Andy Grammer has a unique blend of musical talent, meshing his piano and guitar playing skills, smooth vocals and Hip Hop-like hooks to get crowds across the world fired up. Since his self-titled debut album in 2011, he has found great success through radio airplay and tours with the likes of Train, Natasha Bedingfield, and Colbie Caillat. Grammer is now embarking on his first headlining tour, which brings him to Covington’s Madison Theater this Saturday. The tour stop will be your chance to see Grammer in an intimate venue setting and see him up close and personal as he delivers his hits. (Click here for tickets and show info.)
CityBeat: What can the fans expect from the new album coming in August?
Andy Grammer: They can expect a lot of different vibes. I took a lot of chances sonically on this one. There is some acoustic stuff. There is one that sounds to me a little like Imagine Dragons meets Kanye. There is one that sounds like an MGMT track. There is one sounds like an old Lauryn Hill jam. I just made sure the songs were, in my opinion great, and I had a blast with the stuff I am really into right now.
CB: The album is called Magazines or Novels. Is there a story behind the title?
AG: It’s like how we ingest music these days. We are very ADD. A lot of times we just read through it, like magazines — tear through it, then throw it away. My goal was that not to be the case with this record. I built like 100 songs. I wrote the first 50 and realized I had a lot more magazines than novels, so I wrote another 50 and I think it is really good, actually. I am really excited about this album.
CB: What is your songwriting process?
AG: My process is more like … (chase) something all the way to the end and then step back and see if it is any good. Sometimes it is and, more often than not, it is not. I have to write a whole hell of a lot to get the jams I’m real proud to have on the album.
CB: You have had several huge hits on radio in your career. Do you know right away when you have a hit on your hands when writing?
AG: I don’t. I really don’t. That’s what is so confusing about it. I wouldn’t write it unless I thought it was great. I write it and am super stoked about it. As time goes by I can kind of tell whether it’s going to hold up.
CB: Do you have people close to you that can give you the feedback?
AG: Yeah, my manager and I pretty much are the ones that make the decision.
CB: What is the best and the worst thing about being on the road for you?
AG: We are doing shows that are like half old stuff and half new stuff and the fans will be really into it. The worst thing about being on tour is finding food that is good. It is pretty difficult to do, to find good food. It is easier to find McDonald’s and then you fall into (it) and feel bad. The best part of this tour, specifically, is playing new songs and seeing the fans react to it. It’s really exciting.
CB: I have seen you play in Cincinnati when you opened for Train. Do you have any specific Cincinnati tour memories that you remember or fun things in Cincinnati you like to do?
AG: Fans in Ohio are the best. Any show in Ohio, fans know how to have a good time, they party harder than anyone else at shows. It’s real. I’m not sure you know that about yourselves. I have toured around the whole country and it is just better in Ohio.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
AG: Sure. When I met Sara Bareilles I was a little bit starstruck and I don’t even know why. I really liked her and was excited to meet her.
CB: Is there anybody you want to collaborate with, maybe a different genre of music?
AG: I would like to do a song where I did the hook and Macklemore did the rap. I think that would be dope.
CB: Do you have a favorite guitar that you like to play?
AG: Yeah, Taylor is my jam. They hook me up with guitars and they sound amazing.
CB: Is there one specifically? Some people have one guitar. I saw one person last week with one they had played so much they had worn a hole in it.
AG: I don’t have that. I bust them up a lot and I have to get them fixed. I have also had this thing where I have had like three of my guitars stolen out of my car in L.A., and I don’t live in a terrible place. I think someone is on to me.
CB: I guess you shouldn’t get attached then. Well, what can the fans expect when you come through Cincinnati. I know you said you were playing half old and half new material, but what can the fans expect from your headlining show?
AG: Expect to see a little bit different light. One song has a vocoder on it. There is a little more high energy stuff. I am really excited. High energy is, in my opinion, better.
