Hartfordfest Quite The Boogie

The secret is out! Everyone is learning that the John Hartford Memorial Festival(JHMF) is the most laid back festival in the Midwest. Held for its 7th year at the Bill Monroe Memorial Bluegrass Park & Campground, JHMF has established itself as a premire destination for bluegrass, americana & related musical styles. The entire lineup was stellar from top to bottom. This would be the 4th time in the last 5 years that I would covering the festival and it was nice to see how much the festival has grown over the last few years. There are 3 stages:Hartford (main) Stage, Hippy Hill Stage & Boogie Stage and they all stayed busy throughout the weekend. There is a curfew for amplified music at JHMF, but that’s when everyone heads back to the camp sites for late night picking until dawn.
I arrived on Wednesday and I was able to set up camp right behind the Hartford Stage. Although Thursday is actually the official start to the festival, there was music on the Hartford Stage on Wednesday night and many others besides myself showed up early to grab the best campsites and enjoy the music. Flatland Harmony Experiment kicked things off with their twist on bluegrass infused music. Avocado Chic, a band made up of rotating group of regional musicians with no permanant members fired up the crowd with their unrehearsed & energetic set of tunes. Growler, based out of Chicago, followed & delivered a foot stomping set of their own. The Tillers out of Cincinnati then closed out the night and had the audience moving & grooving up until curfew. What a great earlybird night of music.
Thursday started off with the official Opening Ceremonies and was followed by Betse & Clarke With The Aching Hearts delivering an All-Hartford set. Since I was camped right behind the main stage, I focused most of my attentions there due to the stacked lineup of artists performing there. Up next was Farmer & Anderson. Consisting of folk singer Chicago Farmer & Backyard Tire Fire’s Edward David Anderson, this unique pairing created one of the many surprise highlights of the festival. The Dead Winter Carpenters & Old Salt Union then offered lively sets f their songs. The Lil Smokies from Missoula Montana are quickly becoming a favorite of mine and I thoroughly enjoyed it when they covered Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. The Larry Keel Experience followed with a great set of tunes interpreted in a way that only Larry can do. Larry is one of the best flat picking guitarists and since he started using pedals a few years ago, his sound has elevated to another even a higher level. Closing out the evening was the Rumpke Mountain Boys. Based out of Cincinnati, Rumpke has been a strong supporter of the festival since the beginning and it was fitting for them to headline the first night with their “Trashgrass” style of music. They never create a setlist in advance and offered a very Hartford heavy set that took the crowd on a musical journey. Everyone was exhausted (in a good way) by sets end and happily headed back to the campsites for the late night picking.
On Friday I was feeling a little lazy as I headed to Hartford Stage for the opening set of Colin O’Brien & Travis Burch. Colin has performed multiple times at JHMF with his interpretive performance as John Hartford. The addition of Travis added a new dimension to the songs as they performed an All-Hartford set to start the day. Once again the Hartford stage held most of my attention but I did make it over to he Boogie Stage for Chicago’s Miles Over Mountains and to the Hippy Hill Stage for repeat performances by the Dead Winter Carpenters & Old Salt Union. I experienced 4 bands that I had never seen before:The Last Revel, Joseph Huber, Molly Tuttle & Jesse McReynolds. They all offered inspiring performances that made me wanting more. Bawn In The Mash took everyone down a musical road of many diverging styles with lots of twists & turns. Pert Near Sandstone out of Minneapolis was also a musical highlight for me. It had been a few years since I had seen them and it was nice to be reminded about how much good they were& to watch them perform. The Steep Canyon Rangers were the last band of the evening and delivered a high energy set of bluegrass music enhanced with a spectacular light show that fired up the crowd into a frenzy for 90 minutes. As much energy as the band presented, fiddler Nicky Sanders bounced around covered every part of the stage like a madman on speed. I thought he would run out of steam before the end of the set, but he never did. Everyone else was worn out from the frenzied performance & once again headed back for more picking.
When I awoke on Saturday morning, I thought to myself about how great the festival had been. I felt like I already had a weekend’s worth of great music, but Saturday seemed like a bonus day. Off The Wagon kicked off the Hartford Stage by performing John Hartford’s “Gumtree Canoe” in its entirety. This was an awesome way to set the stage for a great day of music on that stage. The Wooks from Lexington, Ky proved their bluegrass skills on stage including a kick ass version of Peter Rowan’s “Midnight Moonlight”. Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon brought a few of his friends on stage for a rousing set of americana music and Michael Cleveland delivered a set of music that highlighted his fiddle playing skills and showed why he is a 10 time IBMA Fiddler Of The Year. I did sneak over to Hippy Hill Stage to see another few songs by Pert Near Sandstone and returned later to catch some of New Old Cavalry’s only set of the festival. The rest of the evening was spent at the main stage. Both the Traveling McCourys and the Jeff Austin Band delivered great high energy sets separately before combining forces to present the Grateful Ball, a bluegrass musical journey of the music of the Grateful Dead. Lastly, the JHMF All Star Band closed the festival out in the proper way. Although there was more picking going on late, I headed back to camp.
Once again JHMF proved that it is one of the best musical festivals in the country. The laid back atmospere fostered a sense of community that I felt like I was among family. I was exhausted from all the great music I had experienced all weekend but in a good way. I’m already planning on returning next year.

