else.

Jen went a little bonkers when she saw a display shelf of Beatles CDs on sale as soon as we walked in. I knew she would be awhile so I went and picked up the CDs we went into the store to buy in the first place. She was still glassy-eyed by the possibility of updating her Beatles vinyl records and tapes to CDs so I made a beeline to the plasma TVs and home speaker systems for some good old-fashioned electronic drooling.

We decided to end our day with a little shopping at Jungle Jim's. Neither one of us had been to JJ's in a while. We were both surprised by how massive it's growing. Jen remembers going to Jungle Jim's as a kid when it was nothing more than a tented vegetable stand. Now it's a huge complex with a monorail finally being built around the store.

Fortunately for my wallet, Jen taught me the secret to shopping at Jungle Jim's. You only need to buy goods that you can't find at your neighborhood grocery store. We spent most of our time in the store in the huge wine section. Jen was trying her best to explain the difference between cabernet, pinot noir and merlot. I lost all interest once I realized they had huge bottles of Chimay, a hearty beer brewed by Trappist monks.

-- R.L. Newman


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