Category Archives: Rex-A-Vision

Review: 2013 Forecastle Music Festival in Louisville, KY

In the decade since it”s inception, the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky has grown from a single small stage in the park into one of the premier music events of the year, with host band the String Cheese Incident joined by rap superstar Big Boi, rock gods The Black Keys, local hero Jim James and so many more. Born from founder J.K. McKnight”s wish to unite live music and the spirit of activism on the community level, this annual get together has found a home on the banks of the Ohio River with a widely varied slate of acts on the four stages from the biggest rock bands in the land to the homegrown sounds of bluegrass and everything in between. Partnering with Ashley Capps, one of the founders of Bonnaroo, the massive concert spectacle against which all other fests are measured, McKnight saw his seeded dream grow beyond his wildest imaginings and truly become a showcase for the city he loves, the causes he believes in and the music that has given his life joy.

Since its humble beginnings Forecastle”s focus has been squarely on giving a voice to roots and national level causes, in an effort to demonstrate what could be accomplished from working together. The music was the bait, but illustrating how easy it is for us all to pitch in and steer our lives away from the environmentally and philosophically self destructive course on which we have blithely followed for far too long. Environmentalism, fairness and a wide range of political causes from both sides of the aisle are given prime space along the main concert area, each booth filled with eager minds sparked by the exposure to new ideas, musical and social. With the largest attendance on record for the 2013 edition of Forecastle, more people than ever had the opportunity to learn about responsibility and the rewards of joining in to make the world a better place, and it”s hard to think of a better reason to gather together.


The Pimps of Joytime

To draw as wide a variety of souls as possible, nearly every musical taste was catered to over the three days of fun in the cities resurrected downtown and it”s green-space jewel, Waterfront Park. Slinky, percussive funksters Brooklynites The Pimps of Joytime opened the Mast Stage on Friday with a dancey sound that had the five o”clock on a Friday crowd ready to shake off their work week doldrums and boogie down.

On the second stage, DIY legend Bob Mould showed why, from his days of founding punk icons Husker Du to today”s hard charging solo work, he is a force to be reckoned with. Prowling the stage like a caged tiger, barely contained rage at the microphone Mould was constantly exploding into wild guitar bursts as he broke free from any tether and let his soul blare from his instrument.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Local rising stars Houndmouth, from just across the river, showed the songwriting and performing skill that earned them slots on the David Letterman show and top tier playlists across the country. While Moon Taxi showed that there are quality rock bands still forming across the country, Dj acts like Salva and Griz illustrated the power of modern machinery in the hands of minds that can compose and create in and of the moment, making reactionary beats that fed off the crowd.

Old Crow Medicine Show, known for their Americana feel and tight live performances brought the first taste of the Bluegrass state”s signature music, and had the crowd twirling an tapping their toes from front to back of the packed lawn at the main stage. Meanwhile Young The Giant poured every iota of energy the possessed into each and every song they played on the Boom Stage, amping the crowd into a frenzy just in time for the weekend”s host band, The String Cheese Incident.

Hailing from Colorado, the String Cheese Incident is a musical chameleon that perfectly represents the modern festival dynamic with a range of styles and influences that make each song both unique and somehow still of a whole. From wide open ballads, dense jams and even a organic homage to the modern dub/electronica movement, Cheese nimbly darts wherever their combined muses take them. The six members of the band, Billy Nershi on lead guitar, multi-instrumentalist Michael Kang on Mandolin, violin and guitar, Kyle Hollingsworth on piano, keyboards and organ, Keith Moseley on bass and the one-two percussive punch of Jason Hann and Michael Travis.

