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by Jeff Roberson 04.30.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Festivals, Reviews at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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MerleFest 2012: Jubal's Kin All Over the Place

Saturday, Apr 28: Jubal's Kin Festival Grounds

Saturday at MerleFest broke hard and cold. Our camping neighbors had an impromptu jam session at 3 a.m., which is to be expected when camping at a music festival geared towards people who not only love to watch and listen, but also play. It would have been one thing to hear the soft strains of a string jam or the gentle harmony of "Wildwood Flower," but some dude shouting the lyrics to "Whipping Post" over badly tuned guitars played really hard … not the thing mountain dreams are made from.

So I sat, at sun up, reading and drinking coffee, plotting revenge and the instead of taking my revenge, made the accused coffee, read some more and generally moved real slow. Crustymarhsmellowman. I did get to play a couple tunes with Pete McWhirter as he moved past to grab some coffee on his way to open his booth.

Then I moved real slow some more.

Really real slow.

After lunch, I decided to make an attempt to see some music.

I had already missed Jim Lauderdale at the Creekside Stage. To bad, I like some Jim Lauderdale and it would have been a nice wake up, but there you are. I saw on the schedule Jubal's Kin at the Dance Tent, looked at the clock and … damn missed that, too. But what ho! There they are on the schedule at the Americana Tent immediately following their Dance Tent set. It's a MerleFest miracle! I grabbed my camera and another cup of coffee and headed out.

Jubal's Kin, all nerves and bad house sound on Day 1, was all smooth and in good voice on Day 3. They filed the promise I thought I saw at the Cabin Stage on what always seems like an eternity ago and delivered a set full of vigor, with pristine sound delivered by the sound person. Their originals are fresh with sparse instrumentation and the kind of tight harmonies that only siblings can deliver. Never lyrically embarrassing with overplayed earnestness or too casual observation, they meld in with beautifully arranged and originally considered traditional tunes. There's "The Cuckoo," that ancient English broadside, rendered as if Billie Holiday had spent some time in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. "Buffalo Gal" was reconsidered as a pop tune with a well delivered encouragement to jump in on the chorus and sing along. Gaelanne's fiddle playing is absolutely gorgeous in a John Hartford/Matt Comb's kind of way, though leaning a bit heavier on the front of the beat as opposed to sitting in the pocket. And her banjo playing is just delicious. They added one more member for this set — "Uncle Joe" on pedal steel and fiddle. With "Baby Brother" on bass, Jubal's Kin appears to be a family band.

Satisfied my instincts were intact, I left the Americana Stage to catch some other music. I wondered into the Traditional Tent to catch some of mountain legend Red June. He was explaining to the audience what a jam session was. Have I mentioned the Traditional Tent smells like a barn? I don't think it's intentional, but the wet grass combined with an enclosed space has rendered an unfavorable impression. After the lesson on what a "jam" is, Red invited a local banjo player up to do a fiddle tune with the fiddle player who didn't bring a fiddle, but did bring a mandolin. Not to fear! You can play fiddle tunes on mandolin (or piano for that matter), so he requested the newest banjo player and the fiddle player with the mandolin decide on a tune they both knew and then play it. Five minutes of discussion and tuning followed. As I headed out of the tent I thought  "Just like a jam session," and went down to the Creekside Cabin to catch the rest of the Snyder Family Band and the following act, Sierra Hull and Highway 111.

The Snyder Family Band is a family Bluegrass band (no irony at MerleFest!). Like all Bluegrass bands they have a banjo, sing harmonies and play Bluegrass. Of course they play it really well. People love them. Standing ovation.

I waited around for Sierra Hull and Highway 111 to take the stage. Sierra Hull, 5-foot-nothing and former wiz kid master of the mandolin is now a promising songwriter and ingenue. I'm familiar with this script and am bored not two minutes into the first song. Sigh. I stop in the field in front of the Watson Stage to hear some of "Assembly of Dust." Young Nashville Country script. Know it. Boring. Moving on.

It's coming up on 3 p.m. and time to give my sister a break in her booth in the Heritage Tent. Nancy Roberson is a weaver based out of Knoxville, Tenn. She's been showing, selling and demonstrating at MerleFest for about as long as there has been a MerleFest. She heads out for her afternoon nap (apparently a hardwired Roberson DNA trait) and I pleasantly meet the mass of retail customers streaming by and wondering into her booth.

Nancy makes shawls. Well kind of. Not only does she design each warp for the loom, but on these particular pieces of clothing, she has design the shawl itself. It's twisted, sewn up the back, and pulled over your head like a loose fitting sweater. The front gathers in soft bunches and hangs across the chest. The ladies love them. Woven of soft cotton and rayon with the occasional silk woven in for effect, the main color of each shawl is broken up with a rhythm of competing and sometimes complimentary colors. People can't help but be drawn in by the colors and when the reach out and touch them, you always get an "Oooooo, these feel so nice and are so beautiful." If you don't, it's a replicant — ready your phasers.

