Wednesday, October 31, 2007

MerleFest stage schedule posted

The detailed stage schedule for MerleFest 2008 was released yesterday, providing further reassurance about the continuity of the artistic vision of the festival. The earlier lineup announcement focused on the names. Now we know who has what slots on the featured stages and what special jams and collaborations are planned.

Ted Lehmann will be posting his full analysis in a few days. Some things that jumped out at me:

* Awesome Thursday night lineup on the main stage designed to boost Thursday attendance.
* Bluegrass youth featured with Lovells, Sierra Hull and Bearfoot getting lots of stage time in various combinations
* Bluegrass women aka Merle's Girls featured in jam and individually--Allison Brown, Sierra Hull, Lauried Lewis, Claire Lynch, Sally Van Meter, Rhonda Vincent.
* Interesting collaborations: Infamous Stringdusters-Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan-Tish Hinojosa, John Cowan-Tony Rice, lots more.
* Waybacks host the midnight jam.
* Watson closers (Thursday-Sunday): Old Crow Medicine Show, Avett Brothers, Levon Helm & The Midnight Ramble with Special Guests, Dan Tyminski Band

Click here to view or download the stage schedule pdfs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Planning a schedule for a busy Vegoose

John Robison

As this year’s Vegoose festival gets ready to tear up the Vegas music scene with indie, rock, hip-hop and more, I have begun to attempt the map out of bands I am putting in the “have to see or die” category. So, Here in a nutshell is the proposed schedule I intend to keep. Of course, you never know what may happen at such an event…

To start the Saturday festivities, I will be checking out the performance by Gogol Bordello. The little bit I have heard from this band has already blindsided me with awesomeness. In fact from, what I have heard and the hype surrounding the band, I think the festival has them misplaced as an opener.

Soon after I plan on checking in with Blonde Redhead. I know very little about this band and that always gets me hyped. Usually when you already love a band you come to watch them with a level of expectancy– of wants and needs, I want the band to play these certain songs, I need the band’s audio to be exactly as I imagine it to be. So, when you see a band you know little to nothing about all your expectations do is take a backseat and be ready to enjoy a new and different sonic buffet for your already noise damaged ears. Then I plan to check out Atmosphere, who I am very, very psyched to see.

I am not a huge fan of rap and hip-hop but do have a good stable of albums and artists I appreciate. Atmosphere to me is like a no joke version of Eminem. His rhymes are powerful and strike home with several messages and I can only expect a outstanding performance. Being in total hip-hop mode at this point I will shuffle over to the Public Enemy performance. Whenever you get a chance to see a group of legends in concert, try not to pass up the opportunity, and how can you not want a personal experience with seeing Flavor Flave up on stage doing his thing, giant clock and all.

From that point I will be enjoying the indie darlings The Shins. I am not a huge fan but as I see it their fans are rabid over them. I need to see first hand what the hype is all about. Will I be converted to the House of Shin? We shall see. Next I had a big decision to make. Queens of the Stone Age or Iggy Pop and the Stooges. I have seen Iggy a long time ago and have never enjoyed the Queens of the Stone Age live, so Queens of the Stone Age win this one out. But why wouldn't festival planners give fans a break by not scheduling those bands at the same time?

Finally, I'll end the night with one of the most anticipated performances of the night with Daft Punk. Not to shabby for a day full of music.

On Sunday, I am much less familiar with most of the afternoon bands so it will be a learning experience. Kicking off the day, I will be in the crowd watching Pharoahe Monch. Sitting tight at the same stage, next up will be a band by the name of Ghostland Observatory. And while waiting with pure excitement for the Muse show to start I will kill some time watching Umphrey’s McGee.

Finally after a day of listless wandering and music experimentation (on my end of course) I will be immersing myself in the hypnotic yet aggressive world of Muse, a band I have been looking forward to seeing for a very, very long time. Ending the night with Rage Against the Machine an oldie but goodie.

And at the end of it all I am sure the massive helping of sun, music and far too expensive beverages will knock the life out of me, leading me off into what is sure to be some very strange dreams.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Allons a Lafayette with Festive Living

By Lisa G at Festive Living

Festivals Acadiens is unlike most of the other music festivals I go to, in that 100% of the music, food, and other features are local to the area. About two dozen bands were on the schedule and I think all are based in southwest Louisiana - mostly Cajun with a few Creole / Zydeco performers. And that is just a sampling of the local talent available! Some of the bands, like Beausoleil, are often on the road so they seem to relish the chance to play in front of a hometown crowd, while others like Goldman Thibodeaux, are more regional.

