Category Archives: Features

Jorma Kaukonen: A Legend In No Hurry

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By: Tim Newby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jorma Kaukonen’s fifty-year career as one of the brightest, most inventive guitarists of his generation has branded him a legend. From his earliest beginnings playing acoustic-blues, to his ground-breaking time with Jefferson Airplane, to his highly-influential work with Hot Tuna, Kaukonen is quite simply one of the most important guitarists of all-time. With his latest album, Ain’t In No Hurry, Kaukonen enlarges that legacy and subtly references back to his earliest roots as a musician.

 

The twelve songs on Ain’t In No Hurry are a mix of Kaukonen originals and covers that help tell the story of the guitarist’s long, influential career. The album also includes a nod to Kaukonen’s oldest musical compadre, legendary bassist Jack Casady. The pair met when Kaukonen was still a bluegrass loving teenager in High School in Chevy Chase, Maryland and Casady was a guitar playing middle-schooler. In 1965 Casady would move to California and switch to bass at the request of Kaukonen and join his new band, Jefferson Airplane. As part of Jefferson Airplane the pair would help create some of the most enduring musical-psychedelia to come out San Francisco’s Summer of Love. In 1969 Casady and Kaukonen would form the blues-folk outfit Hot Tuna as a side-project while there was down-time from Jefferson Airplane. Following the slow-dissolution of Jefferson Airplane the pair would commit full-time to Hot Tuna in 1972.

JormaJackOn Ain’t In No Hurry Kaukonen references back to that highly-influential band with a stripped-down, spirited take on the 1975 classic Hot Tuna tune “Bar Room Crystal Ball,” that includes bass supplied by Casady. Kaukonen says that Casady’s appearance on the track was out of necessity, “When Larry [Campbell, the albums producer] and I were doing that song we both agreed there is only one person who can play bass on this song and that is Jack Casady.” Despite the inclusion of the Hot Tuna song and the presence of longtime musical partner Casady on the one track, Kaukonen makes it clear Ain’t In No Hurry is a solo album, not a Hot Tuna album. “I am lucky guy that I get to play with one of the world’s great bass players in Jack Casady. We play together all the time and the question is why would I do a Jorma solo album and if so why wouldn’t I use Jack?” asks Kaukonen. “If I use Jack then it would be a Hot Tuna album. When Jack and I do something the artistic spotlight is on the interaction between what Jack and I do together which is very cool. A Jorma solo album is pretty much about the songs rather than specific interactions.”

 

jormacoverWith the spotlight squarely on the songs that make up Ain’t In No Hurry and the leisurely way they unfold to narrate the musical adventure of Kaukonen, the album becomes an aural trip guided by Kaukonen’s elegant guitar work. The songs range from the Carter Family classic “Sweet Fern,” a song he recalls first encountering on the back porch of his house while growing up, to an obscure Woody Guthrie tune, “Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me,” to the thoughtful ruminations of “In My Dreams.” The album provides a contemplative look at life as delivered by one of rock’s elder statesmen who after a life of seeing and doing it all is content to live life at his pace, or as he sings on the title track “I ain’t in no hurry, I’m going to take my time.”

 

A pair of covers on the album, the Thomas A. Dorsey classic, “Terrible Operation,” and the Jimmy Cox blues-standard, “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out,” both speak to the earliest days of Kaukonen’s musical journey as they have been in his repertoire for as long as he can remember. It surprised the guitarist when he realized he had never actually gotten around to recording them on any of the almost thirty studio albums he has recorded with Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, or solo. “’Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out,’ I had been playing that before I came to California in 1962. I have played it with Janis Joplin,” recalled Kaukonen, “I couldn’t believe I had never recorded that song. I just went ‘wow’ when I realized it wasn’t on a record because I have been playing it for so long.”


The inclusion of these two gems from Kaukonen’s past fully fit into the guitarist’s stated ethos of song selection for an album of which he declares, “My choice of songs is always an effort to tell my story.” And both of these songs do just that as they highlight the acclaimed guitarist’s earliest days and harkens back to a pair of influential acoustic guitarists who really captured the imagination of the young, budding finger-picker in Kaukonen. “When I think back to people who really set me on fire as a player it would be Steve Mann and Ian Buchanan,” says Kaukonen. While those names and the importance of their contributions has been lost to many due to the ravages of time, their impact on a generation of guitarists is not.

 

Jorma+KaukonenIan Buchanan was a New York City based guitarist who had learned from the legendary Reverend Gary Davis. In the sixties he was considered to be one of the greatest-living masters of traditional blues. Kaukonen first encountered him in the early 1960s while in college at Antioch College in Ohio. The two struck up a friendship and Buchanan started tutoring Kaukonen on guitar. “He is the guy that really started me finger-picking. He was a great player and the one who turned me onto Gary Davis,” says Kaukonen, “His playing was brilliant and very influential on me.”  No less influential on Kaukonen was L.A. guitarist Steve Mann who was only on the scene for short time as he suffered a mental breakdown in 1967 and retired from music. His album Live at the Ash Grove became a highly sought-after recording and one that Kaukonen calls “Brilliant.” The style of playing Mann incorporated at the time was far ahead of what else everyone at the time was doing and pushed Kaukonen to be adventurous and inventive with his playing.

