Tag Archives: New Mexico

Blake & Groves: Acoustic Duo Swings The Spectrum

A pair of intimate shows exhibit the range and power of bluegrass duo, Blake & Groves.  Honest Tune was there for both of them.

Words/ Photos: Jake Cudek

Blake & Groves

11/18/2016

The Kitchen Sink Studio

Santa Fe, NM

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Blake & Groves is a traditional bluegrass duo comprised of Greg Blake and KC Groves. West Virginia native, Greg Blake is an inspiration, as his vocal resonance and stringed performance echo with “that drawl” that pulls in anyone who is looking for the authentic musicality of the old school. Partner, KC Groves, founding member of the all-girl, old-timey, bluegrass band Uncle Earl, is certainly nothing to scoff at either. Switching between mandolin and guitar, while balancing out the high end to the low tone of Blake, this bluegrass girl represents the power and authority that reflects her genuine passion for the genre.

Billed as “The Blue Grass and Green Chilies” tour, these two powerhouses hit the Southwest for the better part of November, bringing with them their brand of story-telling traditional bluegrass, all the while looking for that elusive, magical ingredient Appalachia players of yore probably never tasted: Green Chilies.

img_3399_2One of the earlier stops in the Land of Enchantment was the newly revamped Kitchen Sink Studios. Long-time producer and musician, Jono Manson, who has worked with the likes of Blues Traveler, Warren Haynes, Pete Seeger and a plethora of who’s who in the entertainment industries of both music and film, operates this space and offers a unique opportunity for artists. By creating a space for musicians to both perform in front of an in-studio audience while simultaneously producing a recording session for future use, his vision reflects his love for music as an experience, not just an end product. As show time drew near, Manson left his perch at the controls and entered the performance space, explaining his vision and a few parameters for the evening’s presentation, specifically reminding attendees of the documentary aspect as he pointed to the various microphones strategically placed about the room.  After his brief reminder of the rules for the night, he introduced the opener for the night, Zikey and The Condor.

These two young, talented lads, surprisingly, needed no time to warm up, as they jumped right in, unintimidated, displaying their chops on banjo and fiddle, respectively, laying out some impressive originals that had even the distinguished, and discerning audience members bobbing their heads. Of note was the fact that they incorporated tunes, both original and covered, which reflected their appreciation and respect for the generations of players who preceded their role in the new school. At the close of their set, they thanked the crowd and again thanked their patriarch, Manson, who, by their own admission, had produced their first album for free.

img_3335After a short intermission, Manson again returned to the stage and ushered in the main event of the night, Blake & Groves. At this point, instead of immediately starting up, both members took a little time to give their own personal history about the man at the board, expressing warm accounts of recording and sharing creative inspiration over years of interaction. The resounding applause that followed showed that those in attendance had gleaned an insightful passage into the nature of this man and his endeavor to foster music, not money.

Opening their set with Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” instant recognition and smiles could be seen throughout the room. Exchanging lines and taking their time showed that these two were here to play and by the focus of those seated, they were there to listen. Continuing with the traditional canon, The Carter Family’s “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” presented its tale of the loss of love and tragedy and these two did it justice every step of the way.

img_3352_2Before starting the next tune, Groves asked for a little audience participation in two forms. First, she revealed that the moniker of their current tour was the “Blue Grass Green Chilies Tour” and at all stops on the journey they had requested that their audiences yell out the best place for green chilies in their locale. New Mexicans aren’t shy about their chilie verde appreciation, so as one might expect, there were multiple shout outs, both congruous and opposing. Luckily no brawls broke out. The second request came in the form of a sing-along invitation. Although the title was not revealed, Groves assured the audience that they would know what to say when the time was right. “New Mexico,” a tune penned by Groves, is an easy-going number in structure, which gives way to the power of the vocal abilities of Blake as the softness of Groves provides balance, creating a moment that left these locals smiling, as they joined in on the chorus.

“Hey Porter,” a Blake original, with its high stepping pace, moved many in the crowd to dance as much as they could in their seats, and again showed Blake’s ability to conjure the old-time cornerstone emotion of great bluegrass, both in vocals and playing, as Groves matched note for note.