The food is all from local restaurants and civic organizations, with offerings such as boudin, cracklins, pork chop
sandwiches, fried softshell crab, shrimp or crawfish pasta, jambalaya, gumbo and more.

It is a very relaxed atmosphere; the festival is free, held in Girard Park, at University of Lousiana Lafayette, so there is no gate and access is from all sides. Parking didn't seem to be a problem-we rolled in around 2:30 and got a spot a few blocks away. At that time JeffreyBroussard and the Creole Cowboys were rocking the main stage. We set up chairs off to the side, in the shade, and caught the last 15 minutes or so, then went in search of something to eat.

Good thing, since I needed the energy to keep up with Feufollet, one of the fun-loving younger bands who was up next on the main stage.. Here's a video of them doing Flammes d'Enfer - check out the bass player, he's having such a great time!

[Visit Festive Living for Lisa's complete report on Festivals Acadiens.]

Monday, October 22, 2007


October 25-28, Live Oak FL
Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park

Close out the 2007 roots season with a return to the Suwanee Music Park for the 11th running of this fine festival. The camping in northern Florida is glorious and the lineup of MagFest regulars and new faces is as good as you'll get in a blended Americana and jam-rock event.

Headliners: Donna the Buffalo, Toots & The Maytals, Railroad Earth, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Peter Rowan & The Free Mexican Air Force, The Lee Boys, The Duhks, Uncle Earl

Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet at MagnoliaFest 2006

Festival website:

Emmitt Nershi Band

Two of the standouts among acoustic jammers, Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon, Drew Emmitt Band) and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident, Honkytonk Homeslice), debut their new joint act at Magfest, with Colorado and midwestern dates to follow. With help from buddies Chris Pandolfi and Tyler Grant, this is a can't miss combination we can expect to hear a lot more from.

Upcoming festivals: MagnoliaFest

High on the Mountain Top

Artist website:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Interview with Dobro legend Tut Taylor

By Ted Lehmann

I walked into Minton’s Music and Pawn in N. Wilkesboro, NC on Wednesday morning to chat for a moment or two with Mike Palmer, one of the owners, about a couple of questions I had. There sat Tut Taylor chatting with another customer. After a while I introduced myself to the legendary Dobro player and pulled up a stool beside him. Tut had chatted with me in a relaxed and pleasant way until Mike came over and mentioned he had read the blog and it was OK. I took out my notebook and Tut started spinning tales from his long life in Music. He asked me what I thought of Merle Haggard’s new bluegrass CD, saying he had really liked the video of “Holding Things Together” with Marty Stuart, Rob Ickes, and Carl Jackson. He was particularly complimentary of Carl Jackson as a player and song writer.

I asked Tut about playing with John Hartford, with particular reference to two pretty straight guys like him and Vassar Clements playing with two hippies like John Hartford and Norman Blake. He noted that Hartford was a very accomplished banjo picker and played...

[Visit Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms for the full article.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lottery opens for Planet Bluegrass

It is not too early to start planning for 2008. Planet Bluegrass, producers of Telluride Bluegrass, RockyGrass, and other festivals, is set to conduct lotteries for the company's most coveted ticket types over the next several weeks.

The lottery dates for Town Park camping at Telluride Bluegrass runs Oct. 22-Nov. 4; for RockyGrass Academy enrollment, Oct. 29-Nov. 4; and for on-site camping at RockyGrass, Nov. 12-Nov. 25.

During the specified dates, potential buyers should complete a ticket order using the lottery form available at the Planet Bluegrass site. After the lottery closing date, PB will begin randomly selecting entries and processing orders until all available tickets have been sold.

All other tickets, including three-day passes and camping for Folks Fest, go on sale at 8am MST, Wednesday, December 5 at or 800-624-2422.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Doc Watson with Richard Watson & David Holt as Hills of Home

After premiering it at MerleFest 2006, Doc Watson and company is touring with his "Hills of Home" concept concert--a mixture of story and song with photographs projected on a big screen. Partly a homage to Doc's musical forebears and partly a celebration of his life, it's a rare chance to catch a music legend reflecting on his place in history.

Upcoming: Lake Eden Arts Festival, concert performances

Doc Watson - Deep River Blues

Video by simplyYS

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lake Eden Arts Festival

October 17-19, Black Mountain NC
Camp Rockmont

The fall festival is the 25th LEAF, bringing together music styles from around the world with the homegrown tradition of the Blue Ridge Mountains, consistent with its aim of "connecting cultures and creating community through music and arts." Besides the music, check out healing arts workshops, juried handcrafts, poetry slam, music contests, adventure activities, kids program and more.

