Bluegrass Ball ft. The Travelin McCourys, Andy Thorn, Jon Stickley, Travis Book next week in Asheville
The Travelin’ McCourys will once again gather for a two-night Bluegrass Ball in Asheville, featuring Andy Thorn on the banjo (Leftover Salmon), Asheville’s guitarist Jon Stickley, and bassist Travis Book (Infamous Stringdusters). The event will take place at Isis Music Hall on Thursday and Friday next week.
A staple on the bluegrass touring circuit, The Travelin’ McCourys are known for being able to play with just about anybody. They consistently break down musical boundaries, having picked alongside such wide-ranging artists as Tedeschi Trucks Band, Phish, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and more, at their own Delfest, and at festivals across the country.
Joining the first family of bluegrass will be quite a crop of nationally known players, all with strong ties to North Carolina. Banjo player Andy Thorn grew up in Durham, taking frequent trips with his family to Merlefest, where he was able to learn from the best bluegrass musicians in the world. He later studied music at UNC-Chapel Hill before joining the pioneer “jamgrass” band Leftover Salmon. We will also be graced by the rich timbre and exuberant double-bass playing of the Infamous Stringdusters’ Travis Book, who recently settled with his family in beautiful Brevard, North Carolina. Jon Stickley has become a favorite son of his hometown of Asheville, and the flat-picking genius is a no brainer for this esteemed get-together.
Written by Richard Oakley
Below photo by Marisa Muldoon
First Take, No Edits: Q&A with Holly Bowling, new album out this week
Since debuting her magnificent, classical piano rendition of Phish’s famous Tahoe Tweezer Jam, Holly Bowling has been busy sharing and growing her unique concept of improv-turned-composition (and often turned back to improv) through many amazing live performances.
Last year, after contributing a breathtaking version of the Grateful Dead’s 6/18/74 jam on “Eyes of the World,” she was inspired to not only begin performing more of the Dead’s body of work, but to also record an entire album of Dead material reimagined as piano pieces, called Better Left Unsung, which comes out on Friday.
One place her touring has taken her was to the lineup of Brooklyn Comes Alive this past October, where she opened up the festival at The Hall at MP. After her set, Holly took some time with our reporter Miles Hurley to discuss everything from her changing musical and artistic visions, to some really neat inside details on recording a lengthy “Dark Star,” to writing songs and lyrics, and more.
The Poke Around:So how did your set today feel?
Holly Bowling: I had a lot of fun, I really liked it. It’s always funny, you show up in a headspace, or at least I do, where I’m just getting into the groove of the day. So when I walked on stage, I was still feeling a little checked out, but by the time I walk off I feel great. It’s a fun way to come into the world in the morning, you know?
With your music especially, it’s different than, say, the band playing right now (Organ Freeman followed her set). It’s such a personal, and more intimate sort of thing to just jump into.
Yeah, and especially when I get to dial into improvising for awhile…it’s kind of like a chance to meditate, or really kind of check in, and walk in with yourself, and find that space. And right, with this band the energy is really outward and is still a connection with the crowd. And I aim for that too, but just to take all this outward energy and try and channel it and focus it into a more introspective connection, hopefully still with that same, unspoken, musical and emotional connection. It’s just a different pathway.
Well, seeing you perform just now, for instance during “The Squirming Coil,” I definitely noticed that. You have the crowd engaged but you are so just invested in it yourself, like you were just playing it in your living room or something.
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s funny, because when it’s going well, I am very much in my own head, and I play with my eyes closed a lot of times because I just get lost and swept away by the music. But at the same time, you still feel the energy of the crowd, and when people are locked in, and they’re along for the ride with you, it just makes the whole thing better.
So, you’ve been throwing in more Grateful Dead songs with Phish tunes recently. In your live performances, do you gravitate more towards improvising in your own way, as in your own interpretation of these songs, or do you try and emulate the way the Dead might have jammed on a song, or the way Phish might have on theirs?
