AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival
Peoples Natural Gas Park
August 6, 2011
In the small community of Johnstown, nestled in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, the first weekend of August — since 1990 — has been a time when the music lovers in the area have a reason to celebrate. In recent history, the event has become what it is until this day, Flood City Music Festival. For this edition, Gregg Allman, JJ Grey and Mofro and Tab Benoit led the way in bringing another musically stellar weekend to the picturesque city, making for a perfect way to spend a Saturday.
Gregg Allman was the much anticipated headliner of a great day of music. By the time that the legend took the stage, the field before it was packed with the readily charged Allman faithful, each having a t-shirt on to prove their peach-adoration.
Gregg moved slow and looked thin, but happy to be there, pausing at the center-stage mic before taking his seat behind his B-3 to greet the crowd with a bit of grinning southern charm, stating “y’all are a rowdy bunch.” Although the southern-rock and blues statesman may be showing signs physical wear and tear, his voice sounded like he was 35 just as his organ play did.
Gregg and his band played with great enthusiasm, delivering their well worn brand of southern and low down blues alongside hits like their second song of the night, 1986’s “I’m No Angel,” interspersed with cuts from Allman’s latest studio effort, Low Country Blues, as well as many Allman Brothers classics.
During “Statesboro Blues” and “Riding Tall,” Gregg brought up Mofro’s saxophonist and trumpeter, Art Edmaiston and Dennis Marion respectively, capping a day filled with sit-ins. Also on hand was Allman’s oldest friend in the world” and the man that he credits with teaching him how to sing the blues, Floyd Miles, sending the admiring throng’s screaming to a fever pitch when he took the stage.
Later, Allman played acoustic guitar for “Melissa” and then donned an electric for an up-tempo offering of “Whipping Post.” As the set came to a close and the faithful sea departed, there was no doubt that all were headed home both happy and satisfied.
JJ Grey and Mofro
Simply put, JJ Grey and Mofro were in top form with JJ’s unique ability to summon up the soulful energy and powerful voice to give each of his passionate, slow burn songs the delivery they needed.
His songwriting lets you into his life like few other writers can, and often, as on this night, he gives a small back story to the songs, all combining to give what feels like a once in a lifetime performance.
With stellar performances of “Air,” “Everything Good Is Bad” and Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” Grey and Mofro took the Pennsylvania crowd to his backwoods Florida home and back again… taking no prisoners in the process.
Highlighted by the grittily funky “Ho Cake” and the guest appearance by blues guitarist Tab Benoit, whose explosive play — coupled with the adept backing of Mofro — set the tune from 2001’s Blackwater on fire.
The band couldn’t wipe the smiles from their mugs, and Grey was simply left to jump about the stage during both of Benoit’s two liberal solos taken in the song.
When the song wrapped and Tab left the stage, JJ put his guitar on for the next song and a Grey sympathizer stood up and yelled for JJ to “show (Benoit) how it’s done.” Grey simply smiled and humbly responded, “that ain’t happenin’.”
Tab began the day’s action on the main stage with the type of set that his fans have become used to — a trip through all styles of the blues, laced with burning guitar play and comedic stories. Seemingly on a tour that never ends, Tab has developed a knack for being able settle in, adapt and relax no matter the environment. He is quick to turn banter with the crowd into funny moments, and just as swift to take requests from the faithful.
Though the eyes and ears are almost automatically drawn to Tab’s intense guitar work, this is to one’s peril — due to the remarkable and unmistakably happy bass play of Corey Duplechin. Duplechin is rarely without a smile and is often singing the guitar melodies as if he were playing them. His energy that is channeled through his instrument is nothing short of extraordinary, and the fact that he churns as he does while bouncing around the stage makes it just that much more fun to watch.
Though Grammy award winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien wasn’t scheduled to appear at the festival until the following day, he was in attendance on Saturday for an interview and in turn, decided to take in the day’s sounds. Standing on the back of the stage, sipping a beer and smiling, Benoit took notice and immediately requested his vocal presence. Simien obliged and as a result, the crowd got a rare treat with “New Orleans Ladies” that yielded a New Orleans medley that included “Iko Iko” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Simien’s infectious persona and temperament easily spreading to the crowd. This immediately spawned a New Orlean’s style smiling party under the hot Johnstown sun.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds are a must see act. They are a large band with eight “dirty birds” all backing the extremely powerful vocal chops of “Sister Sparrow,” Arleigh Kincheloe.
Laying down a set of blended funk and reggae grooves, the band that has shared the stage with the likes of Dr. John and Phish’s Mike Gordon definitely was the sleeper on this day’s bill. With spliced in reworked covers of tunes like The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” the band featured showcase worthy musicians, all of whom kept their playing in check, remaining dedicated to the band’s sound on its whole — stretching out during instrumentals.
The obvious leader (not just by name), Sister Sparrow was a strong front person for this band. She could just as easily call up the raspy power of Janis Joplin as she could contain the wry, wink over the microphone sexuality of any modern day diva.
Though young, the band played with a mature polish, providing a top-notch set to the (mostly) unsuspecting crowd.
Project/Object was a disappointment. This is a band dedicated to the music of Frank Zappa and was billed as featuring Ike Willis and Ray White, both long time Frank Zappa alumni. However, Willis was the only one of the billed duo who showed.
Though the Â band had very good musicians in it, the delivery was flat as Ike tried to work the show the way Zappa used to, using things and words from the direct environment in an attempt to add a Zappa-like silliness. Unfortunately, it seemed conjured and forced, and therefore, translated as uninspired and lifeless.
Project/Object worked its way through Zappa classics including “Crew Slut,” “Keep It Greasey,” “Pygmy Twylyte” and “Montana.” While the music was fine, the mission was failed due to an overzealous attempt at imitating something that can never be duplicated.
This festival has morphed from its 15 year predecessor/Folkfest origin to what it has become today, primarily dedicated to funk, soul and southern flavors. The lineups have swollen over the past three years behind the strong AmeriServ sponsorship that has supplied the muscle to keep this event going for the foreseeable future by keeping tickets as low as 30 dollars for a three-day pass.
The community welcomed it weekend residents, including Gregg Allman, with open arms and in so doing, have all but set in stone the likelihood for repeat offenders at this event.
Click the thumbnail for photos From the show by Bob Adamek …
Editors Note: Gregg Allman’s performance at Flood City Festival marked his last of the tour. Two days following this performance, citing health reasons, the 64 year old Allman was forced to cancel the remainder of planned tour dates. Jambands.com reported that “treatment is going to involve several days of hospitalization and 4 â€“ 6 weeks of bed rest at home.” To this point, Gregg Allman — who has battled multiple health issues over the past few years — or his management have made no official comment regarding the artist’s health or tour future. Our thoughts and hopes for a full recovery are with Allman.