Tag Archives: Mark Robbins

David Grisman and Tommy Emmanuel

David Grisman and Tommy Emmanuel
Sandler Center for the Arts
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

Dave Grisman can not be pigeon-holed; bluegrass, jazz, folk, composer, producer, session player, leader, the list is endless. Jerry Garcia nicknamed him “Dawg” and what he played was “Dawg Music”. Tommy Emmanuel was given is first guitar at age 4 and by 6 he was playing in the family band, The Emmanuel Quartet. He never learned to read or write music but Chet Atkins designated him a C.G.P. – Certified Guitar Player – one of only 5 musicians to receive that title from Atkins. At home with blues, jazz, folk, Spanish traditional, Emmanuel is at times a one man band playing melody, chords and bass all at once. So, when Grisman and Emmanuel appear together, as they did at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, they are a category 5 hurricane, F5 tornado, and a tropical cyclone let loose on the stage. Playing heavily but not exclusively from their album “Pickin” the pair performed a 2 hour high energy show that no one wanted to end. Continue reading David Grisman and Tommy Emmanuel

Buddy Guy and the Damn Right Blues Band Heat Up a Hot Summer Night at the Sandler Center

Buddy Guy and the Damn Right Blues Band Heat Up a Hot Summer Night at the Sandler Center
Virginia Beach, VA
August 22, 2017
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

When 81 years old Buddy Guy walked from stage left to the the microphone center stage of the Sandler Center the audience was already on it’s feet. That’s how it’s been for the past 50 plus years, whether sharing the stage with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and others or, like Tuesday night, just him backed by the Damn Right Blues Band.

Continue reading Buddy Guy and the Damn Right Blues Band Heat Up a Hot Summer Night at the Sandler Center

First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds Race Course
New Orleans, LA
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

The aromas of boiling crawfish, sweet beignets stuffed with pralines, curry, pecan catfish meuniere, fried soft shell crabs and so much more blew over the fairgrounds pulling you in along with the music of Alex McMurray and His Band playing on the Gentilly Stage. The 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was underway!

Running for two  consecutive weekends (always the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May) the festival offers up a gumbo of musical genres, cultural activities and mouth watering dishes that help make New Orleans one of the top food destinations in the world. This year welcomed a thirteenth stage to the festival, the music of Cuba. With the easing of political tensions, Quint Davis (CEO of Festival Productions) welcomed Cuban Ambassador, Jose Ramon Cabanas, to the festival along with New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu; former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu; and Jazz and Heritage Foundation President Donna Santiago. Continue reading First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Supper time! Southern Soul Assembly at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts

Southern Soul Assembly
The Sandler Center for the Performing Arts
Virginia Beach, VA
March 15, 2017
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

In 2014 Southern root greats, Luther Dickinson, JJ Grey, Marc Broussard and Anders Osborne came together to form the side project Southern Soul Assembly. The sound was a colossal joining with Broussard’s “Bayou Soul”, Grey’s Florida blue collar funk, Osborne’s rugged blues from New Orleans and Dickinson’s smooth casual Beale St storytelling.

Once in a blue moon audiences have the opportunity to see collaboration projects like that of the Southern Soul Assembly. The Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach, VA, provided such an opportunity on March 15th when the southern quartet, SSA, cascaded on to the stage. Continue reading Supper time! Southern Soul Assembly at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts

Robert Cray at the Sandler Center for the Arts

Robert Cray
Sandler Center for the Arts
Virginia Beach, VA
Writer/Photographer: Mark Robbins

Robert Cray at the Sandler Center for the Arts The Blues is His Business and Business is Good (to paraphrase Etta James). For 40 years Robert Cray has followed the same trusted formula, let the songs do the talking. So when he hit the stage Friday night at the Sandler Center he let his guitar and song lyrics do all the talking. No histrionics or gimmicks, just pure blues. Backed by longtime band mates Richard Cousins (bass), Les Falconer (drums, vocals) and Dover Weinberg (keyboards) the band jumped right into “Chicken in the Kitchen” followed by “Because of Me” and more songs of lost love and sorrow. Taking liberally from 20 some albums the evening offered no surprises which suited the audience just fine.