Such a good question, I’m glad you asked this! So, it’s been evolving for sure—what my shows are like live has been gearing more and more often towards my own improvisation, and that’s partially a result of just getting more comfortable with the arrangements, and feeling like I don’t need to be quite as true to them. In a sense, I think it’s most true to the music to try and push it away from where it was and put more of my own voice into it.
Let me back up a bit. Right now, there are three kinds of things I’m doing. One of them is jam transcriptions, and that’s note for note arrangements of particular jams. And that really steers towards classical music, and my background in that. It’s like a piano reduction of an orchestral work, except instead of coming from an orchestra it’s coming from a rock band. Thing number two I do is jam teasers. Kind of the same idea, but just pulling out the thematic nuggets, where, if you heard it, you’d go, “Oh, I know that jam!” and basically treating some of Phish’s really top-notch improvisation as though it was a song that they had written, and that could be arranged, and made variations on a theme.
Then there are also arrangements of the heads of the song, and the jams that come out of them are entirely my own thing—I’m not trying to recreate any particular date. Sometimes, I’ll try to go in the style of the band I’m playing. You know, Trey’s licks and Jerry’s licks are very different, and just through the process of transcribing different jams by the two bands, you pick some of the stylistic things up. But once I get going in a jam, I’m lost. Lost in a good way—I’m off on my own tangent, and at that point I’m not trying to emulate any band so much as I’m letting my voice have a chance to say something, in between the touch points of the songs that people are familiar with. I think now, compared to a year ago, minute for minute there’s exponentially more of my own voice then there was a year ago. That’s been a really fun process to let develop, just through touring in the last year.
Well that’s awesome. It has to be cool to have a fan base that grows off this sort of base. As in, your fans go to more and more of your shows and they can go, “She definitely changed that song up from last time we heard it, it’s even more unique now.” That should be cool to have that recognition develop in your fan base, too.
Yeah, and I think that I’ve been finding my own voice more and more, so if someone came to a show a year ago, and then came to a show now, they wouldn’t be like, “That was boring and exactly how it was last time.” Like, the song’s different, the style’s different. And I still love doing the jam transcriptions. I very much have roots in the jamband world and the classical world, and I don’t really want to live in one or the other. There’s things in both that I still want to draw from.
But it’s funny, because now I think when I improvise something that is all me, people are like, “Oh that was really cool, what date was that one from?” And I say, “No that was just me!” (laughs). And the same thing with my charts and stuff. I have stuff that’s completely scored out note for note, that looks like a sonata or an etude, all the fingerings are written in, I’ve gotten it down to every minute detail, and I know exactly how I want to play it, and it should sound the same every time. And then I have other score or charts that I’m pulling up and there’s literally no chords, none of the arrangement is written out. It’s all in my head, and it’s just, like, reminders of the structure of the lyrics and stuff, because I sometimes lose that when there’s no vocalist.
Sometimes, I think, because I started out with the jam transcriptions, people have the idea that everything is scored, and preplanned, and in reality, there’s actually very little of that happening at this point.
In your music, as I see in your setlists, a lot of times there are so many teases. Like, in that recent video of you playing “Cassidy,” there’s the main lick from Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” right in there so seamlessly in between the Dead parts…are teases in your music usually a spur of the moment thing?
Yeah, I would say almost always it’s a spur of the moment thing. Unless there’s something I’m trying to say, or an inside joke, or a message I’m trying to put there. But usually it just happens. Your fingers also have patterns that they get used to, so when there’s a song you’ve been practicing or just playing around with, your fingers will find their way into that. Or, you’re just messing around and letting it go, and you hear it and go, “Oh yeah, yeah, what is that? Okay, let’s do that again!” But it’s never like, “Okay here are the teases I’ll throw into Cassidy today.”
So, I watched the teaser video for your upcoming Dead album, the part where you were talking about “Dark Star.” As you explained, there’s the really short part of Dark Star, the composed section…
But you came out with a twenty-seven minute track? Was that one take?
