Monday, September 28, 2009

ROTHBURY pt.9 - Sunny Sunday

Well, all good things come to an end, but not before one last day of music! The weather at Rothbury seemed to just get hotter and hotter, and by Sunday we were baking - not just in the warm glow from all the music we'd taken in. And to think there was still more to come...
Toots Hibbert gave the most beautiful Sunday sermon in the form of a soulful reggae set. His version of Country Roads was a nod to Willie who would appear on the same stage later that afternoon. 54-46 got the crowd singing and topped off this feel-good love-in of a set. Toots' energetic performance and moving messages were a call for unity... the perfect embodiment of the Rothbury mandate. On Sunday morning it felt like worship: we danced blissfully, giving thanks for a great communal weekend together.
Heading over to the Sherwood Court, we found the only piece of shade and caught a very energetic performance by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I was keen to see her, having just caught on to her many talents. I was also motivated because she was one of few female performers at Rothbury, let alone fronting her own band. Don't let the Josie & the Pussycats look here fool you - she's not just a pretty face.
Grace is an accomplished B3 player and her singing is gutsy and soulful. Kudos for choosing the best instrument and for being dedicated enough to haul it around on tour!
Here's Willy - he's got the sad expression because I didn't make it out to his show. Too bad! I heard from the fans that it was a fine performance, as usual. I'm sure I'd have appreciated it, but I'll have to catch him another time... cause you know he'll still be singing well into his 100s...
Dear Ani,
It's a good thing I've seen you before because I couldn't make it to your set either! But my pal did and he had a blast. Great review from a very critical listener. I enjoyed your past performances and I hear you're still givin'er... Here are some very energetic shots...
And here is the panoramic view of Dylan's crowd from the VIP area - magnified I can spot my best friend =) Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening.

Okay, now I've seen Bob many times since the early nineties, and I've heard some pretty questionable performances, and some amazing, moving, and musically exciting ones as well. This was my 12th Dylan show and I'm going to say it for the record, folks...

Dylan is officially now way past his due date. He came back there for awhile, had a great band in the mid-nineties when he actually sang again... but now, in recent times, it's back to the croak. And worse than before. He used to get stuck alot on two notes in rhythmic loops, but at least he sang some semblance of a melody, whether original or improvised. Now the frog is permanently trapped in his vocal chords and it's hopping incessantly, trying to escape. Just listen to Tangled Up In Blue from any YouTube clip from this show...

I love Dylan. I love his work, his spirit, even his voice through its many evolutions over the years. I'm convinced that few people deliver his songs as well as he does. But this show, as well as shows from the past year, are evidence that it's not working anymore. And there is no one in his entourage or in the industry who can stop him from touring. At this point he's driving away many more fans than he's attracting at his live performances... I hate to be the one to tell a man to stop touring, but maybe it's time to consider it, Bob...

Or maybe it's just that I miss Larry Campbell so much. I'll have to catch him with Levon's band.

Still looking good, though, Bob...

I'm surprised that Rothbury chose him to headline. It only reinforced how much other exciting music is out there...

"New ones coming as the old ones go..."

Dylan @ Rothbury, MI July 5, 2009
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
SeƱor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
Tangled Up In Blue
Rollin' And Tumblin'
Spirit On The Water
High Water (for Charlie Patton)
Til I Fell In Love With You
Po' Boy
Highway 61 Revisited
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Nettie Moore
Thunder On The Mountain
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower
Blowin' In The Wind

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ROTHBURY pt. 8 - The Dead!

Now is the time we've been waiting for:

The Dead at Rothbury. Having seen them on Spring Tour, I was very excited at the possibility of hearing them again, in the headliner spot of a festival. Well, the festival itself blew my mind but didn't take away from my principal purpose: hearing the Dead outside!

You can listen to the show here:

It was a perfect day as the crowds assembled, some to witness a legend for the first time, others to revisit the music and the scene they loved so well. Camping with Deadheads for 4 days was a treat, but the scene was also diversified along generational lines, as well as musical tastes and subcultures. A very colourful and vibrant crowd greeted the Dead on Saturday - some purists will argue that it wasn't a real Dead scene, but I was enjoying the mix very much. We were all there to dig the music, and this was definitely achieved, by young and old, veteran and newbie alike.
Like the night before, the crowd came out in full regalia. Even Clifford the Red Dog likes the Dead =)
Uncle Sam was there...
As was this beautiful Stealie lady.
The crowd was looking good, kicking up the dust and wavin' those flags high.
High spirits, a glorious afternoon, and a sense of good things to come made for a great vibe. The band started off with a gentle jam that led into Sugar Magnolia. What a great way to start a show - very up-tempo. An American lovesong with a feel-good country-rock rhythm. Everyone was grooving from the first note and this set the tone for a great party.
As the sun started dipping, we bathed in golden light and long shadows. Then came my favourite moment of the show: Eyes of the World. I'd been waiting to hear this song for my whole GDead-following life and wasn't disappointed.
Phil took on the singing duties and delivered it with just the right spirit. Jeff Chimenti played some soaring solos and then it was Warren's turn... any dissatisfaction from Spring Tour about Warren not stepping up to the plate and soloing was completely washed away here. Listen for yourself and you'll here a beautiful, jazzy and faithful rendition of Eyes from this show.
The phenomenal Eyes was evidence that these boys were still able to find that collective improvisational space and turn a song inside out. Then came a sweet surprise: Eyes' companion piece, Estimated. I love this suite for its contrasts and complexities of arrangement. I was already on cloud 9 from the start of the show - already got what I came for... the rest would be bonus! Little did I know that this was a sign of things to come - many more of my favourite suites all in the same night!
Here's a glimpse of Bobby, still alive and kicking. His energy was definitely up, his guitar playing was sharp, though the envelope filter effect became a bit predictable... It must be difficult to alter the way he plays after trying to find his peculiar space between Jerry and Phil for so many years. Now he's more the defacto leader, yet his parts are all supportive. It's got to take awhile for Bobby and Warren to get used to playing together. They've been at it a few years and there was some nice evidence of their styles gelling at this show. Unfortunately his singing is getting weaker, but I guess that's what comes with age! His version of Loose Lucy was still a lot of fun, despite his failing vocals.

Next came Friend of the Devil, which harkened back to the Wild West and brought the archetype of the outlaw to the fore. I started to see a theme developing... Fourth of July was shedding a particular light on all these songs. Place names: California, Reno, Utah..., character types like Loose Lucy and the Sugar Mag, and themes that reoccur in American history: freedom, possibility, self-determination. The Dead were once again conjuring the American folk-mythology that they are known for, in light of the national holiday, in the new temporary intentional community of Rothbury. Playing in the present while remembering the past. Brilliant.
Here's a rare shot of one of my favourite Dead members - Mr. Kreuzmann. This guy is sharper than ever and a real treat to listen to. Thanks Billy!

Warren sang a gentle version of Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, and then it was time for yet another epic suite, another of my all-time favourites, Help>Slipknot>Franklin's. Have a listen to the Slipknot - this is the place in the show where the jam got thickest. People were grooving so hard at this point that we looked up and had that knowing moment when the band is really taking off.
Phil and Bobby, cementing their rekindled relationship. Working together again was so much fun, they decided to tour again this September!
Second set: Saturday Night opener. This set the stage for the major party vibe of the second set and was a real blast. Fireworks indeed!
Then came the bass-bomb opening of one of my all-time faves, the bell tolling four dark times announcing the SHAKEDOWN! Now, I am a Shakedown fanatic and heard a killer version at MSG on Spring Tour '09, so hearing it again at Rothbury was a real treat. The crowd was freaking at this point and we were really getting down. I love the sentiment of the song - the seedy side of life in the free world - and the imperative that you just gotta poke around to stir up some magic.
Here's a great shot of Mickey and his gear, and Warren focusing intently on the huge task at hand... China>Rider. Nice to hear this as a suite instead of separately, like earlier in Spring Tour. Bobby fails at the near-impossible task of playing the lead line and singing complex psychedelic lyrics at the same time. It's tough! Luckily he and Warren trade off at singing time and eventually pull it off. Everyone felt the Northbound Train, which roars through the subconscious of the American people.
Next, Rhythm Devils. The Dead invited members of Toubab Krewe and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident to join them for the drum jam. It seemed like they were off to a rough start - but don't let the delayed video feed fool you - listening back in retrospect they managed to pull off a jam that was heavy and very trippy. Mickey and Billy have really been able to shine this year and this was an interesting musical moment, in the spirit of collaboration at Rothbury.
Space went deep, and then the band burst into Viola Lee Blues, an early adventure in hybridity which joins blues with psychedelia. The Fourth of July theme was apparent again here, remembering those who can't excercise their freedoms.
Morning Dew is a difficult song: the pace is slow and makes for careful playing, the singing is mournful, and the message is stark. The possibility of atomic annihilation has left its mark on the American psyche and this song is a reminder of this. Morning Dew coloured Weir's delivery of Throwing Stones, extending the consciousness of culpability from the local to the global. Message music on the Fourth of July - a celebration, but it's not all a party...