Headliners: Michael Franti solo, Les Nubians, Doc Watson with Richard Watson & David Holt as Hills of Home, Fishbone, Tony Trischka

Frigg Playing @ Lake Eden Arts Festival

Video by msd2020

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shakori Hills Fall fest mixes jam, world and roots

By Nick Frazier

Only a few years after it spun off from its funky, friendly cousin in the lake country of upstate New York, the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance is set to kick it up this weekend in North Carolina with a stunningly diverse program of blues, alternative country, African dance, bluegrass, zydeco, jam, and even old-timey Appalachian clog dancing.

Headliners in Fall Shakori Hills include Oliver Mtukuzi and the Black Spirits, Preston Frank, The Duhks, The Waybacks, Jim Lauderdale, Big Fat Gap, The Greencards, Mamdou Diabate, and the Ithaca, New York area band that started it all, Donna the Buffalo, maybe selling their famous ‘Herd of ‘Em?’ t-shirts.

The more homegrown performers include The Apple Chill Cloggers, a variety of backyard bluegrass, blues and roots music, as well as a puppet show aimed at “promoting social change, peace and hope for a better world.” As is the norm at Grassroots, the depth and variety of the acts is vast. Many of the roots performers are scheduled for the daytime, which is geared far more towards families and children.

For all the family friendly G-rated fun that is Grassroots during the day, nighttime is the right time to take the kids to bed. After the sun goes down Grassroots transforms from a festival of food, crafts, music, and dance into one, huge, multi-concert party, with most of the stages pounding on into the wee hours of the morning.

The Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance has existed in some form or another for more than 20 years in three locations: The State Theater in Ithaca, NY; the country fairgrounds in Trumansburg NY, and Shakori Hills NC. Being from the area around Ithaca, I’m familiar enough with the original version to know its juicy secrets, and I imagine the southern version has secrets of its own as well.

Donna the Buffalo started the festival more than 20 years ago in Ithaca with a primary focus to assist AIDS awareness and research, and that tradition has continued in Shakori Hills. Even now it is run by volunteers, continues to support AIDs research and remains non-commercial.

In addition to encompassing two yearly gatherings in Shakori Hills and one in Trumansburg, NY, the Festival has added a concert series at the its original home in the State Theater in Ithaca as well.

The festival this year at Shakori Hills is going to be taking place from October 11 to October 15. More to come later this week, live from Shakori Hills NC.

IBMA feeds "strictly" part of HSB program

Hardly Strictly overlapped with the oh-so-strictly International Bluegrass Music Association business conference, awards program and fan fest last week, and a good many performers were on the Nashville-SF express. Dale Ann Bradley nabbed best female vocalist at the awards Thursday night, and then demonstrated why Saturday morning on HSB's Banjo Stage.

Del McCoury hosted the awards after party at the Gibson Showcase in Opry Mall, and was in SF to close out the Star Stage on Sunday. Others who were present at IBMA and HSB included Pete Wernick, Emmylou Harris and the Steep Canyon Rangers. [Photo: Del works the room. ©2007 Tami Roth]

Most important for the HSB crowd, none other than festival benefactor Warren Hellman was also in Nashville Thursday to receive a Distinguished Achievement Award recognizing the significance of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass as "one of the largest events in the world to showcase bluegrass and Americana music." The honor was presented to Hellman at a special awards luncheon by, who knew, Dale Ann Bradley.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Festivarians do HSB in style

More and more, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is becoming a national festival, with attendees coming to San Francisco from all over to enjoy this world-class event. One example is the big contingent of Telluride Bluegrass Festival goers, members of the Festivarian email list, for whom the San Francisco trip is becoming an annual tradition.

For the last several years, the group has gotten organized about it, camping together at a nearby group campsite, sharing a charter bus between the festival and campground, laying out a group tarp at each stage, and providing full meals at the camp and refreshments at the festival. This year, 60 festivarians took part, many from Colorado but including others from around the U.S., which was all that could be accommodated given the bus capacity.

I visited the group's Run-a-Muck campground after the festival on Sunday night, after agreeing not to disclose the location of the camp. Other than the secrecy, the group was having a good old time the night after the festival closed--with a rib-sticking catered dinner, roaring campfire, music jam, adult beverages and more. Overseeing the procedings, the group's mascot, DukTape Man, was carried back and forth to the festival and passed around the campfire.

One of the campers, Jen Moran, filled me in on DukTape's history. He was born during a rainstorm at the 2003 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, when his "maker" Mark Gibson was playing with a roll of tape. But far more than an inanimate object, DukTape Man has taken on a life of his own, returning to five TBFs since then and hitting the festival circuit this fall for events in Colorado, Arizona and now San Francisco.