Yeah, yeah! That one was really fun. I mean, I knew it was not going to be a two-minute track, because “Dark Star” never is, right? That’s the whole structure, the whole point of “Dark Star” is that it’s a giant, open playground (laughs).
But I went in with the idea that I was going to sit down and do one long, continuous take, and we were not going to edit it at all. And I didn’t know if it was going to take two or three tries to get the one that I was happy with, but I knew we were not going to go in and edit and be like, “Oh, there’s a note there that I didn’t like…” None of that. And I also went in and was definitely not aware of the time. I was intending for it to be maybe like…ten minutes? So that it would’ve fit on the vinyl version of the record, and I just kind of got…
Lost in it?
Yeah, and well, lost and found. You’re lost but you’re also intensely focused. I found the thing I was looking for, and I walked out of the studio and into the control room, and my engineer was like, “Yeah, so that was like twenty-seven minutes,” and I just said, “Ah, shit.” (laughter)
So we didn’t edit it at all, but we did go back and I wanted to play around with some extended techniques inside the piano, so like…plucking strings, hitting them with mallets. We were taking a metal guitar slide and running it up and down the bass strings to get some funky sounds. And then I’ve got this thing called a wand, it’s kind of like an EBow, but it’s handheld, and you can use it to get the strings vibrating without having to hit them. It’s basically like a magnet, electrical thing, so you just hold it close and the strings will start to vibrate. And there’s no attack, so you can sustain it indefinitely, and you can get these sounds that you would never expect to be coming out of a piano. And then you can move it up and down the length of the string and you’ll pull out different harmonics as you move around…
So we did all that stuff as overdubs, because I just have two hands … so that was edited in the sense that we added stuff on top, but the actual piano track that you expect to come out of a piano was one take. First take, no edits.
So tell me about your connection with Brooklyn. Do you have any experience here in connection to your musical career taking off?
You know, I’ve played in New York maybe more than I’ve played anywhere else, which is funny because I live in San Francisco (laughter). When everything that I was playing was very Phish-focused, I think it sort of happened naturally because Phish’s base is very strong in the Northeast. It’s also just an easy place to tour.
MSG New Years Eve (during Phish’s 4-night runs) must be a good hotspot to play.
Yeah, and just super fun. The energy in the city around those days is just like, you can feed off it. I think I’m here in Brooklyn Comes Alive because (founder) Kunj Shah and I have, let’s just say, a passion for Phish. We’ve definitely run into one another at a handful of shows. I think that’s what initially sparked the connection to here. But I love playing New York, and super, super psyched to be here. It’s definitely an interesting, and not cookie-cutter, lineup.
I saw in the documentary about you, “Distillation of a Dream”—which is a really nice little documentary—that you also got to meet Mike Gordon at one of your shows?
It’s really funny, because that was one of the first shows I played, and it was definitely still when everything was much more formulaic, like it was all about the arrangements, and less about blasting off into whatever space we go to. I had no idea that he was going to show up, and I had just taken a set break, and my plan for the second set was to play the Tahoe Tweezer start to finish. Right before that happened, Mike Gordon walked in the door. I was like, “Okay, this just got interesting.” (laughter)
I got to give him a copy of my album on the day that it came out, and he stayed for the whole Tahoe Tweezer, and he’s sitting there, and I’m playing the exact bass line he played with my left hand, so just like, no pressure. (laughter)
So Elise (Testone) coming up to sing with you today put this question in my head: do you sing? And also, have you ever considered composing your own pieces to put into your shows?
I do sing, but not in this context. The Phish and Dead piano interpretations are strictly instrumental, and I really dig them that way. I write my own music, but I haven’t recorded any of it in the studio.
