Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dancin' Dave does Wisconsin

Here's a contribution from Dancin' Dave about recent festivals in Wisconsin. Dave runs a camp setup service for people traveling long distance to festivals he supports. The next one is the MagnoliaFest Oct. 19-22 in Live Oak, Fla.

Hello fellow music lovers...I have been fortunate to have been able to take in two festivals in the fine state of Wisconsin in the last two weekends, and it's sooo sweet that the festival season rolls on....! (I'm also diggin' all the fine reports on the festivals goin' on across the land. We're spoiled in this country, musically...>g<)

Two weekends ago I traveled to Milwaukee for Irishfest with the sole purpose of seeing Richard Thompson! I've been waiting a couple of years now since I "discovered" the man and his music to see and hear a solo show. Of course, there were other attractions at a huge festival such as Irishfest....Milwaukee certainly knows how to throw big musical parties! There were lots of pretty girls in green, lots of good lookin' men in quilts (according to Lynn), and an almost non-ending amount of Irish and related music and dancin' goin' on on about 6 or 7 stages; it was amazing. This party had been goin' on for four days already....I really wanted a t-shirt I came across that read: "Milwaukee Irishfest 2006. Four days of dancing, drinking, laughing and telling stories. I wonder who died?" But alas, all they had left were "mediums".

And Richard blew me away...for most of the show I was either teary eyed or goosebumped or both. I never have witnessed so much music coming out of one guitar and all of it in such sweet order! His songwriting and his vocals are on an equal with his guitar playing in my eye and ear and I can't think of one show I've ever seen that I would call better. Of course, there was lots of beer drinkin' goin' on all day at an Irishfest; but the crowd must have been as spellbound as I was for it had the feeling of an indoor concert. Superb....

And last weekend I was able to take in Art Stevenson & Highwater's 7th annual Northland Bluegrass Festival, near Rosholt, Wisconsin. Art and his wife Stephanie are part of the Highwater bluegrass band that is a great example of hard-drivin' traditional bluegrass that features tight harmonies, fine songwriting, and hot pickin'. They would fit in nicely at any festival I've been to and they are fine folk to boot!

Other bands that I caught were Gerald Evans & Paradise; Tommy Brown & County Line Grass; Spare Time Bluegrass; and Sloppy Joe. These groups kept the crowd hoppin'...I gotta love a festival stage setting that keeps almost half of the front stage area for dancing....and this space was well used all night! Lots of fun... Another cool deal was the Band Scramble, where the musicians names were thrown in a hat and drawn out to form a band. The new bands had a little while to get an arrangement or two together and then hit the was a hoot.

There are a couple of small festivals in Wisconsin that serve as festival family reunions and I love it. Most of this family started out at the ol' Mole Lake Bluegrass Festival...some of us have been festival friends for 30 years now!
Peace, David

Folks Fest wrapup

Here's the wrapup from Planet Bluegrass from its most recent event. I would have loved to have been there.

It's tough to leave the Folks Festival without a few new songs in your head and at least a few stories in your heart...

This year's Songwriter Showcase winner, Mitch Barrett, first learned that he had entered the contest when he received a congratulatory phone call from us a month ago. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had entered one of his songs in the contest last spring. After borrowing some camping gear from some festivarians after arriving in Lyons, the Kentucky-native's Friday morning performance earned him a spot on the 2007 Folks lineup.

We were all uniquely moved by the warmth, generosity, and hard-earned wisdom of Kris Kristofferson. When he sang of Truth and Freedom - with a capital T and F, respectively - he sang not of some abstract concept, but the grounded understanding of a lifetime of living and human artistry.

Canadian Kathleen Edwards asked to give the introduction to Blue Rodeo, the band that inspired her to take up music. Midway through their set, the band called her on stage to share lead vocals with her heroes. Likewise, fellow Australians The Waifs and the legendary songsmith Paul Kelly shared each other's stage for duets during their sets Saturday and Sunday.

The closing pair of Martin Sexton and Ani DiFranco complemented each other perfectly. As Martin had the Planet's earth shaking and sky singing, Ani turned in one of the weekend's most musical sets, tastefully joined by percussionist Mike Dillon and bassist Todd Sickafoose.