With each member actively involved in creating distinct music of their own, Cheese has become almost a clearing house for ideas distilled from each player”s personal sensibilities. The range of a modern SCI show features an almost relay race dynamic, with each member stepping up to lead tunes that showcase their personal sensibilities, which the rest of the band doing all they could to make each song as rich and diverse as possible. The final product is a blend of music that has led to the String Cheese Incident”s amazing enduring popularity which led them to being asked to play the role of “Host” over the weekend. Playing an epic closing set on Friday, performing a after show at the storied local venue the Louisville Palace, then bringing forth their bluegrass roots for a special Sunday set, Cheese owned the city and the festival itself over the weekend, and under their stewardship people reveled in a state of musical bliss, the best feeling in the world.


The 23 String Band

With one of the strongest public radio platforms in the nation, Louisville is blessed to have three stations of music and information operating around the clock, with the wide ranging WFPK leading the way. Home to dozens of programs that showcase everything from blues to punk, as well as free ranging hours left up to their DJs, WFPK regularly hosts one of the stages, giving up and coming artists a chance to show the crowd what they do and how well they do it. Local bluegrass act The 23 String Band drew an impressive crowd to Saturday”s Port stage, some their faithful fans and some just eager to see what the buzz was about. Freakwater and the always artsy Rubblebucket added to their loyal following with fresh converts, all thanks to a station that works around the clock to keep the spirit of music alive in a time of commercialization and homogenization, a truly noble endeavor for which their listeners and the festival patrons thanked them with cheers and out stretched arms.

Alabama Shakes

All around the rest of the festival, Saturday”s line up featured everything from current music darlings like Dawes and Alabama Shakes, Kurt Vile and the Violators, and The UK”s The Joy Formidable all showed why those worried about the state of modern music should not be too concerned. While prepackaged pop does dominate the charts, original bands are working their way into the hearts and minds of the listening public, enticing them to go beyond the norm and seek out the new and original. And, closing out the Boom stage was a band that somehow, even after almost two decades, remains the newest and most original outfit on any platform…the Flaming Lips.

With a long history of epic shows full of weirdness, any chance to see the Flaming Lips perform is an opportunity to peer into the raw, creative world of the band”s off-putting but heartfelt vibe. Their music is a wild mish-mash of crashing drums, layered synthesizers and effect, sub sonic bass and melodic acoustic guitars. The legends and lore that have sprung up around them and their challenging presentation, including entire shows performed to short wave broadcast”s only listenable on headphone, recording a CD that was sectioned off and could only be heard by listening to four separate sound systems at the same time, precede them and make the anticipation build to a fever pitch for their devoted followers.

The Flaming Lips

Eschewing what has, of late, become their trademarks, such as the dancing girls, confetti and day-glo insanity, the band toned down not only their visuals, but offered a few stripped down versions of their songs as well, notably their most anthemic tune, “Do You Realize.” “Realize” went from a bubbly pop ditty with a deeper meaning to a plaintive begging…urging the crowd to make the most of every moment. Tracks from their new release, The Terror were prominently featured in the set list, and were as well received as classics like “She Don”t Use Jelly.” For the initiated true believers who lined up as soon as the gates opened and held down their spots all day to the interested onlookers who wandered towards the show to see what the hype was all there was a wide variety of reactions, from instant love to disdain. From a darkened, mirror ball and smoke filled stage a sense shredding overload was emitted, and those who observed it were changed for the experience, a result provacateurs like the Flaming Lips couldn”t help but appreciate.


Tift Merrit

It would be hard to find two more different opening acts than the home spun rock stylings of songstress Tift Merrit and Nigerian born Goumar Almoctar”s Bombino. Though born worlds apart, both acts shared a spirit and underlying theme of overcoming adversity that linked them philosophically, if not musically. NYC rapper El-P and his partner Killer Mike led the folks at the Ocean stage into a furious state, fists pumping in time to their serious rhymes about the state of the world.

Due to an unfortunate cancellation, the schedule for Sunday was remixed, and a more natural paring of styles resulted with masters of the new breed of modern, rock influenced bluegrass Greensky Bluegrass no opening for festival hosts String Cheese Incident”s much hyped instrumental “Bluegrass Incident” set on the Boom Stage. Greensky has built themselves into one of the most well regarded bluegrass bands in the field through their mastery of their respective instruments, with Anders Beck leading the way on his drop steel guitar, heart felt and emotive songwriting by mandolinist Paul Hoffman and a willingness to explore the darker territories of the musical spectrum.