Blue Ox Growing Into One Babe Of A Music Festival

The Blue Ox Music Festival 2017 will be in Eau Claire, Wisconsin from June 8-10. Pert Near Sandstone, a bluegrass band based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota has hosted, performed & have been involved from the beginning. Started in 2015, this will be the 3rd year for the festival which has quickly become a destination for Bluegrass, Americana & acoustic inspired music in the upper Midwest. This years lineup is stellar from top to bottom featuring such diverse acts as the Punch Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush, Son Volt & Fruition. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Dead Horses & Dead Man Winter are among the regional bands showcasing their talents as well.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Sipe, mandolin & fiddle player for Pert Near Sandstone recently about the band and the Blue Ox Music Festival. Below is what we discussed.
Tom Wickstrom: Thank you for meeting me today. 1st off, let’s talk about the Blue Ox Music Festival. How did it get started?
Nate Sipe: We were on tour in Colorado with the Travelling McCourys. Jim Bischel, Who runs Country Jam USA in Wisconsin , happened to be visiting his son Mark, who was living in Colorado at the time. They just happened to come to our show. Mark was trying to show his dad what the Bluegrass/Americana/younger acoustic scenes were all about, because that’s what Mark’s enthusiasm was focused. Jim was blown away by the scene and the experience and he started wondering if this scene & enthusiasm existed in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. Since Jim had been producing Country Jam USA for 30 years and it was kind of a family business, he began thinking there might be a way to add & include this music. Since we were on that show in Colorado and based out of Minnesota, Jim asked us if we wanted to get involved & we jumped at the idea. Initially the thought was that it would just be an added stage to the Country Jam lineup, but the idea blossomed into creating a separate festival to showcase Bluegrass, Americana & acoustic styles of music. Because of our many years of touring around the country and our many connections to bands within our scene, it grew into a bigger concept than a side stage addition. That’s how Blue Ox came about. This will be our 3rd year and it keeps getting better. It’s been a complete success.
TW: How does Pert Near Sandstone get involved with the festival?
NS: We say that we are curating the festival. That means we are completely involved with selecting all the bands, producing the various stages & scheduling, as well as working closely with the Country Jam folks to make sure everything is working from both the audience’s & performers perspectives. We make sure hospitality is working and that everyone is happy so they keep coming back year after year. We also have a family camping & picking areas to appeal to all kinds of music fans. There will also be late night picking jams that have yet to be announced.
TW: Do you try to include local artists on the Blue Ox Lineup?
NS: We do have a side stage that showcases mostly local and regional acts. Since we are based out of Minnesota, many of the bands that we have befriended  over the years will be performing. We like to present local favorites to perform, because you may not get an opportunity to see them elsewhere in the country. The Wisconsin/Minnesota music scene is very do it yourself. We are all supportive of each other and have worked diligently to lay rooys & create that has been supportive of each other. It’s a fun community to be a part & to see it grow & evolve.
TW: Is there any new music coming up for Pert Near Sandstone?
NS: We just recorded a cover of an old Sam Cooke tune we’re going to be releasing as a single. It’s mostly to help promote Blue Ox and we’re always working on new music. We hope to get back in the studio in the fall and hopefully have new music come out in Spring 2018. We will probably record again in the home studio of Ryan Young (Trampled By Turtles). He’s a great friend and one of my favorite persons to make music with.
TW: Any other projects you’re currently working on?
NS: A couple of us play locally in a band called the Fiddle Heirs. It includes myself, Ryan Young and a rotating cast of local musicians. We get together and do a handful of shows once in a while. I think we are sitting on an album’s worth of music, so hopefully we can get that record out soon. We may get a chance to jam together at Blue Ox  also.
TW: I see you will be at the John Hartford Memorial Festival the week prior to Blue Ox. Is this your 1st time there?
NS: No. This will be our 2nd appearance. We had the pleasure of playing there 2 years ago. This festival has a special meaning to all of us because of what John Hartford meant to us and the music we’ve learned to love. There’s a special vibe there and there’s also plenty of late night picking for us. We were also amazed at the amount of golf carts there.
TW: Thank you for your time today. I’ll see you at Blue Ox.
Blue Ox Music Festival is from June 8-10, 2017. Pert Near Sandstone is hosting & will perform 2 nights. For more information, go to http://www.blueoxmusicfestival.com.

Elephant Revival Tramples Columbus Audience

Elephant Revival(ER) played a sold out show on April 13, 2017 at Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, Ohio. Supported by opening act, The Dead Horses, they presented a 90 minutes plus set that showcased their instrumental skills & lush harmonies. I arrived early and was able to catch their sound check. I was scheduled to interview Daniel Rodriguez, guitarist & vocalist for ER. While waiting, I spied Bonnie Paine grabbing a chair & her cello & heading out back to practice. I enjoyed listening for about a half hour until Daniel became available. We then headed for the bus for the interview(see below).

The show was magical. Dead Horses opened. Based out of Wisconsin, Dead Horse got the evening started right away with their folk styled sound that was a perfect lead in for Elephant Revival. Their set drew the audience in from the beginning and never let up. There were 2 new songs in their set, “Flight Patterns Weather” & “Snowman” and I got to hear one of my favorites “Grace Of A Woman”. They did a 90 minutes set and a 2 song encore. After they left the stage, the crowd kept chanting for one more song. After a few minutes, Elephant Revival obliged and came back out to perform “Good Graces” acoustically in front of the stage. Dead Horses joined in on all the encore fun as well. What a great night of music.

 

Tom Wickstrom: I’m interviewing Daniel Rodrigues from Elephant Revival. How did the band name come about?

Daniel Rodriguez: The name came from Dan Rose, who plays bass and sometimes mandolin in the band. He was in Chicago & busking outside the elephant cage at the Lincoln Park Zoo. There were 3 elephants in the cage that had been there fr about 15 years. The Salt Lake City Zoo called them and asked if they had an elephant to spare because they didn’t have one. The Lincoln Park Zoo said sure and shipped the elephant to Salt Lake City. While taking the elephant to Salt Lake City, the elephant died presumably due to the separation from the other elephants. Within a few weeks, the other elephants died also. Big elephants typically survive in the wild but the only world they knew was inside the cage and the bond the elephants had with each other and the separation tore them apart. The name came from that experience & story. Before the band we all knew each other but were living in different parts of the country. It was about getting us all together. Kind of a sad story in a way.

TW: You’ve had the same lineup for the last 3 or 4 years with the exception of Darren Garvey. How long has Darren been with you?

DR: Almost exactly 1 year. His first show was Red Rocks last year.

TW: As far as songwriting goes, do you write together or separate?

DR: We mostly write separately. We’ll each bring different things to the band. If a song need to be arranged differently for the bands sake, that input can come from anyone. There have been a few pieces we’ve written together and there’s been a lot of co-writes where 2 or 3 band members will work on a piece.

TW: Do you ever get political in your songwriting?

DR: I definitely have songs I’ve written that get sort of political or opinionated. We don’t try to get too political on the microphone but sometimes have political undertones in a song. Because it could easily divide your audience and our whole objective is to bring everyone together and have an experience. Sometimes people get a little too left-brained when you get political.

TW: I caught your performance in March at the Anastasia Festival & saw the special bond you have with Fruition. They jammed with ER and visa versa. How did you guys meet?

DR: We shared a booking agent with the Shook Twins, who we had been friends with for a decade or so. When we would have a gig in Portland, we would stay with the Shook Twins. They were friends with Fruition. One night after a show in Portland, we went back to their house at 3am. They invites Fruition & Brad Parsons over. They came over, played music and we jammed together. From the moment we heard their harmonies and the drinking of PBR’s, we’ve been friends ever since.

TW: Any other bands you share a musical bond with?

DR: Obviously the Shook Twins. The Deer out of Austin Texas, Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon & Heywood Banks also come to the top of my head.