I was able to snap a few photos of DukTape Man as we sat around the campfire Sunday night and 60 Festivarians partied late into the night to close out their most excellent road trip.

Documenting the festival

Because of its unique funding model (i.e. Warren pays), HSB continues to sidestep many of the necessary evils of comparable festivals. Notably, there is a total absence of commercial sponsorship. But in at least one way, the festival is beginning to resemble other large festival productions--cameras. Video cameras on stage, giant booms swinging from stage closeup to audience reaction shots, still photographers all over the place.

I'm not talking about third-party journalists. These were all in-house cameras, apparently documenting every jot and tittle of the festival, way more than I saw in previous years. But for what purpose? One photog told me that it's all for the archives, but what a great concert film could be produced with this footage! Is a feature film or video documentary in the offing?

HSB photo gallery

San Francsisco middle school kids enjoy bluegrass in the park

Parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl receive a commemoration from the city

Warren Hellman opens the festival

Buddy Miller does gospel with vocalist Gail West

John Mellencamp and Neko Case guest with T-Bone Burnett

Jeff Tweedy closed out Friday night on the Banjo Stage

Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands

Guy Clark and Vernon Thompson

Boz Scaggs holds court on the Rooster Stage

Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gillmore nail the vocal with The Flatlanders

Charlie Louvin opens Sunday on Rooster

David Grisman featured bluegrass legend Curly Seckler

James McMurtry thrilled his fans at the Arrow Stage

Chris Gaffney fronted The Hacienda Brothers

John Prine performed at the Star Stage

Warren Hellman picks with Ron Thomasson of Dry Branch Fire Squad

Doc Watson brings on the old-time with David Holt

Dave Alvin rocks out on the Rooster Stage

Gandalf Murphy's Josiah Longo says it is cool to yodel

Monday, October 08, 2007

HSB Day Three: Doc and Dawg set an old-timey tone

Back in the 50s, country music great Charlie Louvin served as a transition between old-time mountain music and country-based rock music. On Sunday, Louvin kicked off my Sunday at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass by putting country music in context, starting with classics from Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, sprinkling in later material like Glen Campbell's "There Ought to Be a Hall of Fame for Mamas," and showcasing some of the great Louvin Brothers hits like "Baby Don't Cry."

What made the set relevant was Louvin's role as an inspiration for a generation of country rock performers, especially Gram Parsons, to whom Louvin paid homage. "San Francisco was Gram's old stomping grounds," Louvin noted. He also told a story about teaching a young Emmylou Harris how to sing Louvin Brothers harmonies.

As if to demonstrate, he offered the Louvins song "I Like the Christian Life," which Parsons brought to the Byrd's Sweetheart of the Rodeo record, and then finished with a rousing version of "Cash on the Barrelhead," which Parsons made a hit for the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Gram Parsons was one of the ghosts floating over the festival. Another was Jerry Garcia, who would have been the king of Hardly Strictly if he were still with us. I could easily imagine Jerry sitting down with both of the artists I would see coming up on the Banjo stage--first David Grisman and then Doc Watson.

Both were delightful. Grisman was pretty much pure bluegrass, first offering some straight-ahead Bill Monroe with his band, including his son Sam Grisman on bass fiddle, and then bringing out Curly Seckler, a first-generation bluegrass great, for the rest of his set.

Grisman said he had gotten to know Seckler 20 years ago, and had more recently acquired one of Seckler's old mandolins from his days with Flatt & Scruggs. Seckler was full of Hee Haw humor, which was pretty much lost on the audience, but he and Grisman delivered on some of old bluegrass standards, including "Salty Dog Blues," which rocked the mid-afternoon meadow.

Later on the same stage, Doc Watson dedicated his version of "In the Pines" to Grisman, noting that he had first met the mandolin whiz kid at Gerde's Folk City in the early 1960s. Watson's set was delightful, featuring David Holt as multi-instrumental sideman for the first half, and grandson Richard (Merle's son) as hotshot guitarist. Needless to say, Doc's own guitar work was not too shabby on "Shady Grove," "Whiskey Before Breakfast" and especially his signature "Deep River Blues."

Continuing the old-timey cast of the day, I had earlier caught most of the set by the always great Dry Branch Fire Squad. Ron Thomasson laid on his hillbilly shtick pretty thick, to typically hilarious effect, especially during his explication on the difference between folk and bluegrass festivals, ending with a rousing version of Utah Philips' "Take Us In."
Thomasson's live-and-let-live philosophy has led him to speak out on political issues in a blog and occasionally in performances. On Sunday, with Blue Angels flying maneuvers overhead, he simply remarked, "Now I feel safe." Festival financier Warren Hellman sat in on banjo for several songs with Dry Branch.