The Bluegrass Incident

You”d be hard put to find any band willing or capable of following the show put on by Greensky Bluegrass, but, as luck would have it, the guys from String Cheese brought a few friends along to help them in their cause. True pioneer of the seventies wave of mixing modern music with classic bluegrass trapping, Sam Bush joined the Incident, banjo player and all around happiest guy at the festival Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon, along with multi-year award winning “Mandolinist of the Year” Ronnie McCoury and fiddle virtuoso and Kentucky born and bred Jason Carter. Running through classic from both Cheese”s catalog like “Rivertrance” and the bluegrass songbook, the joy of sharing one of the oldest traditions in music, the picking party, was plain to see and a joy to watch, as well as a testament to the competence and confidence of the band. A fitting tribute to the state and the music it has spawned.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

Over on the main stage, we were treated to a burst of old school rock with a heap of sex appeal, with the next two acts. First up was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, bringing their high energy mix of classic rock stylings and satisfyingly original takes on genre conventions, all while being fronted by one of the most beguiling figures to lead a band since the likes of Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. Grace Potter”s charisma and beauty belie her talent, and her comfort onstage in any situation, be it at her organ, with a guitar in her hand s or simply belting out her songs from some unknowable depths kept all eyes riveted to her, a power she used to playfully toy with the fans with a smile and a wink. Potter was following in the wake of a classic archetype, that of a singer using a mix of raw sex appeal and talent to take over a show that was perfected years ago by the man who followed her on the main stage, rock and roll legend Robert Plant.

Robert Plant

Robert Plant“s career is as storied and well known as any in the modern era of music. From fronting Led Zeppelin to his solo career in the eighties, small scale reunion tours with Zep guitarist Jimmy Page, to recent collaborations with Allison Krauss and his current band, The Strange Sensation Plant has shown a longevity that defies logic. Tales of his partying in the past have moved into folklore territory, while his new clean living lifestyle has shown him to be in a healthier state than men half his age marking him as a man more than capable of delighting crowds beyond simple nostalgia. Though Zep classics were on hand, they blended seamlessly with hits from his solo career, world music infused new material and a playful smile and spirit that echoed his most famous of questions…”Does anyone remember laughter?” Forecastle closed with a short rain delayed set from the Avett Brothers, another of many returning acts like the Black Keys, who in the past were part of the daytime festivities now grown to the point of headliners. McKnight openly remarked that bands enthusiasm for returning to the festival made him positive he was doing something right, and the filled sign up sheets in the variety of activists booths bode well for the next generation and their commitment to taking the reigns in the fight to make the world a better place.

Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Rex Thomson…

Purple Hatters Ball Music Festival – Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL

Each day, whether we want it to or not, life has something to teach us. The lesson plan for last weekend”s Purple Hatters Ball music festival was one of responsibility to each other, the dangers of the abuse of power and what we can all do together when motivated by love. Beyond the traditional combination of music, mirth and good natured mayhem the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park hosted more than the festival, it hosted the spirit and legacy of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman. Hoffman, a 23 year old college graduate, chose to work as an undercover informant for the Tallahassee police department in hopes of receiving lenient treatment on a narcotics arrest. Through a series of easily avoidable mistakes, she was murdered in the course of a botched sting operation. Though Rachel”s life may have been tragically cut short in a senseless instance of violence while working under the auspices of Florida police, her death served as an impetus for a positive legacy to be born.