When Nancy returned, I checked the schedule and cheese whiz on a cracker if Jubal's Kin wasn't playing in the barn-like Traditional Tent. Finally a chance to catch this band in more intimate surroundings, smell be damned. I headed over, got there early and claimed a seat near the front. In short order the band was on stage, laughing and calling out songs. They moved though a load of traditional tunes, all rendered in a sweet, imaginative way, like "Dinah Blow Your Horn," with added lyrics and a new verse melody. The Carter Family's "No Depression" was delivered in soul rendering pain. About midway through the set, a guitar string broke enabling some spontaneous double fiddle and dancing. While the guitar player stepped off stage, "Uncle Joe" and
Gaelanne tuned their fiddles and discussed which tune to play. In a matter of thirty seconds (this is no a jam session) launched into a Skillet Lickers number my dad probably danced to when he was their age. A friend jumped up on stage and launched into some spirited clogging. Not to be undone, "Baby Brother" put his bass down, peeled off his shoes and joined the Appalachian chorus line at the end of the stage with some well executed Buck Dancing.

Yes sir, these kids from Florida are the real shit. I've spent decades in front of poseurs, wannabees, shitty players and hopefuls. Using a foundation of traditional music obviously passed along from a family that loves this stuff at an early age, Jubal's Kin are making something very real, unique and personal that compels you to be a part.

This is why I come to MerleFest. Thanks, guys, for inviting me in.

Exhausted from a night of no sleep and a day of wandering and finding Jubal's Kin, I headed back to my book and coffee and called it a day.

 
 
by Jeff Roberson 04.30.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews, Festivals at 08:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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MerleFest 2012: Lost Bayou Ramblers and More

Friday Evening, Apr 27: MerleFest Festival Grounds

After lunch, I was ready for something a little more upbeat, so I headed back to the Americana stage to check out The Lost Bayou Ramblers. I caught these guys last year at the same stage, and they brought the place down. I suppose most Cajun and Zydeco is infectious — that constant backbeat and sing-songy lilt of the melodies, but done well, it can be a bit mind blowing.

The Lost Bayou Ramblers hail from Lafayette, La. and their Zydeco is the real deal. Not quite as hard hitting as The Bluerunners, they still bring an enormous drum sound to an already rhythm-heavy beat. Fiddle, accordion, electric guitar, double bass, acoustic guitar and drums — the fiddle, accordion and electric guitar feed a triple-stack tone attack to every melody. It's like Lynyrd Skynyrd ca. 1975 without the volume, hair or rednecks. It's really something to behold and listen to. The fiddler sings and works the crowd in both French and English, the bass player holds his big acoustic bass like he's ready to swing it over his head, while the electric guitar player stands at the front of the stage arena rock style and the acoustic player runs back and forth behind everyone. These guys are regulars at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette and I suspect a trip to catch them in such intimate surroundings would be life changing. Check YouTube for some of their videos.

I left the Americana stage a bit exhausted and headed over to see what was going on in the Traditional Tent and found Phil and Gaye Johnson in the middle of their set. Long time radio host of various roots music programs, Phil and Gaye do tight harmonies and Roots-based acoustic music. Easy to listen to, they move from original to traditional and without a little bit of knowledge of traditional music, it would be easy to confuse what's original and what's not. Phil's a fantastic acoustic and dobro guitar player moving easily between slide, flatpicking, various forms of fingerpicking and sometimes both. The music is not something I generally sit and listen to, but like everything you see at MerleFest, the playing is top notch and professionally presented.

I slipped out of the tent and as I walked past the picking area, I could here the strains of Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce moving though the air. Like a lot of kids brought up in the 1970s, Peter was my first real introduction to Bluegrass music though the Old and In The Way LP. My dad had a few Bill Monroe LPs, but my mom wouldn't let him play that "hillbilly" music while she was around, which was pretty much all the time.

I wasn't planning on heading back to the Watson Stage, but I was intrigued. As I got closer, Peter was doing an slow acoustic version of "Panama Red." Frankly, I thought he was mailing it in, but I was still pretty far from the stage, so I kept moving in. By the time I got close enough to the stage to take pictures, which is basically standing in the front in everyone's way, he easy doing a song called "The Raven" and it was mesmerizing. It's probably Bluegrass heresy, but off all the Bluegrass I've heard over the last 35 years, his is the tenor I associate with "that sound" and, man, he's still got it. It rises and floats and breaks in all the right places.

