New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2016
April 28 – May 7, 2016
Writer/Photographer: Bob Adamek
The 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival delivered high doses of everything you could imagine. There was sunshine and rain, an overwhelming choice of music presented on 12 stages, food vendors that outdo the restaurants in many major cities, and 425,000+ music fans ready for all of it.
During the second weekend of Jazz Fest, the rain was often the story, coming down hard enough on late Saturday afternoon that the festival producers wisely shut the festival down. The ensuing flash flood swamped the Fair Grounds and the unfortunate result was that the sets by afternoon headliners had to be cancelled. This included Stevie Wonder, Beck, Snoop Dog, Buddy Guy and Arturo Sandoval. Stevie Wonder later showed up at Irving Mayfield’s Playhouse on Bourbon St. to sit in with Mayfield and Trombone Shorty. Meanwhile Beck found his way to Preservation Hall where he joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and members of Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket for a late night second line around the French Quarter.
A moderate steady rain persisted almost all day on Sunday as well, but seasoned festival goers geared up and saw great sets from Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Arlo Guthrie, Trombone Shorty and two much anticipated guest filled tribute sets, one for Allen Toussaint and one for B.B. King. B.B. King’s tribute set included songs lead by Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, Tab Benoit, Walter Wolfman Washington and Luther Kent. The set finished off with all the guests playing “The Thrill is Gone” in what was one of the festival highlights.
Earlier in the week for most of Thursday and Friday, the weather stayed very nice, allowing fans to move around with much less gear. Thursday was highlighted on the two main stages by Elvis Costello, who was energetic and happy as he rolled through 30+ years of hits. On the Acura Stage fans were treated to the Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guests Jimmie Vaughan and Billy F. Gibbons. Tedeschi Trucks are resetting the bar in live music for their incredible blend of soulful vocals and impeccable musicianship.
Their songs are tuneful and their solos are thoughtful, never droning on past the point. The addition of ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons and blues master Jimmie Vaughan added a high level of excitement for the fans. This was also fun for the band, as they traded off on solos, each listening intently to the other, throwing their heads back and laughing as the four guitarists threw down.
The Acura Stage hosted another top guitar slinger on Thursday when Austin Texas’ own, Gary Clark Jr. took over. Clark’s guitar playing is raw, energetic and emotion packed, much like his soulful vocals. Simultaneously, on the Gentilly Stage, Brandi Carlile gave a very high energy set of her own after stating that it was a long awaited honor to be playing Jazz Fest.
Jazz Fest really offers something for everyone. There is a 2500 seat blues tent, a 1500 seat jazz tent and 1500 seat Gospel tent. The Fais Do-Do stage features Cajun, Zydeco, and all other types of roots music. The third main stage at the festival is Congo Square, which featured groove-centric music like the Isley Brothers, Big Freeda, Flo Rida, Cyril Neville and Swamp Funk, Tony Hall’s New Orleans Soul Stars tribute to James Brown and the Friday headliner, Ms. Lauryn Hill. Hill has been getting beat up in the media lately for showing up late to her concerts, including two hours late in Atlanta. But at Jazz Fest she was only 15 minutes behind. She came out with flawless makeup and vestments, played guitar and sang with every bit of emotion she could squeeze out, turning in a stellar performance.
At the Jazz and Heritage Stage, you can see the greatest visual treat of the festival, the Mardi Gras Indian bands. Donning hand sewn suits made of brightly colored feathers and beads, the Mardi Gras Indian bands play traditional music that has been in their culture for decades. Chant styled songs like “Shoo-fly”, “Injuns Here They Come” and “Let’s Go Get ‘Em” are staples of bands like The Wild Magnolias, White Cloud Hunter, Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors and the 101 Runners. These bands were joined on stage by some of the city’s top musicians, including Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, drummer Ray Webber and guitarists June Yamagishi and Billy Iuso.
Jazz Fest veterans know that the headliners aren’t really the main dish. It’s the undercard, with so many local bands playing, that really give Jazz Fest its true flavor. Some of those highlights were turned in by George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners during a rain soaked but very well attended early Thursday set. Two brass bands that almost never gig, except at Jazz Fest, played to overflow crowds. The New Orleans Nightcrawlers played on Thursday, then the wildly popular Midnite Disturbers on Saturday. Both bands are packed with the city’s best brass players from bands like Galactic, Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Bonerama shredded the Gentilly Stage on Friday, followed by Raw Oyster Cult (ROC). ROC has the guitarists and drummer from the Radiators, and the band was joined by the remaining Radiators mid-set for a quick reunion. New Orleans fastest rising stars gave a festival highlight set on Friday when the Revivalists were joined by guest percussionist Mike Dillon. Their incredible song writing and no holds barred stage show left the festival buzzing.
Once a little hunger sets in the festival is well armed to accommodate. Most dishes run $5-$10, and include delicacies like crawfish/zucchini/spinach bisque, Pheasant/Quail/Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Chochon de lait Po-Boy, bread pudding with white chocolate sauce or a scrumptious Cuban sandwich.
The night time action in New Orleans during Jazz Fest is second to none. The city’s numerous clubs play host to 2 or 3 bands a night including all-star one off bands and national touring acts alike. Clubs like Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, d.b.a., The Maple Leaf and One Eyed Jacks host amazing shows, and music flows out of everywhere through the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street.
Jazz Fest is a bucket list event for any music fan. But once you get a taste of this amazing event, it is hard to think of ever missing it again.
2015 Ghoul Train Hulaween
Spirit of the Suwannee
Live Oaks, Florida
Photographer: Brad Kuntz
Writer: James Kastriches
If your Halloween wasn’t spent at Suwannee this year, you really missed out, the third annual Hulaween, in Live Oak, Florida was by far the best Hulaween to date, a complete success in every way. This year the festival topped all other festival attendance at the park to date breaching 21,000 freaky people!
The weather was breathtaking, compared to last year’s bone chilling nights, cloudy but in the upper 70’s for the duration of the weekend. It actually was a bit too humid during the day the 2nd half of the weekend but bearable.
The art installations, live paintings and decorations that are scattered throughout the park seem to get better each year, the creativity is unsurpassable. Spirit Lake is a treat in itself with the spectacular light show that lasts all night long, casting patterns of color onto the tall cypress trees and the long tangles of dangling Spanish moss and the adult playground in a Spirit lake area with its own stage, fire dancers, fire statures, swing sets, moving lights, mazes and mouths to sit in and pose with, landscape art and much more.
This year’s lineup was stacked, capable to suit all. Bluegrass, EDM, Jam rock, whatever you wanted, was only a stage away, at most times. With headliners String Cheese Incident (of course..7 sets), Railroad Earth, Pretty Lights, Primus, STS9, Slightly Stoopid, Lettuce, Elephant Revival, Papadosio, etc.
The Thursday night pre-party included 5 bands on the amphitheater stage. A relatively light crowd compared to the weekend, making a slightly more intimate setting. EOTO really got the party started, the duo made up of Jason Hann and Michael Travis of SCI, the dynamic drummer/percussion duo, paying their version of electronic jam.
Dumpstaphunk donned costumes and had an epic cover of Ramble On. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, arguably the best touring Grateful Dead “cover band” with an all-star cast super group of musicians, playing their own twist of Dead tunes, belted out a spectacular Estimated Prophet (SM) -> Eyes Of The World (TH) -> The Music Never Stopped -> Jam # -> The Music Never Stopped Reprise +-> Jam $ -> Help On The Way (TH) -> Myxomatosis Jam %+ -> Slipknot! -> China Cat Sunflower Jam +-> Jam ^ -> China Cat Sunflower to end the evening around camp fires, guitars and Spirit lake and stars.
Friday got started on the Main stage with Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds followed by Railroad Earth and then The String Cheese Incident. After just finishing up fall tour, The String Cheese Incident are absolutely on top of their game, pulling out rare treats, musicianship is top notch. Cheese started off Friday with ‘Song in my head’, followed by ‘Can’t wait another day’. Tim Carbone and Todd Sheaffer of Railroad Earth sat in for ‘Sometimes a River’, a song Keith Moseley and Todd Sheaffer co-wrote in 2005 in Colorado. It was clear the barefoot boys wanted to get those songs out of the way and get straight to the jam. The rarely played ‘Indian Creek’ had an appearance, as well as Kang’s rendition of the old tune, ‘red haired boy’: ‘Valley of the Jig’. ‘Round the wheel’ had some really psychedelic elements in the middle of the song that were really unique, as a huge fan, it’s most definitely my favorite version that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. ‘On the road’ also had some killer jams added to its usual sound.
The second set started out strong with a funky ‘Colliding’. This set was packed full of fan favorites such as, ‘Restless Wind’, Joyful Sound, Mouna Bowa. Shantytown was a favorite of the night, for obvious reasons, it’s such a fitting song for Suwannee. We got a Zeppelin cover for the encore, ‘Ramble On’, an excellent way to end the first incident.
Primus and Pretty Lights closed out the night at the Amphitheater and Main stages, the grounds were peaking out, it was nearly overflowing onto the pavement at Primus and hard to see much if you didn’t get there early. Likewise at Pretty lights the field was completely packed like never before at this venue from stage to vendors and very difficult to traverse once it packed it. Both sets were amazing and full of energy. Primus played classics including Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, American Life, My Name is Mud and Jerry was a Racecar Driver. Pretty Lights had a lot of very nice lights and tons of energy from the crowd. There was no stopping the tall flags and polls in the crowd at this show even though they were supposedly banned at this years festival. Jon Stickley and Friends played on the Spirit lake Stage until 4am, a great performance to close out the live music
Bluegrass started the day off at the main stage, first with the Jon Stickley trio beginning the dat as it had ended the night before. The the Sam Bush Band. With a Slightly Stupid detour to the Amphitheater Stage, it was SCI again for an epic Hulaween three set stand at the main stage. ‘Dudleys Kitchen’ (classic cheese instrumental) started things off and got everyone moving! The favorite from the first set was “XAI”, formerly known as “Skat”, another instrumental jam, with Kang heavy on the fiddle. Only the 3rd time played all tour, and only the 3rd time played in the last 10 years! Such a welcomed appearance. A first set ‘Rivertrance’ was also a nice Halloween treat. Michael Kang told us before walking off stage for a brief intermission, “I hope yall are wearing your fucking bell bottoms!”
Set 2, (the Halloween set), was a straight up disco, it was simply incredible. The boys came out dressed in their late 70’s-early 80’s attire, Afros and all. Along with a horn section and people professional dancers dancing on each side of the stage with RZA (from Wutang) as emcee. The crowd went nuts as the 1977 classic ‘Brick House’ began. The whole set was all songs from the disco era, that everyone whose anyone is familiar with, ‘Carwash’, ‘Dance to the music’, ‘Got to be real’, ‘I’m your boogie man’ a much different Halloween set than we’re used to seeing.
Set 3 began with the fiddle tune “Bollymunster”, waking everyone back up from the set break and it was all Gouda from there, ‘Desert Dawn’, ‘Best feeling’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Rosie’ this set was a heater. The encore was special, a ‘Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours’ followed by ‘We are family’
We closed the night with a set from the New Mastersounds at the Spirit lake Stage.