Mourning the loss of a daughter and friend, parents Margie Weiss and Irv Hoffman and Rachel”s friends channeled their fury into trying to make sure no other families experienced the same pain they were going through dealing with burying a child. Irv contacted state senator Mike Fasano, and introduced and promoted the measure that would come to be known, appropriately, as “Rachel”s Law.” Simply put, the new law requires officers to receive training in working with informants and protects the informant by making it mandatory that they not only be informed that their sentences may, in fact not be reduced as well as allow said informants to speak with their lawyers prior to working with police. Added to this, the civil suit was recently settled and the Tallahassee Police were forced to admit, financially at least, that they were wrong. These victories don”t bring back Rachel, or truly make up for the hole left in the lives of her friends and loved ones, certainly, but do ensure that her legacy becomes a positive change for society itself.

The departed Ms. Hoffman was a fixture in the Florida concert scene, and regular visitor to Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and the owners and promoters who host and throw the nearly dozen major events yearly decided that they needed to honor the loss of one of their own, and so the Purple Hatters Ball was born. A non profit charity has been founded in her name, The Rachel Morningstar Foundation and a festival was born to honor her with the bands and music she loved in life. Many of the regional bands she loved, such as Dubconscious and the rollicking Catfish Alliance shared the stages with major acts like England”s The New Mastersounds and the funk enclave Lettuce. The park itself is a favorite destination of music aficionados and lovers of the great outdoors and the staff of regulars who keep the production running smoothly were more than happy to pitch in and make this a weekend not only to remember but to inspire as well. An art gallery displayed works like those Hoffman herself enjoyed, vendors plied their trade selling beautiful hand made and in some cases wearable objects of art, and food that would do well on the finest of restaurants tables was prepared for the hungry attendees.

Suwannee”s two permanent stages were joined by a third stage erected in front of the park”s signature lake, surrounded on all sides by the forest of Spanish moss-dappled Cyprus trees. The porch stage had a fun mixture of music throughout the weekend, from DJ acts like Sir Charles, jamtronica acts like Greenhouse Lounge and Chroma, while the Crunchay Lake Stage had a strong focus on Dj and electronica acts like T3AM, S.P.O.R.E. and Trillucination, with Dj”s Bobby Newport, Kevin Velarde and Ellofunk kept the discs spinning and more traditional acts like Shoes and Laces and the Savi Fernandez Band rocked the appreciative crowds into a frenzy. The beloved amphitheater are, with it”s signature terraced rings of hammock hung trees and sun dappled was host to some of the most impressive performances of the weekend, from the aforementioned headliners to a couple of inspiring one off sets.

On Friday, the brit flavored band The New Mastersounds played their brand of intricate, energetic funk to a appreciative audience. With sit ins ranging from the sublime, soaring drop steel guitarist and artist at large Roosevelt Collier and a stunningly brazen cover of “Jungle Boogie” featuring Catfish Alliance”s hype man/force of nature Big E-A.K.A. the Sexual Manatee complementing their deep catalog of tight originals, their set capped off a fun first day of music and dancing in the sun and under the stars. Drummer Simon Allen amused the crowd with his patter and stunned them directly after with a precision that was awe inspiring on his kit, while organist Joe Tatton hypnotized the crowd with his melodic drones and snapped them awake with his rollicking flourishes.

Saturday night saw headliner Lettuce lay down a deeply orchestral approach to the funk aesthetic, with guitarist Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff trading licks back and forth as seamlessly as has been done on a stage, both somehow managing to shine as individuals and blend perfectly as a unit at the same time. Soulful singer Nigel Hall played organ counterpoint to Alan Ivans ivory work on the opposite side of the stage, whil Adam Dietch kept the beats on the money and infectious to any feet not already moving. The Shady Horns provided a pop and snap to each sting and refrain, while bass madman Jesus Coomes prowled the stage, each step and motion of his body and extension of the thumping rhythm he was laying down. After such and earth shattering close to the night, it was appropriate that we began the next morning with a recharge of the mind and the body with the very special sunday morning church inspired gospel set featuring Nigel Hall and Roosevelt Collier, who has always brought a touch of the holy to his music, both in his solo work and his regular gig with The Lee Boys. Joining them was a hodge podge of band mates and guests from the rest of the fest, such as at one point or another most of Lettuce and Mastersounds bassist Pete Shand, though Shand gave his spot up to the appropriately named Jesus to finish off the gospel showcase.

