Green River Festival: The Sunday / Bum’s Rush Edition! July 26, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: Brown Bird, C. J. Chenier, Chris Smither, Darlingside, Elizabeth Cook, Gordon Gano, green river festival, Greenfield MA, Happy Hempsters, hot-air ballooning, Lee Fields, live music, Martin Simpson, Ozomatli, Richard Thompson, Rubblebucket, Sunday
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This isn’t going to do the great musicians at Sunday’s event justice, but I’m falling behind in my other obligations, so it will be what it is.
The day started off with a misty 5:30am sunrise:
Eric played the bagpipes, the balloons went up, and then I took a nap in the shade of my car.
Hey, two and a half hours of sleep just hadn’t recharged me from Saturday.
I woke an hour or so later to the sound checks happening at both the upper and lower stages. This sound crew was good, and put a lot of time and effort into getting it right:
By noon the line at the gate stretched way away around the parking lots, with people of all ages enduring the heat to get a good spot:
At least there was a breeze!
Promptly at noon (Saturday had been delayed a bit,) the gates opened and the masses streamed in. They were barely getting seated when the music began with one man and a guitar. If anyone expected this to be a throw-away opening act, they were soon to be wonderfully disappointed; Martin Simpson played and sang passionately and powerfully, turning his beautiful acoustic guitar into what sounded like a whole band, with luscious bass notes and complex chording underlaying spectacular slide playing:
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with his music, but his blend of traditional and original British folk gems blew me away, and I’m certain I wasn’t alone in feeling that way!
OK, next (“Bum’s Rush,” remember?) came Elizabeth Cook, trilling deceptively pretty country songs in a Dolly Parton voice (though without the accessories:)
I say “deceptively pretty” because she wasted no time getting down and dirty, making it clear that an unfaithful man had better not be her unfaithful man, and standing up for the “fairer sex” with songs like, “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman.” The ladies loved it and sang along, while their hubbies mouthed the words and looked a wee bit nervous…
Anyway, she was great fun, but I missed the end of her act, instead heading down to the lower stage to catch a bit of local wonders Darlingside, a Valley quintet including mandolin, fiddle, guitar, electric cello and drums:
I’m glad to have caught them; their interplay was brilliant, creating an uncategorizable blend of folk, rock and classical elements with a great energy:
Nice stuff, and as they’re local, I hope to hear them again soon!
Onward and upward:
At the main stage, local legend Chris Smither was just getting started, playing with his band The Motivators (he’s usually a solo act, doing commendable percussion with his feet!) Chris’ is an act you shouldn’t miss if he comes your way:
Amazing guitar playing, distinctive vocals and the ability to turn a phrase in a way which is at once unique and shockingly true – no cliches here, just honest answers to questions you didn’t know to ask!
His band was new to me, except for guitar virtuoso David Goodrich, who had impressed me at a previous show:
It was all good, melding bluesey tunes with beautiful vocal harmonies and an impish sense of humor. Kudos, Mr. Smither!
The Meat of the Sunday Meal came next…
I mean, Holy Cow!
If you never heard one man play three guitar parts while singing his black heart out, you should have been there. This guy’s been doing what he does for a very long time, and it shows – exquisitely crafted stories of being wrong and losing love and ruining his life, told with burning pathos, powered by this One Man Guitar Army:
If a lifetime of hard living, serious addictions and losing the love of his life have tempered his abilities, I can’t imagine to what heights he might have soared with his full faculties.
But then again, the stories he wrings from his bones and serves up with a twinkle of wry humor might not come out the way they do, and his loss is our great gain:
The crowd ate it up, roaring for more, singing along and pushing him to a brief encore (my throat still hurts!)
By the time Mr. Thompson had had his way with us, we were all exhausted and hungry; pity the poor Winter Pills, who played next to a sea of people who tried to be enthusiastic, but really needed a breather. A lot of people took this opportunity to avail themselves of the excellent (and groovy) food vendors:
That shot taken before the gates opened; after Richard Thompson I couldn’t get near it!