TW: You’ve played a lot of places. Have you been out of the country yet?

DR: Yes, we’ve toured Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales and we’re about to go to Czechoslovakia.

TW: What are your favorite places to play?

DR: Playing Scotland & Ireland was special. The shows were packed and the integrity of the listener was awesome. It was pin drop silence during the songs, but as soon as the song was over, the applause was uproarious & ecstatic. The shows over there were phenomenal. We’d love to do Australia sometime also. As far as a specific venue, Red Rocks is one we look forward to every year. Nothing tops the experience of playing Red Rocks.

TW: Do you have any new music coming out?

DR: We have tons of new songs we’re excited about.  I wish we could do a 30 song album. There’s so much stuff that we can’t wait to share.

TW: Have you road tested any of the new songs?

DR: We have been trying them out. We rehearse some of them at sound check. We’ll probably play some tonight. Tonight feels like a night where we’ll try a lot of new stuff.

TW: Tell me about the bus fire last year.

DR: We had flown into Nashville, got on the bus and grove all night to Hickory, NC where we were playing. About 8:30am Dan Rose woke up & smelled smoke and then Bonnie woke & started yelling smoke, which woke me up. I opened my eyes and the blankets at the foot of the bed were raging on fire. I had been sleeping in the fetal position so luckily I didn’t get burned. We all quickly got off the bus in only our underwear. Our bus driver went back in and tried to put it out but couldn’t. We watched smoke pouring out of the bus. The fire department came & Fox News was also there. Everything was a complete loss including a lot of unique musical instruments we had collected over the years. Even though we lost everything, you realize you don’t really need anything to be happy. It was like starting from scratch. Sort of liberating in a way.

TW: What has music taught you about yourself?

DR: It’s taught me a lot about space, vulnerability, courage & really just how to listen. Choosing how to speak or not to speak. Sometimes silence in certain moments is more powerful than trying to express something. Yeah, music has taught me a lot.

TW: Is there anything you want to say or tell your fans?

DR: Just that we’re in it for the long haul. We can’t stop doing this. We have tons of music we’re excited to share with everyone.

Here’s the link to all the pictures I posted from the show on Facebook:

Posted by Tom Wickstrom on Saturday, April 15, 2017

 

 

Jim Lauderdale Interview 03-25-2017

Jim Lauderdale is a Renaissance Man when it comes to music & songwriting. He is a multi-Grammy award winner spanning many genres of music. I had the opportunity to sit down with him at this year’s Suwannee Spring Reunion at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for an interview.
Tom Wickstrom: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I’ve seen you perform many times, both solo and with a band. I was really mesmerized by your performance with Verlon Thompson in the Music Hall at last Fall’s Roots Revival here at Suwannee. I love the humor. Is that something you come up with off the cuff?
Jim Lauderdale: Yes, on the spot. Verlon & I pass each other in Nashville. I don’t get to see him that much. This is one of the great opportunities to see Verlon and I love his set. He’s such an incredible guy that it’s easy to play off him & work with him. He’s really something.
TW: It just amazes me how well you guys seem to get along out there. Have you ever thought about doing a tour with him?
JL: I’d love to. Do me a favor and put out those feelers for us. That would be great.
TW: What’s your songwriting process and how does it differ when you’re working with someone like Robert Hunter?
JL: When I write with Robert Hunter, I either give him a melody and he gives me lyrics either in person or I email it to him and he sends me lyrics and I put a melody to them. For some reason we just click and work really fast together. Sometimes, if I’m in his presence I’ll come up with a melody as we’re talking, I’ll record it and send it to him and he’ll be in the other room working on it. I’ll work on another melody and he’ll come back in another 30-40 minutes and hand me another completed lyric. I’ll have another melody to go and he’ll take it back to his room. We made a few albums like that and I really love writing with him. It’s beyond words how great he is. When I write alone, I will get a song idea or melody and put it down on my phone or another recording device and later go back and listen to that melody. Sometimes I’ll have a title or one line or something but a lot of times I don’t even have a concept of what the song is about. It’s just a melody and then it all comes together later. Through trial and error I can find out what it’s not. I know it’s not about this or that, but it would be good about this so something will come out. A lot of times my writing is out of necessity. If I’ve booked studio time and I have musicians there, but a lot of times I have nothing at all. Maybe some kind of melody or a little bit. Maybe 1 idea if I’m lucky sometimes and then different things during lunch break or when the musicians are out of the room will come out or I’ll dig through old ideas I’ve laid down and I’ll think of something. Sometimes I’m a little more prepared but a lot of times it just happens while I’m there. It’s a lot of pressure that way. It’s enjoyable and fun once it finally comes through but before the song is finished lyrically and I just have the melody. It’s kind of an agonizing process for me, but then it comes together. I really have a lot of doubt until it’s done. Then it’s good.
TW: I have 2 of your CD’s with Robert Hunter. I enjoyed hearing you sing”Alligator Alley” earlier today. I also love “Wait Til Spring”, your CD with Donna The Buffalo. How did you guys come together?