I just did a fully improvised set with Al Smith, the drummer for (Tom) Hamilton’s American Babies at this festival last weekend, Luna Light. We’ve played together once before, as a quartet, but this time we just went up and did a duo set, just drums and keys, all improvised. It was super, super fun. I was really digging that vibe, so I might steer towards that, might do like a trio or quartet. But this next year I’m going to tour around the Dead album that’s coming out in December, and then my next place I want to turn to focus is putting my own stuff out there. I’m dialing in what direction I want that to go, and then taking it out on the road. I did the Phish album, the Dead album, now I really want the third to be my own.
And I’ve been writing songs with lyrics recently for the first time in a really, really long time, but not with the intention of putting them out there. I’ve been kind of writing for me, not because I think other people will be into them, just because I’ve realized it’s like therapy, you know? It just kind of helps you work through stuff and think about everything. Being on the road a lot, there’s not a lot of time to process that, but I realize if I write lyrics or write songs, or if I’m just singing them for myself in my living room, it’s a really good thing for me to have in my life.
I think in the jam community that you’ve come into and have been playing in, people are open, and are more responsive to, songs not written necessarily written for them, but as you said, songs written for yourself, stuff that you’re hearing and feeling.
Yeah, I mean everything I write, I write because I’m into it. Not because I’m like, “Ooh, the people are going to love this one.” If I was going to write that kind of music, this is not the scene I’d be doing it in (laughter). But you know, writing lyrics and singing them is a different kind of personal than what I’m used to on stage. I put everything I have into playing, and I would like to think that that emotion is conveyed through what I’m doing on the piano.
There’s something different about putting words to that emotion, something that makes it a little bit less abstract. And, I respect people that can do it—I’m not sure I’m quite ready to bare my soul along those lines. I like keeping it to the instrumental…level of openness, haha. (laughter)
So, lastly, I’m just curious to know, who are you most excited to see on this lineup today? Are you hanging around to check it all out?
Yeah! Well I’m super psyched on these guys right now (Organ Freeman), anything with a killer B-3 is right up my alley. And then, Reed Mathis’ Electric Beethoven I’m super stoked on, like…my whole thing is classical music instrumentation and spin on jamband music, and he’s taking the opposite. He’s taking classical music that I love, by one of my favorite composers, and putting it into a jamband setting and improvising with it. So I feel there’s some parallels there. I love the concept and I love the execution of it. And I haven’t seen it live yet, so…
Bowling has a few more dates on the calendar for this year, including a slot at Christmas Jam as well as a two-night run at the Cutting Room in NYC on December 30-31, the second of which is planned as a Phish pre-party festivity. Her new album, Better Left Unsung, comes out on December 9.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Jimmy Herring exhibit the “Power of Soul” in Asheville
A vibrant frequency surrounded the New Mountain Theater in downtown Asheville, North Carolina last Thursday, as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe returned to town; this time accompanied by good friend and guitar wizard, Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic. Jackets were shed quickly as the funky family filed through the doors on a cold, wintry night in the mountains, eager to find their space of boogie amongst the rowdy, sold-out crowd.
Asheville natives The Digs brought the local flavor and sent the night off on a groovy foot. This three piece blend of funk, soul and R&B had the sizeable group of early arrivers bouncing and shaking to their seductive style.
In the short time between the funkings of the evening, the chatter was legendary; from talk of Greyboy Allstars’ ‘97 shows to Sunny Ortiz (WSP percussionist) connections, to a guy who claimed he’s seen KD 20 years in a row. With a well versed crowd on hand, the evening carried a definite feeling of anticipation. All had gathered in appreciation of a rare musical moment.
Karl “The Diesel” Denson took the stage and sent bodies immediately into motion, leading the Tiny Universe through a strong rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Power of Soul,” and Don Gardner’s groove inducing “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo.” True to his nature, Jimmy Herring joined the boys to assume his position as the “Wizard in the corner,” keeping himself out of the spotlight while letting his guitar steal the show. The old friends found the groove time and time again through tour staples “Just Got Paid,” “Have You Seen Him” and a rendition of the Brecker Brothers’ “Some Skunk Funk,” played in incredible time with absolute precision. Punctuating the end of the set with exuberant covers of David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids,” the boys left the funky family in an irresistible booty shaking elation before closing the set appropriately with “Satisfied.” After a “New York City” encore, the shakers filed out into the cold Asheville night, off to find another groove.