“Northern Lights” is a song Groves wrote about her first experience seeing this amazing phenomenon in her home state of Michigan as an adolescent. As she explains, this tune was originally composed as a reminder of how it made her feel to see such a sight, but since then, has taken on a broader meaning.  A culmination of those experiences that move people viscerally. This lilting number delivered both in strum and story.

img_3304Moving through fifteen songs, the talents of these two artists was apparent from the start and did not let up. They are a perfect balance to each other, and their ability to modulate between fast tracks and slow ballads reflects their love of the genre, knowing the tunes, not just playing them. The tales that are woven between songs reveal a history that is genuine and make this partnership authentic, a demonstration that continues on off stage. As with any music, when a number is played with intimate appreciation, the songs almost sing themselves and seeing this duo bring the traditional to life reminds that this is a living language and whether new school or old school, grade “A” is the same.

Closing out the night, Blake & Groves welcomed Zikey and The Condor back to the stage for a shared instrumental breakdown that produced smiles amid the quartet. There were no missed strides or confusion, each stepping up in perfect time to present their contribution, rousing each other as the joyful tune swirled. In completion, the seat-anchored audience stood and gave the four players their just desserts.

 

 

Blake & Groves

11/19/16

House Concert

Albuquerque, NM

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Following The Kitchen Sink Studio gig, the group made their way south to the metropolitan city of Albuquerque for a private house concert. This sort of gig is often bypassed by many due to the perception that the magic is lost without a stage or production that a proper venue holds. It can be easily argued that the inception of the musical experience evolved from such surroundings as these and is what has been the elemental foundation for roots music like bluegrass. The familial space warmly invites the listener and the player in, while blurring the lines between the two, as would be the result of this very performance.

img_3628Arriving, the homeowner welcomed the two into his abode with refreshments and salutations. Examining the room, its three rows of chairs, empty couch, and standing room towards the back, Groves inquired as to how many he expected to attend, with the proprietor acknowledging that he had no idea and it may turn out to be, in fact, no one. Undaunted by this news, Groves retained her smile and, joined by Blake, retired to their chairs to tune and go over the evening’s set list. Mid-preparation, a tall, thin man, case in hand, entered and acknowledged the two seated. From their expression it was evident that they knew this newcomer. Ezra Bussmann was his name, and, opening his larger than normal hard case, mando and fiddle were his game, the two housed side by side in red velvet. When asked how these folks new each other, Groves replied that Bussmann was one of her favorite people to make music with and that his father was “one helluva mando builder.”  It was easy to see that music was in this man’s blood and added an element that would make this night differ significantly from the studio performance.

As it turned out, this was not just a simple living room show, but rather a celebration of the 40th birthday of Matt, the man whose family had opened their house to friend and stranger alike for the special occasion. As time pressed on, slowly but surely, a consistent stream of people arrived, carrying adult elixirs, food, and in some cases children, and soon the gig space filled and then spilled over into the auxiliary area of the backyard, where additional amplification, fire pit, and quintessential hay bales had been set up. Conversations could be easily overheard and it became obvious that many were strangers too each other, but were connected unknowingly by the man whose birthday was being celebrated.

img_3476Starting before sunset, the trio, Blake, Groves, and Bussmann, took to the head of the room and, in classic humility and mannered address, thanked Matt and his family for opening up their home and wished him “feliz cumpleanos” before getting started, just as the night before, with the invocation of Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling”. Also like the previous evening, recognition was instantaneous and quickly filled the few remaining seats and drove others to the standing room area. This version differed significantly, as the group, now three, provided extra room for the fiddler to stand out. The contingency of smokers and talkers graciously remained outside, enjoying the unseen performance from the backyard.

Using the set list produced from the Santa Fe performance as a framework, many of the tunes were repeated, but only in selection. The instrumental sections were extended and no one seemed hurried to get to the next piece. The contributions by Bussmann were tasteful and appropriate and demonstrated his discerning ear. The open conversation between the three even led to his taking turns at being a member of audience, enjoying the craft of his long-standing friends. It was refreshing to see that Blake & Groves didn’t rely on a canned experience when presenting their show. This was evident by their ability to shift to a looser format and execution. Although there was some overlap, many of the shared stories differed from the night prior. In keeping with the theme of their tour, they did however take the time to inquire as to the best green chilie location in the Duke City, again followed by a discorded response. The laid back atmosphere produced more conversation than one-sided accounts between the intimate setting of performer and listener, as the line of distinction disintegrated further.

img_3610_2Before closing out the set, Groves informed the audience that they would be returning for another and that for all the guests who had brought their own instruments, the opportunity for a friendly jam would close out the night. This declaration brought many of those who had been glued to their seats for the entirety of the set huge smiles.