Sunday Last Day
Following a main stage opener Sunday morning from Elephant Revival, Billy Nershi announced to us that they were feeling “A little rough around the edges” as they took the stage on Sunday afternoon, and that this was the “hangover set.” But it was in every way one of the favorite parts of the festival, since it was a bluegrass hoedown! With guests Sam Bush, Railroad Earth, Elephant revival on nearly every song on the first set. The set list was out of this world, for a die-hard cheeser. Opening with a stellar version of a Flatt & Scruggs cover ‘Blue Ridge Cabin Home’.
‘Lester had a Coconut’ was dusted off, and it sounded great. It’s been years since they’ve pulled that one out of the bag. The hangover set was literally full of bluegrass favorites, ‘Catfish John’, 9 pound hammer’, ‘Will the circle be unbroken’.
They wrapped up their last set with a smaller but killer set, ‘Little Hands’, ‘Outside and Inside’, followed by ‘Windy Mountain’, ‘Bumpin Reel’ and ‘Colorado Bluebird Sky’, with a Bob Marley cover/encore ‘Could you be loved’. A perfect way to close their final act.
Lettuce played an stellar set at the amphitheater stage with some new songs off their latest album.
STS9 closed out the main stage as they had a the first Suwanee Hulaween three years before. With a new female bass player Alana Rocklin and Zach Velmer the drummer (arguably the hardest working band member and musician in general) along with tons of crowd energy and crazy awesome light show, played jam based electronic jam. Starting off with a favorite ‘Vapors’ and ‘Inspire Strikes Back’ and closing with ‘World Go Round’ and ‘Instantly’, the only thing wrong was it was just barely a warm up.
Once again, this was the best festival put on a Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and in a dead heat for best festival on land these days. We will all be back next year!
Writer: Niklaus Earl
Photographer: Amber Jennings/Crowe Light Photography
To elaborate, the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a 500+ acre, premier campground and music park located on the banks of the Suwannee river with accommodations for any type of camper, ranging from primitive sites for those who like to truly rough it, to rental cabins for those who like to camp with all of the modern creature comforts at hand. A campground of this nature provides a venue for even those who shiver in dread at the word ‘camping’ to enjoy a music festival. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park does it’s level best to provide everything that a guest could need while camping, so that the guest can get on with the business of relaxing and enjoying the many musical offerings to be found on their four stages over the course of four days.
At around four in the afternoon on Thursday, the Florida-grown Lee Boys took the stage at the Amphitheater and kicked things off under a clear, blue Florida sky. Their unique, ‘sacred steel’ music is a form of Gospel music with deep roots in blues, but which also embraces and beautifully blends soul, funk, rock, jazz, country, and hip-hop. Their style of music was the perfect way to begin the festival as it faultlessly embraced the core message of Magnolia Fest; All Are Welcome. After the warm festy welcome by the Lee Boys eight more bands would keep the music flowing between the Amphitheater stage and the Porch stage; the Ivey West Band, Band of Heathens, Parker Urban Band, The Congress, The Corbitt Brothers, The Motet, Nikki Talley and Lake Street Dive until 1:30 in the morning.
By ten in the evening the temperatures had dropped thirty degrees from the daytime highs in the mid 80’s to the low to mid 50’s but did little diminish the enthusiasm of festival-goers as The Motet, a disco-funk revival band out of Colorado, laid down a sound that blew away any thoughts of being chilly and installed a single, musical imperative in their place: You Must Boogie! Children new to this sound danced alongside folks in their sixties and seventies who were remembering younger days in the Age of Funk and Disco as decades-old muscle-memory awakened within them and drove them to shake their aged-yet-still-funky booties. Joy suffused the faces of fans as The Motet put every effort into shaking the leaves from the trees of the outdoor theater with their mighty sound. Bass, two-piece brass, drums, keyboards, percussion, guitar, and vocals all came together flawlessly to create a modern tapestry of those musical elements that made the Disco-Funk era great, while leaving behind those elements that made it cringe-worthy.
Following The Motet, western North Carolinian Nikki Talley kept things rolling from eleven to midnight on the Porch Stage, offering a more intimate country duet set with herself and husband Jason Sharp playing and harmonizing sweetly, allowing guests to cool off without going cold.
At midnight, the final set of the night was performed by Lake Street Dive back at the Amphitheater Stage. The three-piece, four member band makes up for any possible lack of sound they might have compared to larger bands by adding their voices to the mix in precise harmonies that work to supplement and support the drums, double-bass, and guitar and/or trumpet, all of which work together to provide a framework for the strong lead vocals. Taken as a whole, the artists provide a cohesive sound where every part exists in a musical symbiosis and no element offers discord by trying to outshine its fellows. All fancy talk aside, Lake Street Dive laid down a sound big enough to keep festival-goers dancing until 1:30 in the morning.
By noon on Friday, the temperatures were back up in the 80’s where they would stay for the rest of the day, with the light clouds and mild breezes typical of a Florida fall day. The first full day of the festival was in swing as all of the park’s four stages came to life. Merchants and food vendors were fully operational and ready to greet ever increasing numbers of attendees who arrived throughout the day that hurriedly set up camp and then made their way to the main festival area. Here the festival-goers wandered back and forth between the three outdoor stages and the refreshingly dark and air-conditioned Music Hall, catching the bands that they had come to see as well as becoming fans of bands that had been, until now, unknown to them. With twenty-one bands playing on four stages in a thirteen-and-a-half hour time frame, it would be just as impossible to not find a band that tickled your fancy as it would be to see every single performance, though there were those who certainly made a valiant effort at doing the latter. Artists performing bluegrass, country, blues, rock and roll, Cajun, funk, and endless variations of all of the above could be found all day and night throughout the park.
Of the many great artists to be seen performing on Friday, one absolute, not-to-be-missed set was that of The Del McCoury Band. At 76 years of age, Del is the epitome of the classic, classy bluegrass performer. He and his band, including sons Ronnie and Rob, took the Meadow Stage at six in the evening. Dressed in suits and ties in spite of the 84 degree heat they played in the finest bluegrass tradition with the sun kissing their faces as it sank below the cypress.
More often than not, in spite of having the expanse of the massive Meadow Stage on which to perform, the band clustered closely together in a tight knot, singing into a single mic in much the same way as Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys did seventy years prior. To see Del perform is to see a man who appears to be the happiest man in music. In spite of the heat and the sun shining in his eyes and the gnats in his face – several of which he claims to have swallowed while singing, “…they went down pretty easy, though…” he complained not at all, but rather grinned his infectious grin and laughed like the possessor of the world’s funniest joke. Singing songs about being sad and blue while seemingly tickled pink at life, Del McCoury looks to be the living example of the person that we all wish that we could be: the person who has found the thing they love to do the most in the world, and then got paid to do it.
The sun set as the Del McCoury Band played the last songs of their set. The heat fell away while fans smiled and tapped their feet to the music or danced in happy abandon. The dust kicked up by feet mingled with the smoke of campfires while the evening mist of the cooling humid Florida air worked to soften the view of the meadow. Happy festy folk danced and smiled as dragon flies flew overhead while Del continued his set. Children and families played without care or concern, content to exist in the moment as night fell and Del and his band bowed and left the stage. There were moments throughout the weekend that perfectly crystallized the nature and intent of what Magnolia Fest was meant to be, and this was certainly one of them.
Though the Del McCoury Band set might seem like the perfect ending to a great day, there were still six and a half hours of shows left to be enjoyed, starting with The London Souls on the Porch Stage. The New York City based power-duo turned the page as day became night and their music filled the vending area with a massive sound that was surprising in its strength for having been made by only two men. Doyle Bramhall II took to the Meadow Stage and The Congress filled the Music Hall with their sound, each band doing their part to remind attendees that, though the sun was down, the day was far from over. Then the Amphitheater Stage was mounted by The Travelin’ McCourys with guest musicians, Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel) and Earl Walker (drums) of The Lee Boys as well as Ronnie McCoury’s eldest son, Evan, on guitar. As an additional special guest, Del McCoury took the stage in order to lend his talents to the performance of ‘My Love Will Not Change’.
After the Travelin’ McCoury’s, the Tedeschi Trucks Band took over the Meadow Stage for a two hour set. The twelve member band filled the night with their southern-style rock and Gospel sound. The superb skills of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks were generously supported by a fat brass section, a trio of backup singers, keyboards, bass, and, not one, but two drum kits, all orchestrated in such a way that never was the sound cacophonous or overwhelming, but always a perfect mix of the right sound in the right place.
By 11:30, many festival-goers thought themselves spent for the night and ready to return to their camps until The Motet began their second set of the weekend. People who thought themselves depleted of energy found themselves recharged and ready to shake to the funk for the next two hours. Finally, at 1:30 in the morning, the music on the main stages came to an end. As attendees made their way back to their campsites the gentle picking of Slopry Land would divert their attention and call to them to enjoy the late night festivals throughout the campground.
Saturday was another beautiful fall Florida day with highs in the low 80’s. Attendees marveled at how early noon comes when you stay up until the wee hours of the morning the night previous, but put on their happy faces and were present in respectable numbers when the first of twenty-two bands to play that day took their places on the stages. It would be another thirteen-and-a-half hour marathon with some bands like Berry Oakley’s Skylab, Col. Bruce Hampton, Steep Canyon Rangers and more giving repeat performances, much to the relief of many fans who had been forced to choose between seeing these bands and others who were only playing on Friday.
Fans that missed the performance of Steep Canyon Rangers on Friday were able to catch them on the Meadow Stage Saturday afternoon. The sextet thoroughly entertained the crowd with a modern bluegrass sound which is still firmly rooted in its ancestral soil. To the joy of many present, they invited Jeff Austin and two of his band members to join them on stage to play, demonstrating one of the key elements of bluegrass; a love of playing and picking with friends.
One of the most notable moments of the Steep Canyon Rangers’ set was when fiddle player, Nicky Sanders, left the stage to come down to play along the rail where he was given a bear-hug by an enthusiastic fan. Upon extracting himself, Sanders backed up and tripped over the stairs leading back up to the stage. Though stumbling, Sanders managed to keep his feet without doing himself an injury or dropping a single note in his furious fiddle playing.
Adding another musical element to the festival, the Rebirth Brass Band took the Meadow Stage and filled the evening air with a prime example of New Orleans jazz brass. Fans in the know danced energetically while waving hankies, scarves, bandanas, or just index and middle fingers held together in the air to signal their approval of the sounds this band of thirty-two years was laying down.
Jeff Austin Band returned to the stage with his band for his scheduled set at 7:30 pm, giving fans another example of solid, jam-grass. The thing that distinguishes Jeff Austin from so many other excellent bluegrass musicians is the obvious punk-rock soul that seems to seethe just beneath the surface and which influences both the lyrics and the beat of many of his songs. The overall feel of much of his music speaks of a vision of the world that is greyer and less ‘bright and shiny’ than traditional bluegrass and watching him perform is like watching a bluegrass version of Angus Young as he shreds on his mandolin. As always, it is an exhilarating performance.
The headliners of the night were The Avett Brothers with a much expanded lineup, taking the stage at 9:30 pm to the joy of their adoring fans. A crowd of smiling, upturned faces reflected stage light back at the band as music spilled across the meadow and drew the greatest number of fans for any performance of the weekend. In spite of chilly temperatures in the upper 50’s, fans in shorts and t-shirts would sooner have sawn off a limb than leave for warmer clothes and risk missing a single minute of the two hour set. Their love of the band would be enough to keep them warm.