 

Kaukonen also takes time to mention guitar-wizard Mike Bloomfield in his list of guitar heroes. When Kaukonen was in his Jorma1words “seduced” into joining the Jefferson Airplane in 1965 his experience with an electric guitar was limited and he had no real electric guitar players he looked up to. “For some reason, I don’t know why, he [Mike Bloomfield] befriended me. I wasn’t doing anything he was into at all,” says Kaukonen, “The stuff he was doing with the Butterfield Blues Band was monumental. Michael started showing me some insights into electric guitar. Up to that point I had only played amplified guitar, not electric. I didn’t know anything about sustain or any of that kind of stuff we take for granted today. I don’t play anything like Michael, but he opened those magical doors for me.” Those magical doors have been wide open ever since for Kaukonen and he barrels through them with a confident, laid-back, swagger on Ain’t In No Hurry. His masterful guitar dances across the twelve tracks, recalling the lessons learned from Buchanan, Mann, and Bloomfield, and much like they did for him, inspiring a new generation of guitar players.

 

In addition to Kaukonen and the spirit of his guitar heroes, the other dominant figure on the album is producer Larry Campbell. Much like the man himself, Campbell’s contributions are low-key and never draw attention to them self, but they are utterly vital and completely help shape the sound of each song. Campbell has long been sought after as a multi-instrumentalist and producer for his ability to get the most out of each song, yet at the same time being able retain every subtle nuance and charm that it was originally written with. Campbell has worked with Kaukonen for the past few years, producing Kaukonen’s previous solo album, River of Time, in 2009 and the most recent Hot Tuna album, Steady as She Goes, in 2011. Kaukonen says he likes working with Campbell because “it is just like working with yourself.” He adds, “Larry is such a great guy. As both a player and producer he has this unbelievable talent that sets him apart from any other producer in that he doesn’t try and mold whoever he works with. He comes up with suggestions and ideas, but it is all stuff that feels like me. It is not like he does something to make you sound like this other person. It is like having an old friend or bandmate that has really new ideas that apply to you.”

 

Larry+Campbell+Jorma+Kaukonen+Love+Levon+Benefit+nR48Xzu5vFLlCampbell’s similar musical sensibilities allow him to function like a longtime member of the band which provides an easy going creative atmosphere in which to work. For Kaukonen this is great as he calls his writing style “deadline driven,” and claims that he rarely has a surplus of songs as he says “That I get off my lazy butt when I have to get things done for a project and usually wind up with exactly what I need because I stop when I get exactly what I need. As soon as I get enough to fill an album I stop writing and start recording.”

 

Campbell’s low-key approach, vast musical vocabulary, and un-matched multi-instrumental ability makes him the perfect complement and partner to Kaukonen’s expressive, guitar-driven, song-writing. “The guitar tells me what I can do and invites me to do stuff,” explains Kaukonen, “But Larry’s musical sensibilities come from within and manifest themselves in what is right for the job. I think it is the same when he works with me or Levon [Helm] or any of the people he produces. He gets to know them musically and then he draws from his special ablity to be creative within the artistic space the musician provides. He does not try to mold anybody.”

 

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This partnership has crafted an album that is the sum of all those parts; Kaukonen’s guitar heroes, his transcendent finger-picking guitar, and Campbell’s creative and subtle touch that brings those glorious guitar lines to life. Those parts come together create an album that tells the story of Kaukonen’s long, influential, musical life. “At this point in my life perhaps I should be in more of a hurry,” summarizes Kaukonen, “But for me it is important that each piece fits in the right place at the right time. The songs you hear in this album cover a lot of ground for me. Some are very old, and some are quite new. From where I came from to where I am today. It is all here.”

Karl Denson 2/20/2015 Crystal Ballroom Portland, OR with special guests Brownout

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Old school was back in session at the Crystal Ballroom  in Portland, Oregon last Friday when Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe brought the rap duo Vokab Kompany to help them pay homage to Hip Hop legends RUN DMC with a funky blend of rhythm and rhyme.  Karl Denson is no stranger to the cover tunes, or even the eighties.  His first nationwide exposure came as he help Eddie Murphy perform a…unique…version of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All.”  Beyond lending musical credibility to comedians, he’s played with Lenny Kravitz, helped found the Greyboy Allstars, recorded with too many acts to name here as a gunslinger studio sax man and toured the world with the Tiny Universe.  Always looking for new challenges, he’s embraced the art of the cover song to the point of regularly choosing to pay homage to his favorite musical icons, from Ray Charles and Rick James all the way to the Beastie Boys and the Rolling Stones.  In fact, he did the Stones “Sticky Fingers” album so well…the Rolling Stones hired him to do his thing with the big boys!  You must be doing something right when the folks who wrote the songs ask you to come help play them.

