Category Archives: Features

Resonance Music & Arts Festival 2015

Resonance Music & Arts Festival 2015
9/24/15-9/26/15 at Legend Valley (Thornville, OH)
Featuring: Perpetual Groove, Nahk & Medicine for the People, Rising Appalachia, Tauk, The Main Squeeze, Keller Williams and more…

 

Resonance 2015 Peeps (344)

 

Resonance 2015 Musicians (150)

 

Resonance 2015 Musicians (986)

 

Resonance 2015 Peeps (296)

 

Matt Butler: Evolution Of Everyone The story of the Everyone Orchestra

Matt Butler

Honest Tune caught up with Matt Butler, creator and conductor of the Everyone Orchestra before his upcoming shows this weekend in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington as he takes his concept on the road with an all star bevy of talent.  We get in depth about how he started this path, how the path itself has changed over the years, guest conductors and who he’s like to have sit in who hasn’t…yet.  (Yeah, it’s Trey!)  Enjoy!

Honest Tune ~ Let’s start at the beginning…do you remember when you first conceived the Everyone Orchestra?
Matt Butler ~ I conceived it in stages. It started when I was in India with my wife at a cross cultural open mic where we got to witness music being a universal language, bringing everybody together. I just Felt the communication in a really deep way. Then I thought, “Y’know, I bet there’s a different way I could create something that’s not really an open mic, but not really a band either.” It’s like this new musical experience, where people can have this feeling, the musicians can feel it differently, to be organized and brought together in a different way. At that point I was out of Jambay, my band of the nineties, and I had started to compose a lot. I was doing some singer song writer stuff, some film scores, and started thinking about heading in that direction fully, stepping out from behind the drum kit. I tell people “Everyone Orchestra is my singer songwriter project gone awry.” (Laughs)

HT ~ (Laughs)
MB ~ The process of working on my singer-songwriter project is where I made all these other discoveries. When I came back from my Indian experience I hosted an open mic, and there would be lots of jams, drum centered jams, multi-instrumental jams…global music jams and I was in deep experimentation stage with the concept from 1996 through 2001. It was also part of my experience working with Ken Kesey (Original “Merry Prankster” and author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and how he was always trying to get the audience involved in unique and funky ways. He was often very blatant about it. He would hand out handbills before our shows where it would have instructions like “This is where you spin!” and “This is where you dance like a clown!” There were these very specific ways he was trying to get the audience to participate. The idea of breaking the fourth wall down, between me and the audience, became very interesting to me. It’s not that we had that much success with this back in the day…sometimes it worked, sometimes not. I just grew up in a really orchestral household where, my mom just last year retired after 48 years of playing in the Eugene (OR) symphony. I had the opportunity to grow up among really, really incredible musicians, and actual conductors were in my mom’s regular circle of friends. Marin Alsop, who’s the principal conductors for the Baltimore symphony and one of the most highly regarded female conductors in the world…I guess watch her…y’know, this was orchestral music so it was very different from what I was creating, but still, the dynamic of where a conductor could take a group of musicians…I was very inspire by that. I didn’t conduct for the first few years. I mean…I was the drummer! (Chuckles) I hired conductors. It didn’t dawn on me ’til 2005 to conduct , I still self-identified as a drummer. Once i started conducting, I realized the role of conductor was really important to making this different. It was crucial to tap into this as something truly unique within the scope of what a band is and what people expect when they go to a music performance. The idea of being a facilitator, like leading a drum circle, kinda impacted my thinking at that point to. Being a facilitator, you don’t know exactly what will happen, you just roll with the punches, and help direct and adjust as needed. So learning how to conduct without some master plan, musically, is kinda my specialty.

HT ~ The genius of the Everyone Orchestra is that it works for basically all genres and styles. Do you approach these radically different styles any differently?
MB ~ Not really. I would say I adjust more for personalities. When I have a bunch of more, say, bluegrass musicians I lean in a more down the line style. We do some themed EO shows from time to time, like bluegrass or funk, but even within those contexts there is always some eclecticism. For me, it’s about personalities, the alchemy between the talent that’s most exciting. Seeing what people do, in reaction to these other people. I think the sonic texture of what the instrumentation is, that takes care of any accommodating that I may do because of a genre, and it ends up just happening. But, no matter the instruments, it was still just”Funk in A!” (Laughs)

EO POSTER !

HT ~ You lead the band with notes and stuff on dry erase boards. I’ve seen “Love” written on there many times, what are some of your other directions?
MB ~ I’ll give keys…sometimes I write “Love” because I’m just feelin’ it. I’m feelin’ it from the musical energy, from the vibe in the room. There’s love all around us. Music is love. I’ll write lyrics sometimes, but that changes nightly. Sometimes I’ll write “Bass & Drums'” sometimes I’ll write “8 beats Chaos!” There’s a photo in our show poster, with five words…I really believe in the contrast, the light and dark and chaos that comes from it. The right mix of those two forces…that’s chaos. I’ll give any type of direction…a key, a style…a progression…but a lot of what I am doing is asking different people to lead. The broader idea of what I am doing is facilitating a group, working as a team to create music through the conductive influence. I do a lot of this by just asking someone to start something, and that will lead to a jumping off point. I have no idea what they are gonna play. They’ll play a progression of some kind, people will jump in and it just becomes something. And then someone else will come up with part “B” and i wait for someone to give me a wink or a sign thatb they have something, and then I’ll cut everyone else out and give them the lead. Everyone then has to stop and listen, figure out what the hell is going on and join in and develop their part. That becomes “Part B.” Then I say, “Let’s go back to “Part A.” And at that point we’ve created both of these sections kinda out of the air. And sure, sometimes somebody brings a riff or a premeditated change in, but even so…nobody else knows what it is. What the other people play is still from the spontaneous ether…this is my favorite thing to do right now. I’m trying to write songs, as a group, that include the audience as a chorus, that have some kind of meaning to the moment and that feature all the musicians in a way that is exciting and new.

HT ~ You keep it pretty wide open with your selections, but a few folks have become semi regulars. Does familiarity make the collaboration easier or harder?
MB ~ I try and have a mix of the old and the new. I will say that there are some professional players out there that are my really close friends that I just enjoy working with, musically. It’s just a fun hang, a good spirit and it’s fun to throw them in the mix. And, y’know, they’re well known players and that brings a little extra excitement to the audience and the promoters. To have them on-board, and to mix them up with new musicians…that’s one of my favorite things about the Everyone Orchestra. Getting to see musicians expand their comfort zones, try new things with unfamiliar players, to grow as musicians…It might get easier for veterans of the experience, they know what kinds of changes I may call for, but also know that there is not really anything NOT to expect. With the noobies often there is a bit of fear, a little hesitation as they wonder “Can I really improvise?” Sometimes I’ll invite people who are not really improvisers, and I’ll be like “This is different. You don’t have to be free jazz musician, you just have to be ego-less and try and have fun with it.” The music we’re making isn’t perfect, but the being together and making music…that IS perfect. For the noobies it’s just about getting past the initial hesitation. I think that once the music is going, old hand and new faces are equally challenged each time.