Finally, rounding off the evening back at the Amphitheater Stage, Donna the Buffalo, a core band of Magnolia Fest, played their first set of the weekend. They lead festival-goers out of the last hours of Saturday and into the first hours of Sunday with their distinctive sound that had fans, as always, dancing almost nonstop.
Scattering outward into the darkness after the last notes of Donna The Buffalo had faded away, many a camper drifted back to their respective campsites to wind down before turning in, but no small number of people made their ways through the darkness to seek out the many islands of sound that drew them in back into Slopery Land like moths to an audible flame. Here, musical guests and festival attendees alike played long into the small hours of the morning, keeping the music going on a lower key, though with no less earnestness than any of the performances which had come before.
Sunday dawned cool and breezy and had a distinct, ‘the party is winding down’ feeling to it. It was the kind of morning that encouraged one to enjoy breakfast slowly and to linger over hot, fragrant coffee while mulling over the events of the preceding days and nights. Only a single stage, the Amphitheater Stage, would be in use by five bands for a piddling eight-and-a-half hour day of music. O, what luxurious and relaxing bliss does a lazy Sunday bring!
Looking out over the meadow where the now-silent Meadow Stage stood, one was given sight of yet another of those moments that perfectly crystallized the core notion that Magnolia Fest was founded on. Children laughed, played and giggled with the pure abandon that is the sole province of the innocence of youth, while adults looked on and smiled to see such beauty in the world. Here was a moment in time where the grinding concerns of life could be set aside momentarily and one could embrace the joy to be found in a world of music and the camaraderie one finds in the company of others in whose souls also dwells an appreciation for beauty in all its varied forms.
At noon the music started off with Big Cosmo, followed by Grandpa’s Cough Medicine and Jim Lauderdale, all of whom drew solid attendance and put out enough energy to keep exhausted festival-goers, if not dancing outright, smiling and tapping their feet at the very least. Unsurprisingly, the majority of those folks dancing on Sunday were aged roughly 12 and below, as they seem tapped into an energy source to which the rest of us have long since lost access.
By 4:00 in the late afternoon when Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel took the stage, the batteries of most of the adults had recharged enough that they were able to dance along with the tireless children. The previously clear air of the day is now dissected by shafts of sunlight because of the amount of dust kicked into the air by happy feet. Bubbles float lazily overhead, hula-hoops are enthusiastically, if not always professionally, spun, little children are bounced on the shoulders of parents, hammocks rock, and fans sing along as Keller plays.
Last, but not least by any stretch, Donna The Buffalo takes the stage once again for the final set of the day, giving fans two more hours of music with which to enfold their spirits before taking their leave of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and picking back up their burdens of daily life. Though the music of Magnolia Fest has come to an end for another year, the memory of the music and the joyful festival-goers and the perfect weather will linger on in our minds and, in times of need, hopefully be a balm to our souls when we are sometimes battered by the casual indifference of daily life. It is in the memory of joy and beauty that we find the strength to straighten our backs and smile when we might otherwise bow our heads and let the innumerable little burdens of life break us down. It is for those memories that Magnolia Fest exists, and we hope next year to see you there, so that next time, You, dear reader, are the one who can begin the story with, ‘Here’s what you missed…’
October 30th – November 2nd 2014
The Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park
Live Oak, Florida
Photographer/Writer: Amber Jennings
Suwannee Hulaween Thriller Nights
The Suwannee Hulaween Festival presented by Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions transformed the Suwannee Valley into an amazement of fantasy where mystic lurked throughout the cypress forest and the collective mind-boggling art installations transmogrified the Spirit Lake to a spooktacular afterlife themed arena that was nothing short of grandiose. The host of the event, The String Cheese Incident, would for a second year in a row give fans an experience to remember for a lifetime with seven sets of music that an included an explosive Suwannee Hulaween extravaganza set on Friday evening.
Festival goers would experience very little wait for wristbands and schedules before entering the campgrounds when Suwannee Hulaween opened it’s gates for a pre-party event Thursday, October 30th that included MZG, Modern Measure, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Particle and Electron on the Amphitheater stage. As festival goer’s met up with their respected tribes to set up camp the sun slowly began to sink behind the giant cypress’ and temperatures dropped to a mild chilly level. The Amphitheater stage located between the Main Stage and Spirit Lake was nestled in the cypress forest, the kinetic art festooned from the stage into the tall trees and billowed over the crowd. The yellowy haze from the setting sun pulsed through the Spanish moss as Florida based DJ twins, MZG, formerly known as Monozygotik kicked off the event on the Amphitheater stage. The hybrid electronica project, Modern Measure would take the stage next. Kyle Holly added a layer of organic mixture to the electronica with live drums during the set.
By the time Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band hit the stage the sun had kissed the Florida sky goodbye, strands of lights draped through the cypress’ and up to the vendor booths lit up and lighting designs inundated the trees with hues of yellow, green and magenta’s indulging the spectators with the first glimpse of the twilight magic that would unfold. The funk infused ensemble emerged and Mary Frances “Mama Funk” purred out powerhouse vocals on “Wake Yo’Self” while bass player Al Al “Sweet Nasty” Ingram’s idiosyncrasy for dropping bass bombs had the crowd pumped. Derrick “Dr. Ock” Johnson’s trombone slid the band into “Quick-E” the set continued with JP “Smoke Machine” Miller on guitar and Lee “Insta Funk” Allen on drums for “North Carolina” “Sunday Afternoon” “24/7” “Nah Brah.” They covered Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nothing But a G Thang” into “Funk Life” before ripping out a Dirty Dozen Brass Band tune “Ain’t Nothing But a Party.” The set concluded with “Livin’ the Dream” and “Trunk Fallin’ Off.”
LA based band Particle continued to rage the pre-party show. The livetronica, electrofunk band opened with the Kill Bill theme song “A Battle Without Honor or Humanity.” The set continued with a segue of tunes Triple Threat> Organ Chords> I’m Awake> Launchpad. Aaron Magner and Jason Hann joined the band for “Knee Knocker” and they closed the set with a Beck cover “E-Pro.” Electron closed the event on the Amphitheater stage, the super-group from Philly covered rock sensation Pink Floyd tunes “Comfortably Numb” and “Brain Damage.”
As the crowd dispersed following the late night show, it would prove to be an impossible feet for the curious to preview the Spirit Lake. The Teeth Portal would beckon to the inquisitive but stern security guards held their ground to keep the Spirit Lake a surprise for the next day’s festivities. Those that wandered to the campground side of the lake watched in awe as the lights from the guarded and enigmatic psychedelic wonderland teased from across the water.
Suwannee Hulaween would kick off the first official festival day on Friday, October 31st. The Spirit Lake stage would host the first band of the day, Post Pluto. As people entered the Spirit Lake area through the Teeth Portal to catch the opening act they would be mesmerized by the play land that stretched out before them. The Spirit Lake stage would grab the festy goer’s attention off to the left, with its plush red curtains and Day of the Dead paintings adorning the top of the stage. The platforms on either side of the stage congregated with hula hoop artists, fire and belly dancers along with the aerial performers would enchant many.
Sprawled out in front of the Spirit Lake the Natural Mandala Art, Sonic Forest, JellyDome along with several other art instillations would captivate those not lost in ecstasy by the Spirit Lake stage. If this wasn’t enough eye candy that comes under the direction of Art Director and longtime String Cheese Incident Lighting designer, Andrew Carroll, the Infinite Infant and all of his toys would be sure to blow your mind. The history of the Infinite Infant is something of note, the motorized metal sculpture 16-20’ tall x 8-10’ wide x 10-12’ long was designed by Charlie Smith. Its massive cauldron and the cauldron’s of all its toys would provide fiery comfort to all over the weekend as temperatures dropped below freezing. The three fire cauldrons celebrate the history, intention and symbolic meanings of our past, present and future existence. The Infinite Infant brings 10 ft. tall “Hot Mama” – the earth mother, 12 ft. tall “Mr. Nice Guy” the corporate suit, along with these fiery cauldrons two more could be found between the Spirit Lake stage and the Spirit Lake. Alongside the fiery installations was another hypnotizing installation, Dillon Endico’s,“Because of the Lotus.” The projection mapping on paintings would transfix onlookers at night through the combination of traditional painting and projection mapping making the paintings seem to come to life and morph into different phases as light cast upon them in varying ways. In total nearly 100 artists and performers filled the Spirit Lake area with color, creativity and gave a community vibe that made it an all day and night spectacle not to be missed.
Judah & the Lion’s set on the Amphitheater stage would start shortly after Post Pluto. The migration from one stage to the next flowed nicely, as one band would wrap up the next stage over would begin their set. The first act on the Main stage would be Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass. Dressed as angels they had the crowd stirring up dust as they danced to the hellishly fierce pickin’ the band was throwing down. Emancipator took stage on the Amphitheater stage while the dust was still filtering through the air from the Greensky’s performance. The electronica, trip-hop artists opened with “Old Devil” and preluding to the dropping temperatures to come included “Soon it will be Cold Enough to Build” and “Fires.”
To the excitement and anticipation of all 8,000 attendees the hosts, The String Cheese Incident took the main stage for the first of their six performances. The attendees decked out in magnificent customs ranging from the afterlife, zombies, day of the dead to fairytale characters gave the band a warm welcome the band teased a Friday the 13th jam before Kyle Hollingsworth keys zipped through the night to unfurl, “Restless Winds.” The set continued to the delight of everyone with Keith Mosely on vocals for “Joyful Sound” his fast bass run exploding through the night. A slinky salsa “Pygmy Pony” was a nice ride with Jason Hann and Michael Travis softly keeping rhythm as Billy Nershi and Michael Kang swayed the crowd with their strings, they segued into Piece of Mine > Give Me the Love. They ripped into “Valley of the Jig” the electric jam with its ferocity melting the crowd in euphoria and smiles spread as everyone lost themselves in the moment. They closed the set with “Can’t Wait Another Day.” As the Main stage cleared to prep for the thrilling second Cheese set the crowd dispersed for ferris wheel rides, partake in some grub and beverages and catch DJ Shpongle on the Amphitheater stage.
When the String Cheese Incident sauntered back on stage they were dressed in white suits with white top hats, their faces had been painted white with black paint across their eyes. Nershi and Mosely wore long white wigs. Joining them on stage was Rhonda Thomas and Tony White on vocals, Antibalas Horns included Martin Perna (Baritone Sax, Flute), Jas Walton (Tenor), Jordan McLean (Trumpet), Jeff Pierce (Trumpet, Trombone). They opened the set with a Rolling Stones cover “Sympathy for the Devil” Mosely on vocals while Nershi shredded out the riffs. They segued into “Ghostbusters” Tony White on vocals with the Antibalas brass blasting away while giant air filled ghosts shot up from the front of the stage and waved and swayed to the song. Kang took lead vocals for Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” before passing vocals to Rhonda Thomas for a Paul McCartney cover “Live and Let Die.” Enormous sized skull balloons were released into the crowd, confetti was shot out from the stage and pyrotechnics burst from the stage in massive explosions. Nershi took Acapulco on “Just Passing Through” and they continued the set with a Blue Oyster Cult cover “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and segued into a Doors cover “Break on Through” and Led Zeppelin cover “Stairway to Heaven.” Kyle sang lead for “Heaven” a slow Talking Heads cover before reprising back into “Live and Let Die.” The monster finale was a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Behind the stage a monstrous sized rendition of Michael Jackson emerged with hands that reached out over the stage, dancers dressed as zombies danced on the sides of the stage, it was a killer, thriller night!