The first family of Hip Hop/R&B — and perhaps music in general — graced Cincinnati with their presence Saturday for Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run tour. Downtown’s Great American Ballpark was Jay and Bey’s second stop on their first joint stadium tour, aptly abbreviated OTR (cue the wave of #thisisotr hashtags). The BeyHive was out in full force, along with whatever maniacal Jay Z fans call themselves.
After a stormy afternoon, skies cleared in time for the concert, which began around 9:30 p.m. (an hour-and-a-half past the show time listed on tickets, but no surprise to regular concertgoers or fans in-the-know). The couple kicked off the set with “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” their first collaboration, recorded more than a decade ago. Next up were two more duets, “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love,” followed by two hours of tag-teaming many of their hits.
People were blown away by the reported 42 songs performed at the inaugural OTR stop in Miami last Wednesday, and the couple delivered in Cincinnati (peep the full set list here), though every song was condensed and often mashed up with or bled into another tune.
The duo performed individually and together, creating a musical tapestry of their iconic hits (“Single Ladies,” “99 Problems,” “Diva,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”), classics (“Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Baby Boy”) and newer work (“Tom Ford,” “Pretty Hurts,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Yoncé”). Snippets of their short film/tour preview for On The Run, which featured a ridiculously long list of celebrity cameos, played throughout the show. Other high-production videos dazzled on the two big screens, ensuring everyone from the nosebleeds to the VIPs had a decent view.
For "Holy Grail," originally performed by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake (who toured together last year), Bey took on JT's lyrics, performing a powerful collaboration that left me asking, "Justin who?" "Izzo" was accompanied by a slideshow of celebrity mugshots, which culminated with Justin Bieber's — timed perfectly with the lyrics, "So poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
“Partition” was a sexy surprise: Jay came out to a center stage in the crowd, sat in a simple chair and rapped over the simple but catchy beat. Then Bey and her thonged backup dancers took the main stage, complete with poles, performing the infectious, erotic hit. So basically, we all watched Beyoncé dance for her husband, and we’re all better people because of it. Bey tore the house down as she recreated the video, moving behind a screen to dance/seductively mount her now-signature weirdly shaped chair thing. A very similar performance was screened at the BET Awards Sunday night.
Jay and Bey closed the show with “Part II ( On the Run)," “Young Forever” and “Halo,” walking through a crowd of fans to the center stage at one point. They kissed, which temporarily stopped the hearts of all in attendance, even if it was perhaps slightly awkward and possibly staged. A video medley of home footage played during the last two songs, featuring clips of the couple’s early years, engagement (where a romantic trip to the Crazy Horse strip club would later inspire Bey’s “Partition” video), secret wedding, daughter Blue Ivy’s birth and more recent shots of the family. Again, perhaps a bit overkill to non-diehard fans — “See, we’re really happy!!!” — but in the moment, it felt like the thousands of us in the park were sharing a special moment with the artists. And isn’t that what makes a successful concert?
Regardless of whether the tour is a big relationship-reaffirming publicity stunt, the show was a wholly entertaining spectacle. Both Jay Z and Beyoncé performed hard, making full use of the two stages, interacting with the audience and consistently changing ensembles. Another plus for fans: the duo really seemed to be having fun, which always keeps energy levels up. Jay was sure to throw in Cincinnati references in some of his songs — a small gesture that goes a long way for fans at shows. And Beyoncé teased us all during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in which the singer plays up a crazy, needy girlfriend persona. She belted out the titular lyrics, then paused, playfully pouting, waiting for a loud enough roar from the audience before she’d continue. We roared.
The crowd at GABP was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a concert in town, with visitors traveling from around the country to witness the power couple at work. Some came to dance to the Pop diva’s hits; for others, it was all about Hov’s famous rhymes; and many were eager for the rare opportunity to see two powerhouses collaborate — the audience represented a full spectrum of fans, eager to dance, drink and sing together.
Who run the world? Jayoncé.
On June 4, two Cincinnati-born bands were featured on two different late-night network television shows. Rock foursome Buffalo Killers, promoting their excellent new album, Heavy Reverie, appeared on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly in a pre-recorded interview package sprinkled with some cool performance footage. It was the band’s network television debut.