HT ~ You’ve actually let someone else lead the orchestra at least once, moe. guitarist al. Schnier. Did it feel weird handing off your baby?
MB ~ Anyone can give this a shot, as far as I am concerned. As I get older I am thinking about teaching more people how to play this game. I’m embracing this as a new instrument, and I think that what I’m doing with it is kinda a unique twist, and an eclectic combination of a lot of the different parts of what it’s like, actually being a musician. It’s kinda like a new role on a baseball field…as if…what if they found a new base to play? (Laughs) Y’know, not first, second or third or the outfield, but some totally new position. It was kinda exciting in a way. I hated missing that show. Sometimes it happens in this crazy life of travel. A really close friend had passed away and so I had to miss it. It’s better than the show not going on, and I think Al has a deeper respect for what I do now, after having done it. I think some musicians could get a lot out of the experience after trying it themselves. If somebody had to try it at the last minute, i’m glad it was him. I used to do a lot more of the guest conductor thing, but that was mostly before I took the helm. A few of the key musicians who were around me when I started this said “Look, I like all the people you are bringing in to conduct, but the way this concept is gonna work is that we’re here because of you, and you should be conducting…we trust YOU.” Some of the conductors got up there and they were just kinda fucking with people. And that can be interesting, but as a musician you don’t wanna feel like a puppet on a string. You don’t want to be told what to do again and again and again. There’s a fine line between direction and setting there clearing space so musicians have a floor under them and can explore, to be free. Having been conducted and then taking the conducting gig myself…Different styles of conducting were bringing different things out. I’m still in the place of figuring out what this thing is, and I didn’t wanna put other people in the place where they’re being told what to do by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. On the other hand, I’ve been developing a curriculum, so that other people can more easily do this.

HT ~ Franchising is where the money’s at! (Laughs)
MB ~ Who knows? (Laughs)

HT ~ Did you lend him the hat?
MB ~ NO! Fuck no! (Laughs)

HT ~ (LAUGHS) Ever have a musician try and slip you a couple of bucks to get more stage time?
MB ~ (Laughs) Only Fishman! (Laughs)

HT ~ Well, He can afford it! (Laughs)
MB ~ (Laughs) Yeah right? He’s desperate for face time! (Laughs) No, nope, so one’s ever done that.

EO Poster 2

HT ~ In the beginning it seems you just brought the EO concept to festivals, but now you’re bringing it to cities with a heavy musician populace, like Denver, New Orleans and Portland. Is it harder to pull together a city show?
MB ~ It’s different. It”s different budgets, it’s different energies…just different considerations all around. I couldn’t do this without a good team. I have a few people who help manage the logistics, do the booking, help build the line ups…do the publicity. i’m all about the art. At a festival I will build it from there. Really, the concept was built it to make it easier for musicians in the area to come and play together. As we get bigger and bigger draws it started making sense to bring in some of the regulars. It becomes feasible to say “Okay, let’s bring out Al for these shows.”

HT ~ You have strongly linked the Everyone Orchestra to some very worthwhile causes. How has your charitable activism informed your musical direction?
MB ~ It’s a big part of the development of what EO was, was to kind of bring these people around a cause, and making it extra intense. As the years have gone by it’s been more difficult to make each show affiliated with a different cause, difficult to pull off. But when I was starting this, it was a perfect time for this energy in my life. I wanna save the redwood trees, just help be part of bringing awareness to the troubles of the world. My cause related work with folks like Positive Vibration, Summer Camp, just to add a little meaning to the party, so to speak. Honestly, I’d like to do more of it. I’d like to get bigger in the industry, just to do more for the causes.

HT ~ I can’t think of any environment more perfect a fit for what you do than Jam Cruise. How hard is it to pick from the massive amount of talent on the boat?
MB ~ It’s definitely a first world problem. (Chuckles) It’s hard! That EO always ends up being really big because I try to be inclusive.

HT ~ Are there any artists you have your eye on who haven’t been a part of the Orchestra yet?
MB ~ There’s this guitarist named Trey Anastasio I’d like to get. I mean…I don’t know…he’s a busy guy…I just think he’d understand the process really fast and I think he’d enjoy it.

HT ~ If you had a time machine, who are some of your dream artists to have in the band?
MB ~ I don’t. I really don’t. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one. I just love so many musicians. I’ve loved each and every one of the line ups just the way they are.

HT ~ That’s a perfect note to end this on. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us sir. Look forward to seeing you soon!
MB ~ Looking forward to it as well!

Dopa-Blog: The Road Journal of Dopapod #8 – Billy Joel, Bonnaroo, Synths

db1Well, I asked Billy Joel to sit in with us, but he said no. I don’t know why, maybe he was weirded out because I asked him while we were both taking a leak in the bathroom. Whatever, bro, get over yourself. It’s 2015. The walls of urination etiquette are a savage custom of the past. Live in the now.

 

Okay, so I didn’t actually ask Billy Joel to jam with us, nor did I even see him whatsoever. But on a serious note, Bonnaroo was absolutely unbelievable; without question not only the hugest crowd we’ve ever played for, but also one of the most energetic and appreciative. But I’ll start from the beginning of our Bonnaroo experience before we get into the meaty show time details.

 

We arrived nice and early in the afternoon with a lot of time to kill before our set. I usually don’t like to be at a festival all day before we play. It’s not that I don’t want to be there; I just know from experience that walking around for eight hours under the hot sun can leave me totally drained of any energy by show time. Not only that, but a lot of times I get bored and cope with it by drinking beer. And that’s definitely not something you want to consume all day before playing. In this case, though, we didn’t have a choice, so I figured I might as well walk around Bonnaroo and take it all in. I did, however, give myself a rule of no drinking before the set. I didn’t want to be a sloppy, exhausted pile of crap for one of the biggest festivals we’d ever played.

 

db2Before our set we sat down to do an interview with Red Bull TV, which was one of the stranger things I’ve experienced in my time on the road. They brought us up to a sort of tower overlooking the concert field, where they sat us down in front of super bright lights, handed us all microphones and dabbed makeup on us. I felt like I was announcing New Years Rockin’ Eve or something. It was weird. The interview itself was pretty fun, though.
The time finally came to set up our equipment, and I was surprised to see a substantial amount of people already at the stage waiting for us. To be honest, I initially told myself that they were probably just camping out for a good spot for whatever band would be playing after us, and we were just the entertainment in the meantime. As we neared completion of our sound check, we were all a bit stressed to discover that Eli’s Moog prodigy was completely incapable of staying in tune. Fun fact for those of you who don’t know much about keyboards (and I am one of you): Vintage synthesizers actually have to be tuned. I don’t know if it was the dust or the humidity or what, but the Moog was in super rough shape. But it was now or never! Gear malfunction moments are what separate the men from the boys, and if you don’t keep your cool and handle it with grace you’re bound to have a terrible time on stage. I knew that if anybody could handle it, it was Eli. He has four other keyboards on stage, and dude sounds amazing on anything that has piano keys, so I knew if something went wrong he would still play it off like a boss.

 

db3As we took a minute to collect ourselves before walking on stage, we heard the entire crowd chanting our band’s name, and I realized that the people who had been waiting while we were setting up were not just waiting for some other band to start playing. I hate to be cheesy, but we were really moved by it. As we finally took the stage, I was absolutely dumbfounded at how much the crowd had grown since I had walked off after sound check. I had never experienced anything like it. I would guess it was somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people. A few of my friends and family asked me if were nervous playing in front of such a big crowd; Honestly, aside from being a touch nervous about Eli’s synth working properly, I couldn’t have been less nervous. How could I be stressed playing in front of a crowd that was so warm and enthusiastic? I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I was only focused on having a great time and enjoying such a beautiful moment while it lasted. On top of that, Eli dealt with his technical difficulties beautifully. I was proud of him for being so zen about it and adjusting without a hitch.

 

 

After having a day off to enjoy Bonnaroo, we hopped on a plane and headed back up north to play at Disc Jam Music Festival. I have to give a shout out to our unbelievable road crew for this one.  As soon as our set had finished, they packed up the all the gear and drove all the way from Tennessee to New York so that we could stay at Bonnaroo for an extra day and then fly into the next gig. That just blows my mind. They work way harder than we do to begin with, yet we’re the ones who get special treatment. I won’t lie, I was more than happy to be able to hang out for awhile and then fly in a nice comfy airplane, but I felt kind of guilty about it. The next time a fan comes over to me to shake my hand or ask for an autograph I should just tell them to go get our road crew to sign their stuff instead, because in actuality my job is pretty easy and theirs is unbelievably difficult.