Written by Seth Davis Photos by Anna Norwood
Review: Dopapod and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at The Orange Peel (11/30)
Dopapod returned to Asheville, North Carolina on Wednesday for a long awaited show with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. This was the first time both bands had played The Orange Peel, a highly sought after venue for touring bands visiting Western North Carolina. The audience was full of fans and musicians alike. Phish’s Mike Gordon was in attendance, bobbing his head in signature style. The crowd also featured most of Papadosio, supporting their touring mates.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong started the night off with a high-energy performance, seeing frontman Greg Ormont narrating the band’s performance with his well-known facial contortions.
The Pigeons track “Walk Outside” lends itself to elements of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica,” with elements of funk thrown into the mix. Fans unfamiliar with PPPP’s newest album, Pleasure, had this tune catch them by surprise. Ending their set with their slick brand of funk and humor, “F.U.” was a terrific way to leave the crowd on a high note.
This was Neal “Fro” Evans’ first show in Asheville after returning to Dopapod’s roster. Fro took a break from the band during 2013 with Scotty Zwang, who has now joined RAQ, handling the drums during his absence. While many were saddened by the departure of Zwang, Dopapod purists have been delighted by Evans’ return to the group.
“Nerds” was a clever way to start the night, poking fun at jam band fans and their fastidious nature. Dopapod’s signature moog rhythms cut through The Orange Peel, bouncing off the walls and shaking the room. Bassist Chuck Jones led an incredible “Nuggy Jawson,” starting dark and heavy until the synthesizer interlude cut through the tension and let a playful and soaring jam commence.
Lighting Director Luke Stratton lit up the stage spectacularly, elevating Dopapod’s performance for all. Eli Winderman‘s keyboard skills especially stood out as he led the band through a spectacle of improvisation. Guitarist Rob Compa was firing on all cylinders as well, shredding through “Present Ghosts,” at times even dueling Winderman. Dopapod constantly allows for these open moments of improvisation, the incentive that continually draws in loyal fans and newcomers alike. The band’s classical training can become obvious at times, as the band seamlessly flows from one idea to the next, leaving fans caught in the beat.
Dopapod’s fall tour is coming to a close as the band prepares for their two night New Year’s Eve run at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky. This will mark the band’s first NYE shows outside of their Northeastern home base. “The Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky area has long held a special place in our hearts,” Winderman said at the show on Wednesday. “The last three years in Worcester, Massachusetts have all been purely magical. We wanted to switch things up this year to keep the celebratory spirit fresh. We figure to help preserve that, let’s spread that magic and love to another region that has also always embraced and made us feel at home.”
Written by Tom Cunningham
Photos by Anna Norwood
New Year’s Eve Live Music Rundown
It’s the holiday season, and the end of 2016 is drawing near, meaning it’s almost time for one of the biggest live music weekends of the year! We’ve got a breakdown of the most exciting events in our readership region. Check ‘em out, and may your New Year’s celebration be blessed with plenty of love, friends and music!
New York City
Once again, Phish will grace the Madison Square Garden stage for a four-night run in the city that never sleeps. If you’ve been, you know. If you haven’t, it is an unforgettable experience.
Snarky Puppy plays at Irving Plaza on the 31st at both 8 p.m. and right as the ball drops. This is a great option for the sole event of the night, but there’s also nothing wrong with catching some Snarky Puppy after Phish ends at the Garden.
Holly Bowling, acclaimed pianist covering Grateful Dead and Phish tunes, will play a Phish pre-party starting at 4 p.m. at The Cutting Room on NYE.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead plays a two-night sold out run at The Capitol Theatre. If you can find tickets, this is sure to be a fun couple of nights following an additional sold out show at Brooklyn Bowl on December 29.