I took some pictures and grabbed a seat near the back of the reserved section where the sound would be optimal. His band was outstanding. Peter on acoustic joined by a electric guitar player playing shimmering notes, a lap steel player doing pedal licks and swells, acoustic bass and drums. The lap steel player was especially amazing. Every swell and fill felt like a feather in my heart. They launched into a 20 minute version of the Rowan classic "Land of the Navajo" and by the time he started doing the falsetto calls, I was awash in transcendent tears. Peter Rowan has still got it all and I'm a big baby.

Next up I headed up to the Heritage Tent to converse with another of my favorite MerleFest craft exhibitors, bowl maker Larry Kearson of Marion, NC. And not just bowls, but dough bowls. As a boy growing up in NJ, we always had a wooden bowl mounted up on the wall. Occasionally my dad would take it down to kneed some bread dough in. I never thought much about it till I started making bread in earnest in my 20's. Then I wanted it. Desperately. It was a large bowl, about 18"-by-12" and had been hand carved from a piece of black walnut from the family farm in Tennessee. I finally claimed it 10 years ago or so and now it's a regular kitchen tool in our kitchen. Larry hand carves dough bowls from single pieces of wood. Some small and decorative other huge and highly desirable. The Zeke Bowl is one such bough bowl. About two feet long and 18-inches across, it was carved from a single piece of maple from Larry's neighbor's tree. His neighbor's dog, Zeke, laid by the downed tree for days and then growled and whined the day the tree was cut up — Zeke's Bowl. It's a beauty. Dough bowls shouldn't be stained or varnished, and Larry's aren't. You need a dough bowl carved the old way, hit Larry up.

From the Heritage Tent I headed over to the Dance Tent to check out Asheville's contribution to Hot Club-style Jazz — Viper's Dream. I guess I'm spoiled by Cincinnati's Faux Frenchman, Viper's Dream didn't quite cut it. Yes, you got to be one hell of a musician to pull off Django tunes, but the sound was shrill and I wasn't digging the fiddle player. Paul Patterson of the Faux Frenchmen is without doubt a Cincinnati treasure.

I quickly jumped to the Traditional stage to see Wayne Henderson. With him was a fiddle, frailing banjo and acoustic bass players. Wayne has done three tours with the "Masters of the Six String Guitar" as well as received a National Heritage Award for his instrument building prowess. Wayne is one hell of a fingerpicker, easily one of the best living and funny as hell to boot. Very humble and unassuming. The quartet ran through some Carter Family songs, traditional mountain ballads and fiddle tunes, each played with great dexterity and devotion. What a thrill.

Following dinner, I headed up to the Hillside Stage for a set from Donna The Buffalo. A MerleFest favorite, this band has seemingly been on the road for twenty years. I'm a bit baffled how I've never seen them before. Another one of those alternativecountryrootsrockamericana band with some serious jam band leanings, Donna the Buffalo has been a perennial favorite on the tour and festival circuit. They have a loyal following among MerleFest attendees and the tie dye and swirling dancers were out in force tonight. They played a crowd pleasing set, leaving their fans wanting more. Not much more then you can ask for then that.

(View Jeff Roberson's photo's from MerleFest 2012 here.)

 
 
by Jeff Roberson 04.27.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Festivals at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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MerleFest 2012: Finishing Day 1, Starting Day 2

Blind Boy Chocolate caps opening day; Frutland Jackson, Honeycutters kick off second day

Friday, Apr 27 - MerleFest Festival Grounds

Every morning I wake and thank baby Jesus I am a biped, agile and have been blessed with a no mess ability to pee standing up. And in a steady torrent. Just about anywhere without attracting attention (well, there was that county deputy in Abington, Va., a while back who got a bit riled). Middle age is good.

Here's a tip for you campers. Your welcome to stay up as late as you want, but if it's 3 a.m. and your talking like your in your living room, don't complain at 6 a.m. if I'm banging pots like I'm in my kitchen.

Oh, and you've pitched your tent in poison ivy.

Thursday after an early evening catnap (middle age) to the sounds of Daily and Vincent (meh — great Stanley Brothers style harmonies, lay off the Cracker Barrel shtick), I made my way over to to the Dance Tent to catch some Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks. This Asheville, NC, street ensemble features five guys doing hokum string/jug band/blues music from the late 1920's and early ’30s. Guys in newsie caps, mutton chops, bowler hats with tattooed ears (ouch, that had to hurt), nose rings — yep, total 20-sumpthin freaks.