 

 

We arrived at Disc Jam in high spirits, not only from the afterglow of Bonnaroo, but from excitement about playing a festival that’s been so good to us throughout the years. It’s changed locations multiple times at this point, but has managed to retain the same vibe no matter where it’s been held each year. My theory is that it’s truly a festival that thrives off of the people who attend it. I’ve seen so many of the same faces every year I’ve ever played at it that it really doesn’t matter what the location is. The people there dictate the mood and spirit of the event.

 

As I set up my equipment in preparation for our set, I enjoyed the sounds of Electron emanating from the adjacent stage. Those guys have all been doing what we’re doing for years and years, and they’ve been super cool and supportive to us. They’re definitely always a fun hang. The only guy I haven’t talked to too much is Tom Hamilton, but I can safely say I was really impressed with his guitar playing. To be honest, up until recently I didn’t really know he was so good. It’s not that I didn’t think he was good – I just hadn’t checked out much of his playing – that was until a few months ago, when I caught him playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead in Denver. Man, that guy can play guitar.

 

As Electron wound down and we started getting into our set, I felt a nice, rare wave of contentment. If I’m being honest with myself, I feel like I always want something else; more songs, more gigs, less gigs, more notoriety, more guitars, whatever. But every once in awhile, I can reach a place where I’m totally happy with where I’m at right then and there. I got to go to that place while I was on stage at Disc Jam, and I really appreciated being there. I was on stage with my friends, playing music that I was happy with, for a crowd of people who were feeding us great energy. I couldn’t have asked for more.

 

 

The set started off pretty standard, with us breezing through a few more abridged versions of songs. Definitely tight, but the real fun was yet to begin. Then, about halfway through the set, we brought up our friend Justin Hancock from Haley Jane and the Primates to play some guitar. Justin goes way back with all of us. I met him in college in a guitar lab, where we bonded over Phish. On top of that, he used to be in a band with Chuck and Eli called Actual Proof, so there’s a lot of history between all of us. We all had a great time playing together, and Justin sounded great. From that point on, I don’t think there a single break between songs. I also don’t think a single thing went according to plan, which is how we want it to be. That’s when the really good stuff happens!

 

Anyhow, that’s all for now, I’m in the van, as usual. It’s a little past midnight, and I’m listening to some Cannonball Adderley. Check him out if you never have. He is definitely my favorite bebop horn player. I may even start my next blog as soon I’m done with this one. It’s not like I have anything else to do! ’Til then, you all be safe out there.

 

Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and its Legacy (excerpt)

Honest Tune Features Editor Tim Newby’s new book, Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and its Legacy has recently been published by McFarland Books.

 

With an influx of Appalachian migrants who came looking for work in the 1940s and 1950s, Baltimore found itself populated by some extraordinary mountain musicians and was for a brief time the center of the bluegrass world. Life in Baltimore for these musicians was not easy. There were missed opportunities, personal demons and always the up-hill battle with prejudice against their hillbilly origins. Based upon interviews with legendary players from the golden age of Baltimore bluegrass, Bluegrass in Baltimore provides the first in-depth coverage of this transplanted-roots music and its broader influence, detailing the struggles Appalachian musicians faced in a big city that viewed the music they made as the “poorest example of poor man’s music.

 

Bluegrass in Baltimore examines the highly-influential scene in Baltimore that produced such key figures as Del McCoury, Earl Taylor, Walt Hensley, Alice Gerrard, Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger, and Mike Munford and explores the impact the music they made had on a wide-range of musical luminaries including Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Sandy Rothman, Pete Wernick, Sam Bush, and many others.  

 

The book is available for purchase now: McFarland Books

 

(Excerpted from Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and its Legacy by Tim Newby, published by McFarland Books, June 2015.)

 

coverOn a cold night in early February 1963, in a small nondescript neighborhood in Southeastern Baltimore, on the corner of Pratt and Chapel Streets, in the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital there was a small bar that you would have been hard pressed to find then, and does not exist now.  Called the Chapel Café, it had a much too low ceiling with bad lights that seemed to do nothing but provide a ghostly haze that gave life to the heavy cigarette smoke lingering in the dank air.  This served to make the ill-mannered, boorish disposition of the locals hunched over the bar even more menacing as they seemed to revel in yelling “play or get out” at the band perched on the small stage every time there was a lull in the music.   The fourteen-year-old bassist on stage that night remembers it as “nothing but cigarette smoke and spilled beer, one of them rough places, the kind of place where the bouncer would have to throw out at least one guy a night.”  Into this atmosphere, across the sticky beer-splattered floor, beyond the bar area that was just to the right of the door and over towards the stage tucked into the corner on the opposite wall walked a man.

 

all vue inn
(Typical scene in a Baltimore Bar in 1966. Courtesy of Chris Warner)

 

This bar was much like countless other bars that were littered across Baltimore; Jazz City just a couple blocks away on Pratt street in Fells Point, the 79 Club in Federal Hill, the legendary Cozy Inn, and the chicken wire-covered stage at Oleta’s and Marty’s Bar KY.  They were all tough beer-and-a-shot joints that were small, worn down, reeking of stale beer, and teetering on the edge of violence each night.

 

But the man who walked into the Chapel Café that night was not like the countless other patrons who inhabited them.  He was a tall man who cut an imposing figure and known to be of few words.  He was often referred to as an “ornery old cuss” by those that did not know him, though in reality he was a much more complex man than that simple, limiting description.  He also had started a band that lent its name to a still developing sound that had its roots in the mountains of Appalachia, found its way to the city streets, and was now being played in this poorly-lit bar, much like it was at similar other bars around Baltimore.  This sound was still shaking off its earlier label of hillbilly, so-named for the migrants who brought this music with them when they came down from the mountains or moved from the south to the cities to find work and a better life, and was beginning to be recognized by another, less derogatory name: Bluegrass.

 

The man who walked into that small corner bar was Bill Monroe, who with his band Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys had first given shape and life to this new exciting style of music.  Bluegrass was born from the old time string band music that Monroe learned in his youth back in his rural home in Rosine, Kentucky, and from the fiddle of his favorite uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, who Monroe went to live with after his parents died when he was a teenager.  Uncle Pen would become a role model for Monroe in all aspects of life, but it was through music that he would have his greatest impact on the young budding musician.  Years later, after Monroe’s musical genius was widely recognized, he would give credit to his Uncle Pen referring to him as “the fellow I learned how to play from.”   Monroe would later immortalize his Uncle in one of his most famous songs, “Uncle Pen,” in which he sang about the late night hoedowns and dances he played at as a teenager with his Uncle.

 

Bill_Monroe_-_Mr._Blue_GrassMonroe mixed his Uncle Pen’s fiddle sound with the country, gospel, and blues that was in the air at the time, and ratcheted it up to a breakneck speed with his distinctive trademark mandolin to create what famed folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax called “Folk music with overdrive” in a 1959 article for Esquire Magazine.   Levon Helm from Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers The Band saw Monroe as a six-year-old and says this new style of music “really tattooed my brain.”  He recalled how Monroe had taken, “that old hillbilly music, sped it up and basically invented what is now known as bluegrass music:  the bass in its place, the mandolin above it, the guitar tying the two together, and the violin on top, playing the long notes to make it all sing.  The banjo backed the whole thing up, answering everybody.”   Country music-outlaw Waylon Jennings would echo Helms’ sentiment about the impact of Monroe and this new style of music he was playing.  “In my house, in Littlefield, Texas, it was the bible on the table, the flag on the wall, and Bill Monroe’s picture beside it.  That’s the way I was raised.”   And for a brief time nowhere was this new style of hillbilly music, this folk music with overdrive, played better, faster, or in such a way that it would leave as permanent a footprint on the history and development of bluegrass than in Baltimore.

 

The teenaged bassist, Jerry McCoury, who was on stage that cold February night at the Chapel Café in 1963, recalled with a laugh when Monroe walked into the tiny Baltimore bar, “I actually didn’t recognize him at first.  He was wearing his glasses and he had a hat on.  Then I realized who it was and I was in total awe.”  With admiration and high praise in his voice he continues, “It was like meeting God.”