Sunday was a fail for me getting to all of the bands, all of the time, so I’ll just apologize to Lee Fields, C. J. Chenier, Gordon Gano, Brown Bird, and all of the fine acts in the Meltdown Tent. After Saturday’s marathon and the 4am start, I just wanted to kick back a bit and enjoy some of this great music.
The crowd got revved up again for Rubblebucket, a really strong jam/funk outfit from Brooklyn, New York. Their sound merges the jam-band energy of Phish with a spectacularly fine horn and horn-bop duo who traded their ‘bones for vocal renditions of great horn arrangements; they chased one of the most unique guitar players I’ve ever had the pleasure of heaingr all over the musical map, and provided pumping lyrical counterpoints to the astonishing high-energy vocals of singer Kalmia Traver:
Set this all to challenging and totally atypical rhythms, fill the spaces with effervescent synth and stir, or rather dance yourself into a frenzy. My face hurt from smiling, they were that good!
…But sadly, they were a nightmare to photograph from out in the audience – between their frenetic movements and the streamers blowing from every mic stand, auto focus was out of the question, and the shallow depth of field on my 400mm lens was far from optimal for the job. Sorry folks.
The show wrapped up with Ozomatli, an LA band known for powering dance raves through the roof of any room. They had a head start with this fired-up audience, and even though their urban funk sensibilities aren’t our usual hill-town fare, they totally nailed it, with a line-up of four drummer/percussionists:
(…that one’s for the Ladies )
…powering another killer horn section and fabulous guitar player to rave speed and beyond.
I did my usual vanishing act when they started to peak, choosing once again to hit the road before it got choked to a standstill by thousands of wired drivers all trying to be the first out of the lot.
So that’s it, folks. Two days of great music and food, a beautiful balloon ride, and four posts worth of typos which I’ll find long after you do! I’m not proof-reading anything tonight – my “bum’s rush” wrap-up has taken me ’till 1:30 am!
Winkle Picker! February 19, 2012Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
Tags: Andy Friedman, Ashfield MA, Chris Smither, Winkle Picker
Well, a new “tradition” got its start this weekend in Ashfield, MA: Winkle Picker! It’s ostensibly a Mardi Gras-themed celebration with music and food and related festivities, though the name was chosen to allow plenty of latitude for future explorations along different lines (I mean, it doesn’t really pigeon-hole the thing, does it?)
This year’s line-up included Cajun food served at the excellent Elmer’s, a restaurant/store in the center of town; Cajun cooking classes, a museum display of Cajun/Creole/General Mardi Gras costumes, and two musical events – an afternoon show headlined by Chris Smither and an evening event capped off by Buckwheat Zydeco!
I had the good fortune to go to the afternoon show, with the ticket being a Valentine’s Day present from my sweetie-pie, Susan B. Thanks, Sweetie!
And as I’m trying to learn new tricks, I brought my camera. I’m not versed in photographing people, and want to take every opportunity to practice.
The show was opened by Andy Friedman, a singer/songwriter from New York City:
He did a commendable job, and we’ll doubtless be hearing more from him.
The Main Event, though, is in a rare class of musicians who spin words into gold, alternately tickling you to tears and ripping your heart out with them: Chris Smither is a master at telling quintessential truths in ways you never heard before and will never be able to forget.
Here’s Chris and his part-time sideman, whose name I’ve shamefully misplaced (he deserves better) and can’t find anywhere:
He joined Chris for half a dozen songs mid-way through a loooong set, and really added a nice sound, hauntingly hollow and as tasty as it gets:
But mostly it was Chris’ house, held in the palm of his hand, singing his ass off and stomping up a whole rhythm section in his trademark one-man-band style:
It was a more intimate setting than when last I saw him play (at the Green River Music and Balloon Festival,) and I dug in at the left edge of the stage with my 24-105mm L-Series lens, which worked well at this distance of perhaps sixteen feet:
The room was daylight-bright with visual distractions behind the performers, so I shot everything two full stops under-exposed, then played with the levels in post-processing to get these results.
Thanks to Mr. Smither for a brilliant and moving performance, and for allowing me to get in this close.
And people, if he comes your way, don’t even think about it, just go. You won’t be disappointed.