Rushing back to Rooster, I caught the last part of Jorma Kaukanen's set with Barry Mitterhoff accompanying on mandolin. It is always great to hear Jorma's versions of "Hesitation Blues" and "San Francisco Bay Blues," but the highlight was the early Garcia/Hunter "Dupree's Diamond Blues."

Finally for the bluegrass side, I caught two songs at the Porch Stage by Steep Canyon Rangers, who are a highly regarded bluegrass unit I hadn't seen before. In my short stay, I caught a hot fiddle number and a version of Shawn Camp's "Ain't No Way of Knowing" with great bluegrass harmonies by the guitarist and mando player.

Also, on Porch, I caught a partial set by an old favorite from Strawberrys past, Marley's Ghost. As always, they were eclectic with Western swing mixed with Warren Zevon and Tim O'Brien. I liked their own song, "Working in the Sugar Trade," with Dan Wheetman on the lead vocal.

With all that folk, old-time and bluegrass, my day was punctuated by several sets of rootsy blues rock from Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men and The Hacienda Brothers. The frontman for the latter band, Chris Gaffney, also plays accordion and sings harmonies for Alvin's ensemble. Both bands had the energy all cranked up for two sets of all-American rock and roll, especially as Alvin pulled out the stops for his two closing numbers, "Back to the Ashgrove" and "Marie Marie."

As the day wound down, I had made a decision to skip Emmylou Harris in favor of two last stops for Gandalf Murphy and Del McCoury. As it turned out, I ran into a friend at the Gandalf set and never made it for Del, where I evidently missed a guest appearance from Peter Rowan.

No matter. Gandalf is growing on me after seeing them three or four times. I let my festival end with a sidetrip to Slambovia, where yodeling is cool and there are flapjacks in the sky, and I went home happy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

HSB Day Two: Flatlanders lead strong Texas contingent

With five stages and seven acts on each one, there were 78,125 potential combinations an attendee could have seen on Saturday at Hardly Strictly Blluegrass. My day went like this:

Missed the first set, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson, James McMurtry, John Prine, Nick Lowe, The Flatlanders, Boz Scaggs & The Blue Velvet Band, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Belle Monroe & Her Brewglass Boys, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle.

Okay, I managed to fit in 11 performers, mainly by catching only partial sets. I think the only one I saw start to finish was local musical hero Boz Scaggs in his country crooner mode, which was fun (especially with an all-star band behind him) but not especially memorable.

I don't have an official attendance estimate, but my own ballpark figure on the huge crowds is 150,000, or about twice the number of schedule permutations. That means there was probably one other person who followed my same path. I wonder who that was. I saw lots of familiar faces (and ran into friends throughout the day), but I didn't see a specific doppelganger walking in my footsteps.

For me, the surprise best set of the day was The Flatlanders, the three Texas troubadours who mixed and matched each other's songs in a rollicking mid-afternoon performance on the Arrow Stage. When I've seen them before, it seemed like a song swap. Here they really came together as a band. Among their many great songs, the one ringing in my head this morning is "One Road More."

The Flatlanders led a strong Texas contingent on the Saturday schedule, including Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry and expatriate Steve Earle. Add T-Bone Burnett and Jimmy Lafave, who I didn't see, and it was a powerful Lone Star State delegation in Golden Gate Park.

The disappointment of the day was Steve Earle, who finished the day on the Banjo Stage. I should have known that he would be featuring his new material and instrumentation, but I love his Bluegrass Dukes band and I was sorry Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott were not there.

Instead Earle's main backup was a combination synthesizer and looping machine that provided special effects and made up
for a full rhythm section. That's the same kind of stuff Keller Williams was doing earlier at the Star Stage, which I avoided.
It took a while to adjust to seeing one of my heroes putting on electronic effects. Still, in front it was Steve Earle with solo guitar and harmonica singing topical songs. The new songs were interesting, including "Oxycontin Blues" and "City of Immigrants," which used samples of Brazilian forro music.

For an encore, Earle brought out war protester and Congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan for a cameo appearance, and then closed with "Rich Man's War" in dedication to Sheehan's son Casey.

Just before that, another Earl, Robert Earl Keen, put on a great show at the Rooster Stage. He totally connected with his big contingent of Santa Cruz fans with a string of his favorites--"Amarillo Highway," Corpus Christi Bay," "Gringo Honeymoon." Great stuff, but as usual I was rushing off.

