Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Bright Place" turns dark for The Waybacks

Now it's day 2 of the festival, but I won't try to follow the order of the stage schedule. The next bunch of items are random observations and interviews from the rest of the wonderful Old Settler's Music Festival.

I'll start with James Nash, the hot flat-picking guitarist and vocalist for The Waybacks, one of only two bands (with Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez playing both in Austin and at MerleFest next weekend. I haven't been able to do much preview coverage for MerleFest, which I'll be coving later this week, so some quick items on those bands is now in order.

The MerleFest preview is that Bob Weir of Grateful Dead fame will be appearing with them at MerleFest. Actually, the first-ever public appearance of Weir and The Waybacks is Wednesday evening at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, an event that is also the CD release party for The Wabe's new From the Pasture to the Future.

I asked Nash how they had come to be hooked up with Weir. He said it happened naturally, through friends suggesting that they jam together. When they did, everyone had a good time, and they decided to do a few gigs together. They've had several rehearsals in recent weeks, and are set to perform twice later this week.

Nash said they'll play mainly Waybacks material with a few Grateful Dead songs thrown in. He said it was amazing how much they sound like the Dead when Weir is on vocals. As for his own history, Nash, who grew up in Tennessee, was not a Dead fan growing up but got into the scene a little bit after arriving in California as a college student.

The other big Wayback news, at least for the Austin crowd, was the return of favorite son fiddler Warren Hood, who has decamped to joined the San Francisco-based band full-time. The hot-fiddling, baby-faced son of the late Champ Hood brings another lead instrumental voice to the band's electic mix of jazz, rock, blues and folk styles. Hood was welcomed by the audience as a returning hero.

One of the few technical glitches of the Old Settler's event took place during the Waybacks' set, which began in daylight but continue past sundown. The stage lights never came on as the set progressed and it ended with the band playing in complete darkness. Not exactly the "bright place" the band sings about in one of its trademark songs.

I asked Nash, whose hot picking did not seem diminished by the conditions, for a reaction. He said that noone told them there was a lighting problem and that he only slowly realized what as happening during the course of the set. In the end, Nash's compadre Stevie Coyle was calling out to the audience, "We're over here." Nash said it was a good experience to have no choice but to play without looking at the fingerboard, which is what he tries to do in any case.

Just as the band finished its encore song and was bowing into the darkness, the stage lights suddenly came on and then functioned perfectly well for the rest of the Friday night show.

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