The third set for the night had monster jams, the Cheese opened with “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and went into a Kool and the Gang cover “Hollywood Swingin.” They continued the set with You’ve Got The World, Hotel Window > Rosie > Zombie > Rosie, Way Back Home > Just One Story and they encored with “Superstition.”
The night would continue on with Beats Antique on the Amphitheater stage and Thievery Corporation back on the Main stage. By the time Thievery took the stage the temps had dropped to below freezing and the winds had started to pick up. After Thievery everyone rushed to Spirit Lake for Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Billy Gilmore’s Jam and the amazing art instillation’s that morphed into a cosmic pulse of colors and textures. The cauldrons warmed chilled bodies while fire performers danced through Spirit Lake.
Saturday would prove to be just as fun as the day before with everyone surviving the 60 mph winds and the sun popping out behind the clouds. The three stages would bounce to and fro with a few conflicting schedules, Strung Like a Horse, Beartoe, Cope, The Heavy Pets, Shane Pruitt Band and Nahko and Medicine for the People would all take turns in competing for the masses. Keller Williams and Friends which included Reed Matthis from Marco Benevento and Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers on the Main stage had everyone in smiles. They opened with “Kidney” and continued with favorites like “Doobie in My Pocket” “Samson and Delilah” “Scarlet Begonias” “Wish You Were Here” and “Born to be Wild.”
The second night of the String Cheese Incident would ratify even larger jams then the night before and they would outdo themselves in the magnitude of music. The first set opened with Search > Lost > Mouna Bowa. Nicky Sanders from Steep Canyon Rangers sat in for “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.” Keller Williams joined Nicky and the String Cheese for “Resume Man” and “Pack it Up.” Keller took lead vocals for one of his songs “Alligator Alley” and a Grateful Dead cover “Franklins Tower.” The second set was a space-meld of psychedelic dank jams with “Let’s Go Outside” opening into “Black Clouds” they found the “Sweet Spot” and had Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic set in for “Birdland.” They rolled into Sirens > Rivertrance > Drums > Swamp > Rivertrance and encored with a super heady “Bollymunster.”
Sunday was magic as the temperatures climbed and people started to warm up as the sun rose above the campground. Most festival goers still sported their costumes from the first night of the festival whether from the weather being too cold to change or just the sheer enjoyment of wearing a costume for three days it didn’t matter it just made it easier to spot newly made friends in a crowd. The day would kick off with Ghost Owl on the Main stage and Suenalo on the Spirit Stage. The Soul Rebels would offer a chance to see a set on the Amphitheater stage with little conflict in scheduling. North Carolina’s Asheville goddess, Rising Appalachia, would perform on the Main stage. The beautiful sisters seemed to call out the sun as their rich powerful message resounded through the campgrounds. Their set included, Mississippi, Scaledown, Filthy Dirty, Fly Around, Downtown, Pretty Lil Foot, Cuarto de Tula, Stromboli, Tiny Fish Lungs, Medicine, Honey Baby. The Dean Ween Group was sandwiched between Rising Appalachia and the String Cheese would include favorites “Dickie Betts” “Transdermal Celebration” “Ghost of the Frontier” and “Sweet Jan.”
The String Cheese would wrap up hosting the Suwannee Hulaween with as much bravado as one could imagine. The first set opened with “Sometimes A River” into Close Your Eyes > How Mountain Girls Can Love, a “MLT” and Love Is Like A Train > So Far From Home > ‘Round The Wheel. The second set pushed the jams to even greater levels of joy. They opened with Colliding > Late In The Evening, Look At Where We Are, Song In My Head > This Must Be The Place > On The Road, Bumpin’ Reel. They ended their Incident with a big bold “Texas.”
Future Rock would hold fans over on the Amphitheater stage between major schedule conflict EOTO on the Main stage and Van Ghost on Spirit Lake. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead would close out the festival with Truckin> Uncle John’s Band> No Quarter Jam> Uncle John’s Band> Let It Grow> Crazy Fingers> Help On The Way> Slipknot!> Franklin’s Tower.
As the stages cleared most found their way back to their campsites or wandered one last time through the mystical play land of the Spirit Lake. The last of the firewood was dumped into the Infinite Infant and his cauldron toys as temperatures once again plummeted below freezing. Those left huddled around the cauldrons for warmth buzzed of chatter focused on what a great event Suwannee Hulaween and how much they were looking forward to next year’s Suwannee Hulaween these words would echo through the morning as campers packed up to head home.
For the most well attended event in it’s 13-year history last week in Nashville, the Americana Music Association’s Conference and Festival succeeded in large part due to the broadening of its tent, and a sense of inclusivity that has eluded the organization and its events in the past.
When it began, the Americana Music Association sought to codify a style of roots and country music that was thriving outside of the Nashville mainstream of manufactured pop acts. It was an attempt by the music industry to redefine alt-country (whatever that is) and roots music under one umbrella. Under their auspices, they created a new radio chart, and a new but necessarily vague genre that would help artists reach their audiences via radio play, publicity and record sales. An industry event from the get-go.
But over the past 13 years, the effort has at times seemed insular—the same artists, most of them coming from the same sincere songwriting school of the folk music world, or from what was then called alt-country, populating the showcases and awards ceremony year after year. A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll, with a dash of bluegrass and a healthy dose of folk. That approach eschewed otherwise valid musical forms that fit their mission statement. Blues, for example, was relegated to one or two artists, save for the blues elements that seeped into everyone’s music. Gospel was unheard of. And in the land of the tightly constructed and serious as hell three-minute songs, the word “jam” was virtually verboten.
But this year, the event kicked off with Leftover Salmon performing at the Ryman Auditorium with a slew of guests on hand to celebrate the anniversary of their Nashville Sessions recording, which came out in 1999. That record featured a who’s who of Nashville talent who joined in to celebrate that band’s country and bluegrass roots— the same roots that they synthesized into their self-styled “Poly-Ethnic Cajun Slamgrass” style. Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass? As perpetual awards show host Jim Lauderdale would say, “Now that’s Americana!”
So it was fitting that this band, a mainstay of the jamband circuit since it was a thing, would help to establish the inclusivity of the weekend. On stage with them, there was Taj Mahal bringing the house down. There was mandolin wizard Sam Bush, blazing and leading a trio of mandolin players. There was former Little Feat keyboardist and new band member Bill Payne. There was Widespread Panic’s lead singer John Bell belting out “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Other guests ranged from bluegrass legends like Del McCoury to jamband godfather Col. Bruce Hampton.
This collaborative affair set the tone for the awards show the following night, and for the next five nights of artist showcases in different music clubs around town. The tent was all of a sudden bigger.
Despite the sometimes narrow atmosphere, the Americana tent has been an ever expanding one that ebbs and flows to bring in, and sometimes shun, certain artists. It’s a fluid term, not a strict genre.
The Leftover Salmon example exuded into the rest of the weekend, with the event showcasing artists who represent the jammier side of the equation and also expanded the “membership” by parading more musicians coming from outside of the realms of folk and country music to include more blues, gospel, and latino music.
It helped that Ry Cooder, who has long been a champion of varied forms of Americana music and what could come to be known as world music, was a part of the stellar house band that also included Buddy Miller and Don Was.
What also helped was the inclusion of two lifetime achievement award winners. With renowned accordionist Flaco Jimenez the association rightly brought Latin styles like tejano and conjunto into the fold. Taj Mahal provided the most rousing song of the night, showing that his lifetime of blending blues with forms from around the world belongs in the Americana tent. Given this broader palette, tunes like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” performed by the Loretta Lynn were afforded even more gravity, a stronger pillar due to the additional support whereas it might have been just “old Nashville” in another setting.
Other guests that night included Jackson Browne, Robert Plant singing along with Patty Griffin, soul sounds from St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sturgill Simpson bringing his psychedelic infused update of outlaw country music to the fore, Valerie June and her bluesy twang, and of course Jason Isbell, who swept the awards by winning best song, best album and best artist of the year.
Part of the insular nature of the event in the past has been its tendency to focus on the Nashville and Austin contingent. That’s natural, because those two locales, each of which loves to claim the “music city” title, are home to the most of the industry players who make up the organization—the record companies, publicists, managers, and yes, a lot of the artists.
This year, though, it didn’t seem so polarizing. Musicians from Mississippi, in particular, made a major impact.
Meridian, Miss. native Jimmie Rodgers was honored at the awards ceremony with the President’s award, presented by Philadelphia, Miss. native Marty Stuart. Stuart proudly showed off a lantern that had once belonged to Rodgers. Tupelo, Miss. native Paul Thorn gave an impassioned speech lauding Mississippi artists that same night.
The next night featured a showcase entirely dedicated to Mississippi artists. Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band showed that ancient grooves were still alive and well, and safe in her stead. Then 83-year old Leo “Bud” Welch brought downhome gospel blues that seared with authenticity. Luther Dickinson performed solo, but brought out Thomas to play drums for much of the set. Later T-Model Ford’s grandson Stud did the same. Dickinson has made his mark as lead guitarist for the North Mississippi Allstars and one-time member of the Black Crowes. But lately he’s been delving deeply into producing other artists and has released a pair of solo records, one of them consisting entirely of instrumental tunes. The most recent, Rock n Roll Blues, provided the material for much of the set.
In between songs, Dickinson regaled the audience with stories of growing up with his father, the legendary Jim Dickinson. His set was like a master class in Mississippi music history, as he explained how he learned about music hands-on growing up in a musical family.
Marty Stuart and Webb Wilder (a Hattiesburg, Miss. native, who also served as emcee) turned in their sets before the show closed out with Paul Thorn, who jumped into the crowd to close the showcase with a rousing hug fest among the fans that reached the fevered pitch of a tent revival. It was a showcase that showed almost all of the branches of Americana, that just so happened to come from one state. Blues, rock, country, gospel and folk all bubbled up in the musical stew that night.
Just as Leftover Salmon infused the week with some improvisational workouts early on, other bands took the stages and sounded like they owed as much to the Grateful Dead as Flatt & Scruggs as well. And that’s only natural; the Dead were “big-tent” Americana long before industry executives cooked up the term.
Todd Snider’s new band The Hard Working Americans were nominated for Duo or Group of the Year and performed at the awards show. But the real show came later that night at the sprawling Cannery Ballroom. Billed as “Todd Snider and Friends” the group was essentially the Hard Working Americans, sans guitarist Neal Casal. Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools was the guardian of the groove all night, and undoubtedly the instigator for the chooglin jams the collective swept through over the course of an extraordinary long-for-a-showcase set of about an hour. The band’s best tunes were old classics that even in their selection exuded the definition of Americana—Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues,” JJ Cale’s “Crazy Mama” and, fitting for the circumstances, Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
Given Snider’s songwriting pedigree, it’s odd that their debut album consists almost entirely of cover tunes. But at times Snider, masked behind large sunglasses and a floppy hat, would gleefully float to the side of the stage and sway and watch his compatriots as they spaced out, seemed as if he’s trying on a new suit himself.
