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by Deirdre Kaye 09.28.2012

MPMF.12 Day 1: Fear, Loathing and Vicodin

MidPoint Night 1 through the eyes of pain-killers

I’ve sprained my neck.* I’m taking Vicodin and Thursday night is the first night of MidPoint Music Festival. When my editor told me my review should be first-person and to “think, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” I snorted at just how closely it might come given my current intake of prescription drugs.

No longer stoked for the experience but realizing it’s far too late to get out of going, I texted my friend, Rachel, on Wednesday night. Was she going? Could I tag along with her? The buddy system seemed like a good idea this time around.  She immediately told me sure and that she had planned to see Andrew Bird, Best Coast & Dirty Projectors on Thursday.

Thursday evening, I stroll toward Washington Park. There aren’t tons of people out at 7:45, but it’s still early in the week and early in the night.  There are still enough people that it’s easy to walk mindlessly at the heels of a group of scarf-donning 20-somethings and end up where I need to be to meet my friends.

I glance around, but I don’t try too hard to find Rachel.  She’s one of those people you hear before you see. Instead, I find a spot near the sound booth between two relatively attractive and seemingly girlfriend-less guys, pull out my phone and begin to send texts and emails. 

By 8:10, I’m bitching, though.

She knows I’m jacked up on painkillers.  If I wander off with some heavily bearded rapist in skinny jeans, thinking he’s Rach, it’s all her fault. Mostly importantly, I’m absolutely distraught that I shaved my legs yesterday.  I’ve always had this strange idea that if I’m about to get raped, I’ll just say, “You don’t want me. It’s a hot mess down there.” I think he’ll be disgusted by my lack of feminine upkeep leave me alone. Now I’ll never know if that line works! Has anyone already tried it?  I’ll have to Google it later.

It's 8:20 and I still don’t see Rachel. I do, however, see a tall, lanky shadow near the ATMs and he’s laughing. It’s Dan. I text Rach for confirmation and then head over to find him with a few other people I know. (They have names, too, but they’re really irrelevant for tonight.)

We make a few bad jokes and then Andrew Bird starts with zero fanfare.  He just launches into his music, people applaud in surprise, and he carries on  It’s a beautiful view.  Andrew Bird has these slowly spinning art-installations that look like plumes of smoke and a very cool rotating double-Vitrolla-like thing. Above the roof of the stage glows the pretty, white flora-inspired window of Music Hall. Last time I went to Music Hall for the Opera, I was probably parked just about where my friends and I currently stood.

He’s good. His whistles have me staring at him in expectation. Where are the little animated birds fluttering toward him with ribbons for his hair and water for his face? It’s all just so pretty. I’m mesmerized.

Until my foot lands on something hard and round. Is it a sprinkler head? Yes. I know this without having to look at it. And yet, drop my head and try to find the small black circle as it hides out in the grass and my shadow. I don’t see it. But I feel it, right under my foot. It finally occurs to me that I should lift my foot and I immediately stumbled into Rachel and Dan, who shrug off my apologies. Figuring out how long I’ve known Dan requires higher math than I’m capable of, but he’s used to my stumbling into him.

The stumbling and bumping calls my attention to the fact that Andrew Bird is playing not only an entirely new song but also he’s in an entirely different spot. He’s near an upright bass, hovering over an old microphone and making music I love oh-so-much. Still, when it’s back to the usual stuff, I’m not the only one feeling the weight of his mellow music.

It’s decided that we need caffeine. Fast.

As half our group strides through back alleys and around clusters of people, Rachel tries, to no avail, to tell us that Yelp says Coffee Emporium closes at 8 p.m.  She’s like one of Andrew Bird’s birds, she sounds nice in all the chaos, but she’s having a hard time rising above it. In the end, it takes standing in front of Coffee Emporium’s darkened doors for Dan and I to admit defeat.

Ira’s (Iris? I can never remember) is closed, too. 

So, we do what any sensible, caffeine depraved people would do: We send Dan to his apartment to make us some while we go stand on Clay and watch Best Coast through a fence.