We each left with a favorite new performer: the impressive debuts from Amos Lee and Sonya Kitchell; the colorfully edgy fiddling looper Andrew Bird; the dynamic vocal energy of Moira Smiley and VOCO; Jeff Tweedy's appropriation of Woody Guthrie for the No Depression set; the sophisticated big band interplay of Assembly of Dust; the stirring opening pose of Issa's Saturday afternoon serenade.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Strawberry workshop schedule

Strawberry attendees usually don't learn of the festival workshop and Amy's Cafe (late night) schedule until they get their programs on arrival, but Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Sherry Austin got hold of the information early and posted it for the rest of us. Thanks, Sherry.

Amy's Orchid Cafe:
Friday - Dance with Wolfstone
Saturday - Jam with host Joe Craven with John Cowan, Pat Flynn, Dan Wheetman, Michael Witcher, Marty Stuart and more

Thursday - 1PM band scramble

Friday -
9:30 That 1 Guy: Magic Music
10:30 Blame Sally: Arc of the Song
3:30 Harry Man and Slide Guitar: East meets West
4:30 Incendio: Latin Guitar and World Rhythms

Saturday -
9:30 Tour of Hog Ranch Radio
9:30 Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan: Blues Guitar and Harmonica
10:30 Peter Ostrousko: Everything you wanted to know about Minnesota but were afraid to ask
3:30 Laurie Lewis: Know what your left hands are doing
4:30 Dan Wheetman & Pat Flynn: A Mighty Wind

Saturday, August 26, 2006

No Strawberry preview this festival

My apologies to Festival Preview readers who may have been waiting for a lineup preview, like we have provided the last three Strawberries. There will be no preview for this festival, but look out for post-festival blog entries. We expect to be back with expanded coverage for the 2007 festivals.

Fiddlestix tunes up for Strawberry host duties

Here's a pre-Strawberry report from Sarah Elizabeth Campbell on rehearsals by Fiddlestix, which will be reprising its role as festival host band for Strawberry's anniversary festival, opening on Thursday. Fiddlestix was the Strawberry Festival host band for several years early in the festival's history.

Last night fiddlestix actually did the "R" word. After a few Manhattans we started remembering lyrics, chords, bad jokes. All that good stuff.

Cheryl Cavanagh picked me up in Sac. and we went to Dave's dome to do the "R" word. That was the scene of the crime for many years. High atop Big Hill in Columbia. That was OUR town. The streets were OURS for picking. All the bars liked us and hired us. The bar owner was and still is my best friend. You saw the same faces everyday at the post office the corner mercantile, the Hotel bar and at the St. Charles's saloon. Those were some crazyass days. Great memories to have for years and years.

They recently tore my little house down. First they cut my willow tree down. It made my little house look so sad. Now
its gone completely. I think of all the things that happened there. All the friends that passed through. All the birthdays band meetings -tri tips bbq's and parties. I remember after Strawberry, Fiddlestix would leave Strawberry and stop and see Annie at Ferndale. Then we would go to my house and have a party in the front yard and spilling out into the street. I remember Walter Hyatt standing in the middle of the street looking at this HUGEASS yellow moon hovering at the top of Church Lane. Looked like you could touch it. Just hanging there, like a Christmas ornament.

Walter is gone now. My house is gone now. But Fiddlestix is rearing its crazy head again to once more be your host
band and hopefully make you smile and make some more good memories to save for a rainy day.

Much love from La Grange California-a place that time forgot.

Love , Fiddlestix

Newport report (Part 2)

Peter Keepnews reports from the Newport Jazz Festival:

There weren’t a lot of big names at the jazz festival either. But then again — sad to say — there aren’t that many big names left in jazz, period. Anyway, for Irene and me the jazz festival has always been more of an opportunity to discover new music, or music we didn’t know about, than to see the stars. And so it was this year. And oddly, two of our most impressive discoveries were musicians who are based in New York, as are we, but whom we had somehow managed never to catch locally. Sometimes you have to travel a long way to appreciate what’s normally in your own backyard, I guess.

Those discoveries were Robert Glasper, a pianist with great chops, very original ideas, and — a rarity in modern jazz — a sense of humor; and Jenny Scheinman, a violinist with a really delightful sense of melody and play. (As a special bonus, her rhythm section included another amazing pianist, Jason Moran.) I’m sure that seeing either one of them in a nightclub would be a very different experience from seeing them outdoors in the daytime, when the beautiful sunshine may have made us more receptive and less discriminating than we would have been in other circumstances. But we are eager to find out for ourselves.