Earlier that same night, one of Cincinnati’s most renowned musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, played on The Late Show with David Letterman. The band — which is coming home to headline this year’s MidPoint Music Festival — played a great version of their tune “Matamoros” from the recent Do to the Beast album, their first new LP in 16 years.
After 96 consecutive hours of baking in the Tennessee heat and humidity, walking from stage to stage to take in as much music as possible and drinking and dancing sometimes from noon until dawn, even your third and fourth shower after returning home from Bonnaroo can be like a religious experience. Though the festival itself gets under your skin in a way that one does not necessarily wish to ever wash away. Indeed, coming down after the festival, returning to the mundane realities of everyday life, can be a difficult proposition for hardcore Bonnaroovians struggling to simply settle back into their daily routine on planet earth.
The fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014 found (photographer) Chuck (Madden) and I sun-dazed but smiling, still eager to soak up and savor every bit of music we could. Among the few campers stirring that murky morning, I woke early and wandered the eerily empty festival grounds well before noon. I’ve attended the festival six times since 2006, but Sunday morning was the first time I rode the Bonnaroo ferris wheel. After an hour or so of tapping away on my trusty laptop in an empty press tent, the ferris wheel ride gave me an opportunity to chill and be still for a few minutes, surveying the scene from a bird’s eye view. A crowded cornucopia of bright lights and loud music after dark, it was both surreal and serene to view the Bonnaroo festival grounds silent in the morning.
The silence wouldn’t last. Even before I disembarked from the ferris wheel I could hear Lucero doing their soundcheck on a stage that I could barely see in the distance.
Chuck’s day began with a pair of bands he would be raving about for the rest of the afternoon: Kansas Bible Company on the tiny On Tap Lounge stage and much-talked-about new arrivals Lake Street Dive in That Tent, where a surprisingly large crowd had already gathered for the band’s 1 p.m. start.
Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle kept temperatures tolerable for the first three days of the festival. But Sunday was all clear skies and blazing sun, sending temperatures into the 90s for most of the day. Always an endurance test, Sunday at Bonnaroo 2014 was a brutal trial for the thousands on site who were forced to either hydrate, hunker in the shade, or both, until the sun relented in the early evening. But shade is not easy to come by at Bonnaroo, and sitting in a hot tent is no kind of relief whatsoever. Sunscreen, long sleeves and floppy hats ruled the day. Experienced Bonnaroovians are well-familiar with the physical demands of the festival. It just so happens that after three days of relative ease and comfort, Sunday’s weather conditions upped the ante on a panting throng already sunburned and exhausted.
Arguably some of the finest acts on the Bonnaroo lineup were featured on the festival’s final day, as Bonnaroo attendees were treated to phenomenal sets by Broken Bells, The Avett Brothers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Shovels & Rope, Washed Out, Wiz Khalifa, The Lone Bellow, Okkervil River and an afternoon performance by Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage that featured Bluegrass legend Sam Bush on violin.
This writer tumbled into the Other Tent just in time to catch a rousing set by Those Darlins. Like Nashville’s Wild Feathers before them on the weekend itinerary, this was sort of a hometown gig for Those Darlins, a band whose founding members met at a Rock & Roll camp in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A sparse but dedicated crowd happily held lead singer Jesse Zazu aloft as she tumbled over the barricade and into the audience. Laying back on a sea of fans’ hands, her guitar squall raged unabated at full steam as her eyes rolled back in her head. (Those Darlins play a free show in Cincinnati this Friday, headlining Fountain Square’s MidPoint Indie Summer concert.)