They were joined by special guests too. Vince Herman of, yep, Leftover Salmon joined in for “Georgia On A Fast Train” and former Yonder Mountain String Band mandolinist Jeff Austin furiously added to “Is This Thing Working?” Elizabeth Cook, and her hairdo, sat in all night on background vocals and various percussion instruments.
It was an Americana showcase, but there was…well, dancing! For an audience that is usually satisfied with some vigorous but thoughtful head nodding, to loosen them up spoke to the fact that Snider and company were doing something right, and that the Americana family is maybe more diverse than once believed.
In the same space a few nights later, the unfortunately named but fantastic anyway Trigger Hippy brought similar rootsy blues jams to the stage. Fronted by Joan Osborne and guitarist/keyboardist Jackie Greene, Trigger Hippy hit some of the same notes—loose limbed roots rock with notes of blues and country. In other words, Americana. That Osborne has toured with The Dead and Greene has played with Phil Lesh and The Black Crowes was evident as the band was as comfortable creating space as recreating songs, and they even belted out a Grateful Dead cover with a rousing “Sugaree.”
There were of course lots of singer-songwriters on hand, a few really good bluegrass bands, some earnest roots rockers. Those folks were already in the family. But to allow some of the freakier cousins a seat at the table was a welcome accomplishment for this year’s fest.
Words and pictures by Amber Marie
Nestled in the mountains in Cumberland, Maryland the 7th annual DelFest welcomed festival goers from Thursday, May 22nd through Sunday, May 25th. Eager festivilians started arriving in Cumberland and the surrounding towns Wednesday night in preparation to be the first in line at the box office on Thursday morning. The rainy weather gave way overnight and the Thursday morning sunshine sprinkled through big fluffy clouds along the mountainside. The small crowd started lining up outside the box office doors around seven in the morning, laughter and “DelYea’s” could be heard and to everyone’s delight the box office opened up about thirty minutes before it was scheduled too.
As folks received their wristbands they excitedly hurried back to their cars to make the fifteen minute ride from the box office to the Allegany County Fairgrounds, for DelFestivilians the delight of this ride is quite exuberant. The DelFest sign on the windy country highway clearly marks the beginning of good times. As you make the turn and start heading down the typically quite sleep country road the West Virginia mountainous cliffs begin to loom before you. Keeping in time with the box office the campgrounds also opened the gates early. The access into the campgrounds is easy and simple, as you pull up you show the attendee your wristband and parking sticker and you’re directed to park in the grassy fields surrounding the ballparks. The parking passes sold out quickly as well as the tickets for the late night shows. As folks began parking it is evident in the mid-morning hour that you’re surrounded by long time DelFestivilans by the quickness of how everyone makes their way from vehicles to the campgrounds to claim their favorite spots.
The hardworking Grammy award winning, Grand Ole Opry member, father, grandfather and host, Del McCoury would take the Grandstand Stage with his band later in the afternoon at five, giving people plenty of time to get settled into their campsites and explore the festival grounds.
Del McCoury Band sound check on the Grandstand Stage started at five with a big happy birthday welcome from the crowd to Del, who celebrates his 75th birthday this year. The banter back and forth with the crowd would continue as Del, with a giant grin, would ask what everyone wanted to hear since the sound check is a chance for them to explore songs they typically do not do during their sets. From songs about mountain tops to songs about Virginia the crowd’s smiles matched Del’s. Rob McCoury (banjo) did a tune from his new album that is scheduled to be released soon. They also covered a George Jones tune, “Ain’t no Change Left to Hold Me” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.
The Boston based bluegrass band, the Deadly Gentlemen took the stage after the Del McCoury Band and would cover tunes from their 3rd album, Roll Me, Tumble Me. Banjo innovator Greg Liszt of the Deadly Gents leads the band thru dives and twirls of a bluegrassy Lovin’ Spoonful sound. Following the Deadly Gentlemen on the Grandstand Stage was the Devil Makes Three (DM3) hailing from Brattleboro, VT. The bluegrass rockabilly raised a few of eyebrows from attendees who were in their silver years that were expecting to see more pickers but the bluegrass, old time music, country, folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, and rockabilly from front man guitarist Pete Bernhard, tenor banjo player Cooper McBean and upright bassist Lucia Turino set most of the crowd in motion. They rambled out their set with “Stranger”, “Beneath The Piano”, “The Bullet”, “All Hail”, “40 Days > Gracefully Facedown”, “Johnson Family”, “Hallelu”, “Statesboro Blues”, “Spinnin’ Like a Top”, “Graveyard”, “A Moment’s Rest”, “Old Number 7”, “For Good Again”, “Worse or Better”, “Aces and Twos”, “Black Irish”, “Do Wrong Right”, “Bangor Mash” and wrapped up with “Help Yourself.”
The headliner for Thursday night was Greensky Bluegrass. They lit up the night with “Working on a Building”, Worried about the Weather, Light Up or Leave Me Alone before welcoming Del McCoury to the stage for single mic configuration on “Beauty of My Dreams” and “I’ve Endured”. The last part of the set seemed to sink into more of jamgrass and they wrapped up their set with “Windshield > Wind Doves Cry”.
Toronto, Ontario based band The Unseen Strangers opened the festival on the Grandstand Stage on Friday, their traditional bluegrass music welcoming folks into the music meadow. The American roots music of the Dead Horses opened the Potomac Stage, singer/guitarist Sarah Vos’ voice filled the air as the unique new-age string band drove the melody. The Kitchen Dwellers played next to the Potomac stage inside the cool low lit music hall. The young bluegrass group combined different elements of jamband style with traditional grass. The Shook Twins took the Grandstage Stage following the Unseen Strangers, the identical twins who were born and raised in Idaho but now hail from Portland, Oregon blended Midwest sound with west coast sound to produce a unique harmony filtered thru a re-purposed telephone microphone that blended folk and roots music. While the twin’s claimed the Grandstand Stage over on the Potomac Stage “Party-Gras” band Mo’ Mojo moved the crowd with exuberant brass infusing Cajun and funk. The raw acoustic bluesy Americana music of Liz Frame & the Kickers could be seen in the Music Hall.
Joe Craven throughout the festival could be found wearing many hats from workshop host, to announcer for the Delfest Radio 90.1 FM to playing the main stage on Friday afternoon. His free style folk world and roots music was a welcome jam. His set included, Sitting on top of the World, Julie Ann, Tree Top Flyer and the Craven Story.
As the day progressed the stages were filled longer by bigger acts. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers hit the Potomac stage with traditional bluegrass. Chris’ smooth voice crooned over the crowd with a majestic backdrop of the Appalachians. Chris is also known for hosting Sirius XM’s Bluegrass Junction.
Wisconsin based Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was the second to last band to play the Music Hall on Friday. The quintet has an arsenal of Midwest progressive bluegrass jams. Rebecca Frazier and Hit and Run followed shortly after Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Frazier is the first female artist to ever be on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar magazine and is noted to have played with some of Nashville, Tennessee’s greatest. Her husband, John Frazier, plays mandolin in her band and has also been seen recently playing with Yonder Mountain String Band.
Midafternoon on the Grandstand Stage was The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The Big Damn Band’s set of fierceness was kicked off with “Train”, “Something for Nothing” followed by crowd favorite, “Easy Come Easy Go”. Rev introduced the next number, “Dirt”, as a tune written after overhearing someone at a local cafe discussing with disdain the lunch crowd who had come in from working and were covered in dirt. “Jump A Train”, “Clap Your Hands”, “Pot Roast And Kisses”, “Front Porch Trained”, “Devils Look Like Angels”, “Everything’s Raising”, “Can’t Judge a Book” and “Glory Glory” followed with as much ferociousness as the first few tunes.
The Deadly Gents played the Potomac as Yonder Mountain warmed their strings on the Grandstand Stage. Yonder’s set was a crowd highlight of the weekend, with sit-in dobro player Jerry Douglas and mandolin player John Frazier the band laid siege to the stage with special guests Del McCoury (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Robbie McCoury (banjo) and Jason Carter on Fiddle.
YMSB kicked off their set with “Casualty”, “Pockets” and “Little Lover” before Ben took vocals on “Pretty Daughter”, a Danny Barnes number which usually has recently departed band member Jeff Austin on vocals. “Pretty Daughter” segued into “Wheel Hoss” back into “Pretty Daughter”. Del McCoury came on stage for “On a Monday” and “Spanish Harlem”. YMSB banjoist Dave Johnston took lead vocals on “Black Sheep” followed by “Walkin Shoes”. The McCoury brothers and Jason Carter took the stage for “Kentucky Mandolin” which sequed into “Girlfriend is Better” and “Southern Flavor”. “Southern Flavor”, a Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys number was a great way to end their set.
Grammy award winning Jim Lauderdale closed out the Potomac set shortly after YMSB’s set wrapped up on the main stage. The sun started to sink and people hustled their way back to their campsites to grab extra layers for the coolness of the night and get ready for The Del McCoury Band to take the Grandstand stage.
The Del McCoury band hit the stage, Del on guitar and smiles kicked the night off with a short intro and “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight”. They kept up the old timey bluegrass with “Train 45”, “Count Me Out”, “Hang Your Head in Shame”, “Let An Old Racehorse Run”, “She Can’t Burn Me Now”, “Dusty Miller”, “Cabin On A Mountain”, “Rain and Snow”, “Big Blue Raindrops”, “Randy Lynn Rag”, “Nashville Cats”, “Smoking Gun”, “Lonesome Road Blues”, “Train Wreck of Emotion”, “Crying Heart Blues”, “Limehouse Blues”, “Some Old Day”, “Thanks A Lot”, “More Often Than Once in Awhile”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Cheek to Cheek With The Blues” and wrapped things up, appropriately, with “Farewell Blues”.
With only about thirty minutes between Del and Railroad Earth most people stayed in their spots and chatted about the days music. RRE would not disappoint them with their set of progressive rust-belt bluegrass. They started the night with “Seven Story Mountain”, which had the audience singing back to them. “When the Sun Gets in Your Blood”, “Dance Around Molly” slipped into “Dandelion Wine” and “Grandfather Mountain.” They also played “Monkey”, “The Hunting Song > Lacrimosa > Face with a Hole”. Elko’s slinky number ripped into “Chasin’ A Rainbow” with an encore of “Peace on Earth.”
The Friday night late night show sold out before DelFest opened its gates with Greensky Bluegrass and the Cabinet boys. The show started at 11:30 and lasted for about an hour with set in guests Ronnie McCoury and Railroad Earth’s fiddle player Tim Carbone. The late night set list consisted of “After Midnight”, “Don’t Lie”, “Walking the Dog”, “The Chain” and a “Del Yea Breakdown.”
Saturday was greeted with an early morning set from the Tuckahoe Ridge String Band on the Potomac Stage. The Spirit Family Reunion on the Grandstand Stage and back to the Potomac for the boys of Cabinet. Cabinet was another fan favorite at the festival, along with Rev Peyton’s Big Damn Band you would also hear bursts of enthusiasm over the rustic American Beauty-era and old-timey bluegrass of Cabinet. During the Cabinet set Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth set in on saxophone. If you wandered into the Music Hall Saturday morning you would have found yourself in the middle of a playshop hosted by Joe Craven where he could be found giving instructions on how to make a musical instrument from your soul. The Grandstand Stage around midday was host to Sierra Hull. Ms. Hull has played at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, her amazing range of vocals as she plays the mandolin was a perfect set for the sunny afternoon.