Calling out tunes by long (and soon to be) forgotten Blues and string players from the early part of the last century, Blind Chocolate plays hard-driving, bawdy, syncopated, all-acoustic string music. Lyrically rich in double entendres, liquor and murder. This ain't the square dance stuff my Uncle Blake played and my dad danced to in parlors across the Cumberland Plateau during the Great Depression; this is the music found in jukes and bars and back room drinkeries and the kids love it. Every 10 years or so, string music comes back into fashion, and that, my friends, is a good thing. John Hartford is clapping from his grave. It's comforting to witness people giving over to the coherent dissonance of barely tunable instruments, played together and with vehemence. Banjolin, steel guitar, washtub bass, washboard and tenor banjo, three guys trading vocals, four guys shouting in unison and giving call-backs. Dwight Hawkins (Blind Boy Chocolate?) plays saw, bones and the short scale tenor banjo in a style I've never seen before. And does it really well. The banjolin player, Nicholas Marshall (one of the Milk Sheiks?), occasionally picks up a thoroughly modern looking mandolin, temporarily breaking the temporal enchantment. After a lull at the top of their long set as people wondered in and grew accustom to being ass-to-elbow, the crowd was jumping and yelling, kids from 8 to 80 whirled and shimmied.

After a few cups of coffee this morning (Friday), I headed over to the Americana stage to check out another Asheville based band, The Honeycutters. North Carolina has a rich history of Alternativecountryrootsrockamericana bands. From The Backsliders to the Avett Brothers, this state churns ’em out and the natives support band after great band. The Honeycutters fit the Avett Brothers mold of instantly likable songs and gifted melodies. It's got to be hard, after playing clubs and bars, to get up early enough to hit the stage by 9:30 a.m. The Honeycutters brought their 'A' game and delivered an instantly familiar and pleasant set. Just what my psyche needed after listening all night to my campground neighbors. The mandolin player plays in well-worn territory while acoustic guitar player Peter James fills the space with sweet crosspicking and occasionally lays into his guitar in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of early Paul K. Lead singer Amanda Anne Platt's beautiful alto fills the air — add in some tasteful three part harmonies and you have a AAA Radio winner.

From the Americana tent, my soul freshly refilled, I headed back over to the Cabin Stage for a set by Blues historian, storyteller and performer Frutland Jackson (Fruit Land). Hailing from Chicago, Frutland covers seamlessly and flawlessly all styles of blues from delta to north Mississippi to Chicago to Piedmont, all the while telling in a remarkably engaging and non-professorial way what distinguishes one style from another. I've seen plenty of Blues player who like to lecture during performances, and mostly I feel like shouting, "Shut the fuck up and play!" but Frutland had me wanting to bum rush the stage in awe and anticipation that he may answer some questions I have about Depression-era singers and groups. First set I've seen in a lonnnnng while that ended to soon. Most of his songs were originals done in a specific style with a voice that ranged from guttural to heartfelt tremble (think Ledbetter doing "Goodnight Irene"). Outstanding!

Some of the many things to do at MerleFest besides running from one stage to another trying to catch acts is sitting around and playing music with other attendees. Along with an open mic area, there are three tents set up where you sit down and play — Old Timey, Bluegrass and Anything Goes. The Anything Goes tent is like a hippy camp-out with one bazillion guitars around a raging fire in the middle of the night, playing Casey Jones minus the alcohol and LSD. The stuff nightmares are made of, but if you've never done this kind of thing, there's no reason to be a jaded asshole like me — grab your guitar and jump in. Everyone is clean and welcoming.

I sat around the Old Timey Tent as it had the least guitar-to-other-instrument ratios. (By the way, aspiring musicians — learn guitar to impress the girls or boys; learn something else for a working job.) A couple of old timers were letting fly on some fiddle tunes. Quite nice. The guitar player was strumming a pre-1935 Martin D18. I know about these things, and they tickle me pink.

Time for lunch!

 
 
by Jeff Roberson 04.27.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Festivals, Music Commentary, Reviews at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
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Merle Fest 2012: Day 1

North Carolina festival kicks off with Deep Dark Woods and Jubal's Kin

Thursday, April 26: MerleFest Festival Grounds

Electrified cats and dogs fell relentlessly across Roanoke Valley as I made my way into to North Carolina. As I turned off I-77, west towards Wilksboro, the skies started to clear and the rain disappeared. The south in the spring.

There are really only two stages operating on Thursday — the main Watson Stage where all the big acts play and the small Cabin Stage that is just off the main stage.The Dance Tent and Plaza Open Mic tent will have music today also, but most of the action is on the main festival grounds. The Cabin Stage provides music between acts on the Watson Stage. I know it's not the other way around due to the fact you can hear them sound-checking on the Watson Stage as the smaller stage acts are doing their sets. A note to festival organizers — that sucks.