After a ridiculous amount of pre-gig hype, the controversial Kanye West’s Friday night performance delivered nothing but disappointment to a Bonnaroo audience that should have known better to have expected anything more. Saturday headliner Jack White and Sunday’s top dog Elton John showed that good material and passionate, substantive performances will always trump shallow arrogance, hype and bullshit. To Mr. West, who once claimed himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh,” I submit this famous quote from Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Of far greater significance than this writer expected was a stellar Sunday night performance by Elton John, who reeled off one classic after another to close out Bonnaroo 2014. I knew Elton’s set would be great, but I was not prepared for just how truly amazing it was. With a band featuring guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who have been with him for 45 years (you read that right), Bonnaroo 2014 was Sir Elton’s first-ever appearance at a U.S. festival. Opening the show with Side One of his classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album from 1973, Elton proceeded with a version of “Levon” that concluded with a virtual clinic on Rock & Roll piano playing in the extended outro. Though I was dubious at first about Elton closing out the festival, this two-hour performance instead turned out to be such a stunner that I know I will forever count it among my all-time favorite Bonnaroo memories.
Thanks again to CityBeat for this amazing opportunity and to Chuck Madden whose concert photography is simply the best and whose friendship and company are a big part of what makes the Bonnaroo experience so meaningful to me.
Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Heavy Hinges is a new-ish band featuring some faces likely familiar to dedicated local music fans. Guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Williamson have played in numerous groups over the past two decades, while singer/guitarist Dylan Speeg and bassist Andrew Laudeman were members of long-running, super-diverse Cincinnati crew Buckra. Maya Banatwala is the relative newcomer in the band, but her soul-drenched co-lead vocals in the Hinges serve as the group’s secret weapon.
Heavy Hinges debut album, Mean Old City, shows signs of some of Buckra’s trademark sonic diversity, but it’s channeled in a more focused manner. Ultimately, Heavy Hinges is a great Rock & Roll band, but its sound is touched by influences from Blues, Pop, Funk and Soul to various other forms of American Roots music. Like Alabama Shakes, Heavy Hinges manages to sound remarkably vital and “of the now” — despite the obvious vintage inspirations — thanks to the sincerity and vigor poured into each note. Mean Old City bristles with a timelessness that has less to do with the classic genres flirted with throughout and more to do with the from-the-heart songwriting and playing.
Here’s a music video for Mean Old City track “Booze May Be Your Lover, Not Your Friend”:
Speeg and Banatwala make for great co-frontpeople, crisscrossing their melodies and harmonies sometimes like X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe and other times like June and Johnny Cash, with each singer possessing a voice quite distinct from each other, yet still sounding like they were made for each other when they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are flawless and perform with a similar soulfulness; Williamson and Laudeman are a jaw-droppingly great rhythm section, while Singer’s guitar leads and solos are as attention-grabbing as the singers’ powerful vocal one-two punch.
Heavy Hinges host a free release party for the new album Saturday at 10 p.m. at Northside Tavern with DAAP Girls. Read CityBeat's profile of Heavy Hinges from early this year when the band was nominated in the "Best New Artist" category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Riff-tastic Cincinnati Hard Rock foursome Lift the Medium has only been a band for a year, but you wouldn’t know it listening to its accomplished debut full-length, Mastermind. The band celebrates the release of its rock-solid album with a show Saturday at MVP Bar & Grill in Silverton. The 9 p.m. show also features performances by Livid and Life After This. Admission is $10; the first 50 fans through the door score a free copy of Mastermind.
Though a relatively new band, Lift the Medium’s members have extensive experience; singer/guitarist Joey Vasselet spent time in Rootbound, a melodic band that craftily incorporated influences from several different eras of Hard Rock, while bassist Justin Kennedy, singer/drummer Jake Bartone and singer/guitarist Joe Bartone were a part of Atlantis Becoming, a group known for its exploratory, progressive approach.
The band members’ backgrounds give a good sense of Lift the Medium’s style. The songs on Mastermind are craftily structured — the winding riffs and rhythms are constantly in motion, subtly recalling the more exploratory sounds of Atlantis Becoming. But there’s no meandering — every movement is in service to the song, resulting in a more passionate and pointed melodic impact. There is also a lot of diversity throughout Mastermind, but it’s molded into a cohesive and contemporary sound the group can call its own.