Before the gospel supergroup took a well deserved encore, Margie Weiss and promoter Paul Levine took the stage for an emotional Mothers Day tribute to Rachel. Distributing a collection of butterflies for release, Weiss made a moving speech to the early risers about her feelings on the passing of time, and the act of keeping her love alive for her daughter and her spirit. Weiss was wearing, as she had not just all weekend but at each of the previous festivals and at many, many events honoring her daughter the trademark wide brimmed, giant fuzzy purple hat for which the festival was named. Her words barely finished, promoter Levine took the opportunity to dedicate the moment to a few other losses, such as that of his own mother, the recent passing of Smirnoff”s mother and others. He spoke of keeping their love alive, and using this examples of friendship to strengthen us in the dark times with eyes welling with tears, moving the crowd into a mixture of silent reverence and joyful affirmation before those gathered onstage released the gathered monarch butterflies back into the world, bring a flutter of color and dash of hope to the blue skies surrounding all. Seeming to find their troubles released along with the butterflies, Weiss and Levine exited the stage arm-in-arm, mission accomplished.

New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts has been exploring America and making new music along the way. A project started out of his temporary residency in San Francisco, Eddie Roberts West Coast Sounds featured not only a stunning display of intense guitar picking from Roberts but also an amazing dedication to fashion, as he and his suit braved the blazing sun in a open defiance of the heat. A consummate professional, he led the band through a dozen tunes that varied in tempo but not quality. As the music moved to the indoors for a seven hour dance party inside the cavernous onsite Music Hall, a gesture occured that summed up not only the spirit of the weekend, but the park itself. A craw-fish boil, a bayou tradition of feasting on the shellfish, boiled alongside potatoes, corn and andouie sausage was brought in to celebrate a graduation and feed the artists and staff who made this amazing display of caring possible. Upon realizing that there was more food than could possibly be consumed by the crowd backstage, Paul Levine gathered up a table, the requisite newspaper and a large amount of the food and drove to the center of the park with the bounty, and set it out for any and all to consume. Hungry music fans swarmed in, and enjoyed the fellowship of the boil. Even the food vendors, rather than be offended at the competition to their wares, left their booths and partook in the spread.

The opportunities to give, to share, and to brighten the lives of others are available to us all each and every minute of every day. Even if you don”t have a treasure trove of succulent food to present to a hungry crowd, you can still crack a joke, hold a door and find a way to simply help someone and make their journeys shorter, easier and more enjoyable. In her life Rachel Hoffman, from all reports by friends and family alike, spread smiles and happiness wherever she went and her example in life has resonated on long after her death. It should be the greatest desire of all who live to leave the world a better place, and to shine a light for others to follow and magnify through good deeds of their own. Rachel Morningstar Hoffman managed to do not only that, but inspired others to take steps to prevent her fate from befalling any others. Though she left the world in pain, the light of her life has only grown in the years she”s been gone… a true star showing us the way to a better morning for all.

Life in Rex-a-Vision with The Mantras (Video)

Hello interwebz, to quote Michael Franti … “How ya Feelin’?” 

Welcome to the inaugural edition of my (hopefully) weekly column documenting the experiences of a diehard music fanatic gone professional media weirdo. 

My name is Rex Thomson and I’m a photojournalist and videographer in the employ of our hosts here at Honest Tune. Thanks to them, I get to travel the country, seeing shows, taking photos from the pits, the stage and of course from where it really counts, with the crowd alongside the reason this site exists… you.

For an added degree of difficulty this year, I am filming a documentary styled show about my travels, my interactions with the bands and fans that make up our music scene and the way music touches all of our lives.  The show is called Rex-A-Vision and it’s an attempt to capture my unique viewpoint in a variety of real and imaginary ways. 


I’ll be searching out the way we all express ourselves and will be trying to share the creative process of others in hopes of inspiring the same in you, the viewer.