 

Monroe’s stop in Baltimore was no accident. He had stopped by to see a former member of his band, Jack Cooke, who was playing that evening. Monroe needed a couple of players to fill out his band for an upcoming gig at New York University in New York City for the Friends of Old Time Music on February 8, just a few days later.  He was hoping Cooke would join him on guitar, and he wanted to check out the older brother of McCoury who was a banjo player Cooke had recommended.

 

McCoury’s 22-year-old banjo playing older brother, remembers that same evening when the man rightly called the “Father of Bluegrass” walked in during their set:

We were playing the Chapel Café in Fells Point one night in 1963, when Bill Monroe walked in front of us. I could have fallen over right then and there.  The purpose of him stopping by was to take Jack [Cooke] with him up there to play a show in New York City. He didn’t have a guitar player or lead singer at the time.  Whoever it was had quit and he thought Jack would do it.  He also didn’t have a banjo player either so they took me up there to play.

 

Bill Monroe,June 1963
(l to r: Bessie Lee Mauldin, Bill Monroe, Monroe’s daughter, Melissa, Joe Stuart, Bill “Brad” Keith” , Del McCoury in 1963. Courtesy of Russ Hooper)

 

The banjo player, Jerry’s older brother Delano, joined Monroe’s band, which at the time included Kenny Baker on fiddle and Monroe’s longtime partner Bessie Lee Mauldin on bass.  After the show in New York City Delano joined the band full-time, and at the request of Monroe he switched from banjo to guitar and took over lead vocals as well.  It proved to be a career-defining break for the young banjo player turned guitarist/singer.  Though his time with Monroe was short, it was an influential time as the bluegrass legend helped introduce the world to the voice of Del McCoury, a voice which might be the most perfect in bluegrass, a voice that is the living embodiment of the “high and lonesome” sound, a voice about which country music superstar Vince Gill declares, “I would rather hear Del McCoury sing ‘Are You Teasin’ Me?’ than just about anything.”

 

DSCN7297editedSince his brief time with Monroe, McCoury has gone onto establish himself as one of the truly legendary figures in the genre.  He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Hall of Fame in 2011, has released over thirty albums, won fifteen IBMA awards – including being named entertainer of the year nine times  (with four straight wins from 1997-2000) – and won two Grammy Awards in 2006 and 2014 for his albums, The Company We Keep and Streets of Baltimore.  He is a man whose roots stretch back to the earliest days, but who stands firmly in the now. A man who is not afraid to collaborate with any number of bands who might be assumed to be outside the normal wheelhouse and comfort zone of an aging bluegrass legend, mixing it up with younger bands like Phish, Yonder Mountain String Band, The String Cheese Incident, Old Crow Medicine Show, Leftover Salmon, and Steve Earle.  Bands that are pushing the sound his one-time mentor Bill Monroe first created so many years ago into new and bold directions.

 

Bob Baker and The Pike County Boys
(top row l to r: Mike Seeger, Hazel Dickens, Bob Shanklin. Bottom row Dickie Rittler, Bob Baker. Courtesy Russ Hooper)

For Monroe to stumble upon such an absurdly talented player in Baltimore was no lucky break. During the fifties and sixties Baltimore was teeming with talent and a rare convergence of people.  In addition to Del McCoury, a host of other influential pickers and musicians all would emerge from Baltimore during this time, including Mike Seeger, Bill Clifton, Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys (the first bluegrass band to grace the stage at Carnegie Hall), the pioneering duets of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, and the groundbreaking banjo wizardry of Walt Hensley.  They would all help to introduce the hard-driving style that was best found in its most pure form in those rough, corner bars on the streets of Baltimore, and bring this energetic style to the music world at large.

 

Baltimore was one of the few places in the United States where musicians from the mountains and the South could meet and play with folks likely outside of their normal social strata.  College-educated city folk and hillbilly migrants from Appalachia mingled easily in Baltimore over the common-ground of music, and in particular string-band and early bluegrass music.  Seeger provides the best explanation of Baltimore’s unique personality as a city:

We were quite conscious in Baltimore of being a place where the city and the country met.  You’d have tough bluegrass bars, where the city people were the outsiders. You’d have bohemian parties, where the country people were the outsiders. It was a place where different classes and different cultures were meeting. It was a time of curiosity and discovery and friction and exhilaration.

 

B.Baker& B.Shanklin
(House party 1959 w/ Bill Ray Baker and Bob Shanklin. Courtesy Russ Hooper)

Much of the focus on bluegrass as it relates to its growth in cities tends to revolve around Nashville, with its well-deserved Music City title, and the bluegrass scene that eventually developed in Washington D.C. around such genre-defining bands as the Country Gentleman and The Seldom Scene.  While there were many other urban settings at the time with a large population of Appalachian migrants and that also had important urban hillbilly scenes, it can be argued that none of them had the lasting impact that Baltimore did.  During those early years that saw the identity of bluegrass truly formed, it was the vibrant, special scene a short drive north of D.C. on I-295 in Baltimore that Seeger recalled which truly laid the foundation.  With his trademark chuckle Del McCoury agrees:

There was Nashville, and then there was Baltimore.  There were other places, Detroit was pretty big, and Cincinnati, there was a big bluegrass scene in those two cities, and Washington [D.C.] as well, but Baltimore was the hot town for this kind of music back in the fifties and sixties.

 

In the years following World War II, as the factories and industries boomed there was an exodus from the mountains and the South into the cities and Baltimore found itself the recipient of an extraordinarily talented crop of musicians who settled into an area ripe with possibilities and opportunities.  In a house on Eager Street that held weekly gatherings of like-minded urban folk-music people and hillbillies, in neighborhoods across Baltimore called “Little Appalachia,” in “hillbilly ghettos” where migrants clustered in the cramped row houses that hosted nightly pickin’ parties, and in the working-class bars that could just as easily erupt in a brawl as they could in live music, the sound of hillbilly or bluegrass music was not only being played, but redefined and pushed in new directions.

 

pickin on newgrassThese sounds soon started reaching the ears of young, impressionable musicians across the country who were just beginning to find their way musically.  Sam Bush, one of the originators of the modern bluegrass sound that began developing in the 1970s, was a teenager in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and one of those young impressionable musicians in the late 1960s when he first came across the “hard-driving Baltimore-style.”   His band, New Grass Revival, was a revelatory shot in the arm to bluegrass music when they burst on to the scene in 1971.  They were a bunch of young hot-shot pickers breaking the normal restrained bluegrass mold at the time with their long hair, jeans, and t-shirts; who, with their psychedelic-influenced take on bluegrass fused everything from jazz, funk, blues and rock together.  They shook off the shackles that had tethered the genre for too long and changed the face of modern bluegrass.   It was an album Bush came across by Baltimore banjo-picker Walt Hensley that proved to be the first time Bush would discover the spark that would ignite his passion to move bluegrass into new realms and hear a term that would go on to define those early years of Bush’s long, storied career.  Bush heard Hensley’s groundbreaking 1969 album Pickin’ on New Grass, and it blew away the young artist, instigating the formation of the band, New Grass Revival, and was part of the birth of a new style, “Newgrass.” With his mind fully-blown he explained, “He [Hensley] was stretching the boundaries there.”

 

Many of those early Baltimore musicians who inspired that young impressionable talent, like Sam Bush, and helped provide such a unique voice to this still developing musical style, would seem to have been within arm’s reach of making it big, of reaching that musical summit, only to fall short due to a litany of reasons.  With a scene built around a large influx of poor migrants with limited education, it is not surprising to hear McCoury say that the bands in Baltimore “were less professional” than those in other cities, and to find so many players who were so talented on the music side fail so easily on the business side.  This lack of business acumen or professionalism proved to be the biggest hindrance for many musicians from Baltimore.