With that, Blake took control of the vocal helm, and called out to the neighboring county with “Freeborn Man.” Lung-busting, extended voluminous vocals are the centerpiece of this tune and sets Blake in the light of more myth than man. By the response of the spectators, everyone was fully encapsulated in this moment of power and awe, which was accentuated by the close quarters.

Dissolving into the crowd, both Blake and Groves took time to catch up with many in attendance. One man claimed that he had been seeing the two of them perform for nearly twenty years and by his detailed recollection, the obviousness of his truth stunned the two in humility and appreciation. There were also others who had found their way and in one way or another were connected to these players independently, producing genuine surprise and exhilaration, like running into old friends on a random street in a forlorn town.

Satiated with refreshment, both physically and emotionally, the trio returned to the helm, delivering the continued conveyance of song and spirit, pulling again from their crafted canon and the old school textbook, including “Salt Creek,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” At this point, this was a room of people enjoying company and any disassociation had been dissolved. This was not a one sided perception, as the band began to take requests, further cultivating the sense of musical family. Although not requested, the band led the room through the most well-known cover of the night, John Denver’s “Country Roads.” This brought everyone together, singing the chorus in rollicking unison. Covering Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” satiated many a Dead Head in the room. This final act transitioned effortlessly into the family jam, as cases were opened and all sorts of implements were tuned and prepared. At this point, the role of headliner shifted from Blake & Groves, sliding them into the participatory role, with the assembled crowd taking the lead, and reminding all of the great social power this music born from family picking event still carries to this day.

Photo Gallery – 11/18/16

 

Photo Gallery 11/19/16

Kyle Hollingsworth Band Brings it to The Bridge

Kyle Hollingsworth Band
August 20, 2016
The Bridge, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Writer/Photographer: Jake Cudek

The Kyle Hollingsworth Band rolled through Santa Fe on Saturday night as part of two- night mini-tour of New Mexico breweries. The Bridge, owned and operated by The Santa Fe Brewing Company, was the venue for night two of this jaunt. For those familiar with the man and his band, excitement was twofold: a visit from one of the long standing members of The String Cheese Incident and the promise of bringing out some of his new compositions produced at the recently founded SCI lab.

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Arriving an hour before doors opened, threatening thunderheads could be seen to the south, and everyone wondered if the weather would hold for the night. Whether because of the potential for rain or the lax motivations of Santa Fe residents, it was apparent that this was not going to be a sold out show. The outdoor venue with the capacity to occupy 1000 people had a mere 100 people.

Although this would have diminished a typical band and a typical audience, those who had shown up had arrived to celebrate a visit from one of their favorites, and let the band know their intent wholeheartedly as they took the stage.

The band took heed and reciprocated with a single set performance that never let up and sounded fresh and invigorated from tune to tune. The set was a mix of numbers from each of Kyle’s three albums, songs performed with SCI and a few covers.

The band kicked off the set with an instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Taxman.” This pulled the audience in from the start, as many in the crowd could be heard singing the more familiar lines. The band collected its dues from the audience and showed no signs of being deterred by the low attendance and instead pushed every aspect of the tune and their instruments.

Up next was “Here We Go,” this song is an automatic smile inducer. Its calypso style bypasses the brain and heads straight to the feet getting them moving and then moves back to the face producing elated beams both on stage and the dance floor.

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The first sandwich of the night came wrapped in the form of “Too Young” with a tasty “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles” center. The segues into and out of Billy Preston’s “Circles” were spot on and well-rehearsed, turning on a dime rather than leading into or out by way of musical meanderings. “I can’t win if that’s all I’m gonna do” the resounding lyric of “Too Young,” connected in perfect juxtaposition to the lyrical context of “Circles,” illustrating the repetitive interpretations of experience and the reminding need to change up personal status quo thinking.

“Pack It Up,” with its distinctive bass intro came next. Although a staple of SCI performances since 2005, this instrumental tune penned by Hollingsworth has only appeared on KH’s latest album, “Speed of Life.” This was received with excitement, as those who were there were certainly cut from the Cheesecloth. Its odd timings reinforced this notion, as many jigged with familiarity to the tune. At its finish, Kyle continued the same driving feel and segued into “All Falls Apart,” cycling between drenching organ solos and piano rifts that continued to lift the feet of the flailing cooperatives.

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A new concoction produced in the SCI lab, “Let Me In” intoxicated the crowd with its soul-funky groove, and continued to contribute to the intimate experience elating many well acquainted with his catalog by this unveiling in the live setting.