Lift the Medium can at times remind you of Grunge-era superstars like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but flashes of the classic ’70s/’80s Hard Rock/Metal perfected by the likes Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden also bubble to the surface. The delicately ingrained Prog touches lightly recall groups like Tool, but Mastermind also sounds like it would be perfectly at home on Rock radio next to contemporary acts like Shinedown and Seether. The production on Mastermind is remarkably crisp and muscular, making it even more radio-ready.
It’s no easy feat to incorporate such a variety of styles without sounding like Rock tourists/time travelers, but Lift the Medium’s sharp songwriting skills and impeccable chops help bring everything together without sacrificing its own distinct personality, allowing the variance to keep things sonically interesting from start to finish, but never allowing it to overshadow the strength of the songwriting. Cincinnati’s Rock radio stations (and likeminded ones across the country) should be all over Mastermind. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works on numerous levels.
Find more info about Lift the Medium (and hear some more song samples) here.
It smells like drying piss and old beer on the back deck of Northside’s The Comet. The air is filled with the dull thud of a concert beating up against the walls.
There are shows at The Comet every night and people piss and drink there every night, and John Hoffman and Dylan McCartney are there just about every night. Tonight they’re just here to get drunk, but usually they’re the center of attention.
Hoffman and McCartney are in emerging Cincinnati Punk band Sleeves. Hoffman calls the band’s sound American Apparel Punk. Their debut EP Sex is Stupid can be downloaded for free here. They’re a three-piece made up of Hoffman on lead guitar, McCartney on drums and Alex Collins on bass. Hoffman and McCartney both sing, and they both end up on the ground and sometimes injured by the end of their shows.
Cincinnati has an active Do-It-Yourself music scene and Hoffman and McCartney are major players in it. They organize and play shows and Hoffman even records, masters and puts together records for other bands.
Sleeves has played at The Comet, but most of the band’s shows aren’t held in traditional music venues but houses.
Residents all over the city are opening their basements, living rooms, decks and kitchens to musicians that want to do what they love wherever they can do it.
“I still remember the super visceral feeling I got from walking into my first house show,” Hoffman says. “It was just like ‘Where the hell am I? I’ve never seen anything cooler than this.’ I finally felt comfortable in a public space.”
From the outside, a house show looks uncomfortable. There are usually four or five terrifyingly big and tattooed guys stoically staring and bobbing their head to the music. Mosh pits break out constantly, and beer gets all over everyone no matter what, but it’s the closest thing to a bohemian utopia in Cincinnati — anything can happen.
“At one show, there was a point where everyone was crowd surfing just so they could tag the ceiling with spray paint,” Hoffman says. “It became a group effort where everyone was holding people up so they could tag the ceiling. That house was a wreck.”
“Suffice to say they probably didn’t get their deposit back,” McCartney added.
There’s no malice in these ways of destruction and these different looking people. They worked together to tag the ceiling — vandalism — but with teamwork, so it’s OK. The terrifying gentlemen are the first to help anyone up who gets knocked over. For every beer that’s dumped, 10 more are handed out. All the dirt, grunge and basement gunk are exactly what Cincinnati’s DIY bands need. The bands are good enough for big venues, but something is lost when people have to pay to get in, pay to drink and pay to eat and they can’t go outside for a cigarette and walk back in without getting hassled.
“My other band [Mardou] played at Bogart’s once and it was the worst show of my whole life,” McCartney says. “I’ve had shows which were one-twentieth the amount of people, at a house or something, and it was so much more fun to me. You connect to people at a show like that and they connect to you.”
House shows are intimate. There’s usually only an inch between you and the mic stand, but the intimacy comes from more than just close proximity. Certain houses become “venues” all on their own by regularly hosting shows — like The Outhouse in Clifton Heights and The Last House on the Left on Kirby Avenue in Northside. Communities form around these bands and houses, and people that feel like they didn’t fit in anywhere can find a home in someone else’s house. It’s an Island of Misfit Toys that serves Skyline chili.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s just an arts community — or a weirdos community,” Hoffman says.
Sleeves’ next show is Tuesday, June 24, in the basement of Lucy Blue Main Street location in Over-the-Rhine. Find details here.
