Trying to find artists at Bear Creek Music Festival — in all of its electrified and funky glory — who are able to go unplugged while staying true to their style is like trying to find a Waffle House west of the Mississippi. In other words, it is quite difficult. This said, no matter the location, we could not have found a better outfit than Louisiana based Honey Island Swamp Band to participate in our relatively new but completely awesomeÂ Live, Backstage & Unplugged series.
Born from displacement at the hands of Hurricane Katrina, the HISB ensemble quickly rose to acclaim in San Francisco with their self-described Bayou-Americana genre, a sound that is perhaps best described by the band’s moniker itself.
Located in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish, the Honey Island Swamp is one of the least altered river swamps in the United States. It is murky, muddy and home to many an indigenous creature. It is nature in its natural state, and Honey Island Swamp Band’s music is delivered in the same fashion, where the beauty is most evident due to its unrefined and unaltered raw glory.
Rather than go on and on about the band and their sound, we will let you be the judge. So sit back, relax, listen, watch and enjoy as Honest Tune — in association with Bear Creek Music Festival and Technaflora Plant Products — presents Honey Island Swamp Band’s Chris Mule’ & Aaron Wilkinson performing “Sophisticated Mama”: Live, Backstage & Unplugged.
It’s hard to picture a more fitting setting for a Bluegrass and Americana festival than the rolling peaks and valleys of the Ozark Mountain chain in Arkansas, or a better band to host it all than the Yonder Mountain String Band. With a lineup of stellar acts ranging from the legendary Peter Rowan and Bela Fleck, contemporary explorers Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegrass to the rabble rousing bands like Split Lip Rayfield or Dirtfoot, a varied crop of acts were laid out on the musical table at Yonder Mountain String Band’s Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festival.
Yonder’s hosting the festival went as far beyond simply lending their name to the proceedings as is humanly possible. By inviting some supremely talented friends to the party and filtering out onto the festival grounds, these hosts were as hospitable as one could fathom and managed to spread the feeling of boundless togetherness through their simple love of playing music.
One of the Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festivals true hallmarks were the sit ins, with violinist Darol Anger proving to be the leader in the weekend’s stag hopping. Not only did Anger guest with YMSB for all three of their headlining sets, but played with his frequent partner Scott Law, joined former pupil Bridget Law (no relation) as she played with her band Elephant Revival, got into a fiddle duel and round robin with Jason Carter during the Travellin’ McCourys’ set and was never anywhere without his fiddle.
Superstars like Bela Fleck, who performed with his Flecktones that welcomed Howard Levy back to piano duties, led informative workshops that were packed front to back with aficionados and musicians alike — all eager to learn. Then there were workshops that degenerated into pure parties, as was the case when Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegrass got together for classic rock cover showcase that ended with everyone in the tent rising to their feet and dancing to the crazy configuration of the complete double band blend.
Performers actually walked the festival grounds, joining free playing buskers and campground jams with the same reverence as any onstage show. The sense that the musicians were there for the show as much as anyone in the crowd was embodied by Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon, Great American Taxi), who jumped off stage to join the crowd to watch the proceedings from the crowd.
The crowd was appreciative of all Â of the “once in a lifetime music” Â that they were witnessing and the buzz throughout the weekend was speculation and wonderment in regards to which player would sit it with whom and where he/she would do so.
Fans enjoyed close camping and picture perfect weather, with blue skies stretching beyond the horizon during the day, and a haunting moon in the sky reflecting not just light but love down on all below it’s luminescence.
The grounds were as alive after the official music stopped as they were during any point in the day, with campfire jams sprouting up all around. You could hear wandering musicians picking, fiddling and drumming in the distance, adding to the musically connected vibe that defined the weekend.
Most amazing of all, if you listened close enough, you could hear the strolling players meet up, and listen as they joined each other. Whole bands that would have to be billed as super groups on any official line up were born, shone brighter than any sun and then faded away as they players once again drifted in search of the next sound.