No one will ever convince me this isn’t the best view for their show.  Sure, you can’t see their faces.  But, you can still pick up on all their energy and hear things perfectly.  Mostly, though, you also get to see the rest of the crowd dancing like crazy fools, singing along and having an awesome time.  Standing outside that fence, I think I enjoyed the energy far more than I would if I were amidst those flying elbows and twitching hips.

Dan and, our friend, Erik are back. 

They brought camp chairs and no coffee.

We utilize the chairs and this awesome see-saw for a hot minute before Dan gets a text about Bluegrass at Mr. Pitiful’s and then we’re off, again.  I’m still not entirely sure what our friends were talking about at this point.  They came out giddy over the .5 seconds of music they heard that sounded Bluegrass and Irish.  (Despite knowing Dan for at least half my life, I’m still surprised by how absolutely stoked he is about this.)  They mentioned a name that I don’t see anywhere on Mr. Pitiful’s Thursday line-up.  However, on Friday we’re all meeting up at the Midway at 5p, where they are, apparently, playing again.

Despite multiple pleas of, “Are you sure we shouldn’t support our friend?” and “We could at least peak in and say ‘Hi,’” we don’t make it into Mr. Pitiful’s to say reassuring things to Young Heirloom’s Chris Rob.**  For a brief second I contemplate making a stand.  I’ll stand like Superman and demand we give this musician-man our dues!

Except they’re talking about caffeine, again, and if they go too far, I’ll never find them.  Even not on my best of days, OTR is like that tricked out maze in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.  Except Lord Voldemort is played by a skinny, African American guy who comes up to Dan while we’re still on Main Street.

“Hey man, have you ever been tazed?” he asks my friend.

A bright light flashes and I’m terrified for my one-time best friend.  What’s that disarmament spell?  But it’s just a watch or a flash light or something and Dan, who I think I’ve only ever seen mad once (at me, of course), just shakes his head and tell the guy it’s not cool, he doesn’t even know him.

And then we’re just not there anymore.  We’re in 1215 Wine Bar and Coffee Lab.

But, I don’t actually like either of those things. All I’ve wanted all this time was a pop or a chai. They have chai, though.  And they’ll ice it!  And, you know what else? It doesn’t taste like my coveted goodness from Fido, in Nashville, but I think it’s better than Starbucks. Holy Shit. This place needs a drive-thru.

I’m talked out of seconds by Rachel, who is bound and determined we make it to The Emery for Dirty Projector. I’m ready to give up the ghost.  I just want another chai…or 10. There’s a cheese plate that looks good, too. Mm, Cheese. But, I remind myself that I’m supposed to be writing about the music. Also, I have no idea which direction I’d go to get back to my car once I’ve been properly filled with dairy products. 

So, off we go, to the Emery.

It’s packed. Thank goodness Cincinnati is filled with some seriously sweet people.  A bit of rearranging and the seven of us are in one long row in the balcony.  We’re only forced to sit and hide yawns for a few minutes before the music starts.

I like Dirty Projectors and their quirky, disjointed Pop Rock. It makes me want to dance. Except no one in the balcony dances.  I can see hints of movement and excitement below. But the people around me, the ones near the rafters, are zombie-like. No one moves, except to yawn or to leave. It’s hot, too, and I swear on anything that it smells like Skyline up there. 

They should have played at Washington Park. Out in the cool air and in the open field, where there aren’t seats to lull the tired, drunken masses to sleep. That would have been better for everyone.

When I find myself trying to calculate the likelihood of my death if the balcony collapses, I know it’s time to go.  It’s been a short night, but I’m done. If I stay much longer, I’ll fall asleep. Or I’ll throw up. I pop a Tums for the trip back to my car and duck out.

Once outside, I’m far less concerned than I should be about the fact that I have only a vague idea how to get to my car. 

There is one thing I know for certain, though: I’m stopping for Skyline on the way home and I want extra cheese.

*Who knew that was even possible? Not me.