 

Monroe, Hooper, Dickens
(House party 1966. l to r: Bill Monroe, Russ Hooper, Hazel Dickens. Courtesy Russ Hooper)

For every Del McCoury or Hazel Dickens that clawed their way out of Baltimore and achieved that lofty legendary status there are countless stories of those who could not quite obtain what their seemingly unlimited talent placed within their grasp. Whether due to lack of education, poor business sense, too much drink, a lack of faith in one’s abilities, or quite simply bad luck, many of these Baltimore pickers found that instead of etching their name in big letters on the roll call of greats they were more often than not resigned to the overlooked role of early innovator or forgotten influence.  The scope of these musicians’ influence was wide and far-reaching, but unfortunately as bluegrass musician Artie Werner (who years later played with many of the early pioneers from Baltimore in Cincinnati) says, “People don’t realize how much bluegrass was influenced by Baltimore-area musicians.”   It seems with the passage of time, this has come close to being forgotten, as Baltimore is often overshadowed by their big brother to the south, Washington D.C., and the impact of these pioneering musicians is relegated to a passing memory or a simple mention in a lyric.  But Baltimore’s story is the story of early bluegrass. Without it and the musicians who lived and played there, what we know and hear today would not be the same.

Dopa-Blog: The Road Journal of Dopapod – #7 Martha2, “Echoes,” and Slayer

mt jamHey everybody! I’m back at it after a long hiatus from blogging. I guess I just got the bug again and needed some sort of activity to keep me from going nuts on the road. But before I give you the details of last week’s run of shows, I figured I’d tell you about a couple of the more exciting things that have happened so far this year.

First off, I started off the new year by purchasing a shiny new guitar. That’s exciting stuff for me. For any guitar geeks out there who care about specifics, its a Gibson custom shop CS-336 with a non-reverse firebird headstock. For anyone who doesn’t care about what its called, just look at the pretty picture of it below:

guitar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was out to dinner with my girlfriend and we stopped into a terrific guitar shop called Lark Street Music. I had no intention of buying a new guitar, but it felt and sounded too perfect for me not to fall in love with it. I spent the following couple days trying to get it out of my head so as not to make a frivolous decision, but ultimately my wonderful, lovely girlfriend told me to stop being a dumb ass and buy it. There’s nothing like the love of a good woman, huh? Anyhow, it’s been my primary guitar for the last six months, which is saying a lot since I’ve sold every guitar I’ve owned in the last 8 years. I named her Martha 2 (Martha 1 is my dog). Also, for anyone who cares, I still have Amelia, my trusty Paul Reed Smith hollowbody II that has been my primary guitar for the last ten years. That guitar will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. She is however, in need of some TLC and overall maintenance, so I haven’t been playing her too much as of late.

Another highlight of this year for me was our three night run at the Sinclair in Boston. Playing shows and just being in Boston in general is always a big deal for us since we started the band there many years ago, and being there always brings something out of us creatively. I usually try not to voice my opinion of any of our shows. Who am I to let my negative opinion of a show ruin what was a great experience for someone in the audience? And, conversely, I’m wary to think too highly of a show and then get people’s expectations up too high only to have the music not meet it. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that these three shows are some of my favorite shows we’ve ever played. I love the feeling of abandoning a setlist for the sake of creativity and exploration, and I don’t think any of the three shows abided by what was written down. I also felt that every chance we took paid off in spades. I couldn’t have had a better time.

Here’s some of personal highlights of the run:

1- the entire first show

2- Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski of Soul Monde and Trey Anastasio Band sitting in with us on “Roid Rage”

3- Playing Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” for nearly an entire hour. It was the only song of the entire second set on the third night.

 

Fast forward to Summer and here we are, in the midst of festival season. This is an exciting yet stressful time of year for any band. Being at a festival with all our friends from other bands feels like a giant family reunion. The hang is just unbelievable. I honestly feel that all the other bands that are sort of in the same teir as us (is that what the kids are calling it these days? “Teir?”) are my best friends. Unfortunately, with all of us always on our own crazy tours we don’t get to hang as much as we’d like to, so we look forward to the hang that occurs backstage at any given festival.

Last weekend was an amazing, albeit insane one for us. We started off by flying to Arkansas to perform at Wakarusa. The set was all right despite fighting through some technical difficulties in the first quarter of the set. We were also using all rental (or “backline,” as the pros say) equipment, which was a bit stressful. But we made it through unscathed to fight another day. I think my personal highlight of the day was that all the water at the festival came in cans, which blew our minds. It felt like we were drinking beer, but we were actually being healthy. Good stuff.

We woke up bright and early the next day for one of the most hectic days of travel I’ve experienced in recent memory. We started off with an hour and a half drive to the airport, and then got on an airplane and landed in Chicago to catch a connecting flight. The layover culminated with our plane arriving an hour late, only to be kept at the gate for an extra hour because the flight crew couldn’t get the door of the airplane to close. That’s reassuring! A door being broken on an airplane is definitely pretty high up on the list of things you don’t want to be broken on an airplane. Dead men tell no tales, however, and obviously I’m alive to tell this one, so I think it’s obvious that the door held up okay. Then once that plane landed at LaGuardia, we hopped in a car and drove another three hours to Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York. All in all, thirteen hours of traveling in one day.

Thankfully, we arrived in time to catch the last half of Robert Plant’s set. He rocked the shit out of that mountain. He still sounds great and his music has aged gracefully over the years. Also, in between songs he told weird stories about young girls walking through the heather with buckets of milk singing “English refrains of old.” I don’t know what the hell he was talking about, but Robert Plant was saying it so it was pretty much the coolest thing I had ever heard.

After that, I walked over to the indoor stage to play our late night set. I’ll admit it was a bit surreal to watch a member of Led Zeppelin and then walk 100 yards and play my own set. That was a pretty cool “pinch me moment.” I enjoyed our set a lot, although I can’t think of any specific highlights. I just know it was nice to play a good long set that allowed us to stretch out. We’ve had a lot of power hour festival sets where we’re off stage before we even know we have started playing, so it was nice to have time on our side once again.

We got finished at 3 am and headed to our hotel to get some rest, but not for long. We were back at the venue at 11 am to get set up for an early afternoon set on the main stage. This was by far the biggest stage we had ever played on, but frankly I didn’t care what the stage looked like; I just hoped that people would get up early and come see us. No one wants to play for an empty ski slope. Fortunately, we had a wonderful crowd as well as a beautiful, sunny day amidst a lush, green mountainous setting. What a beautiful time. Despite our exhaustion from all the travel, we felt really locked in and creative. All four of us were in high spirits and were truly enjoying such a beautiful place to make music. 

I hung out for the afternoon and enjoyed some free beer and food, and then decided to hit the road so I could have some “R and R” before getting back on the road, which brings me to now. We’re in the van, headed to Bonnaroo. My back is killing me and my hair is starting to go gray. Do you guys think Billy Joel would be down to sit in with us? I doubt it. Maybe we’ll ask Slayer…they’re a jam band, right? We’ll see… 

 

Bringing the Charm Back to Charm City: Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival

DSCN6811editedThe sun starts to set as The Wood Brothers take the stage at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park. Surrounded by trees and a lawn filled with folk and bluegrass fans, the band begins their set. Multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, flanked by the brothers Chris and Oliver Wood under the red glow of stage lights, warms his hands on a chilly April evening.

 

Oliver Wood kicks off the show by picking out a slow folk ballad on his acoustic guitar. His brother outlines the guitar chords on an upright bass, and Rix plays a beat on his self-proclaimed shuitar – a crummy guitar he transformed into a percussion instrument with tuna cans and other noisemakers.

 

The band sings their stories in soulful three-part harmonies while many audience members sing along.
After opening the set with a few slower, more traditional folk tunes, Oliver trades his acoustic for a hallow-body electric guitar, and Rix takes his place behind his drum set.

 

DSCN6812editedChris uses a bow to play a virtuosic classical-style solo on bass as the festival sits in awe. When his solo comes to a close, his brother comes in with an upbeat, blues-soaked funky guitar riff and Rix launches into a groovy beat on the drums. The crowd can’t help but move to the beat.