“Can’t Wait Another Day” came up next and held a surprise that no one expected. As the tune stepped into decline, the distinct chords of “Terrapin Station” rose from the ashes. As the portion played was the instrumental section of the suite gave way to each of the members hitting the structure with force. Of exceptional note were the heavy bass bombs that got the crowd calling out as the vibration rolled over the crowd in seismic waves.

In Spanish, the term Peregrino refers to something being unusual, odd, and migratory. This epitomizes this Latin flavored tune as it contained a spacy, ethereal quality surrounding a structured root and deviates between throughout its entirety. Both dynamics were presented and continued the dance fest that had been non-stop over the past 90 minutes.

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Viewing the onstage set list, this song was to be the end of the first set. Instead, the band abandoned that notion and labored on with the thick grooves of “Let’s Go Outside.” It was apparent that neither the band nor the patrons were showing any signs of fatigue and both continued in merriment. As the song structure loosened into a jam, a familiar chord structure arose and led into a full version of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” As another popular cover, the crowd began to sing the backup sections of the song. Hollingsworth took notice and called out to the crowd, encouraging them to play the role of backup singer. This invitation inspired the crowd to take it up a level and where there was once bashfulness, there now was a full on sing along of all parts.

“Tumbling,” another new song made in the SCI lab was preceded by the story that inspired the piece. Hollingsworth spoke of a trip to a Grateful Dead show at Three Rivers Stadium in Pennsylvania. This bouncy unit told the story of summer love and the laid back experience that preceded impending Dead shows of yore.

“World Girl” brought out her funky, disco infused moves and the crowd took her hand and worked it. Smiling, spinning, and giggling, the crowd swirled in this dance number.

The light rock tune “So Fine” was the bookends to the second sandwich of the evening and was filled with Hollingsworth’s admitted favorite cereal “Lucky Charms.” Shifting from uplifting light lyrics and progressions, this new song eventually gave way to the crunchy funk of the popular breakfast cereal which had the band and audience coming back for seconds and thirds. The tune kept building and residing back to its head giving each band member the opportunity to jump right into the bowl.

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“Happening Now” with a poppy almost 80’s theme bordered on electronica and reinvigorated many in the crowd to keep their participation going. Although this one motivated the younger attendees well acquainted with attributes of EDM, it was refreshing to see the older component spinning with abandon seemingly recapturing some part of the inner child.

The final three punch closer of the set left no step undanced. Beginning with the slow rising and spacious “Falling Through the Cracks,” the music’s crescendo gave way to Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long,” again getting the participants involved in both movement and accompaniment. Taking to the bridge the band began playing double time and eventually moved onto the last lady of the night, “Rosie.” Immediately, the recognition of this number was apparent and was especially exuded by the female faction in attendance. The crowd danced and called out the lyrics as if this was the first song, not the last, and the band rewarded by playing a full and exhausted version devoid of any brevity.

The band left the stage and stood together in the wings, huddled as in conference, but more likely taking the opportunity to catch their breath and composure, having laid down an unbroken set clocking in at just under two and half hours.

Recuperation gained, the band returned for the encore, “The Way That It Goes.” Giving every last drop in the tank the band brought it in full force again and the crowd met them note for note.

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As the threat of thunderstorms had resided behind the band for most of the night, it seemed that the music gods had enjoyed the show as much as the mortals. As the final note of the song came to its end through the PA system, like cosmic clockwork, the sky opened up and a deluge of rain sent both musician and listener running for cover.

Hollingsworth’s style, both in construction and execution, is infectious and literally brings a smile to the face. It easy to tell that he loves what he does and when he sits down to write his material, the notions and movements come from a personal level of trying to raise his own virtue and that of the listener. The band is well rehearsed and attentive to every shift and run at a pace that is equal to one another, including the bandleader. This equality carries over to the joy expressed both facially and emotionally by each member and their auditory accomplishments. Paul McDaniels is the unassuming bass man who digs deep and lays down both structure and improvisation with an unforced demeanor. Brian McRae, the counterpart on rhythm, is notably a blur throughout his performance. His mixture of exclusive cymbal and tom work draws in the attention and his consistent ability to shift makes him a perfect fit to the musicality of this band. Dan Schwindt, known as “Schwindt-Rock” to those close to him, is one of those guys you could pass on the street and never know his extent for burning down the house. His ability to play a moving section in one song and then melt the faces of those around him in the next makes this man more myth than minstrel. The combination of these gentlemen is something not to be missed.