JL: This place here was very important for us. I had met them on the road when I was on tour with Lucinda Williams. We were at the Newport Folk Festival and they had played earlier and I just saw this bunch of folks hanging around. I knew nothing about them but we immediately clicked. I really enjoyed hanging out, something was there and then I think it was at Merlefest that they put us together for a song. Then here, they asked me to get up and do some jamming with them, so we did a few things. Then I started coming up with these melodies for them. We’d play these melodies and I wouldn’t really even have the lyrics but they’d know the structure of the song. I’d just kind of make up things and some of those things stuck/worked and some didn’t. It kind of helped me with the process of writing things and eventually we had enough for an album of things I had written. We did some of the recording up there in Ithaca NY and then a lot of it down in Nashville when they came through. I’d really love to do another album with them. It’s way overdue. It’s been 10+ years I believe.
TW: Do you ever get political?
JL: You know it’s such a fine line. Many performers don’t say anything. It’s a strange position to be in because like all of us, you might have a relative or a close friend with an opposite view politically. At the end of the day, even though you might get put off with each other to some extent or think how can they think that way and they’re thinking the same thing of you. At the end of the day you know it’s not going to tear you apart from one another. I see so much anger sometimes when people express something very innocent or simple or basic and there is some big attack on them. I’m really concerned and saddened by the way things are going right now. I think it’s really important time for us all to educate ourselves as much as possible from all the different sides. From finding facts through certain channels, observing what other people’s take on things are. There’s such a wedge that’s been coming on for a long time. There’s such a divide when you do talk. It’s really hard sometimes to know what or I think we all assume someone thinks like we do. We’re having a casual conversation and it turns out not to be. It’s kind of funny really. We’ve got to get to a place where we are more tolerant and work together. I think the 2 parties and I think it’s been this way for a long time has made it into this constant battle or war. We’re living in the same country and we’ve got to find a way to work together. These aren’t casual times. There are real serious, I really believe that we have to environmentally get it together. It’s dangerous. This is really serious for the generations to come and our generation. The folks that are living now. It’s unprecedented the illnesses that are out there because of toxins, chemicals & poisons. I’ve always felt very strongly since I was a kid about the environment. I think that no matter what party you want to be in, I think people really have to accept the fact that we’ve scientifically proven this stuff. I think we need to spend as much or more money on research and science as well as things like infrastructure, helping create jobs for people and things like that. Let’s put it this way to make a long story interminable from your question. I think there are so many positive necessary important urgent things that we need to do as a country and a world. We’ve got to stop the bickering and get it together. Work together. We really do.
Well, thanks a lot. I guess we don’t have time to talk about music anymore now that i’ve gotten on my soapbox.
TW: You’ve done bluegrass albums/folk albums/country albums. Is there a style that you haven’t but would like to try?
JL: I haven’t done much Celtic type stuff. A few things here and there. I wrote an A Cappella song with Robert Hunter for this acoustic record of our collaborations. A little acoustic thing that was that kind of feel. A Celtic kind of ballad. As far as something brand new, I haven’t done any kind of jazz album, I’ve done jazzy type songs but not a whole album’s worth. I’d like to do that.
TW: I saw the Music City Roots show on PBS where you went to Ireland and can see why you have some interest in Celtic music.
JL: Yes. That’s where my family, a lot of my bloodline is Scotch/Irish.
TW: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
JL: This is the funniest thing. Every time someone asks me that question, I kind of go blank and then later it comes to me. For some reason my mind clicks off. Yes. There are people I want to work with.
TW: New music coming up?
JL: I have a record coming out the end of June that I did in England a few years ago with the band of Nick Lowe, a great British rock & roll guy. It’s been done but I keep doing other records and waiting for that stuff to all fall in place. It’s out in Europe right now. It’s called “London Southern”. I did find some lost tapes that one of my bluegrass heroes, Roland White & I had recorded in 1979. It would have been my first record but I couldn’t get a record deal for it and then we couldn’t find the recordings. He found the recordings a few months ago, so i’ll put that out. I’m slowly been working on new stuff too.
TW: You stay very busy.
JL: My passion is to make records and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to make records or as many as I do but that’s what I like. Even though sometimes I don’t like it. It’s a terrible process but  it’s my job kind of in a way.
TW: Final question. What has music taught you about yourself?
JL: That is too personal! This interview is over! (joking) What has music taught me about myself? It runs the whole gamut of emotions that kind of mentally challenges me. It goes from feelings or a feel or a kind of a zone that transcends a lot of things or it can be a craftsmanship thing. A lot of different things go into doing and creating music that sometimes is a magical kind of things and sometimes it’s disappointing. It’s that yin & yang of a lot of different stuff. also, listening to music and just enjoying it kind of helps so many things. It’s life for me. It’s just a whole different language, kind of this encompassing thing that you expose yourself to that you can really get carried away with and lost and then found in hearing music. It’s what it brings out of you. When you listen to music it touches a lot of different feelings, thoughts & things. When you create music, it’s this great kind of drink or food or high I’ll get by hearing something I love to hear. It has this affect on you physically, mentally & spiritually. We all have to have it. It’s like water.
TW: Thank you very much for your time.
JL: You’re welcome. That will be $374.I accept all major cards and cash. (Joking. I think)
Jim Lauderdale with Donna The Buffalo Suwannee Fall Roots Revival 2016