 

Jordan August and Phil Chorney stand off-stage surveying the scene with walkie-talkies in hand and a solemn look on their faces. The co-owners and co-creators of the festival listen to The Wood Brothers’ harmonies and impressive musicianship, but there are more pressing concerns. Will the bus that is taking The Wood Brothers to their hotel make it through the rioting downtown? Is the event running on time? Is everyone enjoying themselves? Are people going to stick around for the last few bands after it gets dark? Will they get back their security deposit on the park? Is the festival living up to its reputation? With so many things that can go wrong, Chorney and August hardly have the time to stop and enjoy their own event.

 

“Baltimore is a working-class, blue-collar town, with great people, great food, great beer and great music,” Chorney says. “So let’s celebrate that.”
While protests and social unrest were bubbling into riots near Camden Yards on April 25, Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park was an oasis of peace and music as thousands attended the 3rd Annual Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival.

 

DSCN6738editedThe festival featured performances from national and local folk and bluegrass acts including The Travelin’ McCourys, The Wood Brothers, The Seldom Scene, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Cris Jacobs, The Bumper Jacksons, Grand Ole’ Ditch, Letitia VanSant, Chester River Runoff, Charm City Junction, The Herd of Main Street and The Manly Deeds. The event also had local craft vendors, selling everything from hula-hoops to cider, beer, banjos, bowties and falafels.

 

The Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival is the latest chapter in a long history of bluegrass music in Baltimore – a history that has been all but forgotten, according to August and Chorney. They share a passion for the craft of bluegrass and folk music and a love for Baltimore. This inspired them to create the festival with the intention of sharing this music, bringing money into the city and raising awareness of bluegrass music in Baltimore, a city that was once a hotbed of folk and bluegrass.

 

DSCN6718edited“In the 1950s, it was either Nashville or Baltimore for bluegrass, which is a wild concept because Baltimore doesn’t seem like that place,” August said. “People forgot that bluegrass was even here.”

 

“That’s the purpose of the festival,” August explained, “to bring back that awareness of bluegrass music that used to exist here.”

 

 
Hillbilly City

Bluegrass and folk music have been a part of Baltimore’s history for a long time. Last year the Baltimore Museum of Industry had an exhibit about the banjo – an instrument with roots in West Africa that has been a part of Maryland tradition since the 1740’s. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that this music flooded the streets of Baltimore.

 

DSCN6685editedThe Great Depression in the 1930’s resulted in the mass northern migration of poor families from the South and Appalachian region. As an industrial center, Baltimore became one of many cities on the receiving end of this migration.

 

“The proximity of the Appalachia region and the opportunities that existed [in Baltimore] at the time were a huge motivating factor for people looking for a change,” said Tim Newby, author of the forthcoming book Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and its Legacy.

 

These migrants brought with them their families, their traditions and their cultural tastes, which included folk and bluegrass music. These new-comers were not always welcome, Newby explained. Bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens recalls seeing signs that read “No Dogs or Hillbillies” as she went about town. Often the migrants would cluster together in small neighborhoods around the city, Newby said. The areas of Hampden, Woodbury and Druid Hill Park came to be known as “hillbilly ghettos,” Chorney said. In time, Bluegrass eventually became a staple of the Baltimore music scene.

DSCN6823edited

“You had these migrants who had grown up with this music and you had many younger locals who were into this same kind of music,” Newby said. “They really bonded together and created a special atmosphere that was inclusive of both migrants and those already from the city or surrounding area.”

 

On the evenings before work these migrants would meet up in bars and basements, bring their instruments and have informal “pickin’ parties,” keeping their traditions alive in a city that proved to be nothing like home. Baltimore was the home to many bluegrass legends, such as Hazel Dickens, Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys, Walt Hensley, and Russ Hooper, and Mike Seeger. Del McCoury (father of this year’s festival headliners, The Travelin’ McCourys), was a regular part of that early scene as well, as commuted down to play in the rough and tumble bars of Baltimore from his home in York County, Pennsylvania.

 

DSCN6852editedBy the 1950’s, Baltimore was the 6th largest city in the United States, Newby said. Folk and bluegrass were the most popular forms of music in the city. There were many bars and clubs that featured local bluegrass musicians, such as the 79 Club, the Cozy Inn and the Blue Jay, giving musicians an opportunity to share their songs and hone their craft.

 
Soon Baltimore became a center for bluegrass music, with influence in the national music scene. In 1966, “The Streets of Baltimore” by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard, was one of the biggest hits on country radio.

 

The city is a different place than it was when it was known for bluegrass, but August and Chorney are proving with their festival that bluegrass is still here.

 

“The Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival is doing a great job of keeping the spirit and tradition alive of this musical legacy of the city” Newby said. “They are helping to bring awareness to Baltimore’s storied history to a generation of music fans who might be unaware of it.”

 
A Celebration of Music

DSCN6778editedThe Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival unites people of all ages and walks of life in the beautiful Druid Hill Park in a celebration of music. Despite overcast skies, the festival is buzzing with excitement. Two stages are situated at the bottom of the gently sloping hill, an ideal spot for the stage because it is a natural amphitheater. August says that they added the second stage this year to cut down on the time between sets, allowing for the crew to set up for the next act before the previous act finishes.

 

People stand densely packed in front of the stage, and the hill is covered in lawn chairs and blankets where many festival-goers have settled in. To the right of the stage is the tent of one of the festival’s partners, Union Craft Brewing. As in previous years, the brewery has made a bluegrass themed beer specially for the event, a Bavarian Hefeweizen dubbed The High Lonesome Hefe. Next to the beer tent there is some fierce corn-hole competition.

 

Up the hill, near the conservatory, is what August calls “vendor village,” where people can choose from a range of food options and also buy items such as banjos, hula hoops, jewelry, bowties and band merchandise. Off to the left side of the stage there are a few chairs set up so that attendees can bring their own instruments and have their own pickin’ parties.

Bumper jacksons
The diversity of the crowd and the vendors is matched by the diversity of the bands playing. Although they all fall under the umbrella of folk and bluegrass, some of the groups could not be more different. On one hand there is the traditional old-school bluegrass group the Seldom Scene, and the exciting and fast paced music of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen and The Travelin’ McCourys, and on the other hand you have the more folk and blues style of the Wood Brothers, and also the unique blend of jazz, bluegrass and early western swing from the Bumper Jacksons. They show the wide range of forms that folk and bluegrass music have taken over the years. The one thing the bands have in common is that they all get the crowd moving.

 

“A lot of traditional music, in different kinds of cultures, is dance music,” says Jess Eliot Myhre, singer, clarinetist and washboard player for the DC/Baltimore-based group the Bumper Jacksons. “I think that fundamentally people really connect with music that makes them want to dance.”
The music at the festival certainly has that effect on people. There is something simple and lovely about this old-fashioned music played on acoustic instruments, Myhre says. There is nothing standing between the listener and the musician, she explains, which is what makes folk and bluegrass so unique and genuine.

 

DSCN6854editedDespite all the positive vibes and good times at the festival, the mood of the event was somewhat odd. Protests and incipient riots are happening only a few miles away as a reaction to the death of Freddie Gray, who was arrested only ten blocks away from the park.

 

“I think it was a great festival, but it was very strange playing that festival to that audience while the protests were happening so close,” Myhre says.

While Myhre feels the festival seems out of place in the city in turmoil, music can be a source of empathy and understanding.

 

“Folk and bluegrass tend to be music that tells stories of hardship and struggle,” Chorney explains. “Baltimore has its history of hardship and struggle, and people can relate to it.”

 
Pickin’ Parties, Paperwork and Permits

phil and jordanThe Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival all started on Chorney’s porch in Hampden, a neighborhood in Baltimore. August, who is currently a musician in the Jordan August Band as well as Trace Friends Mucho and a freelance photographer, met Chorney, a marketer for Citeligher, through the Baltimore music scene. They would see each other at the 8×10, a bar at which August bar tended, and they became friends when August did a photo-shoot for Yellow Dubmarine, a reggae Beatles cover band that Chorney managed.