Over the years Cray’s fans have come to expect masterful guitar playing and song interpretation and that’s just what they got. Cray is not only a great player and singer but his writing chops rank with the best. His “Strong Persuader” had fans dancing at their seats. Don’t think blues is the only trick in his bag, the funky “Phone Booth” or soulful “You Move Me” showed the versatility of this musician.


Cray may not be as flashy as some of the new blues players, but that’s okay. He shows up on stage prepared to entertain his audience with what they came for, the blues at it’s best. The 90 minute set (including encores “The Forecast Calls for Pain”, “Time Makes Two”) went by way too fast but the near capacity crowd left knowing that when they heard the words “like this” before each song they were treated to a few minutes of magic.”

Jonny Lang and Norfolk Are Made for Each Other

Jonny Lang at the NorVA
October 04, 2016
Norfolk, VA
Writer/Photographer: Mark Robbins

The sign of a great show is when the lights go up after the encores, the stage is empty but the crowd doesn’t move hoping the band is coming back. This was the scene Tuesday night at the NorVA after Jonny Lang and his band left the stage.


The NorVA has long been one of the premier music venues on the east coast and in 2013 was selected by the fans in a Rolling Stone poll as the number 1 “venue that rocks” in the country. Over the years the NorVA has transformed from a vaudeville theater to a movie theater than a brief stint as a health club. In 2000 it opened as a bare bones rock palace with no seats, a VIP balcony, two bars and a favorite for traveling musicians because of its backstage basketball court, sauna, hot tub, laundry service and one of the most crystal-clear sound systems heard anywhere.


Jonny Lang put that sound system to good use Tuesday night with his spectacular voice and killer guitar. Walking out on the stage with no introduction he and his 4 piece band tore right into, “Blew Up” from his new CD Fight For My Soul. “Blew Up” brought to mind the funkiness of Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone. Lang’s voice sounds older than his 32 years and has just enough weariness to make you believe every word he sings. His guitar chops are just as impressive, especially on the newly recorded, “Breakin’ In” and “We Are the Same”.


Singing material from all his albums Lang could not be pigeon holes into one genre. Jumping from blues to R&B to James Brown funk the singer/guitarist was at home in any style he chose. The standout of the evening was, “Lie to Me”, which was sung with such heartache that many of his fans were dabbing at their tear stained eyes. First released on his album Lie to Me in 1997, the song had a more upbeat feel to it maybe that’s how a then 16-year-old Jonny Lang heard it. Now, at 32, he presents the song as if his heart has been torn out. So was everybody else’s!


Blew Up
Red Light
Great Day
We R Same
40 Days
Lie To Me

Alabama Shakes – Shakes up Portsmouth Pavilion

Alabama Shakes – Shakes up Portsmouth Pavilion
Portsmouth Pavilion in Portsmouth, Virginia
Friday, September 16th, 2016
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

When Brittany Howard sings the blues her voice defines heartbreak. The mournful, soulful sound coming from the 28 year old singer/songwriter of Alabama Shakes belies her age. Stir in some Janis Joplin, Etta James, a little Aretha and some James Brown and you have the recipe for one of the strongest female singers out there today. Friday night at the Portsmouth Pavilion Alabama Shakes with an expanded band, including backup singers, took over 2000 congregants to church. From the ground shaking “Gimme All Your Love” to the sad lament of “Over My Head” not only does Howard deliver but the three other founding members of the band, guitarist Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell on electric bass and drummer Steve Johnson back her with perfect timing as well as shining with their own solos. It is easy to hear the difference between the material from their first album, “Boys and Girls”, and the newer Grammy Award winning “Sound and Color”. Where “Boys and Girls” is mostly Southern rock “Sound and Color” is a more mature outing with a darker sound with a heady mixture of gospel, R&B, blues and alternative rock. From the church organ opening notes of “Sound and Color” to Howard belting out the anthem-like “Don’t Wanna Fight” or presenting “Joe” almost as a spoken monologue you know you’re hearing from someone who has lived what she’s singing which is hard to believe from one so young. If their two albums and show Friday night are any indication of the future, Alabama Shakes is going to around for a long time.