Much has changed for the legendary Cincinnati live music venue the Blue Wisp Jazz Club over its 40-plus-year existence. Though it has consistently been the club for Jazz in Cincinnati over most of that period, the Blue Wisp has moved four different times over four decades. In its most recent locale at the corner of Race and Seventh streets downtown, the club owners also tried to attract more business by serving food and varying the types of music performed. But it wasn’t enough and the Blue Wisp has once again closed its doors (though various reports suggest it could find yet another new location in the future).
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Blue Wisp, at least since it began in 1980, is the Blue Wisp Big Band. The group of all-star local musicians has maintained one of the longest residency in the region, performing its skilled take on vintage Big Band Jazz like clockwork every Wednesday. The band is a Cincinnati institution.
When the Wisp shut down, the members of the Big Band were determined to not let their remarkable run end with a whimper. Instead, the Blue Wisp Big Band sought to continue its every-Wednesday residency at another venue. (In case you’re wondering, the group owns its moniker, so they can legally continue to use the “Blue Wisp” name.)
Veteran local Jazz pianist and Blue Wisp Big Band founding member Steve Schmidt says they’ve landed their new spot, Japp’s Annex on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, and will pick up its Wednesday night shows beginning this week. Schmidt says the group will perform every Wednesday at Japp’s, at least through the end of July, when they’ll reassess the situation just to make sure it’s a good fit. The Big Band will again be playing two hour-long sets each Wednesday, the first starting at 8:30 p.m. The cover charge will be less than it was at the Wisp — just $5. (Parking is available in the lot on the corner of Main and Central Parkway, as well as in the garage behind the club on Sycamore.)
“We are excited about trying out this (Over-the-Rhine) spot and happy that the ownership and staff at Japp's is excited, too,” Schmidt says. “We are all thinking of ways to make it better for the customer and the band as we go along. The band wanted to start quickly, not to be dormant for too long.”
Several of the principal members of the Blue Wisp Big Band did a walkthrough several days ago to get a feel for the new space and were happy with what they saw (and felt).
“I got a very good feeling about the room,” Schmidt says, “both in terms of space — spacious yet intimate — and acoustics. I think the other guys felt the same way. (Founding BWBB anchor/drummer) John Von Ohlen rightly pointed out that there is a lot of wood — the floors and the large bar. As John said, in the fullest and most complimentary sense of the word, ‘It's a joint!’ It's what he had in mind when he formed the band and put it in the original Blue Wisp in O'Bryonville. He said he wanted a world-class big band in a beer tavern.”
“In a word,” Schmidt adds, “(the new space) has soul.”
This morning’s activities were as hectic as a hurricane as I jumped from one interview to the next in the Bonnaroo press compound.
Things started off nice and easy when I rendezvoused with a friend of a friend who is Lionel Richie’s stage manager. An industry veteran of many years, Sal Marinello has worked for Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Britney Spears and many more. Large festival stages like Bonnaroo are equipped with lights and sound, so Marinello’s workload and schedule today are not as demanding as a typical day on the road. Marinello and his crew arrived in the wee hours this morning with one truck instead of the usual seven. Main stage headliner Jack White’s line check completed and his gear rolled to the side of the stage by 8 a.m., Sal and his staff had Lionel’s gear in place onstage for their line check less than an hour later. (The rest of the day’s main stage performers will set up and perform in front of Lionel’s gear.)
The noon hour brought a flurry of activity that had my head spinning pretty much for the rest of the day. Nashville’s Wild Feathers returned on the red eye from St. Louis to do a three-song acoustic performance in the press tent that found the band looking ragged but sounding great as ever. Their material is strong, their performance was spirited, and their three-part whiskey tenor harmonies were crystal clear as ever. But they sure did look tired. Scheduled to play at noon, they were running late and had to jump right on the stage and burst into song immediately upon their 12:30 p.m. arrival.