 

 

 

Soon after becoming friends the pair began to have regular “pickin’ parties” at Chorney’s. They would sit out on the porch with a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey and play into the night. Before long, these get-togethers sparked the idea for some sort of bluegrass party.

 

“Let’s throw a bluegrass party,” Chorney said, “let’s get all our friends together who play music… Let’s just do something cool.”

 
DSCN6694editedThis idea eventually blossomed into the first Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival. They raised money and hosted the event in Woodbury at the Union Craft Brewery. The festival was a success, selling out 1,600 tickets nearly a month in advance. While August and Chorney were grateful for the opportunity Union Craft gave them, they realized they had no room to grow and began working with the city to find a new location.

 

The next year the pair teamed up with District 7 Councilmen Nick Mosby, who selected Druid Hill Park as the new home for the festival. In order to use the park, the festival had to undergo a long process of filing paperwork and permits, making frequent trips to City Hall, and appeasing various governmental organizations such as Parks and Recreation and the Housing Department.

 

DSCN6684editedAs a for-profit company, the festival had to do a lot to use city property, such as making substantial donations to the city and non-profits, including the Believe in Music Program – a K-12 inner city music education program. The festival was made possible through a collaborative effort between festival and the city, embracing something that brings something artistically and culturally different to the table, Chorney explained.

 

“I think that’s really unique and special, and I hope to continue that partnership as long as I can,” Chorney said.
In the end, August and Chorney explained, it always comes down to money.

 

“We don’t make money. We’ve never made money off these events, me and Phil pay out of pocket every year to make sure this happens,” August says.

 

DSCN6747editedThe city gets money from the permits, donations, payment to use the park and a security deposit. Being able to pay the bands is another huge expense. Then you have to factor in costs for everything from marketing, festival workers, the stage, speakers, lights and tents, all the way to porta-pots.

 

“Everyone always gets paid no matter what,” August said, “even when you know the bank account about to hit zero, you still make sure they get paid.”

 

Chorney and August are not the only ones that work to make this event a reality. It requires a lot of effort from many of their friends, who help with everything from social media to band hospitality, working with the vendors, to general volunteering on the day of the event.

 
With a Little Help From My Friends

On the day of the festival, Chorney, August and their team are a well-oiled machine. While festival-goers are relaxing, enjoying the music and beer, the volunteers work through the day into the night making sure things go smoothly. Between helping with parking, manning the entrance, taking pictures, setting up the equipment on stage and countless other tasks, there is no shortage of jobs that need to be done.

 

crowdChorney and August are the busiest of all. When they aren’t zipping around in a Gator truck moving equipment they are organizing the volunteers, greeting festival attendees and acting as the puppet masters, pulling the strings behind the scenes making the festival a reality. Moments where they get to sit, relax, and listen to the music are few and far-between.

 

August, whose life’s passion is live music photography, explains that one day he hopes he and Chorney won’t have to work the festival so August will be able to photograph his own event. Until that day, Chorney and August are working on keeping the festival growing with the help and support of their friends.

 

DSCN6708edited“My favorite part [of the festival] is seeingmy friends smile even though they’ve spend a 14 hour day setting up, breaking down, helping people out,” Chorney says. “And they expect very little in return except a thanks and a chance to be a part of something.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 DelFest Preview

Delfest 2012 Honest Tune-3-2Entering its eighth year, DelFest has firmly established itself as one of the premiere bluegrass Festivals in the Country. Returning to the Allegheny Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD, with a line-up this year topped by Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Jason Isbell, and Greensky Bluegrass, it is again one of the best festival schedules around.  Throw in namesake Del McCoury’s five sets over the weekend (which inlcudes a set with David  Grisman and a Family Jam on Sunday) and you would be hard pressed to find a better four days of music over Memorial Day Weekend this year.

Delfest 14 2As usual DelFest features three stages and will host late-night shows every night.  The three stages are in close proximity and allow easy travel back and forth allowing for maximum music viewing over the weekend.  The four late nights this year will feature Railroad Earth and Larry Keel Thursday, Greensky Bluegrass and Steep Canyon Rangers on Friday, Leftover Salmon and Dead Winter Carpenters on Saturday, and a Sunday night blow-out with The Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin.

 

With a line-up that covers all ends of the bluegrass spectrum – from classic bands like the Seldom Scene, Hot Rize and Del McCoury, to established jam-grass stars Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, and Greensky Bluegrass, to bands slightly outside the bluegrass world Trampled by Turtles, Jason Isbell, Otiel Burbridghe & Roosevelt Coolier – DelFest has something for everyone and something new for everyone to discover.  It is a can’t miss event on your festival calendar.  tickets are still available now at: DelFest.com


 

Check out past coverage of DelFest from Honest Tune:

DelFest 2014

DelFest 2013

DelFest 2012

DelFest 2011

 

Delfest Delfest 14 delfest-2012-honest-tune-7 Andy Hall at Delfest 2012 Delfest 2012 Honest Tune-4-2

 

Kung Fu & Twiddle: A Dirty Dozen Interview

DSC00040Backstage at the Rex Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA following sound check, members of Kung Fu, keyboardist Todd Stoops and bassist Chris DeAngelis, and Twiddle, drummer Brook Jordan and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis sat down with Honest Tune to talk about their highly-successful joint Dirty Dozen Tour, which finds both bands collaborating throughout each show with a series of “Super Jams.”

The interview was much like one of the nightly Super Jams.  The guys were talking, joking, and riffing with each other seamlessly and forgetting at times about the interview.  Much like a runaway jam on stage, it was wise to not try and stop the positive energy that seemed to be building up in the room, and instead just allow the room full of musicians to do like they do on stage, improvise and create.

 

Honest Tune:  What brought Kung Fu and Twiddle together for the Dirty Dozen Tour?

DSC09126Brook Jordan:  We’ve had respect for these guys [Kung Fu] for a long time. Hopefully we gained their respect.

Todd Stoops:  We don’t hang with bros we don’t respect!

BJ:  It was an idea that we talked about for a long time. We enjoy each other’s music.  Also we enjoy each other as people.  It just made sense.  We knew it would be fun and that our fans would enjoy it.

 

Mihali Savoulidis:  We have been wanting to do a tour together for a while.  Then it was how do we make it not like what two bands normally do.  I think it started with let’s not tell anyone who is playing first or second.

TS:  What Mahali said.  We were talking about this idea of not wanting to tell anybody what band was going first.  Then it just evolved into the idea of both the bands playing together multiple times through the night.  Each band has people sitting in with each other.  Instead of two bands showing up and playing a show, it’s turning into an event.  We’re creating stuff on the spot, where each little section -drums, bass, keys, and guitar – is having their moments.  The end result is a much more creative product. Me, if I wasn’t playing in the band, I would pay to see this show.  I would probably come multiple nights. Some of the Twiddle fans, who are a little younger than the average Kung Fu fans, have been on tour for a week and a half.  They’ve seen every show and it blows me away.  Something really cool is going on.

BJ:  We start every night with a Super Jam and end every night with a Super Jam.  We start with me and Adrian [Tramontano, Kung Fu’s drummer] on drums and each set of instruments come out together.

 

DSC09387HT:  Chris, you and Todd, have all been in other bands and projects over the years.  How have those projects shaped your sound now?  Do you feel that the band you’re in now is where you have always wanted to be?

Chris DeAngelis:  Whatever project you are in at the moment is a culmination of where you come from.   I’m happy with the music I’m playing.  It’s an outlet for me to write and express myself.  Also, I get to play with a bunch of monsters that I’m used to playing with.  That makes it a very comfortable situation. We can stretch out.  There are a lot of liberties that can be taken.  All the other projects strengthen what you’ve got going on.