Opening for Alabama Shakes was two time Grammy winner Corinne Bailey Rae. Singing material from her three albums, her third album, “The Heart Speaks in Whispers”, NPR has named as one of their 30 favorite albums of the year, Rae gave a silky smooth performance for a legion of fans who sang most of her songs along with her. Backed by a great 4 piece band and sometimes accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, Corrine Bailey Rae was a welcome start to an outstanding night of music.

Fourth Lockn’ Festival as Hot as the Weather

Fourth Lockn’ Festival as Hot as the Weather
Oak Ridge Farm, Arrington, VA
August 25-28, 2016
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

The 4th installment of the Lockn’ Festival at Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, VA proved to be a sizzling hot weekend. Not only was the music a blistering blur from well known to not so well known bands but the temperature held in the high 90s all 4 days (actually 1 night and 3 days) with the only relief given by the mist machines placed throughout the festival grounds. The festival, started by Peter Shapiro and Dave Frey, not only offers the best jam bands, as well as other genres, but also the best in local farm to table eats and craft beers and wine. New this year was a raised main stage which had a rotating center so when one band was finished with a set the center would rotate with the next band already in place.



Thursday night’s lineup kicked off with Vulfpeck, a funk band who had a great time on stage with Jack Stratton constantly running back and forth between turns on the keyboard. Antwaun Stanley, billed as a”special guest” has a powerful voice that filled the festival grounds and would be at home singing R&B, funk or gospel.


Umphrey’s McGee’s music was only surpassed by it’s outstanding light show. This band was the VIP for the weekend playing non-stop glory. It’s genre hopping, time and key changes may be off-putting to some but Umphrey’s McGee was non stop glory.


Finishing the night was Ween. Known for their unusually goofy lyrics, distortion and abrasiveness they more than lived up to their reputation. This is not a jam band and they don’t try to be.



Friday was the first full day of music with Phish, Ween, Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, White Denim, Vulfpeck, Turkuaz and Moogatu.


Phish played two 2 hour sets Friday and Sunday nights. It’s hard to believe this band has been killing it for some 33 years now. With a set list that included “555”, “Ghost”, “Punch You in the Eye”, “Wing Suit” and much much more from the Phish song book the highlight was an a cappella cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Those who paid for super VIP tickets were treated to a private show by Anders Osborne between Phish sets.


Charles Bradley survived a difficult childhood and early adulthood to finally getting the praise he deserves. Strongly influenced by James Brown, Bradley is a true showman and has the soul and R&B chops to go with it. Whatever emotion he is feeling, joyfulness or sadness, the audience feels it as deeply. Bradley is one of those performers who has to be seen live to really appreciate how great he is. Turkuaz is big band funk. This nine piece band would have raised the roof if there was a roof to be raised. White Denim has been around since 2008. From their opening song, “Real Deal Momma” the band kept a soulful vibe going throughout their entire set.



My Morning Jacket, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hard Working Americans, Galactic with Lee Oskar, Twiddle, Moon Taxi, DJ Williams Project, Phil Lesh and Friends.

My Morning Jacket is not only a great indie band but Saturday night they put on an outstanding Rock and Roll Show. Front man Jim James is an unstoppable force backed by an equally dynamite band. Originals mixed in with covers, a particularly moving “What the World Need Now” (Burt Bacharach and Hal David), made their set one of the more memorable of the weekend.