The festival promoters are to be congratulated on the stroke of brilliance that was bringing in the Yonder Mountain String Band to host the party. More than just their plethora of friends who were eager to join them, beyond their ticket selling cache and their stellar talents, the guys from Yonder are great people. Their joy is so evident when they play that you don’t want the show to stop more for their benefit more than your own. You simply want them to be able to keep enjoying themselves. Banjo player Dave Johnston alternates from intense focus to the widest grins you’ve seen, while Adam Aijala’s legendary focus seems to transcend simple attention and move into a blissful realm of pure group synergy. Ben Kaufmann lays the bass with the confidence of a man fit perfectly in a role. Front man and mandolin troubadour Jeff Austin contorts his face like a child with a fresh ball of silly putty.
Joined by Darol Anger for all three of their sets, Yonder welcomed any and all to their stage, from an amazing sit in for “Fire on the Mountain” by legendary Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann to the entire Flecktones band. It seemed as though if you played an instrument and had it handy, you were welcome on the stage.
Picking parties turned into cacophonous rising moments of distilled energy Â before the band departed the stage and promising to return next year.
They appeared exhausted, smiling and proud; having spent every last drop of their musical fuel onstage and inÂ so doing, providing a pure example of what a festival should be about:Â celebration of music and camaraderie for one and all.
Several weeks ago, we presented a two-part series consisting of exclusive acoustic performances recorded while onsite at The Festy Experience. After doing so, we quickly realized that we not only had a copious amount of content remaining, but that we had yet to do the splendid event the true justice that it deserves.
After a long summer of events — some large, some small — The Festy Experience turned out to be something that was beyond imagination. In turn, it was the perfect way to “close out” a busy summer festival season.
From location to weather, lineup, activities and overall vibe, the event truly was “an experience.” As we noted in an earlier segment, it was akin to stumbling upon a diamond in the rough.Â
In our attempt to provide the blissful weekend its due representation, we present Photos, Outtakes, Interviews and On The Scene at The Festy Experience with The Wood Brothers, Brett Dennen, The Infamous Stringdusters, Larry Keel, Sarah Siskind and Emmitt-Nershi Band.
Outtakes, Interviews and On The Scene at The Festy
Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from The Festy by David Shehi…
If there is something that the world can never have too many of, it is brilliant songwriters. By its very essence, the poetic pen of a songwriter takes the vast landscape of personal emotions that are based upon thoughts or circumstances and provides a sweeping and boundary defying humanness to these. In so doing, he takes his thoughts to a place of transcendence — where others can listen, identify and share. To possess this ability goes beyond the ability to shred or melt faces, and while Perpetual Groove‘s Brock Butler is apt to do the latter on any given night, it is his ability as a lyricist that truly sets him apart as a unique and increasingly rare talent.
While in Huntsville, Butler sat down with Honest Tune to play a recent trilogy of songs that he had written and give a brief but personal glimpse into the situation and feelings from which the songs were spawned.Â
The trilogy takes its listener from turmoil and loss to healing and redemption in approximately 20 minutes… and it is a beautiful journey.Â
So sit back, relax, listen, watch and introspect as Honest Tune exclusively brings you Brock Butler: Live, Backstage & Unplugged, a Trilogy. Â Â
Brock Butler: Live, Backstage & Unplugged, A Trilogy (Part I)
Brock Butler: Live, Backstage & Unplugged, A Trilogy (Part II)
Brock Butler: Live, Backstage & Unplugged, A Trilogy (Part III)
A few weeks ago, Yonder Mountain String Band hosted Harvest Festival on Mulberry Mountain. For the second year in a row, the event bore name of the Nederland, CO native quartet. Just in case anyone was in doubt of the outfit’s worthiness to such acclaim, Yonder proved it beyond any expectations byÂ sitting in with more bands than it would be prudent to name while also performing two three hour sets of their own. In short, to say that Jeff Austin, Adam Aijala, Ben Kauffman and Dave Johnston “had a busy weekend” would be quite the understatement.