 

 

MS:  From an outsider’s point of view, we’re all musicians.  I watched Stoops in RAQ.  I saw these guys in The Breakfast.  I don’t know if this is the band they have always strived for, but as musicians, these guys are playing some serious music.  It’s not to be messed around with.  I mean every musician I have ever been with at a festival while these guys are on stage; their jaws are dropped and everyone is like, “What the hell are they doing.”

DSC00178TS:  To append what Mihali was saying, the Twiddle guys have gained so much respect from other musicians in the past few years.  Not that they didn’t have it before but with their song writing, stage presence, and the way they control a crowd, it blows me away.  I have been doing this a long time, I’m not going to say how long, and when I watch a Twiddle crowd and the front row is crying, singing the songs.  It gives me goose bumps.  The whole crowd, a thousand people in New York City the other night singing along.  Brings a tear to my eyes and is fucking awesome.   It’s a pleasure to know these guys and if I didn’t know them I would be a fan of theirs. This tour has been fantastic.

 

DSC08475-EditHT:  Mihali and Brooks, you used Kickstarter to help fund your new album Plump. Can you explain why you went that route to ask for your fans support and how that may have influenced the album?

MS:  The Kickstarter ended before we went into the studio.  We had a plan going in.  We hope our fans are happy with the final product.  It may have put a little more pressure on us to get it right but we’re sticklers for that already.  We want it to be a very good product for them to enjoy.

 

BJ:  I think that if we had done the Kickstarter before the music was written it may have been different but the music was ready to go.  It blew us away how quickly it happened.  It’s like a double edge sword at the same time.  We got a lot of backlash from people that don’t understand what Kickstarter is.  They were claiming that the band was asking for money from our fans and then selling the CD back to them. And that is completely wrong.  Everything we did with Kickstarter has incentives.  It’s the amount of money you want to pay.  Like, if you pay twenty bucks you get the CD.  So, it’s more like your just pre-ordering the CD months in advance.  Some people were saying, “Why don’t you just go play a weekend of shows to make the $20,000 you need. Why are they asking their fans for money?”  I was like, “Oh My God.”

CD:  Some people don’t understand how much money goes into making an album.  Like everything we make touring is a 100% profit.

DSC00161TS:  You know I personally harpooned that guy (a negative comment guy).  I messaged that guy and said to him, “What about the fifteen years it takes to make the band?  The half million we have spent on failed relationships, careers, and everything that has gone into it.”  I laid into him about that comment. He private messaged me back and said that he was sorry for his comments and didn’t mean to come off like that.  Some people just don’t understand the big picture sometimes and what all goes into what we do.

BJ:  Kickstarter was amazing but it breeds stuff like that.  People don’t understand.  If they just took time to look at it they would get it.  We tried to make it as cool as possible.  Depending on what you donate you could get your name on the album, CD, and the craziest one was if you gave $3,000 you would get merchandise for life.  Everything we have now, shirts, CDs, posters, stickers and everything we ever make in the future; which we had one person do who is an old friend of ours.  I talked to him on the phone about it.  He said he didn’t want any of the merchandise and just wanted to help make the album. He came in after we already reached our goal and still gave anyways.

CD:  That’s just a testament to their incredible fans.

TS:  Like I said they have an amazing fan base.

 

HT:  Twiddle, you’re with Madison House. What went into your decision to join with them and how has Madison been for you?

DSC09927BJ:  At about the same time we were contacted by Madison House and another agency.  At the time we felt that we could go with a smaller agency and be a big fish in a smaller pond or we could go with Madison House and be a smaller fish in a bigger pond.  So the thing that changed my mind was when we did the interviews.  (With) Madison, when we were talking with them, we didn’t have to ask a question. They told us what they were thinking, how they felt about us.  Just very on point about how things would go.  When we talked to the other agency, I was asking all of the questions and they didn’t have the answers we were looking for.  So, we went back and talked to Madison House.  We told them that we didn’t want to be a band that’s over looked since they have some big, big acts.  They said that they wouldn’t be contacting us if they didn’t believe in what we’re doing.  That won us over and it’s been great ever since.

MS:  We love Madison House!

 

HT:  So I see a small cargo van out front that Kung Fu came in and a real nice travel RV on the side that brought Twiddle. How does that work out?

MS:  [With a huge smile and a large dose of sarcasm] We are a bunch of prima donna fucks!

DSC09947TS:  That thing [the RV] cost a lot of money and we are willing to sacrifice our comfort to get paid more at the end of the tour.  We’d rather dog it out. So these guys [Twiddle] are sort of like Divas.  Brooks also has his salon quality hair and needs room for his products to be all set up.

{BJ to TS as he points at his hair}:  You have the products!

BJ:  I can sum it up in one word; Kids.  That’s literally the bottom line. Only one of us in Twiddle is married.

TS:  Kung Fu has ten children.

BJ:  We have some dogs.  That’s about it.

DSC09089TS:  We have been doing this a long time.  We’ve done the bus thing and right now we’d rather save on that and be able to get hotel rooms to have more space and relax more.

BJ:  For us it just makes sense right now.  It’s a lot of strain to always have someone that is rested and sober to drive to the next city.  The extra money is worth it so that we can have fun and still make it to the next city and be ready for load in.

MS:  There is a big trade off to having a nice hotel room every night.  We want to live on a bus with several smelly dudes and only be able to shower at venues.  Are we on time at every show? Yes.

TS:  The way Kung Fu does it is that we like to have nice rooms.  I like to sleep in a bed with 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets.  I like to use a bidet.  I like crab meat on top of my filet in a restaurant. When you stay in a van it is fast food.

 

HT:  What show or festivals are each of you most looking forward to playing or being a part of this summer?

BJ and MS:  We’re super pumped for Red Rocks.  Bonnaroo is huge and of course and The Friendly Gatherings in Vermont.  I mean we’re doing everything we love too, like Catskill Chill, Gathering of the Vibes, Wakarusa, and All Good.

DSC08987TS:  Honestly if you play Red Rocks you can just quit music.  I feel there is Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks and something else.

MS:  The Gorge!

TS:  We on the other hand are playing a few good festivals, The U.S.S Chowder Pot III festival, The Boston Baked Beans Festival, Pizza Fest that’s in Milwaukee. We’ve decided to go into the whole food festival thing.

Tim Palmieri:  Don’t forget Garlic Fest.

CD:  Soup Stock…Obviously we are very excited for Gathering of the Vibes because that is in our home town.  We love the Vibes.  We have been doing it for the last six or seven years.  We did a main stage set last year and are back on it this year.  We are also doing Summer Camp too.

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra: Innovative, other-worldly jazz

Pilgrim Profiles: Your guide to the freshest faces in grass-roots music

By: Tim Newby

scales

Band: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra (Official Webpage)

Hometown: Asheville, NC

Members:  Jonathan Scales (Steel pan drums), Chaisaray Schenck (Drums), Cody Wright (Bass)

Sounds Like: A highly-inventive Miles Davis acid-trip led by steel-drums.

For Fans Of:  Bela Fleck, Toubab Krewe, Medeski Martin & Wood

Bio:  Jonathan Scales first the started the band in 2007 upon graduation from college.  The band went through various line-up changes until it solidified with the addition of bassist Cody Wright in 2011.  Drummer Chaisaray Schenck, a college friend of Scales, joined in 2014 to round out the current line-up.  Prior to the addition of Wright, Scales released three solo albums.  Since the addition of Wright, The Fourchestra has released two albums 2013’s Fourchestra and 2014’s Mixtape Symphony a “dense half-hour long-form album inspired by and dedicated to Roy “Futureman” Wooten.”  The album peaked at #6 on the iTunes Jazz Charts.

Albums: Fourchestra (2013), Mixtape Symphony (2014)

Key Tracks:  

 

What They Do Live:

(An exclusive premiere of “Life After D” from The Fourchestra’s new DVD, Alive at Rex Theater)