Then the band wanted to bring back the lighter side and threw in a Sunshine Daydream reprise. That lifted spirits and got us ready for the big finish: BIG FIREWORKS! What could be better than the US Blues, an ironic song of celebration and condemnation both, set to the biggest fireworks I've ever witnessed? Not a whole lot could top it. A killer set, beautiful musical suites, multiple messages in the songs that allowed us to contemplate the enigma which is America. Ending on a satirical note while the party goes on... leave it to the Dead to capture the spirit of the USA just right. But the last note of all was, aptly, Not Fade Away. Seeing as this was probably the Dead's last show of the year, it's nice to know that they won't be gone for good, and that the love they share will circulate and spread out from this moment.

To see these boys doing their thing and loving it was very contagious. I really enjoyed their song selections and came away feeling like I'd just ingested a 10-course, 4-h meal! Ultimate satisfaction was seeing the Dead at Rothbury. It was definitely worth the trip. Thanks guys, and keep on truckin!

7/4/09 Rothbury Setlist
* Sugar Magnolia
* Eyes of the World
* Estimated Prophet
* Loose Lucy
* Friend of the Devil
* Into The Mystic
* Help on the Way
* Slipknot>
* Franklin’s Tower

Set II:
* One More Saturday Night
* Shakedown Street
* China Cat Sunflower
* I Know You Rider
* Rhythm Devils
* Space
* Viola Lee Blues
* Morning Dew
* Throwin’ Stones
* Sunshine Daydream
* Donor Rap
* E: U.S Blues (With Fireworks)
* Not Fade Away

Monday, September 21, 2009

ROTHBURY pt.7 - Saturday

Saturday!!!! The day of the Dead. We eased into Saturday with a warm glow from the night before. Made our way to the festival grounds a bit late, unfortunately missing Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. But there is something called *pacing* that necessitates a certain amount of energy conservation, even at a 4-day party. Jackie Greene was another casualty of our slow-moving morning. Too bad! I heard he was great, and that PHIL came out to join him for a few tunes... but I'm sure I'll have another chance to catch him in the future.
We wandered through a bit of Railroad Earth and made it to one of my most anticipated sets of the fest: Zappa plays Zappa! Whoa, I was blown away by the musicianship of this band. Tall order, given the complexity of the material.

And here he is: young Dweezil doing justice to his dad's incredible work. This is unique music at its wackiest. The band smoked - great xylophone player, sax player, and a fun lead singer who looked like the most clean-cut guy you'd never expect to be spouting such oddities. I was ecstatic when they launched into Inca Roads - got my guitar solo and danced my bones. A great start to a psychedelic day of cerebral music.
I also regret missing Les Claypool, though I hear he was in fine form. Luckily I've heard Primus a few times and get a sense of the kooky sounds that he can generate. One of my bass heroes.
Well, without further delay, let's move on to the main reason we're here: The Dead!

ROTHBURY pt.6 - Art at Rothbury

Rothbury is a multi-purpose space - and music is not the only art to be found. The Sherwood Forest is obviously a hot spot for visual art, but there were many other examples of art on display at the festival. Here's a look at some of the pieces that we checked out:
Sculptures like this bird were made of found scrap metal.
Hi Nessie! This sea-monster is made of tires and has a beautiful head sculpted of wood.
Arranged nature - mandalas out of needles, grasses and other scavenged objects.
This deity is surrounded by a heart-shaped mandala made of bottle caps.
Gong therapy, anyone? This healing art was both visually and sonically attractive.
Love the forks on these mama and baby low-riders.
There was a tree-decorating contest that yielded these interesting entries: A real transformer...
And some great cartoon-art.
Sherwood forest decorations are just as beautiful by day.
Getting the big boot has a whole new meaning at the Sherwood stage.
There were artists on site creating a variety of works over the course of the festival, including painters onstage whose canvasses were inspired by the bands.
Incredible environments were erected in unexpected places.
The Rothbury bus was half buried and lit up at night with a rotating mirror ball on the inside.
Well, that's just a glimpse of the Rothbury environment. It's a veritable wonderland that makes concert-going a whole experience.
Stay tuned for coverage of Saturday's musical highlights!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ROTHBURY pt.5 - String Cheese Incident

Friends of Cheesus, newcomers, welcome all to the show that was the highlight of the Rothbury Festival. Skeptical? With the Dead on the bill, how could the String Cheese Incident have provided the pinnacle show? Let me tell you that I came for many bands, but the Dead were top of my list. I had never heard the String Cheese Incident before Rothbury and was glad to have the opportunity to check them out. In the following post, I will show you how the SCI is the embodiment of the spirit of Rothbury. You will see...