The California Honeydrops opened on the Potomac about half way thru Sierra Hulls set. Once again Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth was a guest set-in on the Potomac stage only this time he could be found following front man for the California Honeydrops into the crowd with the rest of the band on a mini tour parade before getting back on the stage.
Chris Jones and The Night Drivers played their final set of the festival at the Music Hall and there was a short break before legendary Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott kicked off their set on the Grandstand Stage. The Duhks followed by Rev Peyton wrapped up the sets on the Potomac stage while the Gibson Brothers followed by Jim Lauderdale saluted the Music Hall. While Breezy Peyton and the Rev warmed up the Potomac Stage the Carolina Chocolate Drops warmed the hearts of those at the Grandstand Stage. The traditional Appalachian sound of the Chocolate Drops filled the music meadow with people dancing and singing. Their set was kicked off with “Pretty Little Girl With The Blue Dress On”, “Sandy Boys”, “Country Girl”, banter about the origins of banjos, “Briggs”, “Oh My Little Darling”, “Please Don’t Let Me Love You”, “Buck Creek Girls”, “Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad”, “Water Boy”, “When I was a Cowboy”, “Ruby”, “Can’t Nobody Hide from God”, “Scottish Wedding”, “Hit Em Up Style”, “Old Cat Died”, “Red ’em John”.
The Del McCoury once again lit up the night for pre evening get down. Del gave a wink and a giggle as he drove the band into “Traveling Teardrop Blues”, “Blues Rollin’ In”, “Shuckin’ The Corn”, “Sweet Appalachia”, “Queen Anne’s Lace”, “Washington County”, “The Lights On the Hill”, “All Aboard”, “Blackjack County Chains”, “Bluegrass Breakdown”, “Kentucky Waltz”. Ricky Skaggs came out for a special guest appearance on “The Old Cross Roads” and “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”. A short and sweet Streets of Baltimore was played before Jim Lauderdale stepped on the stage for “Slewfoot”. The McCourys finished the night with Eli Renfro “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, “Working On A Building”, “Henry Walker”, “Orange Blossom Special” and encored with “It’s Just The Night”.
Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby with the Kentucky Thunder sandwiched nicely between McCoury sets. Bruce’s ability to add a new dimension to the old bluegrass numbers excited the crowd. The set was by far one of the top sets of the weekend. The combination of Grammy award winning Skaggs and Hornsby teamed with the Kentucky Thunder was only topped by the next act on the Grandstand Stage, the Travelin’ McCourys.
The Travelin McCourys set would be graced by several artists, Billy Nershi of the String Cheese Incident, Jeff Austin of the Jeff Austin Band, Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth and Kimber Ludiker. Southbound brought in the set with “Deeper Shade of Blue”, “Old Boy Still in the Game”, “No One Will Ever Know”, “Let’s Sing Our Song > guitar solo”, “Messed Up Just Right”, “Welcome to China”, “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”, “Lonesome”, “On’ry And Mean”, “Feudin’ Banjos”, “On the Lonesome Wind”, “The Shaker” a short introduction of Billy, Jeff and Tim for the last tunes on the Grandstand Stage of the evening.
Late night Saturday night was Railroad Earth with Shook Twins, the show sold out the day before.
The last day of the festival opened with the Gibson Brothers on the Grandstand. On the Potomac stage an acapella group, the T Sisters performed, their roots as songwriters steeped in family tradition. The Duhks once again performed only this time on the Grandstand Stage, their quirky Americana vocals were perfect as the gigantic American flag in the Grandstand lazily billowed in the midafternoon sun. Joe Craven hosted his final playshop in the Music Hall before the McCoury Family Jam and the Unseen Strangers and Sierra Hull wrapped up their final sets on the Potomac stage. Bela Fleck and wife Abigail Washburn had a special treat for everyone during their set, the husband and wife duo brought with them their bouncing baby boy, Juno, who lead the crowd in a “Simon Says” sort of frolic of hand claps and arm raises. Fleck talked Abigail into doing a Flectones number to everyone’s surprise and happiness. Hot Rize followed Fleck and Washburn on the Grandstand Stage. Someone in the crowd had mentioned these guys were a little more than bluegrass and they proved that remark to be every bit true. The old-timey bluegrassers did a couple of tunes before introducing themselves in different outfits and dressed with a lot of flair for some honkey tonk. The Kruger Brothers set was the last set at the Music Hall for the afternoon and Spirit Family Reunion bid the audience farewell on the Potomac stage for the weekend.
The Del McCoury Band hit the stage for their last performance at DelFest promptly on schedule. After a few songs Del introduced the family and had everyone come out on stage to thank the audience for making DelFest such a great festival. They covered “Radio Boogie”, “High on a Mountain Top”, “Train 45”, a Hazel Dickens tune “Won’t you Come Sing for Me”, “99 Years And One Dark Day”. Del took a break from singing tunes to also thank folks who have been assisting at DelFest for several years. The first round of applause went to Keven who runs the camp, Larry Kunkle for 20 years of folding tee-shirts, Ron Chittum and Doug McKenzie who helps with the RVs.
The organization of the festival is indeed something to praise, not only does DelFest offer an amazing line up with little overlapping there are also several workshops for both adults and children to participate in. The organizers made sure to include the kids of DelFest with activities such as Ash Street Puppet Works for workshops for painting and puppeteering for a parade on Sunday with the kids. They also had hula hooping, face painting and other arts and crafts as well as a day in the creek for a bug workshop.
The last two sets on the Grandstand for Sunday night were saved for the String Cheese Incident. The Cheese celebrates their 20th anniversary this year and also just released a new studio album. As Billy Nershi made his way on stage his excitement didn’t falter and he jumped up and down several times as the other member’s made their way on stage. They kicked off their set with one of the songs from their new release, “Song in my Head”. After a few short words they went into “Close Your Eyes” and segued into “Can’t Stop Now”. Joe Craven came out for “Smile” and Del McCoury made his way onto the stage for “Sittin’ on Top of the World”. Nershi gave Del a big birthday squeeze before Del wandered off the stage and they went into Beautiful. They brought the psychedelic jam with a massive “Land’s End” with Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster into “I know you Rider” with the addition of Jeff Austin. The special guests cleared the stage and the Cheese took it into a boogie of “Bumpin’ Reel” followed by a high energy “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” that segued into “Can’t Wait Another Day”. The Travelin’ McCourys came out for “Colorado Bluebird Sky” that was followed by “Sirens > This Must be the Place > Sine”. After a short encore break the Cheese came back out and finished with a solid “Bolly Munster”.
To close off the festival the Late Night show at the Music Hall was another sold out event for the The Travelin’ McCourys Bluegrass Ball with the California Honeydrops.
Monday morning as everyone gathered their belongings it was noticeable at how respectable of a festival crowd had been at the fairgrounds. As folks cleaned their camping sites and made their way to their cars full of smiles and good memories the rolls of laughter and “DelYeas” could still be heard as people gave squeezes and hugs with promises of seeing each other for DelFest 2015.
In the decade since it”s inception, the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky has grown from a single small stage in the park into one of the premier music events of the year, with host band the String Cheese Incident joined by rap superstar Big Boi, rock gods The Black Keys, local hero Jim James and so many more. Born from founder J.K. McKnight”s wish to unite live music and the spirit of activism on the community level, this annual get together has found a home on the banks of the Ohio River with a widely varied slate of acts on the four stages from the biggest rock bands in the land to the homegrown sounds of bluegrass and everything in between. Partnering with Ashley Capps, one of the founders of Bonnaroo, the massive concert spectacle against which all other fests are measured, McKnight saw his seeded dream grow beyond his wildest imaginings and truly become a showcase for the city he loves, the causes he believes in and the music that has given his life joy.
Since its humble beginnings Forecastle”s focus has been squarely on giving a voice to roots and national level causes, in an effort to demonstrate what could be accomplished from working together. The music was the bait, but illustrating how easy it is for us all to pitch in and steer our lives away from the environmentally and philosophically self destructive course on which we have blithely followed for far too long. Environmentalism, fairness and a wide range of political causes from both sides of the aisle are given prime space along the main concert area, each booth filled with eager minds sparked by the exposure to new ideas, musical and social. With the largest attendance on record for the 2013 edition of Forecastle, more people than ever had the opportunity to learn about responsibility and the rewards of joining in to make the world a better place, and it”s hard to think of a better reason to gather together.
The Pimps of Joytime
To draw as wide a variety of souls as possible, nearly every musical taste was catered to over the three days of fun in the cities resurrected downtown and it”s green-space jewel, Waterfront Park. Slinky, percussive funksters Brooklynites The Pimps of JoytimeÂ opened the Mast Stage on Friday with a dancey sound that had the five o”clock on a Friday crowd ready to shake off their work week doldrums and boogie down.
On the second stage, DIY legend Bob MouldÂ showed why, from his days of founding punk icons Husker Du to today”s hard charging solo work, he is a force to be reckoned with. Prowling the stage like a caged tiger, barely contained rage at the microphone Mould was constantly exploding into wild guitar bursts as he broke free from any tether and let his soul blare from his instrument.
Old Crow Medicine Show
Local rising stars Houndmouth, from just across the river, showed the songwriting and performing skill that earned them slots on the David Letterman show and top tier playlists across the country. While Moon TaxiÂ showed that there are quality rock bands still forming across the country, Dj acts like Salva and Griz illustrated the power of modern machinery in the hands of minds that can compose and create in and of the moment, making reactionary beats that fed off the crowd.
Old Crow Medicine Show, known for their Americana feel and tight live performances brought the first taste of the Bluegrass state”s signature music, and had the crowd twirling an tapping their toes from front to back of the packed lawn at the main stage. Meanwhile Young The GiantÂ poured every iota of energy the possessed into each and every song they played on the Boom Stage, amping the crowd into a frenzy just in time for the weekend”s host band, The String Cheese Incident.
Hailing from Colorado, the String Cheese Incident is a musical chameleon that perfectly represents the modern festival dynamic with a range of styles and influences that make each song both unique and somehow still of a whole. From wide open ballads, dense jams and even a organic homage to the modern dub/electronica movement, Cheese nimbly darts wherever their combined muses take them. The six members of the band, Billy Nershi on lead guitar, multi-instrumentalist Michael Kang on Mandolin, violin and guitar, Kyle Hollingsworth on piano, keyboards and organ, Keith Moseley on bass and the one-two percussive punch of Jason Hann and Michael Travis.
With each member actively involved in creating distinct music of their own, Cheese has become almost a clearing house for ideas distilled from each player”s personal sensibilities. The range of a modern SCI show features an almost relay race dynamic, with each member stepping up to lead tunes that showcase their personal sensibilities, which the rest of the band doing all they could to make each song as rich and diverse as possible. The final product is a blend of music that has led to the String Cheese Incident”s amazing enduring popularity which led them to being asked to play the role of “Host” over the weekend. Playing an epic closing set on Friday, performing a after show at the storied local venue the Louisville Palace, then bringing forth their bluegrass roots for a special Sunday set, Cheese owned the city and the festival itself over the weekend, and under their stewardship people reveled in a state of musical bliss, the best feeling in the world.