Chatting with Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band, I found the trio cautiously optimistic about moving forward after the recent departure of mandolin player and founding member Jeff Austin. Not that I expected them to be in a full-blown panic, but it was impressive to hear the calm in their voices as they discussed their future options with no apparent concern about securing a permanent replacement for Austin. Bluegrass legend Sam Bush joined Yonder for their 2:30 p.m. set on the main stage today. For their summer tour they’ll be joined by Jake Joliff on mandolin and Ally Kral on violin. (Yonder Mountain String Band plays Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.)
The Flaming Lips brought a whole new freak rock spectacle to Bonnaroo this year and frontman Wayne Coyne was bouncing around the press tent talking to reporters for a couple hours yesterday. Spirits high and eyes aglow, Wayne happily made the rounds. The man loves to talk and this writer spent a dizzying 10 minutes with Coyne, discussing their brilliant new record The Terror. The band’s 12:30 a.m. set on the Which Stage was an explosive spectacle of lights, confetti, balloons, and dancers in costume, with the fiendish ring leader Wayne in the middle of it all looking like an evil super villain dressed in red tights with a shiny silver codpiece. (The band is one of the headliners of Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival this year.)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Coyne dominate a press conference here; yesterday he spoke excitedly about The Flaming Lips’ desire to always bring something special to the Bonnaroo stage.
“If you’ve been here for three days and you’ve already seen 50 bands,” he said, “you wanna see something different. So that’s why (in 2007) we decided to land a spaceship here.”
Cool as a cucumber in spite of the summer heat penetrating the crowded tent during an early afternoon press conference, Derek Trucks fielded a question about the size of the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “An 11-piece band is a lot like herding cats.” Then he quietly mumbled the unintentionally Zen aside: “But it’s better than 30.”
Still buzzing from my conversation with Wayne, I scampered out into the crowd to catch Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke on the Which Stage. This was one of my personal Top 3 must-see bands of the weekend. It was gratifying to see the young Bonnaroo audience embrace a band that has more in common with their grandparents’ record collection than what many probably have on their current iPod playlist. I stopped to say hello to Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr after a 4 p.m. press conference and we discussed some of our favorite early Blues singers. I feel confident that he and I were probably among the very few here at Bonnaroo chatting about Ishman Bracey.
From there the day just got crazier, as the Saturday schedule was packed with stellar artists, including Valerie June, Drive-By Truckers, Phosphorescent, Lauryn Hill and Seasick Steve who boasted none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass. Walking through the crowd I heard Cake play a spot-on cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the guitar solo section cleverly transcribed for the horn section.
After a late afternoon breather back at the campsite, I wandered through Bonnaroo’s famous archway entrance to catch some of Lionel Richie’s set. My timing was perfect. As soon as I walked through the gate he launched into the Commodores’ “Brick House,” a Bonnaroo performance I’d been looking forward to for months. Again I found it gratifying to see the young audience dialed into Richie’s performance as he pulled out one classic song after another. You can imagine how his ’80s gem “All Night Long” had the dancers moving. This was a moment of such heartwarming cross-generational bonding that it gave me goosebumps in the humid Tennessee night.
Last night’s main stage headliner Jack White nearly tore the stage in half, bringing an explosive thunder and fury that’s largely missing from Rock & Roll these days. One of the most highly-anticipated sets of the weekend, Jack and his crack band did not disappoint. A frantic and fiery performer onstage, he was straightfaced and serious, as if in character, throughout a bombastic set that stretched well over two hours. White has called Nashville home for several years now and he brought noise to these Tennessee hills last night like no one ever has before. An all-out stunner from the first song all the way through to the last note of several encores, this was unquestionably one of the most memorable performances in Bonnaroo’s 13-year history.
And believe it or not there is still more to come. Today is the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014. Photographer Chuck Madden and I must bear in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we endeavor to take in performances today by Lucero, Lake Street Dive, Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Washed Out, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Avett Brothers and more. The legendary Elton John will close out the fest tonight.
Thanks to CityBeat for making this all possible! Chuck and I would like to extend a special thank you to CityBeat photographer Jesse Fox who was a big help to us this weekend.
Only 361 days ‘til Bonnaroo 2015!