Another highlight set for me was James McMurtry, who pleased his adoring clutch of fans with some electric rockers like "Where'd You Get That Red Dress" before switching to acoustic guitar for several songs, including a new ballad "No One to Talk to When the Lights Go Down" to be released on a future record.

Gillian Welch was fetching in her green dress and she and David Rawlings delivered a strong set on the big stage. In addition to a selection of her classics, there was a new song she introduced as "guaranteed to bring you down." The highlight was her version of Neil Young's "Marlon Brando, Pocahantas and Me," which she recorded for an upcoming movie about Jimmy Carter.

Emmylou Harris joined Welch and Rawlings on stage for a three-part acapella on "Go to Sleep Little Baby" from Oh Brother, with Rawlings taking the part of Alison Krauss.

I got over to the Porch Stage for part of the set by local favorite Belle Monroe. I heard her do a cover of "Tear My Stillhouse Down," but with Gillian Welch on the adjacent stage it was just a good cover. More fun was the jug-band classic "Naughty Sweety Blues," which Belle and her band had a lot of fun with. So did I.

As expected, the Blue Angels flew overhead but not as frequently or as closely as last year. I saw more attendees oohing and aahing than giving the one-fingered salute. Boz Skaggs said if he were mayor, "we wouldn't have the Blue Angels flying over my city."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

HSB Day One: Mellencamp heads day of guest stars

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass got off to a great start with outstanding Friday afternoon performances by Jeff Tweedy, Buddy Miller and T-Bone Burnett.

It was a day for guest appearances, and the highlight for me was Burnett's surprise guests (well they were posted on the festival website earlier in the day) John Mellencamp, Neko Case and Doyle Bramhall. With Burnett moving around the stage as the conductor of his big ensemble, the guests captured the spirit of the audience with Mellencamp's anthem "Pink Houses" and its compelling "Ain't that America" chorus.

Well, this was San Francisco, and the huge crowd of locals roared its approval, even as the Navy stunt aviators The Blue Angels flew maneuvers overhead.

"I know there is some ambivalence about the Blue Angels," Burnett said. "But this must be heaven if we have angels and grass."

Once again, Fleet Week in San Francisco coincides with HSB. Both attractions are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of attendees on Saturday and Sunday. Despite a move by some local council members to stop the air show, the aerobatic display will be highly visible and audible overhead over the next two days.

Mellencamp also made an impression with his new song, Gena, about the racial incident in Louisiana, recorded with Burnett and recently released over the Internet. Besides Mellencamp, Burnett, Case and Bramhall all took turns on lead vocals.
The other guest shots came during the preceding set by Buddy Miller. Alison Moorer and Jim Lauderdale joined Miller, the later for a rousing finale of the song they co-wrote, "Hole in My Head."

Miller's band featured gospel vocalist Gail West, a different but delicious match for Miller's voice than his duets with wife Julie Miller. The other highlight of Miller's set was his great version of Utah Philips' "Rock Salt and Nails."

The Friday closer was Jeff Tweedy, the Wilco frontman performing solo with folk guitar and harmonica. Tweedy delighted his many fans with his stage banter and tuneful songs. I was most reminded of NRBQ or even John Sebastian.

Tweedy played a long set include a four-song encore. Probably the high point was the catchy "California Stars," but I was impressed with the lyrics in songs like "She's a Jar" and "Passenger Side." He also tipped his hat to another comparison artist. "When things got weird, I started to grow my Bob Dylan beard," he sang.

The afternoon program at the Banjo Stage opened with Augie March, a folk-rock band from Australia, who I'll remember for next time. Not sure if the name is a reference to Saul Bellow.

Friday morning at the Star Stage, the festival ran its program with the San Francisco Unified School District, which brought 4000 school kids to the park for a program of music and fun. The Abram Brothers and Poor Man's Whiskey tried hard to interest them in bluegrass, but I'm not sure how many converts they made. Still the kids had a fun day.

The event was also used to recognize Daniel Pearl World Music Day. The parents of the journalist who was killed in Pakistan were on hand to accept a commemoration from the city of San Francisco.

Festival benefactor Warren Hellman was much in evidence--playing banjo with Poor Man's Whiskey, honoring Pearl, and formally opening the festival on Friday afternoon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Houston Jones at American River

I had hoped to make it two weeks ago to the first American River Music Festival in Lotus CA near Sacramento, which had all the makings of a strong new entrant into the Northern California roots music festival market. As things turned out, I opted for the Monterey Jazz Festival instead for that weekend.