The Watson Stage broke the silence at 3 p.m. sharp with the festival opening act, a five-piece from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, called The Deep Dark Woods. There are a fair number of Canadian acts at MerleFest. I like to think this is due to the Canadian governments dedication to supporting Canadian artists and helping them to further careers. That's a nice touch. Commies.

The Deep Dark Woods is an Alternative Country/Roots Rock/Americana band (what's it called these days? Fuck if I know) that has a really together and dark soulful sound somewhat reminiscent of Cincinnati's own The Hiders. Two guitars, keyboard, drums and the best bass player since Paul Cavins of Throneberry hung it up to play drums. Simple, unadorned, muted flats on a P-bass. My goodness, he alone was worth the effort. The songwriting was vital, evocative and never embarrassing and the dual Gretsch hollowbodies through Ampeg amps was a pretty unique and, for me, unheard sound. They weren't breaking any ground, sound-wise, just good songwriting presented exceptionally well and, in these genres, that's pretty much the goal.

Jubal's Kin took the Cabin Stage immediately following The Deep Dark Woods. This Florida based brother and sister duo is what I like about finding new music. Gailanne Amundsen and her brother Roger play with passion and commitment. Gailanne tore through some fiddle music to start off the set and then effortlessly moved to the frailing banjo and tore it up, too. Close familial harmonies and incredibly dynamic arrangements on songs that can only get better as they mature as performers. Incredible talent coupled with the right instincts. Unfortunately they started hitting the drums on the main stage for the next act; fortunately for me, Jubal's Kin (pictured below) has three appearances over the MerleFest weekend, so I moved on knowing I'll have better opportunities to see them in less distracting circumstances. That's one of the cool things about MerleFest — a lot of the acts have two, three or four sets over the span of the festival in a variety stages.

I wandered over to the Heritage Tent to see what my favorite potter, James Peter 'Pete' McWhirter, has for sale. I met Pete and his wife Kim last year. My sister is also an exhibitor in the Heritage Tent and, along with spewing the sights and sounds for you, I help her out by affording her breaks to have meals, use the bathroom, catch a band, etc.

Pete makes the most amazing jugs in a variety of themes. My wife and I are deeply in love with his Chick Jugs — jugs inspired both by his neighbor chickens in Burnsville, NC, and something you might find corn liquor in. He also makes musician jugs — Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops plays one — and outrageous face jugs. Pete is the second generation potter and owner of McWhirter Pottery. His mom ended up in Celo, NC, with an art degree in hand, singing with various folks, met his father, a native of North Georgia who had sp
ent some time marching with MLK, and Mom started McWhirter pottery making everyday useful objects — dinnerware, vases, etc. Pete carries on both the tradition of throwing pots as well as singing with his wife Kim in the western NC band He Said, She Said. Kim will be appearing Sunday at Merle Fest in the Traditional Tent Stage for a program entitled "Women Who Sing Traditional Music."

While hanging around Pete's booth, I met Buell, the man who claims to be responsible for MerleFest being more then a one-off event organized 25 years ago to raise money for a horticulture project at Wilkes Community College. Buell was running the video for the first event. They were using the NC-PBS truck with a Betacam machine that happened to have four XLR ins. While standing behind the camera near the sound board, the engineer asked him if he would like an audio board feed into his Betacam machine. Using this video along with some footage from the local TV station and more audio from a local radio station, he weaved together a video of the first event and sold Wilkes Community College on its production. This video sold over 5000 copies and created a demand that enabled the next MerleFest. I heard some great 1988 MerleFest stories from both Buell and Pete (Pete was at the first one also) and got directions to get my free "I Love John Hartford" button. Who doesn't love John Hartford?

Up later this eve on the big stage is Vince Gill. I suppose he's pretty good. I'll be heading to the Dance Tent to catch Blind Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks. I saw this Asheville, NC, based band last year at the recommendation of the Crossville, Tn. Huminaires drummer Joshua Hall and they were pretty damn good. Right now, it's time to feed the beast. More on Blind Chocolate in the morning.

(Words and photos by Jeff Roberson)
 
 
by Jeff Roberson 04.26.2012
Posted In: Festivals, Live Music, Reviews at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Merle Fest 2012: Getting Psyched

(Editor's Note: CityBeat's annual coverage of music festivals around the country started off its 2012 campaign with Emily Maxwell's write-ups from South By Southwest in Austin in March. But our coverage picks up in earnest — ahead of the barrage of late spring/summer fests — with this week's dispatches from North Carolina's MerleFest. Local musician Jeff Roberson will be filing reports and uploading photo galleries from the event all weekend. The fest kicks off tonight and below is Jeff's first report from the field. Get a look at the MerleFest lineup and more here.)

Weds April 25: Super 8 Motel, Hillsville, Va.