**That’s his name with us, whether he likes it or not.

by Blake Taylor 06.01.2012
Posted In: Local Music, Reviews at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: Brad Hatfield's 'Uphill From Anywhere'

Cincinnati is loaded with Blues talent. Always has been. Yet it is still a rare and noteworthy occasion when a Cincinnati Blues artist releases an album with primarily original music. Brad Hatfield has long been considered one of the area’s premier harmonica slingers. With his new release, Uphill From Anywhere, he also establishes himself as one of Cincy's most distinctive Blues voices — both as a singer and as a songwriter.

Richly produced by Jon Justice, who also shares many of the writing/arranging credits, and featuring Hatfield’s father, keyboardist Bernie Hatfield, Uphill From Anywhere is an album that will please lovers of standard Blues fare, as well as those who like their Blues flavored with a little gospel and groove.

The album begins with “Witness to My Misery,” a straightforward gut-thumping march, and then moves into “Fit to be the Fool,” a shuffle that will certainly please the Blues purists. All signs point to pretty standard Blues fare at this point, albeit it with heartfelt lyrics and sultry amplified harp tone.

But with the Justice-penned “One More Night,” we’re immediately snapped back to attention with percussive stabs, Hammond organ overtones and honeyed slide guitar reminiscent of the best Warren Haynes-era work from the Allman Brothers. Soulful and inventive chord progressions and equally soulful singing elevate this song a notch or two above the first two tracks.

Indeed, the brightest spots on Uphill From Anywhere are the departures from the 1-4-5 12-bar formula that are the bread and butter for so many Blues bands. “Livin’ Out the Lie” has a great Robert-Cray minor-key R&B vibe and “End of Time” has an uplifting Gospel feel, reminding us to not fret too much since “they’ve been talkin’ bout the end since the beginning of time.” The song makes you want to take the nearest woman by the hand, pull her close and dance like there’s gonna be a whole bunch of tomorrows.

Brad Hatfield has paid more dues than many of us have and for a decade he’s been widely respected as one of Cincinnati’s greatest Blues harmonica players. But the revelation of this album is how Uphill From Anywhere firmly establishes Hatfield as one of our city’s most poignant Blues vocalists. In fact, the second to last track, “Too Good to Give Away,” features guest harp work from New Jersey’s Dennis Gruenling. Harmonica players are a notoriously competitive and territorial lot, but Hatfield yields the instrumental spotlight and lets his voice tell the story with his husky, agile and often moving growl.

Appropriately, the album’s final cut is an a capella version of  “John the Revelator.” Brad Hatfield’s voice takes you to church, or the field, or to the mountaintop, and you believe every word he’s saying.

Sample the release below:

You can catch the Brad Hatfield Band in June at Saturday, June 9 at the Colerain Park Amphitheatre from 5-8 p.m., and Friday, June 22 at Geez'l Petes in Covington  starting at 8:30 p.m. Visit www.bhatfieldbluesband.com for more on the album and future shows.

by Alex L. Weber 05.22.2009
Posted In: Reviews, Local Music at 02:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Local CD Review: Slow Blind Corners' 'New Places'

Bellevue-based three-piece Slow Blind Corners kicks up a pleasant, upbeat racket of shambolic, ’60s-styled Pop on their debut CD, New Places. The songs follow a pretty simple formula: acoustic guitars, bass and drums provide the backbeat for vocal harmonies, psychedelic-era-Beatles-informed electric riffing and the occasional bubbling synth line, which all run wild on top of the proceedings.

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by mbreen 01.31.2011
Posted In: Local Music, Reviews at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pop Empire Releases Debut LP Online

Electronic Rock duo Pop Empire has released its debut full-length, The Devil’s Party, available now for free download via The Recording Label Web site. The “all free!” label is the brainchild of Cameron Cochran, formerly of The Sheds and one half of Pop Empire (along with Henry Wilson). PE and labelmates Sacred Spirits (whose Some Stay was The Recording Label’s first offering) co-host a joint release/label launch party this Friday at the Southgate House with guests We Are Hex and The Kickaways.