Tedeschi Trucks Band is all that needs to be said. From the rapid fire guitar of Derek Trucks to the sublime voice of Susan Tedeschi as well as a great band, this is as good as it gets. Their cover of “Bitches Brew” was so smokin’ that Miles Davis even smiled.


Hard Working Americans is a Neo Southern super rock band. “Mission Accomplished” should have been their closer instead of opener because when their set was over, judging from the crowds reaction, it was mission accomplished. With Todd Snider in front with vocals, dancing, and mugging for the crowd, the rest of Hard Working Americans cook with such intensity flames should be covering the stage. This band’s pedigree is second to none with Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), and Duane Trucks (King Lincoln).


Galactic is the quintessential New Orleans funk band. With Stanton Moore on drums this band can do no wrong. Together for 20 years,Stanton Moore Ben Ellman, Robert Mercurio, Jeff Raines and Rich Vogel have visited every genre of music and conquered them all. For their Lockin’ set special guest harp player Lee Oskar, founder of War, joined them for “Slipping Into Darkness”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and a few others. Add vocalist Erica Falls to the mix and an extended set (Brandi Carlile could not appear due to illness) and there were a lot of happy campers.
Phil Lesh has a lot of good friends. With members of the Dead, Phish (John Fishman, Page McConnell, Anders Osborne, Joe Russo) and The Infamous Stringdusters, this group could have had their own festival. Getting a late start, travel problems for Lesh then a blown amp, the fans patiently waited as the new rotating stage turned to the opening strains of “Scarlet Begonias”. Through a set of Dead covers and an extended jam, Phil Lesh and Friends were welcomed back anytime.



Phish, Gary Clark, Jr., Phil Lesh and Friends, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, The Wailers, Twiddle, Doobie Decible System, The Dharma Initiative, Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel

Keller Williams has a good time and so does everyone else who is there to hear him. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, white tie, and no shoes, Williams comes to preach. “Palm Sunday”, “Who Was John”, “St Stephen”, “Sampson and Delilah” and more made this set a must hear for the weekend. Performed on the much smaller Blue Ridge Bowl Stage and earlier than the normal starting time (10 AM) it was still wall to wall people (if there were walls) who knew this was not a set to miss. Williams was backed by his three piece band and 4 singers who preached to the heavens.


Phil Lesh’s friends today were Chris Robinson Brotherhood (who had their own set) and Gary Clark, Jr.. Sunday’s show went off without a hitch with more Dead covers and Gary Clark, Jr. showing his blues licks on “Good Morning, School Girl” and “Wang Dang Doodle”. Lesh and friends, no matter who they are, can do no wrong.


Gary Clark, Jr. is not as famous as he should be. His style encompass fuzz rock, blues, r&b, hip-hop, soul and even a little jazz. His crackling “Bright Lights” set the tone for the rest of his rock blues appearance.

String Cheese Incident Jams at the Portsmouth Pavilion

String Cheese Incident Jams at the Portsmouth Pavilion
July 10, 2016
Portsmouth, VA
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

Colorado sextet String Cheese Incident played 2 other worldly sets to more than 500 of their devoted followers Sunday night in Portsmouth, Va. For close to 3 hours (70 minute and 90 minute sets) babies in ear protective headphones to aging Deadheads danced and sang along to the bands brand of feel good music. Helped out in the second set by Yonder Mountain String Band who opened the show, the two bands appeared to be having as much fun on stage as the audience.



Set One
Restless Wind, Sometimes A River, Born On The Wrong Planet, Pygmy Pony, Stop Drop Roll, Could You Be Loved > Beautiful
Set Two
Think Of What You’ve Done1 > Big Mon1, Blackberry Blossom1 > Son of a Preacher Man1, Rollover > Valley of the Jig, Sweet Spot, You’ve Got the World, Hotel Window > Rollover
1 with Yonder Mountain String Band