Welcome to the 25th MerleFest. Well, not yet, as I'm holed up in a motel in Hillsville, Va. thrilin' and chillin' to Vin Diesel and The Rock tearing up Brazil. I will arrive at Merle Fest tomorrow morning. As a preface, I thought I'd drop some MerleFest facts on you all. In the biz, this is known as regurgitating the press release. Well, not really, it's letting the PR folks do your work for you, and what the hell is wrong with that? Nothing, that's what.

MerleFest is a music and mountain heritage festival dedicated to the memory of Eddy Merle Watson, the late son and musical partner of legendary guitarist Doc Watson. Located in the foothills of the Blueridge Mountains in Wilkesboro, NC, on the campus of Wilkes Community College just down US 421 where, in 1866, ol' Tom Dula (in western NC parlance, that's pronounce "doolee") killed his fiancé Laura Foster (yep, as you can see, already ankle deep in old timey mountain mojo).

The festival features more then 90 acts of mountain, Bluegrass, Cajun, various forms of acoustic Blues, the occasional Alternative Country, all kinds of synthesis of the aforementioned musical styes, and, for some reason, last year, a washed-up Arena Rock act more suited to A Taste of Blue Ash — aka The Doobie Brothers. Go figure. There are also local non-profits selling food, dozens of vendors selling everything from Red Dirt T-Shirts to hippy garb and the Heritage Tent where accomplished crafts people demonstrate and sell pottery, carved bowls, musical instruments, hand tooled leather goods and split oak baskets.

Over the next four days, I'll be telling you about the music, people and crafts — the people playing, attending and exhibiting at MerleFest. I won't be paying much attention to the big nighttime acts. They don't particularly interest me. I'll be writing about the lesser known, regional acts like Blind Boy Chocolate, old timers like Roy Bookbinder and other bands I stumble across as well as my favorite 2011 Merle Fest experience — participating in a workshop on the Sacred Harp-style of congregation singing.

Did I mention it's alcohol and tobacco free? That's a bug and a feature.
 
 
by Mike Breen 04.18.2012
 
 
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Virtual2pacalypse Now? When Jokes Come Alive

Was the hologram 2Pac a glimpse into the future of "live" music?

It's always a baffling moment for me when one of the things many of us have joked about happening in the future actually happens in the future.

"One day we'll just talk to the TV to change channels," we'd say, goofing around as we maneuvered the broomstick taped to the channel changer dial on (yes, ON) the television set so we wouldn't have to get off the couch to change it (more) manually.

"Wouldn't it be cool if, like, we could go see Kajagoogoo in Cleveland this weekend, but just broadcast to us in the garage so we can chug Milwaukee's Best and do Whip-Its while we watched it?" we'd say, knowing Mom would let us borrow the station wagon to go see the New Wave megastars in Cleveland when pigs can fly or we can carry around all the books in the library in our pockets!

Yeah, like that'll happen. But only because Kajagoogoo broke up years ago (and it did NOT end well). Last weekend, I was able to watch several artists perform at Coachella live, as it happened, while laying on my couch. Not naked, but also not sweating or getting run into constantly by some wasted "raver" in a purple Adidas jumpsuit shouting "Play 'Our House!'" while I'm trying to watch Madness.

I don't think the latest watershed the-silly-future-is-now moment — Tupac Shakur appearing at Coachella in hologram form alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre — was part of the live broadcast through YouTube. But enough people have seen footage of it now that it has become a super-high trending topic on our digital future-boxes with the interweb and the series of tubes and whatnot.

I've been a bit shocked that the gimmick has elicited way more "OMG" responses that "WTF" ones. It is a neato technological trick and certainly warrants a lots of "Well I'll be"-type responses, but I've been bewildered that most of the commentary has been in the range of "tearful amazement" and "pure awe." This is based on some serious Twitter research, which has revealed how people like Katy Perry ("I think I might have cried when I saw Tupac") and Rihanna ("#IWASTHERE #STORY4myGrandKidz") reacted. I can only assume the "little people" feel the same way and are equally impressed.

If you somehow haven't seen it, take a gander:



I've made jokes in print about things like a "Hip Hopera," using it as something beyond the realm of possibility because it would be so cheesy and ridiculous. It's happened numerous times since. Never that successfully, because, you know, it's a Hip Hopera.

I've used the dead-musician-
hologram gag similarly — a far-fetched concept to play upon the ridiculous rate of technological advancement today and the greed of the music biz that might one day enable all the great dead artists of our time to be brought back to life as holograms and go on tour. Older artists could go out as their vintage selves — The Rolling Stones circa Beggars Banquet or Wu-Tang Clan circa Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (… and EVERYONE shows up). "Bands" could do multinational shows simultaneously. And the only people really getting paid to tour would be the A/V geeks hired to run the equipment.