The Infamous Stringdusters in Richmond, Virginia
After establishing a residency in central Virginia earlier in their career, The Infamous Stringdusters will play a glorious two-night run at Richmond’s premier venue, The National with special guests Billy Strings and the Jon Stickley Trio. Neither of the nights has sold out yet, but surely they will given a few weeks.
Griz and Papadosio in Asheville, North Carolina Papadosio will kick off the fun on December 30 at The Orange Peel, and the year will come to an exciting end at ExploreAsheville.com Arena, where Griz will headline the night with support from Papadosio, G Jones and Freddy Todd. Tickets for the 31st will increase by over $10 the day of, so get them early.
Widespread Panic in Nashville, Tennessee Widespread Panic will play Friday and Saturday at Bridgestone Arena as part of a food drive event. Sitting in on New Year’s Eve with the Panic crew will be Nashville’s The McCrary Sisters and Love Sponge String Quartet as well as the MegaBlasters, who have brought NYE ragers to a horn-filled fruition with WSP in years past. These shows will follow a sold out show on the 29th at Ryman Auditorium benefitting Tunes For Tots, an art education initiative started by Widespread Panic.
Keller Williams in Baltimore, Maryland Keller Williams will present his Grateful Gospel with special guest John Kadlecik Band on New Year’s Eve at Rams Head Live in Baltimore. Preceding the main act will be a solo set by Williams.
Central North Carolina
The Avett Brothers will bring in the new year at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte with DJ Logic.
Big Something will play the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh.
The Mantras and People’s Blues of Richmond will take on the Blind Tiger in Greensboro, a hometown show for The Mantras, ensuring a wild night.
The String Cheese Incident is scheduled for three exciting nights to end 2016 in Broomfield. For night one, Big Gigantic and SCI will come together for Big Gigantic Incident, followed by one set of Cheese. Night two will see a set by The Floozies before two sets of Cheese, and night three (NYE) will be three sets of pure SCI, all taking place at 1STBANK Center.
STS9 will take on Denver for three straight nights at Fillmore Auditorium.
Yonder Mountain String Band is scheduled to play two nights at Boulder Theater, the first night alongside Boulder natives, The Railsplitters.
Dark Star Orchestra is bringing a Cosmic New Year’s celebration to Electric Factory for two nights in Philadelphia. The first night (12/30) will include Keller Williams.
Cabinet will play their New Year’s show at Theatre of Living Arts, also in Philadelphia.
Lotus and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will play two nights together at Stage AE in Pittsburgh.
The Disco Biscuits return to Atlanta to play a whopping three night run at The Tabernacle.
Famed Colorado funk outfit, The Motet, will play at The Variety Playhouse on December 31st, with the coveted Roosevelt Collier Trio opening the show.
Perpetual Groove will keep it close to home, hitting the Terminal West for two nights to ring in the New Year.
Article by Meredith Warfield
Christmas Jam is coming to town
Oh, it’s that time of the year again. The smell of holly and eggnog in the air, cool winds creeping through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and just beyond the sleigh bells-a-ringing, you can hear ol’ St. Warren Haynes shredding a guitar riff. All things considered, Haynes is more than a ‘famous’ rock and blues guitarist. He has played with the best of them, being a regular installment of The Dead, The Allman Brothers and his own Gov’t Mule. During his “never-ending tour” of a life, he has connected musically and mentally with many talented artists, forging a musical family of sorts. For 27 years he has been gathering his friends in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina for a massive benefit concert known as Christmas Jam. Just in the past few years, The Jam has seen such artists as Phil Lesh and Friends, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, The Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Doobie Brothers and John Popper. Warren has the ability to create a community around musical tradition, giving jam fans a unique show every year.