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by Mike Breen 07.02.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, Reviews at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

REVIEW: Animal Circles' 'Eva Lee'

Rootsy, surf-y Cincinnati trio releases debut album this Saturday

In the late ’70s, Punk Rock and New Wave were blossoming in New York City. But those genre tags were just a convenient labeling device, a catch-all that didn’t take into consideration all of the varied influences artists were bringing with them under that umbrella of Punk or New Wave. Bands would drag things like Rockabilly or Disco into their audio realm and craft their own new sound out of it, with barely any fans blinking an eye, let alone screaming, “That’s not Punk!”

Cincinnati trio Animal Circles bring that sort of kitchen-sink approach into their compositions, craftily blending together Surf Rock, Punk, Roots/Folk/Country sounds, Rockabilly and other styles into their own distinctive sonic smoothie. With the access people have to every type of music these days, it’s a wonder why every band doesn’t have Animal Circles’ sense of eclectic wonderment.

The band celebrates the release of its debut album, Eva Lee, Saturday at Northside Tavern. The free show also features Bloomington, Ind., rockers Thee Open Sex and local Black Sabbath tribute, Druid Piss.

Animal Circles’ variety and sense of dynamics make Eva Lee a thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. From the full-throttle burner “Brooks and Then Done,” with its speeding-out-of-control-train shuffle and rumbling Surf guitar licks (a consistent on the record) to the anxious, Jack-White-goes-to-the-beach vibe of “Squid Attack” to the vintage Country-flavored rocker “Southern Bell,” the band keeps your interest, not just with its unique ingredients, but also its strong sense of songwriting and melody.

The “Surfin’ Space Cowboy” approach has the potential to get old fast, so it’s to AC’s great credit that Eva Lee is such a consistently compelling listen. This is no novelty act.

Here is the Eva Lee track "Life on the Bonzai Pipeline."

Visit the band's Facebook page here for more info. Animal Circles' Reverbnation page is here.

by Mike Breen 10.01.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, Reviews, Music News at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
screen shot 2012-10-01 at 11.13.57 am

Best Tweets from MidPoint Music Festival 2012

From informative to downright silly, here are some of our fave tweets from MPMF

Twitter was alive with MidPoint Music Festival tweets throughout the three-day music festival in CIncinnati's downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Many festgoers got to read them in real time thanks to Topic Design, which facilitated the Twitter screens at various venues and on its great mobile app site (click here to relive them all). Here are just a few of our favorites. Add yours in the comments.

• Can I take ibuprofen with whiskey? #mpmf #MPMF12 #midpoint

• Driving through Indiana on the way to Cincinnati for #midpointmusicfestival

• So excited to take the next two days off from work and head down to Cincy for #MidPointMusicFestival for 3 days of music. Much needed vacay.
— ‏@ThePickleBear

• Indie Illustration—LPK's Tommy Sheehan shares his process for designing prints for @MidpointMusic Festival musicians http://ow.ly/e2xR0
—  ‏@LPK

• Reminder: Tim Mara's yard isn't a toilet. Hot tip: Enquirer bldg downtown I believe has restroom facilities open 24 hrs. #MPMF

• Dr. Ralph Stanley performing "Oh, Death" at The Emery Theatre, A Requiem Project during MidPoint Music Festival: http://fb.me/1dUIu6GC6

Oh Death - Ralph Stanley at the Emery Theater from Stephen Pruitt on Vimeo.

• Riding bikes is so much fun with Cassie & David @ Midpoint Music Festival http://instagr.am/p/QL41T7A_y9/

• Gratitude to @MidPointMusic for having me. One of the best festivals I've ever played. Thank you. http://instagr.am/p/QJf86WgKML/

• Look!!!! We found WALDO at Midpoint Music Festival #mpmf pic.twitter.com/TNpsEQFj

• My feet are sticking to the floor but I am loving Turbo Fruits. #mpmf #midpoint

•  #midpoint music festival. These people are athletes in entertaiment.