It's such a bizarre concept; it's not supposed to ever actually come true. That's the kind of thing that makes jokes dated. And it's why The Jetsons still holds up. Robot maids — that shit's hilarious!

As dazzled as everyone seems to be by the projection of a dead rapper fake-performing (even shouting out "Coachella," though, to be fair, they could have cobbled that together from a sample from when Tupac used to play Frisbee Golf there on spring break), could there actually be a market for a hologram act to "tour"? (Note: Yes, I realize the Tupac at Coachella wasn't actually a "hologram," so shut it.)

Promoters, apparently, are going to find out if reports are true that Hologram2Pac might go on tour with Dr. Dre. Since the ghost cameo was the talk of the entire festival, Dre and Co. probably started planning it immediately. Especially after Shakur's mother gave her permission for the Coachella use and was reportedly amazed by how it came off.

That could be a fun special effect as part of someone else's act, but could it ever go to the next level? Will there ever be a tour reliant on a holographic headliner? Would people pay to see that? I'm not equating a DJ concert with a film projection of a dead person, but put, say, hologram Elvis on Daft Punk's stage — with Daft Punk — and would it double or triple the usual Daft Punk draw on tour?

I don't know if "The 1969 Beatles on Tour" or "Eddie Van Halen and His Fabulous Rotating Hologram Singers" would find an audience at this point. But I'm constantly amazed by what people love. Reality TV? Now That's What I Call Music compilations? Karaoke? Bon Iver? Every sitcom on CBS? We can do better.

If you would have told me while I was listening to 2Pac's All Eyez On Me album in 1996 (and, honestly, trying to figure out why so many considered the man a genius) that one day within the next two decades a dead Shakur would be the talk of some huge festival ("It's like that Lollapalooza thing, ’cept it don't travel"), I would have spit Milwaukee's Best out of my nose. (Yeah, I didn't mature much.)

I've watched as the concert experience — the actual, go-some-place-type of concert experience — has evolved in the past 20 years. The most talked about today is the phenomenon involving young people fiddling with their phones instead of "not paying attention" to the concert. I was, like many, annoyed/befuddled by the perceived lack of focus, but I realized something while watching Paul McCartney's Cincinnati concert at Great American Ballpark last summer that has helped me take a deep breath and just accept it.

Everyone enjoys music — listening to it, watching it performed, absorbing it — in different ways.

It was especially evident at the McCartney show because so many people had deep connections to the music being played, but they showed it — or expressed it — in different ways. I was intensely attentive and a bit internally emotional. I didn't talk a lot. My epiphany came when my girlfriend spoke to me while Sir Paul was introducing the next song. I could not imagine how insane someone must be to TALK while PAUL FREAKIN' MCCARTNEY WAS TALKING?!

And then I realized how stupid that was. My way of experiencing the show was different than hers or from the hammered 60-something couple dancing with their eyes shut or the beaming kids with their parents or the teen with the smartphone tweeting. They all had fun. And they'll all remember it (and those who don't as well will have photos to help).

So if Hologram2Pac is the next wave of live concert entertainment, I probably won't go to any of those concerts, but I won't make fun of people who do. Well, maybe just a little. Mostly because I won't be able to stop thinking about the early Saturday Night Live "fake commercial" promoting a concert residency, not long after Elvis died, starring Elvis' coat. That's one old music biz joke that hasn't come true. Yet. (Though EP did "tour" as video footage on big screens backed by a live band. And it did pretty damn well, from what I remember.)

Elvis Presley's Coat from Walter Williams on Vimeo


My recommendation is to do as I do, frustrated concertgoers. Accept our new hologram superstars. You never know — they might some day come to life and the world will be ruled by hologram images of great pop cultural icons originally crafted for beer commercials and personal appearances at car dealerships.

President Sinatra, I supported you all along.


(And now that I've made a joke about it, it has about a 600 percent better chance of happening.)
 
 
by Emily Maxwell 03.13.2012
Posted In: Festivals, Local Music at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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SXSW 2012: The Adventure Begins

After two days of driving in the Vanarama — a 1996 GMC Rally 3500 in school-bus yellow — we're only about 3.5 hours outside of Austin.

This is the second time I've made the trek to SXSW, but every time I make the four-state drive, a few things remain constant: Arkansas highways suck and everything truly is bigger in Texas.

On the last stretch of 11 South, as you approach Crockett, Texas, road signs alternate between "Cemetery" and "Forest." This wouldn't have been so intimidating if we hadn't exchanged ghost stories about dead relatives and scary camping trips (Google "Appalachian Trail" and "scary photos"). We then stayed in a hotel that we seriously scoured for bed bugs before bringing in our gear. But cheap is worth it, right?