For this year’s 28th Christmas Jam, Warren brought on his old friend Bob Weir. This man needs no introduction, though it is worth noting that his recent solo album Blue Mountain and his supporting Campfire Band tour were both beyond phenomenal. Other artists include Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers, a duet of Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss, and an extension of Warren’s coveted project, The Last Waltz Band. Having a wildly successful first run in New Orleans last April, he has decided to bring it to Asheville. Under famed musical director Don Was, the super group includes Haynes, McDonald, Johnson, John Medeski, Terrence Higgins and more.
Christmas Jam is always known for having some pretty heavy hitters lending their talents to various performances, and this year’s special guests will be saxophonist Branford Marsalis, guitarist Steve Kimock, as well as George Porter Jr., Marcus King, Kevn Kinney, Audley Freed, Bob Margolin and Mike Barnes, with more to be announced.
Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam is about more than an all out blues and rock party. It is about the holiday season representing a time for us to gather and give back. Warren has worked hard to turn this event into a fruitful charity to the Asheville area, his hometown and musical sanctuary. He has worked closely with Habitat For Humanity to raise over $2 million from the Jams, providing houses for 36 families in the area, spearheading the Hudson Hills subdivision, and he’s even been known to get up there on the ladder from time to time. Ol’ St. Warren is the man that really knows how to ring in the holidays to Asheville. Though tickets may be sold out, Asheville will be a lively town all weekend with daytime and after-party shows happening Friday and Saturday.
Written by William Crowell
Keller Williams gives thanks to DC, Virginia faithful.
After a few days visiting our respective families for Thanksgiving, everyone was ready to party with their extended bluegrass families for the weekend. The masses assembled in the cities of D.C. and Richmond, Virginia for the second annual Keller Williams’ Thanksforgrassgiving.
Charlottesville’s own Love Canon opened up both shows this year, joined in by Keller, who brought an electrifying group together for the holiday weekend. Jeff Austin was as animated as ever on his mandolin, and Nicky Sanders vigorously sawed at the fiddle to roars of approval from the raucous crowd. The dobro wailed mightily from the hands of Jay Starling as Danton Boller held it down on the double bass, all under the leadership of Virginia’s native son Keller Williams on guitar and lead vocals.
Friday night kicked off with a high energy, bluegrass pickin’ set by Love Canon, doing more than a few beloved classics. Jesse Harper’s voice sounded amazing, dressing the set with his huge vocal range and piercing falsetto. Keller joined them for a couple of songs, one of them a Marcy Playground cover, “I Smell Sex and Candy,” which was a great fusion of Keller’s smooth voice and Love Canon’s ability to turn an already great song into something completely unforgettable. Love Canon also announced that they are holding a GoFundMe fundraiser for their upcoming album, which Keller also collaborated on.
Keller’s expertise as not only a one-man wonder on stage, but as a versatile performer that has collaborated with many incredible musicians, was easily evident on Friday night, as he effortlessly led the band back and forth through traditional bluegrass sound to newer progressive sounds as appropriate. The set featured a sensational “Shakedown Street,” then Keller’s “Love Handles,” Tom Petty’s “Yer So Bad,” and Everclear’s “Santa Monica.” They ended with a spirited Nirvana “Lithium” cover, before coming back to bid us ‘Good-night’ with a “Porta Potty.” As always, Keller’s blissful, high spirited energy was contagious, reaching all the way down to those of us dancing our shoes off in the audience.
On Saturday night at The National, Williams’ led a memorable version of “Best Feeling,” a song he recorded with The String Cheese Incident. There were also a ton of covers that night, taking the crowd through multiple decades of hits. Jeff Austin got to lead the way on “New Horizons,” an old Yonder Mountain String Band number. They also covered “Island in the Sun” by Weezer, and even the Chainsmokers’ chart-topping summer hit “Closer.”
Written by Karina Verlan and Richard Oakley
Photos by Marisa Muldoon
Podcast #5: Backstage with Consider the Source
“Our goal isn’t to get rich doing this. Our goal is to get better at doing what we do, keep doing it and hopefully reach a lot of people. Whatever sacrifices we need to make, we’re willing to do that.”