• The Seedy Seeds in my front yard! #mpmf @ MPMF.12 4EG Stage http://instagr.am/p/QLgussko3-/

• MidPoint Midway! #mpmf #thisisotr http://instagr.am/p/QLwjrRJKOD/

• It sucks that I won't be able to attend this year's MidPoint Music Festival due to job requirements. To all attending, enjoy. #MPMF12

• How many @MidPointMusic fans does it take 2 screw in light bulb? 121 - 1 to screw, 20 2 watch and 100 2 ruin experience by talking nonstop #MPMF
— ‏@CityBeatMusic

• @CityBeatMusic I take it you were at the Antlers' show last night? It was like everyone was trying to talk OVER the music! #MPMF

• We just destroyed #mpmf12 #MPMF try to top the rest of the weekend.
‏— @OhioKnife

• If you missed Lord Huron I feel bad for you. #MPMF12

• Just got to Washington Park to catch Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Do I want Tom+Chee or a beer first? - j #MPMF12 #vitaldecisions

• OTR hopping in the 45202 #MPMF12 pic.twitter.com/Go7fJvxk

• Falling asleep to the tunes outside from #MPMF12 . I <3 @OTRcincy & @WashingtonPark ! Great night!

• "Coincidentally I had a dream about Kurt Cobain." "Name dropping!" - Imperial Teen #mpmf #MPMF12

• Don't call it a comeback. #thisisotr #mpmf

• Hundred Waters just won #MPMF , hope you didn't see The Walkmen for the 50th time instead

• It was cute to see Dinosaur Jr. picked up by their dad Dinosaur Sr. after @MidPointMusic set last night in a sensible minivan #MPMF

• So inspiring to hear about King Records in the Emery Theatre. Happy Ralph Stanley Day! #MPMF

• Want to hear more of your new MidPoint discoveries? Check out our guide to #MPMF bands in our collection! http://cinlib.org/QcwHVn

• Photo: @jjjoeycook in front of Music Hall. Mount Eerie t shirt. #mpmf -i (Taken with Instagram) http://tmblr.co/ZcudByUC2FM-

• Just watched a Cincinnati Police officer buy an Andrew Bird CD...he was so excited!! #MPMF

• Emery Theatre smells like your grandparents' house but sounds like Carnegie Hall #mpmf

• Photos – Kelly Thomas & The Fabulous Pickups, 9/27/12, Midpoint Music Festival, Cincinnati, OH @MidPointMusic #mpmf http://www.cincygroove.com/?p=10090
— ‏@cincygroove

• @MidPointMusic Thanks for being sweet. Had a blast and then some playing Arnold's/WNKU stage.

• I think I just had one of the best weekends if my life. I don't want to stop. #MPMF @KansasBibleCo

• #mpmf the people spoke and the people broke. The live app went down sometime overnight, the result of much activity. Archive of it to come.

• Who would've thought my barnes & noble is the stopping point for #mpmf bands today. 6 so far!!

• 'Twas the day after #mpmf and all through OTR not a creature was stirring... No, really, it's so quiet I can hear bugs trilling.
— ‏@winemedineme

• ‏Post #mpmf come-down always a little weird. Why can't it go on forever?

• Thank you Cincinnati for giving us a fantastic 11th #MPMF! Let's do it again, say, this time next year?
by Brian Baker 05.02.2012
Posted In: Music Video, New Releases, Reviews at 01:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Review: Loudon Wainwright III's 'Older Than My Old Man Now'

Loudon Wainwright III could very easily have slid into the where-are-they-now realm of celebrity obscurity if he had allowed himself to be swallowed up by the one-hit wonderment of “Dead Skunk” in 1972. Although most people at the time only knew him for that ubiquitous single, Wainwright was confident that he had plenty of other weapons in his songwriting arsenal and set about to define the 40-year Folk/Pop career that has brought him certain measures of acclaim, wealth and notoriety as a songwriter, performer, actor and dysfunctional family man, each role woven inextricably into the fabric of the others (remember when he was Captain Spalding, the singing surgeon on M*A*S*H?). Clearly, the two paths that have intersected most often in Wainwright’s life are music and family; his itinerant singer/songwriter’s existence has been both a positive and a negative in his numerous attempts at familial stability and his parents, wives and children have been an endless source of grist for his songwriting mill.