The 23 String Band
With one of the strongest public radio platforms in the nation, Louisville is blessed to have three stations of music and information operating around the clock, with the wide ranging WFPK leading the way. Home to dozens of programs that showcase everything from blues to punk, as well as free ranging hours left up to their DJs, WFPK regularly hosts one of the stages, giving up and coming artists a chance to show the crowd what they do and how well they do it. Local bluegrass act The 23 String BandÂ drew an impressive crowd to Saturday”s Port stage, some their faithful fans and some just eager to see what the buzz was about. Freakwater and the always artsy Rubblebucket added to their loyal following with fresh converts, all thanks to a station that works around the clock to keep the spirit of music alive in a time of commercialization and homogenization, a truly noble endeavor for which their listeners and the festival patrons thanked them with cheers and out stretched arms.
All around the rest of the festival, Saturday”s line up featured everything from current music darlings like DawesÂ and Alabama Shakes, Kurt Vile and the Violators, and The UK”s The Joy FormidableÂ all showed why those worried about the state of modern music should not be too concerned. While prepackaged pop does dominate the charts, original bands are working their way into the hearts and minds of the listening public, enticing them to go beyond the norm and seek out the new and original. And, closing out the Boom stage was a band that somehow, even after almost two decades, remains the newest and most original outfit on any platform…the Flaming Lips.
With a long history of epic shows full of weirdness, any chance to see the Flaming Lips perform is an opportunity to peer into the raw, creative world of the band”s off-putting but heartfelt vibe. Their music is a wild mish-mash of crashing drums, layered synthesizers and effect, sub sonic bass and melodic acoustic guitars. The legends and lore that have sprung up around them and their challenging presentation, including entire shows performed to short wave broadcast”s only listenable on headphone, recording a CD that was sectioned off and could only be heard by listening to four separate sound systems at the same time, precede them and make the anticipation build to a fever pitch for their devoted followers.
The Flaming Lips
Eschewing what has, of late, become their trademarks, such as the dancing girls, confetti and day-glo insanity, the band toned down not only their visuals, but offered a few stripped down versions of their songs as well, notably their most anthemic tune, “Do You Realize.” “Realize” went from a bubbly pop ditty with a deeper meaning to a plaintive begging…urging the crowd to make the most of every moment. Tracks from their new release, The Terror were prominently featured in the set list, and were as well received as classics like “She Don”t Use Jelly.” For the initiated true believers who lined up as soon as the gates opened and held down their spots all day to the interested onlookers who wandered towards the show to see what the hype was all there was a wide variety of reactions, from instant love to disdain. From a darkened, mirror ball and smoke filled stage a sense shredding overload was emitted, and those who observed it were changed for the experience, a result provacateurs like the Flaming Lips couldn”t help but appreciate.
It would be hard to find two more different opening acts than the home spun rock stylings of songstress Tift MerritÂ and Nigerian born Goumar Almoctar”s Bombino. Though born worlds apart, both acts shared a spirit and underlying theme of overcoming adversity that linked them philosophically, if not musically. NYC rapper El-P and his partner Killer Mike led the folks at the Ocean stage into a furious state, fists pumping in time to their serious rhymes about the state of the world.
Due to an unfortunate cancellation, the schedule for Sunday was remixed, and a more natural paring of styles resulted with masters of the new breed of modern, rock influenced bluegrass Greensky BluegrassÂ no opening for festival hosts String Cheese Incident”s much hyped instrumental “Bluegrass Incident” set on the Boom Stage. Greensky has built themselves into one of the most well regarded bluegrass bands in the field through their mastery of their respective instruments, with Anders Beck leading the way on his drop steel guitar, heart felt and emotive songwriting by mandolinist Paul Hoffman and a willingness to explore the darker territories of the musical spectrum.
The Bluegrass Incident
You”d be hard put to find any band willing or capable of following the show put on by Greensky Bluegrass, but, as luck would have it, the guys from String Cheese brought a few friends along to help them in their cause. True pioneer of the seventies wave of mixing modern music with classic bluegrass trapping, Sam Bush joined the Incident, banjo player and all around happiest guy at the festival Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon, along with multi-year award winning “Mandolinist of the Year” Ronnie McCoury and fiddle virtuoso and Kentucky born and bred Jason Carter. Running through classic from both Cheese”s catalog like “Rivertrance” and the bluegrass songbook, the joy of sharing one of the oldest traditions in music, the picking party, was plain to see and a joy to watch, as well as a testament to the competence and confidence of the band. A fitting tribute to the state and the music it has spawned.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Over on the main stage, we were treated to a burst of old school rock with a heap of sex appeal, with the next two acts. First up was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, bringing their high energy mix of classic rock stylings and satisfyingly original takes on genre conventions, all while being fronted by one of the most beguiling figures to lead a band since the likes of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. Grace Potter”s charisma and beauty belie her talent, and her comfort onstage in any situation, be it at her organ, with a guitar in her hand s or simply belting out her songs from some unknowable depths kept all eyes riveted to her, a power she used to playfully toy with the fans with a smile and a wink. Potter was following in the wake of a classic archetype, that of a singer using a mix of raw sex appeal and talent to take over a show that was perfected years ago by the man who followed her on the main stage, rock and roll legend Robert Plant.
Robert Plant“s career is as storied and well known as any in the modern era of music. From fronting Led Zeppelin to his solo career in the eighties, small scale reunion tours with Zep guitarist Jimmy Page, to recent collaborations with Allison Krauss and his current band, The Strange Sensation Plant has shown a longevity that defies logic. Tales of his partying in the past have moved into folklore territory, while his new clean living lifestyle has shown him to be in a healthier state than men half his age marking him as a man more than capable of delighting crowds beyond simple nostalgia. Though Zep classics were on hand, they blended seamlessly with hits from his solo career, world music infused new material and a playful smile and spirit that echoed his most famous of questions…”Does anyone remember laughter?” Forecastle closed with a short rain delayed set from the Avett Brothers, another of many returning acts like the Black Keys, who in the past were part of the daytime festivities now grown to the point of headliners. McKnight openly remarked that bands enthusiasm for returning to the festival made him positive he was doing something right, and the filled sign up sheets in the variety of activists booths bode well for the next generation and their commitment to taking the reigns in the fight to make the world a better place.
Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Rex Thomson…
Each day, whether we want it to or not, life has something to teach us. The lesson plan for last weekend”s Purple Hatters Ball music festival was one of responsibility to each other, the dangers of the abuse of power and what we can all do together when motivated by love. Beyond the traditional combination of music, mirth and good natured mayhem the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park hosted more than the festival, it hosted the spirit and legacy of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman. Hoffman, a 23 year old college graduate, chose to work as an undercover informant for the Tallahassee police department in hopes of receiving lenient treatment on a narcotics arrest. Through a series of easily avoidable mistakes, she was murdered in the course of a botched sting operation. Though Rachel”s life may have been tragically cut short in a senseless instance of violence while working under the auspices of Florida police, her death served as an impetus for a positive legacy to be born.
Mourning the loss of a daughter and friend, parents Margie Weiss and Irv Hoffman and Rachel”s friends channeled their fury into trying to make sure no other families experienced the same pain they were going through dealing with burying a child. Irv contacted state senator Mike Fasano, and introduced and promoted the measure that would come to be known, appropriately, as “Rachel”s Law.” Simply put, the new law requires officers to receive training in working with informants and protects the informant by making it mandatory that they not only be informed that their sentences may, in fact not be reduced as well as allow said informants to speak with their lawyers prior to working with police. Added to this, the civil suit was recently settled and the Tallahassee Police were forced to admit, financially at least, that they were wrong. These victories don”t bring back Rachel, or truly make up for the hole left in the lives of her friends and loved ones, certainly, but do ensure that her legacy becomes a positive change for society itself.
The departed Ms. Hoffman was a fixture in the Florida concert scene, and regular visitor to Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and the owners and promoters who host and throw the nearly dozen major events yearly decided that they needed to honor the loss of one of their own, and so the Purple Hatters Ball was born. A non profit charity has been founded in her name, The Rachel Morningstar FoundationÂ and a festival was born to honor her with the bands and music she loved in life. Many of the regional bands she loved, such as Dubconscious and the rollicking Catfish Alliance shared the stages with major acts like England”s The New Mastersounds and the funk enclave Lettuce. The park itself is a favorite destination of music aficionados and lovers of the great outdoors and the staff of regulars who keep the production running smoothly were more than happy to pitch in and make this a weekend not only to remember but to inspire as well. An art gallery displayed works like those Hoffman herself enjoyed, vendors plied their trade selling beautiful hand made and in some cases wearable objects of art, and food that would do well on the finest of restaurants tables was prepared for the hungry attendees.
Suwannee”s two permanent stages were joined by a third stage erected in front of the park”s signature lake, surrounded on all sides by the forest of Spanish moss-dappled Cyprus trees. The porch stage had a fun mixture of music throughout the weekend, from DJ acts like Sir Charles, jamtronica acts like Greenhouse Lounge and Chroma, while the Crunchay Lake Stage had a strong focus on Dj and electronica acts like T3AM, S.P.O.R.E. and Trillucination, with Dj”s Bobby Newport, Kevin Velarde and Ellofunk kept the discs spinning and more traditional acts like Shoes and Laces and the Savi Fernandez Band rocked the appreciative crowds into a frenzy. The beloved amphitheater are, with it”s signature terraced rings of hammock hung trees and sun dappled was host to some of the most impressive performances of the weekend, from the aforementioned headliners to a couple of inspiring one off sets.
On Friday, the brit flavored band The New Mastersounds played their brand of intricate, energetic funk to a appreciative audience. With sit ins ranging from the sublime, soaring drop steel guitarist and artist at large Roosevelt Collier and a stunningly brazen cover of “Jungle Boogie” featuring Catfish Alliance”s hype man/force of nature Big E-A.K.A. the Sexual Manatee complementing their deep catalog of tight originals, their set capped off a fun first day of music and dancing in the sun and under the stars. Drummer Simon Allen amused the crowd with his patter and stunned them directly after with a precision that was awe inspiring on his kit, while organist Joe Tatton hypnotized the crowd with his melodic drones and snapped them awake with his rollicking flourishes.
Saturday night saw headliner Lettuce lay down a deeply orchestral approach to the funk aesthetic, with guitarist Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff trading licks back and forth as seamlessly as has been done on a stage, both somehow managing to shine as individuals and blend perfectly as a unit at the same time. Soulful singer Nigel Hall played organ counterpoint to Alan Ivans ivory work on the opposite side of the stage, whil Adam Dietch kept the beats on the money and infectious to any feet not already moving. The Shady Horns provided a pop and snap to each sting and refrain, while bass madman Jesus Coomes prowled the stage, each step and motion of his body and extension of the thumping rhythm he was laying down. After such and earth shattering close to the night, it was appropriate that we began the next morning with a recharge of the mind and the body with the very special sunday morning church inspired gospel set featuring Nigel Hall and Roosevelt Collier, who has always brought a touch of the holy to his music, both in his solo work and his regular gig with The Lee Boys. Joining them was a hodge podge of band mates and guests from the rest of the fest, such as at one point or another most of Lettuce and Mastersounds bassist Pete Shand, though Shand gave his spot up to the appropriately named Jesus to finish off the gospel showcase.