So I was pleased to get this set of photos from American River courtesy of Kathy Pomianek, who does publicity for the Bay Area acoustic band Houston Jones, who performed at the festival along with The Waybacks, Laurie Lewis and many more. This photo essay gives a flavor for this new festival from a performer's perspective.

The main stage at American River

Keith Grenninger and friends

Chris Kee and Travis Jones (of Houston Jones) with Dan Crary backstage

Beppe Gambetta (left) and Dan Crary

Houston Jones (left to right): Henry Salvia, Glenn Houston, Peter Tucker, Chris Kee and special guest Chojo Jacques

Houston Jones (rear view)

Joe Craven (right) with Houston Jones

Monday, October 01, 2007

White Oak Shores Bluegrass Festival - Review

White Oak Shores Campground and RV Resort is a relatively new RV park located along the White Oak River a few miles west of Emerald Isle in the backup waters behind North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks. This waterman’s world, extending from just south of Virginia Beach, VA to near Wilmington, NC on its southern end is protected by the most beautiful barrier islands along the Atlantic coast. The waterways behind the barriers provide the spawning grounds for the commercial fishery along the Atlantic Coast as well as cruising and sport fishing for millions of people. Until a generation ago, this region was little known and mostly uncrowded. Towns like Washington, NC, New Bern, Beaufort, Southport, and Wilmington are shipping, commercial fishing, and, more recently, retirement living centers.

Owners and developers Harold, Governor, and Robin Glenn, in building an RV resort from the ground up, have had the opportunity to do things right, and are meeting the challenge. This lovely park is spread out across 150 acres of what once was a turf farm, so the grounds are grass covered; there is little dust and paving has been done judiciously, providing plenty of green and open space. Sites are large and well laid out. An elaborate swimming pool with a huge water-park style slide and plenty of room for lap swimming is located just behind the marshes, and a long, attractive fishing dock reaches out to the river. While almost all sites are full-service, a well-designed bath house has twelve full bathrooms with shower, sink, and toilet for guests to use. A Wi-Fi system provides Internet access at a reasonable price, and the service is being improved and broadened as this is written. The development is clearly designed to encourage park model development, but only a small portion of the lots are now so occupied. The developers contend that they will always provide plenty of spaces for transient visitors.

The White Oak Shores Bluegrass Festival is this park’s major fall event. A natural looking, grassy amphitheater stands at the top of the park near the main office and the bathroom complex. A large portable stage, brought in for this event, is larger than most stages used for bluegrass festivals. The lineup for this festival featured a good mixture of local and regional bands along with two headlining national touring bands. Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road along with the incomparable Lonesome River Band headlined Saturday and provided the star quality a good festival needs. Several regionally known bands performed to their usual pleasing levels. Perhaps more interesting, however, were two or three new or little known bands appearing here early in promising careers.

TR and the Boys is a family band that has gradually begun to move from its base in gospel bluegrass to a more mixed program of traditional bluegrass and gospel. Brothers Devin and Trenton have strong voices which blend together very well. They should consider working up some songs as a brother duo. Banjo picker Terry Hunsucker brings fine banjo and a marvelous bass voice to add depth this group’s gospel quartets. While they have appeared at a couple of festivals, this group will gain in popularity as they widen their audience beyond just gospel music. They appeared at White Oak Shores as a replacement to a band that was not able to appear and provided a strong program on Friday.

Lost County 35, in a delightful note on their MySpace site, note that they seek to present the broad spectrum of bluegrass music in a way that keeps bluegrass tradition alive and promotes a love of bluegrass music in those that hear them. Appearing in their first festival, they sang and picked creditably, but need to add energy to their performances to develop an audience. As they develop greater stage presence, their performances will become more interesting.

Another band that bears watching is Carolina Junction, a band that appears regularly in the Piedmont at several venues, but was appearing in only its second festival at White Oak Shores. This band offers very good instrumentals, highlighted by Mark Roshelli’s flat picking on the guitar, which is truly excellent. Tim James on banjo and David Sampler on bass are also very good. James is also an able songwriter, and the band features several of his originals. This band bears watching as it seeks to broaden its audience.

Ted Jones & the Tarheel Boys were Friday’s featured band. Jones, rail thin and pale white, has an annoying stage presence, and the band lacks energy and verve, despite Jones’ very creditable Monroe and McReynolds influenced mandolin play. Jones is only 21 years old, and with experience and hard work he could step up.