Our producer Ana Caicedo recently talked with Consider the Source before a show at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre in an interview that spans many topics, including the inspiration and genre identification of the group’s music, how life experiences have helped them grow as a band, and so much more. Listen and enjoy!
Podcast by Ana Caicedo
Photos by Anna Norwood and Ana Caicedo
Review: Twiddle and Lespecial play a pre-holiday heater in Philly (11/19)
Saturday, November 19th was cold and rainy, not uncommon for late fall in Philadelphia. But the scene on South Street was warm, and the crowd making its way into the Theater of the Living Arts was about to get heated up by the evening’s opener Lespecial. Both Lespecial and Twiddle, the headliner, have been touring relentlessly, as well as making new fans and satisfying loyal followers on the festival scene. This night brought these two progressive rock jam bands together for a very fun time.
Lespecial has the sound of a funky jamtronica band, and they do have some techno sounds, but this was more of a funky rock set. They played mostly originals and a few fun covers, most notably “Baby One More Time,” the Britney Spears hit, which they did with a jam in the middle that was totally out there.
Twiddle was the top bill and top draw for this Saturday night, and although they filled the TLA, there was plenty of room to dance – and Twiddle’s loyal followers were there for a dance party. Those up front seemed to know all the lyrics to all the songs, and found them inspiring, and in some cases life changing. They played two solid sets of original music that featured not only great musicianship from all four, but unique voices and harmonies. The first set was only four songs, but the jams went on for a long time, taking us on a musical journey as good jam bands do.
Set 1: Apples, Brick Of Barley, Jamflowman, Amydst The Myst, Set 2: Latin Tang, Atlantic Mocean> BBQ> Atlantic Mocean, Dr. Remidi’s Melodium, Zazu’s Flight, Hatti’s Jam> When It Rains It Poors
Overall this Thanksgiving tour was an excellent night of music from two bands that are quickly becoming staples of the music scene in many areas.
Article and photos by Steven Philips
The Mantras bust out classics and new jams at Boone Saloon
Greensboro rockers The Mantras returned to Boone Saloon for two jam packed nights earlier this November. Boone has an affinity for The Mantras, and the band brought out a solid crowd each night, filled with long-time fans and newcomers alike. Taking no time to warm up, the quintet started the first set with “Metrognome,” a crowd favorite and the band’s first track on their debut album. Keeping the energy going, they went straight into “Slow Down.” Their transitions were so fluid and smooth as they spaced out into “Miguel’s Travels” and “Miguel’s Dream,” and then to the crowd’s delight, went right back into a reprise of “Slow Down” and “Metrognome” to end the set.
The second set began with two songs from their new EP Knot Suite. The Mantras then really got the crowd grooving with “Dr. Ssanasinod” and “Bobble Depot.” Not wasting any time, they went right into a groovy “Are You Here” into a triumphant “Dharland” to close out the set.
Thursday was very nice, but on Friday the band seemed so dialed. Mixing it up from all of their material, The Mantras started out the night with “Marlene,” which went directly into “Is That What You Want.” Featuring the new album from September sparingly, they then went into “Dirt Nap,” and the crowd could just tell that this night was going to be special. Keeping the heat going, the guys then played “Before My Time,” ending the first set with a bang with “Eckard Falls.”
Their second and final set of the two-night run was truly special, showing the fans how far the band has come since their inception more than 10 years ago. The band was clearly having a lot of fun up there, and it showed with an extended jam to start: “Hobo Ken” into “Song for You” straight into “Strongbox.” Keeping the energy high and alive, they then surprised much of the audience with a funky cover of “Positive Vibration” by Bob Marley. Pleasing the early Mantras fans, the band then played “The Way Life Goes” from their debut self-titled album, and ending their run with an unbelievable cover of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin.
The Mantras truly brought out all the tricks during their two nights at Saloon and it was such a pleasure to see the band develop into the truly unique and special jam band that they are today. There is no doubt that they will be welcomed with open arms in the near future.