Chief among Wainwright’s influences has been his often larger-than-life father, whose death at 63 left a gaping hole in his 17-year-old son’s life and psyche. A great deal of Wainwright’s unresolved love and anger issues concerning his father have been worked out in his songs over the past few decades, but his latest uniformly excellent album finds him looking back at his long timeline after reaching the milestone birthday of 65, a momentous and bittersweet benchmark that inspired the album’s title; Older Than My Old Man Now.

Like much of his recent work, Wainwright explores the familiar subjects of family, aging, death and lust on Old Man, which he does with typical candor, humor and reflection. Wainwright opens with the jazzy “The Here & the Now,” an annotated but honest account of his 65 years (“I took a wife, we had some kids/I screwed that up and went on the skids”), a history that he continues tracing on the contemplative and mournful “In C.” In the eloquent spoken word intro to the title track, Wainwright calls his father his “principal ghost” and then launches into a Delta-flavored vamp that addresses the psychic conundrum of having more calendars under his belt than his dad (“Sixty four is awful old, you know what can happen next/Hey, I’m older than my old man ever was, and I’m trying to keep it in context”).

Wainwright’s broad range is best typified by the ridiculously funny “I Remember Sex,” a parlor piano duet with Barry Humphries’ female alter ego Dame Edna Everidge, and the sublimely heartbreaking realizations of “The Days That We Die,” where Wainwright expounds, in prose and rhyme, on the reality of getting closer to life’s finish line without having fully reconciled with his children for his real and imagined sins. Listening to Wainwright and son Rufus trade soul-searching verses about life and change and forgiveness will bring a tear to the most cynical eye.

Over the course of the past few albums, Wainwright has honed his songwriting style to a fine point and narrowed his focus to very personal issues which he has translated into impossibly universal songs. Older Than My Old Man Now finds him in peak form in that regard, and reinforces the idea that he’s probably got plenty more to say on every subject as his finite journey heads inexorably toward the infinite horizon.

by Alex L. Weber 07.13.2009
Posted In: Local Music, Reviews at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Local Review: Cincinnati Compilation

For once, I’m feelin’ pretty good on a Monday, because I just got my hands on a little disc full of weird and wonderful tunes, and it’s from right here in town.

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by Brian Baker 04.06.2012
Posted In: New Releases, Reviews at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: Joan Osborne - 'Bring It On Home'

When Joan Osborne vaulted into the public consciousness with Relish, her 1995 major label debut, she had already established a loyal fan base that was well aware of her estimable Jazz and Soul skills. With Soul Show in 1991 and the Blue Million Miles EP in 1993, Osborne displayed her smoldering vocal chops and her unerring ability to write to her own strengths as well as inhabit another writer’s song (her take on Captain Beefheart’s “Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles” was a marvel). Largely a collaboration with producer Rick Chertoff, Hooters frontmen Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman and Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, Relish rightly pushed Osborne into Rock/Pop territory and the well-deserved spotlight, but it was only marginally indicative of her loves and influences.

For the past decade and a half, Osborne has made no secret of her musical passions as she’s fleshed out her catalog with a string of soulful original albums, covers albums (2002’s How Sweet It Is) and blends of the two (2007’s excellent Breakfast in Bed).

With her latest, Bring It On Home, Osborne heads directly into the Blues/R&B camp with predictably great results, from the opening swing of Ray Charles’ version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and a blistering spin through “Roll Like a Big Wheel” from obscure Blues shaker Olive Brown to a down and dirty take on James Moore’s iconic “Shake Your Hips” (nailed by the Stones on Exile on Main Street) and a shivering R&B tailfeather shake of Clarence Carter’s “I’m Qualified.”

As usual, Osborne’s gift in covering other songwriters’ works lies in her innate talent in melding the spirit and intent of the original song with her own singular approach to come up with a version that is both tribute and appropriate reinvention, and Bring It On Home finds Osborne at the peak of her abilities.

by Jeff Roberson 04.27.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Festivals, Music Commentary, Reviews at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
deep dark woods 10-1

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)