We are by no means alone in this endeavor. Thousands of bands travel across the country and the world, whether or not they're "officially" a part of the festival. This is the biggest weekend of the year for bands — whether they're on the rise or struggling to get a fresh start — and they'll do whatever it takes to be heard.

Tuesday (today) marks the beginning of the SXSW (as far as the music portion). The All Night Party's Midwest by Southwest showcase kicks off tonight and will feature some of our hometown favorites, including The Sundresses, The Lions Rampant, Wussy and The Seedy Seeds.

This official showcase is an anticipated event, not only for us Cincinnatians, but also the locals. The Austin Chronicle has named Wussy as one of the top 10 shows to see Tuesday. (Scroll to the bottom of the link for the Wussy write-up,.)

We're not even in Austin yet and Cincinnati's already making headlines at SXSW.

 
 
by Mike Breen 02.29.2012
Posted In: Local Music, Live Music, Music News, Festivals at 01:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 
forecastle

Forecastle and Pitchfork Fests Announce Lineups

The two established music events coincide with Cincy's innaugrual Bunbury festival

The Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati falls on the same weekend as two other big regional music fests, one 100 miles to our south and the other about 300 miles northwest of the Queen City. Like Bunbury, the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and the 10th annual Forecastle fest are happening July 13-15.

In theory, the proximity (geographically and time-wise) should lead to some crossover, as artists from one event might run their tour route to the other cities to score some of those big festival performance fees. (MidPoint's 2011 fest in Cincy, for example, shared some acts with the somewhat nearby Pygmalion Music Festival in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.) But so far that hasn't happened with Bunbury, which seems to be focusing on more mainstream "Alternative" artists, as opposed to Pitchfork's more esoteric lineup and Forecastle's endearing mishmash of styles.

Louisville's Forecastle previously announced that hometown heroes My Morning Jacket would be curating the event and performing. This morning organizers announced that joining them will be Dubstep superstar Bassnectar and Dad Rock champs Wilco, plus Andrew Bird, Girl Talk, Atmosphere, Neko Case, Sleigh Bells, A-Trak, Dean Wareham (playing Galaxie 500 songs), Galactic, Clutch, Flying Lotus, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mike Doughty, Real Estate, Deer Tick, Charles Bradley, JEFF the Brotherhood and Cincinnati's Walk the Moon, among others. Click here for ticket info and the the full lineup so far.

Meanwhile, here is who Pitchfork announced yesterday for this year's event in Chicago's Union Park: Vampire Weekend, Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Hot Chip, AraabMUZIK, A$AP Rocky, The Field, Liturgy, Kendrick Lamar, Grimes, Cloud Nothings, Tim Hecker and Willis Earl Beal. Thirty more artists will be announced later.

Pitchfork tickets go on sale next Friday, March 9, at noon via the Pitchfork fest's site here.

So if you could go to any of the three festivals, based on the info available so far (and not counting travel costs and lodging arrangements) which one would you attend — Cincinnati's, Louisville's or Chicago's?

 
 
by Mike Breen 09.30.2011
Posted In: Live Music, Festivals, Music Video at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
big pig

Big "Big Pig" Gig Starts Today!

The Big Pig Music & Arts Festival kicks off today in Ripley, Ohio (about an hour southeast of Cincinnati) at the Pisgah Hill Farm. The event runs from this afternoon until about sunrise Sunday morning (great local Electronica group Skeetones play a fest-closing set from 2-4 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morn). Billed as "3 days and 2 nights of music, camping, fire pits and barbecue spits," Big Pig features a mix of national, regional and top-notch local acts, as well as a late-night DJ tent, food from Habanero, Buzz Thru Coffee and other area establishments and "fire performances" by the folks from Nocturnal Arts. Pre-sale ticketing is over; admission is $40 at the gate. The fest website emphasizes that there is a $10 fee per car for camping (car pool if you can) and there is no on-site ATM machines, so be sure to bring cash. Click below for the full lineup and videos from several of the acts. And click here for complete details.

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by Amy Harris 09.16.2011
Posted In: Interview, Live Music, Festivals at 12:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Q&A with Black Stone Cherry (X-Fest Preview)

The members of Kentucky's Black Stone Cherry take pride in their closeness. They are still just four guys rocking out and living their dream. BSC's just-released third studio album, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, reached the Top 30 in the Billboard 200 and the group is currently on the Carnival of Madness tour with Alter Bridge, Theory of a Deadman, and Emphatic. The tour hits Dayton's X-Fest, at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, this Sunday (click here for concert details). CityBeat recently spoke with Black Stone Cherry lead singer Chris Robertson in depth about the band and the personal issues he has dealt with over the past few years.

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