After our big day out on Friday, taking in several of my favourite touring acts, my knees were pretty shot from all the high-power dancing and walking. I was ready to retire for a bit, get some dinner, and come back to check out set 2 of SCI. On our way out, we ran against a river of fans so psyched, so colourfully garbed, and so verbal that we started having second thoughts: "You people are going the WRONG WAY! String Cheese is THIS WAY>>" The excitement in the air was extreme. The band's first performance in 2 years, I could see why the Cheeseheads were so enthused. We started to reconsider... My faithful knees dictated that we could go no further anyway, so we turned around, got some delicious dinner at the Ranch and moseyed in to catch the end of the first set. Here's what we saw...
A HUGE party! Everyone was dressed up and grooving with many inflatable creatures. The band broke into a song by one of our favourite bands: Talking Heads - Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place). Well, we thought to ourselves, this MUST be the place!
And here they are, the String Cheese Incident. That's Keith Moseley on the left. A bass player who sings - just my type! He leads many of their bluegrass songs. Michael Kang is in the middle on electric mando, while Bill Nershi is lead beard and acoustic. Kyle Hollingsworth is an INCREDIBLE keyboardist. Micheal Travis (drums) and Jason Hann (percussion) are in the back and don't make it into a lot of shots, but provide a solid and varied rhythm to the Cheese's sound.
Check these guys out - could you find a more unlikely combination of players? Michael Kang is from South Korea via Colorado and many other cool places. He's 10 yrs Nershi's junior. Nershi is a bluegrass flatpicker, but when these guys play together, the sound can range from African rhythms to techno to balls-out harmony guitar. The band is tight, a real feat since they navigate so many musical territories.
Let's take a closer look...
Kang's electric 5-string mandolin isn't the only sexy thing
onstage... Look at this man - he's beautiful! And he can PLAY!
Here's Nersh in all his glory. This guy has got chops. What a versatile musician. Everyone in the group is, really, and that's what makes the String Cheese sound - mixing it up.
And the crowd is loving it!
After the first set, the audience were primed and the energy very high. As we headed into nighttime, the real spectacle began...
Projectiles... Action!!
Imagine THOUSANDS of glowsticks flying through the air, creating a constantly undulating sea of colour and light... that provided the backdrop for a host of many inflatable toys: beachballs, dolphins, octopi... surging on the seas of cheese (Les Claypool's dream come true).
And then came the balls...
As if the audience's inflatable orgy wasn't enough, the band had a few surprises up their giant sleeves. From the wings of the stage came six 10ft beach balls which the crowd delightedly bounced around.
Then, another 6 balls were released, this time about 15ft high. Wow. Then another 6 black and white striped beach balls rolled out, about 2 storeys high!
The crowd was freakin at this point. Everything got weird. The music shifted to a deep funky techno feel.
Hoopers appeared on platforms, lit up and spinning...
Then appeared onstage two corde lisse artists. Corde lisse is an aerial circus skill that involves acrobatics on vertically hanging fabric.
These women were twisting, turning, spinning and dropping through the air while the band played on...

What a spectacle!
And then, from the back of the venue and the VIP section, came rolling over the crowd a GINORMOUS red ball. It was like out of a B-movie: Attack of the Giant 4-storey Red Blob! Crushing thousands of fans in ecstacy! Luckily no one was hurt, but it sure looked heavy... glad I was watching from the sidelines.
I was hoping that the crowd would be able to keep it from crushing the artists onstage!
Holy cow, you've never seen anything like it in your concert-going days, kids! This was the spectacle to beat all.
Not content with ending at the climax, there were about 30 of these beautiful mini hot-air balloons released from the crowd to make a sea of glowing lights rising into the perfect night sky.
Simply magical.
For the encore, the band brought out Kellar Williams to help play and sing "Best Feeling in the World". They ended with "Restless Wind" and the audience was set free to carry the high into the rest of the weekend, into the Sherwood Forest, and off into the night...
What a band. What a show. I love you String Cheese. You left a pretty potent first impression. Hope it's not the last time, either!
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you visit to buy a copy of the show for $9.95 (mp3). Great quality recording and excellent music. The show is so well put together - stylistic changes, great musicianship, everyone taking turns to sing lead vocals, just an all-around fantastic show.
String Cheese Incident Setlist
Rothbury Music Festival 07/03/09
Set 1:
Rollover >
Can’t Stop Now
Miss Brown’s Teahouse
Mouna Bowa
Love Is Like A Train
Rain >
Joyful Sound >
This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) >
Set 2:
Outside and Inside >
Desert Dawn
Black Clouds
Little Hands >
Bumpin’ Reel
Close Your Eyes
Way Back Home >
Texas >
Blackberry Blossom >
Best Feeling* >
Higher Ground >
Restless Wind

* With Keller Williams