Most of the big names this year didn’t do much for us. Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the first Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein and company decided to reverse the trend of having non-jazz types like Isaac Hayes on the bill and experiment with a festival of what some call “pure” jazz. (I hate the term myself, but I’m not sure what else to call it.) That 2004 festival was extraordinary, and successful too. They did the same thing last year, with similar artistic results but less impressive financial ones. This year, presumably to boost ticket sales, things got a little less “pure.”

With the notable exception of Dr. John (whom I love, but whose Newport set was pretty lackluster), just about everyone on the bill qualified as “jazz,” but only in the loosest definition of the term — you know, the one the industry uses. We didn’t stick around for Chris Botti, who as far as I’m concerned is to the jazz trumpet what Kenny G is to the jazz saxophone. (In case you’re wondering, that is not intended as a compliment.) And we caught only a little of Al Jarreau and George Benson, which is less a comment on their talent (undeniable) than on the type of music they’ve both been making for the past couple of decades (uninspiring).

But if it’s the Bottis and the Bensons who sell the tickets, God bless them. (I haven’t seen any figures, but the jazz festival
definitely seemed to be doing better business than the folk festival.) And when a festival offers us the chance to see the likes of Dave Brubeck (looking frail and worn at 85, but still sounding good), McCoy Tyner (at the helm of a very powerful all-star septet) and the brilliant and bizarre saxophonist James Carter (with an old-fashioned saxophone-organ-drums trio), believe me, I am not complaining.

We’ll be back at both festivals next summer.

Newport report (Part 1)

Here's a two-part report on the recent Newport Folk and Jazz fests from contributing blogger Peter Keepnews. Thanks, Peter.

A music festival, especially the outdoor kind — regardless of genre — is not supposed to be the occasion for a lot of deep thinking about What It All Means. But in spite of the beautiful weather, the beautiful surroundings, and the (intermittently) beautiful sounds, it was hard to keep such thoughts out of my mind at Newport this year.

But maybe that’s just me.

This was, by my unofficial count, the sixth year in a row that my wife and I have spent early August in Newport, where the folk and jazz festivals are always held on consecutive weekends. I don’t know how many other people attend both festivals — I suspect the number is small — but Irene and I happen to have very broad musical tastes, and we always find plenty to love at both events.

One other thing about Irene and me: We both dislike musical categories. One of the highlights of last year’s Newport Folk
Festival for both of us was Elvis Costello. What was he doing at a folk festival? Who knows? Selling tickets, I guess. (Also on the bill last year were the Pixies, playing an all-acoustic set. I guess for some people “folk” equals “unplugged.”) And a few years ago, the headliner at the Newport Jazz Festival was Isaac Hayes. Is he jazz? Uh, no. But he put on a hell of a show, and we dug it.

All of which is simply to say: We are not purists.

But still, what were the Meters doing at a folk festival? What was Dr. John doing at a jazz festival — and why were two acts so
stylistically similar not at the same festival? How is it that Angelique Kidjo performed at the folk festival a few years ago and at the jazz festival this year — and did virtually the same set, with exactly the same band, on both occasions?

Or doesn’t it matter?

George Wein, the still-active founder of both festivals, acknowledged to me not long ago that today’s Newport Folk Festival
(or, to give it its official corporate name, the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival) is not the same animal as the original one. “It’s really more of a singer-songwriter festival,” he said. Which is fitting, I guess, because what tends to get called “folk” these days is a far cry from the kind of very, very traditional music that used to be performed in coffee houses, around campfires and, yes, at Newport.

Of course, you could say that things started to change at Newport way back in 1965, when Dylan plugged in. And I am not, as a rule, the kind of guy who thinks turning back the clock is a good idea. I wasn’t overly upset that I didn’t hear anyone at this year’s folk festival sing “We Shall Overcome” or “This Land Is Your Land” or, for that matter, “Maggie’s Farm.”

And it’s not like there was no one there who fit even a relatively strict definition of “folk.” The Indigo Girls? Sure, why not. They play acoustic guitars, sing nice harmonies, and write songs about things that matter to them and their listeners. Rosanne Cash? Well, okay. Anyway, her set was great. And her dad played Newport more than once — which might well have irked the folk purists of his day, but who deserves to be considered a folk artist more than Johnny Cash?