Verlon Thompson Interview

Verlon Thompson is a singer songwriter originally from Oklahoma. He was the sidekick & long time writing partner of Guy Clark, another great songwriter. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Verlon at the Suwannee Spring Reunion on March 24, 2017 at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL.
Tom Wickstrom: The first time I saw you perform was with Jim Lauderdale in the Music Hall at the Fall Roots Revival here last year. The both of you play off each other really well. How long have you and Jim been playing like that?
Verlon Thompson: We started doing it here at the Suwannee Spring Reunion maybe 10 or 15 years ago. They just happened to pair us together. It was supposed to be a song writing workshop and Jim’s got that crazy wacky sense of humor and at the time I didn’t know him that well. I was so gullible that I believed what he was saying and next thing you know it turned into this funny guy/straight guy routine and we just kind of let it happen.Several years ago we got into this thing like we were fighting. It was totally made up on the spot, but we played it so well people really thought we were fighting.We made up this story about how Jim & I were going to do a reality show.Jim would get all the music gigs and I would stay home and do the laundry. It would be mostly about me since Jim would be gone playing music. The story got bigger and bigger and turned into this thing. Last year we created an apology as part of the story. People keep coming back expecting another episode in the saga.
TW: Your last CD was “Amplified”. What new music projects do you have coming up?
VT: Most of what I know I learned from Guy Clark. He never really planned a record, he just waited till he felt like he had a group of songs that represented a piece of his life’s work that he wanted to preserve and that’s kind of like what I’ve been doing. I’m about ready I think. I’ve got a group of songs I’ve been going over and whittling it down to an album’s worth of songs.
TW: Did you play any new songs today?
VT: The last song of my set about my travels with Guy Clark was a new one. Another one is about Sue Cunningham after she passed. A lot of it is stuff that sprouted and grew right here in the Amphitheater. Songs. People. Friendships. It’s crazy how much this festival has impacted my life.
TW: I didn’t know Sue Cunningham, but met Frank (Sue’s partner) last Fall here and wanted to ask you about Hickory Fest and Sue Cunningham and that special relationship you had.
VT: I actually wrote that song about Sue with Frank. The day of her memorial service we went back to the house. There we were sitting without her. Of all things, we decided to write a song right there on the spot. It’s called “I Love You More Than Anything”. It’s sort of a spiritual kind of out of body experience we were writing at because we were both in the middle of, (pause) I mean we had just come from her memorial service and we were sitting in her kitchen where her and Frank lived. She’s not there and its just Frank & I and we both had this urge, this need to write a song for Sue. It felt like we were visited there by Sue. Again it was another one of those friendships developed here. Sue would get up and play fiddle with me. I met Frank before I had met Sue, so he brought Sue into my life really.
TW: Has your songwriting process changed over time?
VT: I think I’ve sort of made a full circle. I started writing song when I was really young. I was a kid. I wrote a lot of songs about what was going on around me. That’s all I know. Some of those songs were pretty good when I was like 18 or 19. They started taking on a real weight. In my late 20’s I moved to Nashville and got a job as a staff songwriter for Loretta Lynn’s company. At that point it became a job and I had to write and create songs for people who were on the radio and I did that for over 15 years. I realized one day when I woke up that I didn’t want to go to the office anymore. What was I doing with an office? Secondly, why did I dread music? It’s my life blood. Something was not right there. I took a hard look at things and decided I wasn’t going to do that staff writing thing anymore. I gave up my position and started traveling more & doing my own shows. I realized that none of the songs I was creating wasn’t from my heart, but from my mind/my head/my brain. I made a definitive switch in directions and made up my mind to write songs that were written for a reason and for whatever reason it is, it has to be something to move me enough to write about it.
TW: Ever get political in songs?
VT: Not much. I’ve got 1 old song of mine that is not as much political. It’s called “The People Of The Earth” and it’s basically saying: “Listen. We are the people of the earth. We’ve got to live on this ball together” and I go into a little bit of…There’s a couple of lines about people living in countries where they’re looking down the barrel of a gun and that kind of stuff. I try not to get real political because it doesn’t help anything.
TW: Your career has come full circle. Now you’re the front man. How does that feel like? I’m really enjoying it.
VT: Well, I’m enjoying it too. When I was travelling with Guy Clark, I would still do shows on my own, but not near as many because Guy travelled so much. I’d travel with him for 2 months, then I’d do a couple of shows somewhere then I’d get back with Guy again for 2 or 3 months. I would never gain any momentum. i always did it. I loved doing it. When Guy passed, what else was I going to do? I was playing as much as I could and hoping the phone would still ring. Would people always think of me as Guy’s sideman, but luckily it’s snowballed and I’m really thankful for the way it’s working out.
TW: On the “Works” CD, I loved “The Ballad Of String Bean”, “Joe Walkers Mare” & “El Toro”, but I came across “Big Bad John”. Every other song on the CD has a songwriting credit to you except that one. What is the connection or story to that song?
VT: It was just one of those things that happened. I was playing in Baton Rouge one night and that afternoon in my hotel and turned on the TV and they were pulling those miners out of that hole in Chile where they pulled one guy out after the other. I just sat there watching that and that song “Big Bad John” popped into my head. I think I was actually tuning up my guitar and I just started playing it. That version, the talking version because the original was more of a novelty production. It was almost like a cartoon, but I always thought the lyrics were so great. The guy grabs an oak tree and lets out a groan. He’s the only one left down there alone. It’s just a great story. That night when I left the hotel and went to the gig. Everyone else had been watching it all day long. I said: “Here’s a tune for all the guys they’ve been pulling out of the hole all day” and I played that version of that song. Guy & I were both playing that night. He always let me do a few songs in the middle of his set. I did that song and Guy said: “God, I always thought that song was hokey but man that is a well written song”. I said yeah man nd I was working on the “Works” CD and decided to put it on there. It’s different.
TW: “The Guitar” gives me chills every time I hear it. What’s the story behind it?
VT: The story I tell on stage a lot is about the guitar itself that I play. Guy was in his workshop building a guitar and I was down there talking about this particular guitar that I was trying to find. It was a model, a Bourgeois Country Boy. At the time they were somewhat hard to find. I was complaining about how I couldn’t find one and Guy just looks up from his work bench and goes: “I think I have one under my bed”. Sure enough he had this Bourgeois Guitar that the distributor had given him in hopes to get Guy to endorse those guitars. Turns out the neck was too skinny for him, so he brought it home and shoved it under his bed. It had been laying there for 4 or 5 years. I told Guy it was exactly what I want. Guy said: “Just take it. I want you to have it”. I said: I’ll take it. It’ll always be in my custody but it will always be your guitar”. That’s the story I use to intro the song.
The story about the song is interesting because we wrote that when Guy & I were teaching at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. We wrote it in a class with 9 other guys. We walked in that day and Guy said: “I ain’t no teacher. You want to write a song? Let’s write a song”. There were 11 of us and someone looked around the room and said it should obviously be about a guitar because we all had a guitar on our laps. By the end of the day, we had that song. Guy & I both thought that since it’s part of the class. After we left we didn’t think about it. It was an okay song. We stuck it in a drawer and about 2 years later I got a call from 1 of the students who asked if we had music to that song. He couldn’t remember how it went. I said: “I don’t know. Just make up your own music”. But it got me thinking about it so I reached into the drawer and pulled out the lyric. I laid it down on the table and just started playing those chords. I started speaking the words just like I do it now and when I finished, I had chills. It was better than I had thought. I called Guy up and told him I wanted to come over and play this song. He had forgotten about the song as well. I sat down and played the chords and spoke the words and Guy went: “Man, I’m putting that on my new record”. In 2 days we went in and recorded it for his record. If that student hadn’t called me back and reminded me, it would still be in that drawer.

TW: Final question. What has music taught you about yourself?                                   VT: (Long Pause) Well, I guess maybe I would say that music has taught me or shown me that I have a power. Sort of a mystical or magical power that I don’t know how I got it and I don’t know exactly what it is but I know that I have it. Every time I go up there and play and people respond the way they do. I’ve seen live changed. I’ve seen tears cried. I’ve seen people brought back together. These songs have done so many things that I don’t think I could do if I was just Verlon Thompson with no guitar & no songs. It’s revealed an inner power that I don’t think I would have stumbled upon without it. The only time I haven’t played music is when I spent 4 years in the Marine Corps. They keep you pretty busy. I took my guitar all over the world wherever they would send me. I was playing but I wasn’t playing that much. Those were some of the emptiest years of my life as far as just my heart and soul. I felt like I was just going through the motions and it wasn’t necessarily the marine corps military life either. It was because I knew there was something inside me I was supposed to be pulling out and working with and I wasn’t doing it. The first thing I did when I got out, when I got discharged, I went straight to Denver Colorado and started playing in every honky-tonk ski town. I put together a band and made a record. That’s how it all started and I’ve never liked back. I’ve just never really had a plan, but I had complete faith that if I go out and play music, it will take care of itself and it has. I have never had a long range plan or knew what the next step is. I just go play and follow where it leads.
TW: Thank you very much for your time.