Before the gospel supergroup took a well deserved encore, Margie Weiss and promoter Paul Levine took the stage for an emotional Mothers Day tribute to Rachel. Distributing a collection of butterflies for release, Weiss made a moving speech to the early risers about her feelings on the passing of time, and the act of keeping her love alive for her daughter and her spirit. Weiss was wearing, as she had not just all weekend but at each of the previous festivals and at many, many events honoring her daughter the trademark wide brimmed, giant fuzzy purple hat for which the festival was named. Her words barely finished, promoter Levine took the opportunity to dedicate the moment to a few other losses, such as that of his own mother, the recent passing of Smirnoff”s mother and others. He spoke of keeping their love alive, and using this examples of friendship to strengthen us in the dark times with eyes welling with tears, moving the crowd into a mixture of silent reverence and joyful affirmation before those gathered onstage released the gathered monarch butterflies back into the world, bring a flutter of color and dash of hope to the blue skies surrounding all. Seeming to find their troubles released along with the butterflies, Weiss and Levine exited the stage arm-in-arm, mission accomplished.
New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts has been exploring America and making new music along the way. A project started out of his temporary residency in San Francisco, Eddie Roberts West Coast Sounds featured not only a stunning display of intense guitar picking from Roberts but also an amazing dedication to fashion, as he and his suit braved the blazing sun in a open defiance of the heat. A consummate professional, he led the band through a dozen tunes that varied in tempo but not quality. As the music moved to the indoors for a seven hour dance party inside the cavernous onsite Music Hall, a gesture occured that summed up not only the spirit of the weekend, but the park itself. A craw-fish boil, a bayou tradition of feasting on the shellfish, boiled alongside potatoes, corn and andouie sausage was brought in to celebrate a graduation and feed the artists and staff who made this amazing display of caring possible. Upon realizing that there was more food than could possibly be consumed by the crowd backstage, Paul Levine gathered up a table, the requisite newspaper and a large amount of the food and drove to the center of the park with the bounty, and set it out for any and all to consume. Hungry music fans swarmed in, and enjoyed the fellowship of the boil. Even the food vendors, rather than be offended at the competition to their wares, left their booths and partook in the spread.
The opportunities to give, to share, and to brighten the lives of others are available to us all each and every minute of every day. Even if you don”t have a treasure trove of succulent food to present to a hungry crowd, you can still crack a joke, hold a door and find a way to simply help someone and make their journeys shorter, easier and more enjoyable. In her life Rachel Hoffman, from all reports by friends and family alike, spread smiles and happiness wherever she went and her example in life has resonated on long after her death. It should be the greatest desire of all who live to leave the world a better place, and to shine a light for others to follow and magnify through good deeds of their own. Rachel Morningstar Hoffman managed to do not only that, but inspired others to take steps to prevent her fate from befalling any others. Though she left the world in pain, the light of her life has only grown in the years she”s been gone… a true star showing us the way to a better morning for all.
So heading in to Delfest this year there were two questions on everyone’s mind. First what would the weather bring? Would it be the Del Hail from 2009, wet and muddy conditions, or the blazing heat that seems to roll it to Delfest every year? It was none of the above as this year brought something never seen before at Delfest, un-seasonably cold weather. While it was possibly the driest Delfest has ever been, a brief rainstorm late Thursday afternoon, and a few sprinkles that same night during Leftover Salmon’s set being the only precipitation seen all weekend it was the cold that will be remembered weather wise this year. The days were generally comfortable and mild, but as soon as the sun set behind mountains, the temperature dipped to near record lows every night, reaching into the low 40s, high 30s most nights. Fortunately the cold temperatures did nothing to stifle the hot-picking on stage at night.
The second question revolved around the inclusion of the Trey Anastasio Band as a headliner. While there is no doubt of Anastasio’s love of bluegrass and there was palpable excitement leading up to the fest in anticipation about his set (actually two sets), there was some trepidation about the influence his addition might have on the family-friendly-easy-going nature that usually permeates Delfest crowds. The phrase “Please Don’t Wook Delfest” was bandied about quite a bit before the weekend, but it ended up being lot of worry over nothing. There may have a been a slight increase in crowd size, but whether that was due to a natural growth in the size of the fest or because of Trey was really a moot point as the same easy-going-laid back atmosphere that is so pervasive every year at Delfest was evident again. And since Anastasio’s set and appearance was so heavily discussed before the fest, it should be as equally discussed after. To sum up his set in as few words as possible, quite simply he killed it.
Anastasio’s two sets were fairly typical song selection wise for what he has been doing lately with his band. He pulled from all of his various solo albums, though his set this evening was weighted heavily with songs from his self-titled release playing, “Cayman Review,” “Last Tube”, “Drifting”, “Push on till the day”, and “Money, Love, & Change,” this evening. He included the obligatory Phish songs that are a regular part of the Trey Band rotation, “First Tube,” “Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand”, and “Heavy Things.” The “Heavy Things” encore was particularly nasty with the inclusion of Ronnie McCoury’s mind-blowing mandolin work and the tasteful addition of Jason Carter on fiddler. The real highlight of the set was perhaps the worst kept secret of the weekend, the mid-2nd set sit-in of the Del McCoury Band. Rumors had been circulated in the weeks prior of a collaboration between the two. Anastasio in his trademark rambling-story-telling-style explained how he had gotten a copy of a Del McCoury album from the guys in Aquarium Rescue Unit back in the early 90s and was hooked since then. While onstage Del and Anastasio recounted their time playing together back at Phish’s Camp Oswego in 1999, before launching into a brief two song collaboration, “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” and “Beauty of My Dreams,” which was in the running for the most smile inducing song of the weekend.
As with every year at Delfest the McCoury family are perfect hosts, and Del and his two sons Ronnie and Rob seem to welcome almost every band to the festival by joining them onstage at some point. Del seemed to sit-in a little less frequently than he has in years past, but in addition to his four main-stage sets, an afternoon Masters of Bluegrass set, and the annual McCoury Family Jam, he still found time to join the headliners, Leftover Salmon, Trey Anastasio, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Yonder Mountain String Band for a couple of tunes each night. He also took to the stage with dobro master Jerry Douglas, and walked on with Keller Williams and the McCoury’s to sing his verse in “Bumper Sticker.” Younger brother and banjo picker Rob, while sitting in less than his Dad and brother, made the most of his limited guest spots, with his full set sit-in with the Rambling Rooks (Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby & Kenny Smith from the Lonesome River Band), a real Thursday treat.
The MVP of the McCoury family for the weekend and of the entire festival was hands down mandolinist Ronnie. Already a busy man as it was with his four appearances with The Del McCoury Band, a set with Keller & the McCoury’s, a late night set opening for Leftover Salmon with the Traveling McCoury’s, and a Saturday afternoon inclusion as part of the special one-off All-Star band of Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla, & Bales, Ronnie still found time and the energy to grace the stage with a variety of other bands countless times over the weekend. His set with Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla, and Bales was a nice surprise Saturday afternoon. Assembled by banjo picker Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) and including guitarist Bryan Sutton (Hot Rize), fiddler Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett Band), bassist Barry Bales (Allison Kraus & Union Station), and McCoury, the all-star collective blasted through a set through that pulled tunes from all of their vast repertoire’s.Â The set was a picker’s dream, highlighting some of the best young musicians in the bluegrass world. In addition to all his regularly scheduled sets, Ronnie was a ubiquitous present throughout the weekend, seemingly playing with every band that was at the festival. The phrase, “And will you please welcome to the stage, Ronnie McCoury,” just seemed to be how bands introduced every one of their songs all weekend, as it would then be followed by Ronnie ambling on stage to rip through yet a mind-bending mandolin solo. Listing all the bands who he sat in with would be akin to listing all the bands that were at Delfest. Late night, mid-day, main stage, music hall, it did not matter Ronnie was there. He was not the only musician in Cumberland, it only seemed like it.
As usual the Delfest line-up was stocked with classic legendary bluegrass musicians as well as younger emerging stars. One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the Masters of Bluegrass, or as Del called them, The Mob. Comprised of Del on guitar and vocals, his brother Jerry McCoury on bass, JD Crowe on banjo, Bobby Osborne on mandolin, and Bobby Hicks on fiddle, The Mob is truly an once-in-a-lifetime line-up of living legends who can all trace theirÂ roots back to the earliest days of bluegrass. They all joined Del on Saturday night for a brief main-stage appearance that was a showcase for their unparalleled talent. But it was their Sunday afternoon set in the music hall then exemplified their true greatness. Playing without the constraints of time inside the spacious music hall. (Who is going to tell you to wrap it up when your name is the name of the festival?) The five legends played a set that was a journey through the history of bluegrass with Del as your narrator. They played without a set list taking requests from the crowd and each other. The discovery of a previous band’s set list still taped to the stage lead to a humorous exchange within the band about what they should play next.
At the opposite end of the spectrum were those younger bands who are hoping to become the next legends of the genre. At Delfest there were a trio of bands that all seemed to fit that description. Two of them have stormed the jam-grass scene lately. They both arrived on the scene a few years back in a swirl of high-energy picking and jams that finds them easily seguing from a classic Jimmy Martin tune, to a Grateful Dead song, to some random rock cover. The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass have both seen their respective audiences explode over the past few years, and their rise at Delfest has mirrored that same explosion. They both started as early afternoon bands on the side stage their first years only to quickly find themselves main stage stalwarts and headliner late night acts. This year they both played a pair of main stage sets, as well as each serving as a late-night headliner. And they did not disappoint during either set. Unsurprisingly Ronnie McCoury made an appearance with both of them during their late night sets, joining Greensky for “Eat My Dust”, and the Infamous Stringdusters for a double shot of “Pioneers,” and “Wheel Horse.”
The other band that seemed to garner so much attention over the weekend was Colorado’s Elephant Revival. Elephant Revival is a five-piece band that mixes subtle strains of folk and bluegrass, with dreamy heart-felt lyrics that float along a river of gentle melody weaved by gypsy souls. Every year at Delfest there is that band that seems to burst out of nowhere and Elephant Revival was that band this year. Their two-sets on Friday, on the side-stage and in the music hall were both must attend moments of the festival. Their Behind the Music Artist Play Shop in the Music Hall was overflowing with people and provided a unique insight into the band and their music as they told stories about themselves and their music throughout the set.
As with years past at Delfest, one went into it worried about the weather and anxiously looking forward to the music. And as with years past the weather threw a curve-ball that no one saw coming; this year being the crazy cold temperatures. But at the end of the weekend, as it always does, the weather became a distant thought when thinking back on the weekend. And whether you caught every appearance of Ronnie McCoury, or heard every glorious note that Del sung, or were worried if the world was going to end because Trey was there, in the end it did not matter because just as it is every year at Delfest not matter where you looked, whether on the main stage with the Masters of Bluegrass, in the music hall with Elephant Revival, on the side-stage during the band competition there was some hot picking happening and some incredible music being made, and as it does year after year, Delfest showed why it is one of the best festivals around.