Other artists scattered over the weekend had very solid folk pedigrees and gave inspiring performances — Odetta, Chris Smither, Tim Eriksen, Riley Baugus, Patty Larkin. I consider David Rawlings and Gillian Welch to be more alt-country than folk, but who knows what the hell alt-country is anyway? They were, to use a phrase I invoked more than once that weekend, close enough for folk music. In fact, they were one of the best things I heard at the festival.

But what about Bettye LaVette? She’s a hell of a singer, only now garnering some of the attention she deserves after many decades in the business. But her genre is rhythm and blues, sixties vintage. Is that now considered folk music? Why? Because enough time has elapsed since its heyday? I enjoyed her set, but I wasn’t sure why she was there.

I guess none of this would have bothered me so much if not for all the artists who were not there. You would never know it from this year’s Newport lineup, but there is a whole new folk movement out there, unfortunately saddled with the name “freak-folk” but a lot more inventive, thoughtful and diverse than that name might suggest. Where were Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsome?

For that matter, where were the big (or bigger) names? Maybe it was just bad luck or bad timing that the Newport people couldn’t do better than, for example, David Gray, who closed the Saturday show on the main stage. I have a feeling that they tried to get Bruce Springsteen, who has of course been doing his own version of folk these days and who would have been a good fit as well as a big draw. Certainly, Newport usually has more big-deal headliners (with at least semi-legitimate folk pedigrees) than it did this year. I’m hoping that this year’s lineup was an anomaly, and that next year will be a little more exciting and adventurous.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Strawberry bear alert

With the Fall Strawberry Music festival coming up in 10 days, management just issued this important alert:

You might think this is alarmist, but my friend and I had a bear experience at Strawberry at the Fall 2004 festival. It was unexpected since I have attended 15 or more Strawberries and never given a thought to protecting food from bears. Everything there always seems so safe. But on Friday morning after an overnight rain, I awoke to find our cooler and food carton ravaged. Scary considering that our tent was only 10 feet away.

Strawberry doesn't put out many all-caps alerts. I'd advise paying attention to it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass lineup announced

Do you remember Tom Lehrer singing the names of the chemical elements to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Modern Major General?" I like to hear him try it with this incredible just-announced list of musicians scheduled to appear at the sixth Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, October 6-8 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Check it out: Earl Scruggs, Hot Tuna Acoustic, Flying Other Brothers, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Robert Earl Keen, The Del McCoury Band, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Iris DeMent, Four Year Bender, Hazel Dickens, The Steel Drivers, Billy Bragg, Dale Ann Bradley & Coon Creek, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle & the Bluegrass Dukes, Drive-By Truckers, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, Tim O'Brien's Cornbread Nation with special guest Mollie O'Brien, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane & Fats Kaplin, The Devil Makes Three, Chatham County Line, Alejandro Escovedo, Jerry Douglas & Best Kept Secret, Gillian Welch, Scott Miller & The Commonwealth, Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Allison Moorer, The Austin Lounge Lizards, Alison Brown Quartet, Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Pine Leaf Boys, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Richard Thompson, The Lee Boys, Todd Snider, North Mississippi Hill Country Revue, Banjo Extravaganza with Bill Evans, Tony Trischka and Alan Munde, Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin, T Bone Burnett, Bob Weir & The Waybacks, Heidi Clare & AtaGallop, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, Willy Mason, Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy, The Avett Brothers, Richie Furay, Danny Barnes Collective, Annie & The Vets, SF Opera Bluegrass Dukes, The Stairwell Sisters, Poor Man's Whiskey, Etienne de Rocher, Freakwater, A.J. Roach, Elvis Costello, Barbary Coast Cloggers.

And they are not done yet. The festival says more artists and the stage schedules will be announced soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

MerleFest finds sponsor in its back yard

I've been quiet on the blog the last several weeks. Let's post a little MerleFest news to get back in the swing. The festival announced today that the home-improvement retailer Lowe's, based in MerleFest's home town of Wilkesboro NC, will be the "presenting sponsor" for next year's event, scheduled for April 26-29, 2007.

“Wilkesboro is not only where Lowe’s got its start, but is also a place where bluegrass music has deep roots,” said Bob Geller, Lowe’s senior vice president of marketing. “Many of our customers are music lovers, and we’re proud to support the passions of those customers, as well as support the culture and heritage of this world-class music event in our back yard.”