 

Interview: J.P. Biondo of Cabinet

I had the opportunity to talk to J.P. Biondo (mandolin, guitar & vocals) for Cabinet at the Anastasia Music Festival 2017.
Tom Wickstrom: How did you come up with the Cabinet name?
J.P Biondo: There is a story to that. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a mystery.
TW: Your last CD was Celebration. Is there new music coming up?
JP: Yes. We’ve been in the studio for the last 6 months working on a new album that will be out later this year. It won’t be anything new that our fans haven’t heard before but it will be songs we haven’t recorded in the studio yet. It should be 11 or 12 tracks.
TW: I read that you & Mickey Coviello (guitar) do most of the songwriting. Is that correct?
JP: Actually, most of the songwriting is done by me & my cousin Patrick.
TW: How has your songwriting changed over the years?
JP: It’s funny. Its always different. Some musicians have a certain set way of doing it. Sometimes words will inspire me and I’ll write down a bunch of lyrics and sometimes I’ll be sitting in my living room with my guitar & something perks my ear up. I’ll go that direction and I’ll write all the music first. Sometimes they both happen at the same time. Those are the magic ones where you’re done in 10 minutes. Those don’t happen very often. It’s nice when they do though.
TW: I’ve primarily seen you play mandolin but I noticed you have a guitar on stage also. Do you play any other instruments?
JP: Yes but not a whole lot beyond the mandolin & guitar. I’m trying to play more guitar with the band because that’s how I mostly write unless it’s an instrumental.
TW: You told me you & Pappy Biondo (banjo) are “super cousins”. Did you grow up together”?
JP: I’ve known Mickey for a lot longer. We grew up in the same town & played on the same little league team together.
TW: I’m from a family of 4 boys. Growing up we didn’t always get along but if anyone picked on one of our brothers we were always there to protect each other. How has your relationship with Pappy been over the years?
JP: I have 3 sisters so I was the only boy in my family and Pappy had 7 other siblings with all sisters except for an older brother. Pappy was like a brother to me and his older brother picked on the both of us when we were younger. When the families would get together, Pappy & I would always hang out. We got along well together and got in trouble together also. Once we started playing music, all bets were off the table. We knew then what we needed to be doing all the time.
TW: What has music taught you about yourself?
JP: It taught me it was okay to be myself. Growing up as a young kid you’re always mindful of certain things. What’s going to make you cool or impress the other kids. Playing music was great. It was just a platform to really put it all out there. It feels good to do that. You can write a really emotional song and put it out. Some times you’re afraid to play it. Sometimes I’m afraid to show those songs to the band because it is very real inner stuff. Once you get it out there though, it feels great. So music has definitely taught me that. It’s healthy to do that. I’m sure it’s taught me much more, but we’ll go with that.
TW: We have a different type of Cabinet in Washington. Would you be willing to step in & replace what’s currently there & use music to heal everyone?
JP: It’s funny. We would be liars if we said we haven’t been thinking about that and other stuff. We definitely have never been a super political type of band. We’re generally a good timey family friendly type of band but now with what’s going on, it’s kind of hard to turn a blind eye to it. I have some thoughts on what I’d like to do personally but it won’t involve anything I wrote. Maybe a little statement type of deal. It’s such a delicate thing being political because I know Cabinet has a lot of fans that probably support Donald Trump and we don’t want to turn those fans off with a political view. People have different ideas about this and that. Yes, I think he’s crazy and terrible but some people think he’s got our best interests in mind. I love it that some of those people think that. It’s a weird place to be in.
TW: You covered Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives” yesterday. How do you decide which cover songs to include in your sets?
JP: We all have input and bring different influences into the band. Pappy brings most of the bluegrass covers. Todd Kopec (fiddle) brought “Watching The Detectives” to us as well as many other covers. There’s really no rhyme or reason on how we come up with them.
TW: Thank you very much for your time.

This interview was conducted at the Anastasia Music Festival. Below are links to all 3 days which does include pictures of Cabinet.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Anastasia Music Festival Well Worth The Trip