Here, in this column, I will try and share a bit of what I gather during my adventures — in the form of essays, interviews and even exclusive performances from some of the finest musicians working today.

There’s so much love, personality and wonderful music being made that I never get a chance to share due to space considerations, my general mandate to not cause my editors to die of exhaustion and an overwhelming urge to protect my good name.

Here in the world of Rex-A-Vision however, I can speak unfettered, in the first person, about my thoughts on the state of music, which cities have the best biscuits and gravy and just exactly what that smell is without those pesky corporate overlords interference or even spelling corfections. Who needs them anywaze? Oh, and it turns out that it was a cheese stick that had rolled under the seat about two months ago. Life on the road is a long and sticky journey after all.

To help me kick off the column in style, I have brought North Carolina’s own The Mantras along for the ride, in the form of an interview/live music mix up to let them share the magic of what they do.



Rex-A-Vision speaks with The Mantras


You need to upgrade your Flash Player!
get Adobe Flash Player

This web site makes use of the Adobe Flash Player version 8 or newer.

For more on The Mantras, head over to



Well…that was pretty fun!  I should hope that you’re now sufficiently enticed to go see this fabulous bunch of musicians the next time they’re within a thousand or so miles from your home. Trust me, you’ll enjoy yourself. If you get a chance, tell them Rex said hi!


We already have several interviews and performances in the can for this column, and plenty more to come.

As part of Team Honest Tune I will be at over a dozen music festivals this summer and will most likely end up seeing a hundred some odd concerts along the way. I’ll be lugging a copious amount of video & photo gear along for the ride and in some cases, even have a film crew there to capture the madness that surrounds my life.

I truly look forward to continuing in this opportunity to share the music that keeps me going through all of life’s ups and downs — the thing that inspires me to dance and sing and share all of this love with you.

Oh, and I’m sure I’ll talk your ears off about my favorite acts like moe., Cornmeal, Galactic  and anything George Porter Jr. is involved with, along with many more. I may even work a little political speech in for good measure, as my candidacy for the highest office in music festival government — mayor of moe.down — continues for a third straight year.

So check out my photo page on Facebook, and look for these little missives weekly from your one stop shop for the best in music reviews, photos and insanity, Honest Tune.

Thanks for your time folks, and as always, Vote Rex for Mayor of moe.down 2012!




Rex-A-Vision has a few words with The Travelin’ McCourys (Video)

The Travelin’ McCourys are as steeped in the heritage and traditions of bluegrass as any band has ever been, and their traveling Bluegrass Ball tour Is the raucous distillation of the form. Sired by legendary guitarist Del McCoury, one of the fathers of American bluegrass, brothers Rob and Ronnie McCoury have taken to the road with band mates Jason Carter and Alan Bartram to test the musical waters with artists from a vast array of backgrounds; from recording merged albums with the southern fried and gospel tinged Lee Boys to an upcoming album and tour with the one man jam band troubadour, Keller Williams.


Being that they step into the studio and onto the stage with many, the Ronnie and Rob occasionally call up their buddies, who happen to be some of the finest pickers in the business, to join them for a night or three.


This is exactly what happened in early January when the four “Travelin'” members joined up with guests, Billy Nershi (String Cheese Incident) and Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) for three nights in the three Midwestern cities of Bloomington, IN, Chicago, IL, and St. Louis, MO.


Honest Tune’s Rex Thomson caught all three nights of the stellar run and took the opportunity to sit down and chat with the guys. Spliced with recorded footage from the much sought after tune, “Death Trip,” that was performed in Bloomington, have a listen as the McCourys discuss their open stage policy, their plans for the forthcoming year, the experience of growing up under the direction of Del McCoury and much more.


Rex-A-Vision has a few words with The Travelin’ McCourys


You need to upgrade your Flash Player!
get Adobe Flash Player

This web site makes use of the Adobe Flash Player version 8 or newer.


For more on The Travelin’ McCourys, log on to or follow them on Facebook