In spite of their schedule, the four guys took time to sit down with Rex Thomson for an extended interview — to be released soon — and this, an acoustic serving of the Grateful Dead’s “They Love Each Other.” So sit back, relax, listen, watch and enjoy as Honest Tune exclusively presents Yonder Mountain String Band: Live, Backstage and Unplugged.
If there ever was a festival thatâ€™s sound is summed up in its name, it is Music on the Mountaintop. Held near the highest point in the Blue Ridge mountain range, Grandfather Mountain, organically grown mountain music reigns supreme at the event that was born from a college environmental project.
A couple of months ago, we were pleased to present a few acoustic performances — featuring Railroad Earth, Acoustic Syndicate and The New Familiars — that were recorded on the mountain.
Thanks to a super busy summer, we would like to now present you with the first piece from our latest series, Fresh from the Archive. And since it is the first in a series, we thought we would go big with the King of Newgrass, four-time Grammy winner, current CMA Musician of the Year nominee and the gentleman who was awarded with the Living Legend Award on that August weekend on the mountain– Sam Bush and crew performing “Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train” live, backstage and unplugged at Music on the Mountaintop exclusively for Honest Tune. Â
With moogfest 2011 upon us, the buzz that surrounds the event is at peak levels. The folks at AC Entertainment promise that anybody who was at the event in 2010 will beÂ even more blown away this weekend by the experience than they were last. Well, we were there last year so we figured we would put in a call to our friend at AC, Jeff Cuellar, to let him fill us in on some of the details. And if Jeff is telling the truth — and he is a good guy so we will take him at his word — what will transpire this weekend by way of a lineup that boasts the likes of The Flaming Lips, Umphrey’s and Amon Tobin, coupled by the visual experience they have on tap, it seems that the aforementioned claim may just hold true.
This past weekend, a diamond in the rough was found when we stumbled upon The Festy Experience. With a picturesque setting, the site that was nestled in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain range played host to not only some of the finest bluegrass, Americana and roots music, but also to an impeccable vibe where strangers greeted strangers with smiles, courtesy and warmness.
In the middle of it all was a beautiful large house that we asked artists to pass through for a series of exclusive acoustic sessions with Honest Tune. Fortunately, they agreed and what happened within those walls was pure magic.
In this first part of the series, we are graced with stellar performances from Emmitt-Nershi Band, Sarah Siskind and Toubab Krewe.
What can be said about JJ Grey that hasn’t been said before? Bringing up Grey in conversation inevitably brings about partisan discussion. But, the conversations stay music focused, and for good reason. With Mofro’s stellar level of improvisational musicianship, the stage for delivery is laid neatly at JJ’s feet and he has run with it.
Aside from this, what is perhaps most compelling â€” and possibly dividing â€” about Grey is the fact that he fills the aforementioned space with integrity.
Sure, he is a soul singer, songwriter and musician, but there have been a lot of those. What sets Grey apart is his unique storytelling ability. His vocals are guttural, his stage presence is large, his soul shines even when it does so darkly and his overall sound is honest.
Michael Franti is a poet, an activist, a guitarist, a vocalist and an avid yogi. It is safe to refer to him as a renaissance man. However, barring his immense presence and length of body and extremities, any personal exchange with Franti is like an exchange with an old pal.
The past couple of years have brought more commercial success than in the collective previous decade and a half with his current project, Michael Franti and Spearhead. But the Michael of today is the same Michael of yesteryear and it is this quality about him that is perhaps most endearing; and this presence is what is continuing to reel in fans of all ages who witness the Spearhead live experience — one in which the separation of crowd and band is all but completely extinguished.
A few months ago while amongst the luscious green fields of Mulberry Mountain at Wakarusa, David Shehi had the opportunity to speak with Franti on topics including: songwriting, his recent Top 40/mainstream success, the situation and relief efforts in Haiti, the intimacy at a Spearhead gig and so much more.