The 1st annual Anastasia Music Festival took place in St. Augustine, FL on March 16-18, 2017.  Located at the Anastasia Amphitheater adjacent to Anastasia State Park, the festival offered easy access and free parking for those attending. Although there was no on-site camping, some was available at the state park as well as hotels & other options in the area. I consider this the first festival of the year and was so excited to travel from Ohio to enjoy the magic of bluegrass & more in Florida. It’s too bad there wasn’t more attendance because the lineup was stellar from top to bottom. Those attending were treated to a weekend of live experiences one after the other. Nothing beats the felling when the bands and the fans are drawn together to form a unique bond. There were 3 stages set up-Main Amphitheater Stage, Front Porch Stage & Acoustic Stage.
I arrived early Thursday morning which gave me time to drive around & scope out the state park, beach & festival grounds prior to gates opening. No acts were scheduled for the main stage but there was still plenty of great music still happening on the other 2 stages. Grits & Soul started things off a 4pm. Currently based out of Lexington Kentucky, Grits & Soul consists of Anna Kline (guitar, vocals) & John Looney (guitar, mandolin & vocals). Their opening set immediately set the tone for how the rest of the weekend would flow with their blend of americana, roots & southern soul. The Honeycutters out of Asheville NC also provided an energetic set. Asheville was well represented at Anastasia with Jon Stickley Trio, Taylor Martin & others. Broomestix, an 10 piece band out of the Nashville area sounded like no other band there that weekend. Their blend R&B,/Soul/Funk/Jazz/Pop was unique and vocalist Madi Patin took me back in time to another era. There were multiple horns & Evan McCoury (Ronnie McCoury’s son) kicked in a few good licks on electric guitar as well. Other highlights included Applebutter Express, Nikki Talley & Taylor Martin with the Honeycutters as his backup band. Fruition closed out the evening on the Front Porch Stage. Although I have seen them multiple times, it never ceases to amaze me what they bring to a live performance time & time again. There was a 10:30pm curfew for music, so afterward many people including performers headed to Hopzinger’s for the after party. I hadn’t set up camp yet so I headed back to prepare for a cold night (35 degrees).
Although the night had gotten cold, it started warming up quickly in the morning and you could tell it was going to be an awesome day for music. It also meant that there would be music on the main stage in addition to the other 2 stages from the day before. The Honeycutters set the tone of how the day would go with their opening set. Following them on the main stage was a non-stop musical ecstasy as The Broomestix, Fruition, Cabinet, David Grisman’s Bluegrass Experience, Elephant Revival & the Del McCoury Band electrified the crowd with the energy they were shedding on stage. Main Stage highlights for me were Fruition covering “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” & Elephant Revival sitting in with Fruition & visa versa during Elephant Revival’s set. Also, Cabinet treated the crowd to covers of Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives” & Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”. What can I say about David Grisman? He’s a bluegrass innovator and was joined by Billy Strings on guitar and David’s son, Samson was on bass. Watching the blend of old & new together gives one the feeling that this music will always be there. The Del McCoury Band closed down the Main Stage with as always a great set of bluegrass music. Del’s voice is still strong and he’s backed by the best in the business including sons Ronnie & Robbie. Robbie’s son Evan also sat in on acoustic guitar. The other 2 stages also provided great sets of music throughout the day. Favorites were Dustbowl Revival, Traveling McCoury’s, Nikki Talley again & the Jon Stickley Trio. The Jon Stickley Trio has quickly become one of my favorites. The blend of Jon Stickley (guitar), Lyndsay Pruett (violin) & Patrick Armitage (drums) create a unique fusion of instruments that takes the listener on a magical journey without vocals. The Traveling McCoury’s are another band that takes their musical prowess and infuses into many songs ala bluegrass style that keeps you dancing on your feet. Friday was amazing!
Saturday turned out beautiful weather wise & it was finally warm enough for just shorts & a t-shirt. I headed directly to the Main Stage to catch Joe Pug. Just him & a guitar, Joe Pug delivered a low key set of darker edged songs accompanied by the stories that that gave birth to them. Sierra Hull on mandolin was accompanied by Ethan Jodziewicz on upright bass also laid out a mellow set with a much more soothing tone. After Sierra Hull, the main stage multiplied the energy level times 10 as the Jeff Austin Band, Fruition & The Del McCoury Band all delivered solid sets of musical energy. Then it was time for Sam Bush. Sam Bush is one of my all time favorites & one of the main reasons for making the trip. Sam loves to play & jam & always raises the energy to another level. Most of the crowd were grooving & singing along to his entire set. The final main stage act was the Grateful Ball. Consisting of The Traveling McCourys & the Jeff Austin Band, they presented a set of Grateful Dead music in a style of their own. The other stages also kept things going with the Dustbowl Revival, Jon Stickley Trio & Cabinet performing awesome sets as well. In tribute to Chuck Berry, Jay Cobb Anderson joined Cabinet for a great version of “Maybelline”. Also Taylor Martin delivered another great set of music backed by the Honeycutters as well as being joined by members of the Jon Stickley Trio. Once the music ended, we headed back to the adjacent campground in the hope that we had enticed some of the musicians to join us for a late night jam. We were rewarded when Taylor Martin, Lyndsay Pruett, Steve Pruett, Robb Parks & others found their way to the campsite. We got about 2 good hours of musical enjoyment until the park ranger shut us down.
Anastasia Festival was a great time & I loved my first visit to St. Augustine. A few more in attendance would have been nice but those there had a great time and the music was stellar. Hopefully they can build on what they created and  do it again. of the Jon Stickley Trio. Once the music ended, we headed back to the adjacent campground in the hope that we had enticed some of the musicians to join us for a late night jam. We were rewarded when Taylor Martin, Lyndsay Pruett, Steve Pruett, Robb Parks & others found their way to the campsite. We got about 2 good hours of musical enjoyment until the park ranger shut us down.
Anastasia Festival was a great time & I loved my first visit to St. Augustine. A few more in attendance would have been nice but those there had a great time and the music was stellar. Hopefully they can build on what they created and do it again.

Below are links to all 3 days of pictures:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

 

Music Trumps Politics When Fruition Comes To Town

Friday had a somber start to the day due to Inauguraton Day, but Fruition brought the medicine of music to Columbus Ohio to cure everyone’s political ills and turned frowns upside down. Woodlands Tavern was filled with music lovers as additional music was provided on the bar side before Fruition’s set by the Fox N Hounds & Erika Hughes and the Well Mannered.

Fruition is based out of Portland Oregon and has been entertaining music fans to their blend of folk, rock, americana, soul & bluegrass styles of music since 2008. Jay Cobb Anderson (lead guitar), Mimi Naja (mandolin & guitar) & Kellen Asebroek (guitar & piano) all share vocal duties & harmonies while Jeff Leonard (bass) & Tyler Thompson (drums) round out the rest of the band. Opening with “Lay Down Blues” off their Holehearted Fools Ep, Fruition took the audience on a musical journey covering many different genres of music. You could feel the musical bond between Jay & Mimi as they fed off of each others energy throughout both sets. Their most recent release Labor of Love was showcased throughout both sets as 9 of the 10 songs were performed. Highlights in the first set included “Labor Of Love”, Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Sneaking In” & the set closer “Ohio>Fire>Ohio”. After a quick break, Fruition returned for a second set. Every one was having so much fun that the songs became a blur as the music took over. Highlights from the 2nd set included “Santa Fe”, “Somehow Someday Someway”, “Mountain Annie” & a killer version of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey”. Returning for an encore, Fruition did “Meet Me On The Mountain” and got the whole crowd singing along to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What Its Worth”.

It was a long day. Until the music started, everyone seemed too be dragging from political activities from earlier in the day. Fruition showed that music is the best medicine to cure our political blues and lift us out of the funk by putting their energy into their music. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Set List at bottom of page.

Here’s a link to all the photos published from the show:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156414248522524.1073742552.825362523&type=1&l=7e267ef743

Set List-Set 1

  • Lay Down Blues
  • Blue Light
  • I Can’t Stop
  • I Don’t Mind
  • Never Again
  • Early Morning Wakeup
  • Love Sneakin’ In (Bonnie Raitt)
  • Drowning In You
  • What Is It
  • Labor Of Love
  • Above The Line
  • Fire > Ohio > Fire

Set 2

  • There She Was
  • Santa Fe
  • Falling On My Face
  • I Should Be
  • Just One Of Them Nights
  • Boil Over
  • Hey Hey (Led Zeppelin)
  • Beside You
  • Somehow Someway Someday
  • Get In
  • Mountain Annie
  • Whippoorwill
  • The Way That I Do
  • To The Band
  • The Meaning

Encore

  • Meet Me On The Mountain
  • For What Its Worth (Buffalo Springfield)

Yonder Mountain String Band Opens Winter Tour With A Bang

The Bluebird in Bloomington Indiana was the perfect setting to kick off Yonder mountain String Band’s (YMSB) 2017 Winter Tour. The temperature outside was in the upper 40’s, which is considerably mild for the middle of January. Inside though, things were heating up nicely as the anticipation grew in the crowd fitting into this intimate venue where you can get within five feet of the performing band.