Saturday dawned bright and happily cooler than the brutal sun and heat of the day before. It’s ironic that a girl group called Sweet Potato Pie would be performing on a day when the producer of a great album of women in bluegrass would be one of two headliners. Lorraine Jordan’s two albums featuring the “Daughters of American Bluegrass” showed the bluegrass community the high level of virtuoso performance that women in bluegrass have achieved. This group, whose members have only been playing bluegrass instruments a few years, is winsome and enjoyable. A couple of their songs are quite winning, including “Katelyn Grey” a piece about Missy’s new daughter and “Penny’s Banjo.” Their performance was winning, but suffered from amplification that was inappropriate to their mode. Playing into instrument microphones would significantly benefit their performance. This is made quite clear on their CD “Patches of Blue,” which showcases their instrumental and vocal skills more effectively than the sound at White Oak, which proved better than adequate for other performers. Sound, provided by Crabtree Acoustic Sound achieved consistently high quality, never blowing the audience away and keeping an excellent balance between instruments and voices. Their voices and harmony are strong, and lead singer Missy Pyne stands out. Sonya Stead’s song writing also draws attention. This group offers a warm alternative during a day of hard driving, traditional bluegrass and will continue to grow and develop.

Roby Huffman & the Bluegrass Cutups and The Marshal Stephenson Band are well known in the region. Huffman was a noted touring bluegrass in the seventies and Stephenson has been a mainstay on radio and in promoting bluegrass musicians for many years. They provided solid performances. Huffman’s pure tenor voice is wonderful. He also appeared in support of Stephenson. Perhaps as interesting was the evening appearance of Samantha Casey, banjo player Daniel Casey’s eleven year old daughter, who had won the Oreo Cookie jingle award the night before. She came home to an enthusiastic reception. The Boys from Carolina are a regional band that sings traditional bluegrass with a particular emphasis on excellent Country Gentlemen covers. Their voices and instrumentation are both strong and they help fill the middle of a good lineup.

Saturday’s lineup featured two bands that are both top bands at any festival. Sammy Shelor and the current manifestation of the Lonesome River Band were in top form for both their sets. In the afternoon they played a number of theirs well-know pieces. In their evening set they called the audience to edge of the stage and really wailed. Their rock-informed bluegrass style lit up the audience. Shelor, of course, is one of the great banjo players that the music has produced. His movement into and away from the microphone as well as around the stage in support of each of his players is sinuous and liquid. It is almost a dance form of its own. His timing and tone are impeccable. The current edition of the Lonesome River Band has been together as a unit for about six months and has become tighter and more exciting that they were when we first saw them in March. Andy Ball on mandolin has steadily improved. His picking is fine and his voice singing lead or harmony fits very well. Brandon Rickman, who only broke one string this day, sings bluesy-rocky style of country sound that works wonderfully with this band. Mike Anglin’s bass always provides a solid beat and more. Matt Leadbetter on Dobro picks virtuoso solos as well as providing the backup fill that only a fine Dobro can. In the end, Sammy Shelor is the show. In a long encore, The Lonesome River Band simply brought down the house.

Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road closed both the afternoon and evening sessions. This fine touring band deserves better placement on the bill, as following LRB late in the evening Lorraine Jordan has melded together her best band ever. They’ve now been together for nearly a year and their hard work and enjoyment of each other shows clearly. The current band has no members that were in it when we first saw them four years ago. Each new addition has added instrumental and vocal strength yielding a band is gaining increasing recognition for its quality. Two young players, Todd Meade on bass and Josh Goforth on fiddle make strong contributions. Each is a supremely flexible multiple-instrumentalist who can provide the sound the band needs for particular songs. Their double fiddle work is very fine. Goforth is one of the best fiddlers in the business, in demand with many other bands. His voice is pleasant, and his drop thumb guitar picking good enough to support David Holt, who often works with Doc Watson. Benny Greene on banjo is solid on his solos and his backup is wonderful. He is quiet and unobtrusive with his presence and lack of flash, but he’s just what this band needs. The addition of Jerry Butler to the band has been a revelation. Jerry brings a very good lead voice and rhythm guitar, but more importantly, his relaxed demeanor, delightful smile, and warm delivery lighten the tone of Carolina Road. Lorraine herself, relieved of some of the emceeing responsibility as well as some of the lead singing has emerged in both her fine mandolin play and singing tenor harmonies. Her interplay with the rest of the band shows clearly her increased confidence in them and in herself.

White Oak Shores has established a good record over the past three years. Emcee Al Cotter kept the program moving on time and showed that despite the fact he is a radio and television personality in his own right, he can keep the focus on the bands and not on himself. Such self-effacing presentation helps to keep the emphasis where it should be – on the music. Sammy Shelor commented on the fine venue and noted that this festival is ready to step up to another level and can do so by adding a couple more headline bands. He’s right about both the setting and the management.