The Railsplitters started off the evening’s festivities by delivering a set filled with straight forward high energy songs intertwined with superb vocal harmonies and instrumental precision. Based out of Boulder Colorado the Railsplitters originally had more of a traditional bluegrass sound to their music. Because of their various musical influences and touring to share their music, their sound has become more progressive in style while still holding on to their bluegrass roots. Lauren Stoval (guitar) & Dusty Rider (banjo) share most of the lead vocals while being backed up by Pete Sharpe (mandolin), Leslie Ziegler (upright bass) & Joe D’Esposito (fiddle). Although most of the songs performed during their set were originals, they also included covers of Jim & Jesse’s “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes”, the Dillard’s “Whole World Round” & Built To Spill’s “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss”. This was my 1st time seeing the Railsplitters and after that performance I’ll definitely have to see them again.

Now it was Yonder Mountain’s turn. The opening song “Around You” had a special feeling within the intimacy of the Bluebird as everyone moved and grooved as one unit. Throughout the set each member had the opportunity to highlight their instrumental prowess and vocal harmonies that showcases each of them individually and as a cohesive unit. Adam Aijala’s guitar work and vocals shown on “Rain Still Falls” & “I’m Lost”. Bassist Ben Kaufmann sang two of my favorites, “40 Miles To Denver” & the Talking Heads “Girlfriend Is Better”. Another highlight was Allie Kral singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. I get goosebumps every time I hear her sing this song. She also stood out on “Love Before You Can” & the Del McCoury Band’s “All Aboard”. Jake Joliff always amazes me with his mandolin picking. He’s one of the best at his instrument, but it looks so easy for him as he picks & glides his fingers up and down. Jake also killed it vocally on the Eagle’s “Life In The Fastlane”. Last but not least, Dave Johnston on banjo sang my favorite song of the evening during the encore, Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wildside”. The crowd was singing along and YMSB followed with “Sharecroppers Son” to close out the evening.

The show was non-stop energy from start to finish and every one was smiling and they left all sweaty & worn out from constantly dancing all night. Even though everybody was going home happy, they were ready for more. I have seen Yonder more than 50 times and I’m always amazed at how they are always evolving. By learning new music, having theme nights & doing different sets of music every night, YMSB makes sure each show is unique.

Here’s a link to all the pictures taken:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156414169392524.1073742551.825362523&type=1&l=a75961e21d

Setlists at bottom of page.

SETLISTS

RAILSPLITTERS

  • Jump In
  • Lessons I’ve Learned
  • Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes *(Jim & Jesse)
  • Lemon Lime
  • Citronella
  • Everyone She Meets
  • You
  • To Do
  • Tilt-A-Whirl
  • Evil Apple
  • Whole World Round *(Dillards)
  • Planted On The Ground
  • My World
  • Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss *(Built To Spill)

YMSB

  • Around You
  • Rain Still Falls
  • High On A Hilltop
  • Far From You
  • Pass This Way >
  • EMD > Pass This Way
  • Holland
  • I’m Lost
  • Jolene Dolly Parton)
  • Don’t Cry Blue
  • Honestly
  • Love Before You Can’t
  • Another Day
  • 40 Miles From Denver
  • Life in The Fastlane (Eagles)
  • All Aboard (Del McCoury Band) >
  • New Dusty >
  • Girlfriend Is Better (Talking Heads) >
  • All Aboard

Encore:

  • Walk On The Wildside (Lou Reed)
  • Sharecroppers Son

Greensky Heats Up Cleveland

Usually Cleveland Ohio is very cold & snowy this time of year, but the today weather is mild in comparison to what was about to heat up inside the House of Blues. Greensky Bluegrass has a lot of fans that travel to as many shows as possible. It was nice not having to brave harsh traveling conditions to start out Winter Tour. Arriving in town early to avoid rush hour traffic, I met up at a local bar to pre-party before the show.

Front Country was the opening band and immediately got the crowd moving & grooving with their unique sound. Having just recently moving their home base from San Francisco to Nashville, Front Country consists of lead singer/instrumentalist Melody Walker, Adam Roszkiewicz on mandolin, guitarist Jacob Groopman, violinist Lief Karlstrom & Jeremy Darrow on bass. Although I had previously seen them play at Rompfest 2016, I had forgotten how fresh & energizing their music was. You can definitely feel the bluegrass elements in their music, but there’s also influences from blues, soul, jazz & the Grateful Dead intertwined throughout. Of the 9 songs performed in their set of mostly originals (set list below), it was the opening notes of Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer” that got the audience to join in and sing along. Look for new music from Front Country in April.

Finally it was time for Greensky Bluegrass. Based out of Kalamazoo Michigan, the quintet has been playing together for more than 15 years. It has been less than 2 weeks since the Greensky new years shows but you couldn’t tell from the audience, which acted like it had been years. Opening with Jerry Garcia’s “ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox”, a communal spirit permeated the room the seemed to bring every one there as one. everyone was singing along, hugging each other and dancing in unison. The song list was a great mix of a few covers and originals including 6 songs from their just recently released “Shouted, Written Down, & Quoted”. My highlights for the evening were Flatt & Scruggs “Georgia Mail, “While Waiting”, “Demons”, Dave Bruzza’s “Take Cover”, “Jaywalking”, Prince’s “When Doves Cry” & “Casual Wednesday”. “Casual Wednesday” was lead by Anders Beck as he got the crowd chanting as the rest of the band jammed behind him. On their encore they covered Queen’s “We Will Rock You and finished with “Miss September” from their recently released CD.

Al in all, Cleveland was a great place to kick off winter tour. Front Country ignited the crowd early and the Greensky Bluegrass swooped in and kept everyone in a dancing frenzy for the rest of the evening. It doesn’t look like things will be cooling down for a while.

Here’s a link to all the pictures I took that evening:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156383062177524.1073742546.825362523&type=1&l=c866640efe

Setlists are listed below pictures.

 

Front Country Setlist

  • Lonesome Town
  • Undertaker
  • Sake of the Sound
  • Storms Are On The Ocean
  • Rock Salt and Nails
  • One Kind Word
  • Pupville
  • The Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
  • Gold Rush Goddess

Greensky Bluegrass-Set 1

  • Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox
  • More of Me
  • Less Than Supper
  • Georgia Mail (Flatt & Scruggs)
  • Run Or Die
  • While Waiting
  • Midnight Mass For Albert > Dry County
  • Demons
  • All 4

Greensky Bluegrass-Set 2

  • Take Cover
  • Burn Them
  • Fixing To Ruin
  • Jaywalking
  • When Doves Cry (Prince)
  • Casual Wednesday (Happy 18th birthday Devol’s niece)
  • Seymour
  • In Control
  • Leap Year For The Ages

Greensky Bluegrass-Encore

  • We will Rock You (Queen)
  • Miss September