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Karl Denson will be the first to tell you he’s more than a music scholar, he’s a fan.  Run DMC came along at the beginning of the second wave of Hip Hop and Rap, and quickly became icons.  Weaving lines back and forth, Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels crafted a mixture of verbiage and playful aggression over the beats and backing of Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell.  To date they have sold more than 200 MILLION records they are not just the “Kings from Queens, New York” but arguably the Kings of Rock AND Rap.  Their signature gold chains, Adidas track suits, pipe fitted hats and cleaner than clean sneakers became the uniform of an army of die hard fans.  Fearlessly creating an entire language and style, Run DMC dropped hit after hit, earning gold records and the adoration of an entire nation.  Music videos were helping bands spread their music and style nation wide, and no band had a more profound effect on fashion than they did.  Adidas has an official Run DMC shoe!  You can’t get any more legit than that!  Hell…they even taught Penn and Teller how to dance and dress like them!  See for yourself HERE!

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Karl started his set off with a crash course in his catalog, with songs from the last decade putting his band, especially guitarist DJ Williams who added a clean funk line to tunes like “Power Of Soul” and “Rough Tough And Tumble,”  while the rest of the band laid down a solid funk foundation for an hour of grooving that saw Karl play Sax, flute a few percussion instruments and give his stellar band the room they needed to do their thing.  Portland’s own trumpet wunderkind Farnell Newton, got the call from Karl to come blow his horn, and to the crowds delight Newton’s staccato bursts rang clear throughout the ballroom sloped ceilings to hometown cheers.

 

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Rounding out the set with a few last tunes, including a smokin’ cover of the Traffic song “Glad,” Denson called for a set break to go back and switch from the timelessly stylish black suits the band had been sporting to matching bright red Adidas track suits and unlaced sneakers.  With Portland being the United States headquarters for Adidas, the crowd repped in style, with a range of track suits from just off the shelf perfection to period specific vintage wear.  The crowd skewed a little too young to have been a part of the RUN DMC era, but they certainly knew every word and were ready to get down.  Californian rap duo Vokab Kompany did an admirable job spitting words like fire hoses, and their mugging and swaggering stage presence  truly invoked the visual appeal of the legendary trio.

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The best part of their performance wasn’t their mic skills or their version of the two man weave…though they were quite impressive…it was the obvious fun they were having recreating the music for fresh ears.  While some original arrangements were used, Karl D and his band wove new backing tracks that blended their funk with Run DMC’s rhymes and created a true synthesis of the musics, with some period appropriate teases and clips, like Gary Neuman’s “Cars” melody.  I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the rhymes of RUN DMC have been permanently etched in my brain, as I found myself effortlessly rapping along with song after song…even the hilariously out of season “Christmas In Hollis,” which always reminds me of the first Die Hard movie…and just now how old I am.  Geez.  But, the benefit of a long life is seeing musical waves crash and recede, and to learn to truly appreciate the few times when a mark is made that can never be washed away.

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It takes a certain kind of comfort, of confidence, to regularly take time to reimagine the works of others, sometimes at the expense of playing your own material.  Karl Denson has paid more dues than the average ten musicians and has achieved a level of skill on his sax and flute that can only be found through decades of hard work and constant playing.  He’s been acknowledged and endorsed by one of the five biggest bands of all times as a go to player of rock solid dependability and style.  The ability to make the difficult appear effortless is the highest mark of an artist, and it is a hallmark of Denson’s stage performances.  Some sax players make a huge show of their playing, wheeling and spinning, contorting to ridiculous extremes..while Karl just stands his ground, pushing the music from the very air in his lungs to the ears of the world.  While some of his more ardent followers openly wish he would pay more attention to his own catalog rather than taking entire tours to reinterpret the works of others, this set of RUN DMC songs showed that their is a new generation needing educating…and Professor Denson has decided that class is now in session.  As teachers go…we could do a lot worse, and if the music is to be passed on, I can’t think of a more worthy torch bearer in the funk and soul scene.

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Earlier in the evening, Brownout, Austin Texas’s Latin tinged funk band brought another iteration of the “Old School/New school” blending with their Latin/Funk/Soul sound that was equal parts Lo and Hi Fi.  Hot off the heels of THEIR tribute tour for their “Brown Sabbath” homage set, Brownout is opening for Tiny Universe on a select number of dates before heading back out to bring their fans another helping of Tex-Mex funk.  They pulled out a few Sabbath tunes, while rewarding the early arrivers with a review styled set of thick, beefy funk that felt as timeless as any of the great funk or soul bands.  A pair of talented guitarists, dual percussion..a horn section that pays attention…Seriously…I was trying to line up a shot when their trumpeter saw that a towel was getting in my way so he moved it off his mic stand!  That’s what I call lookin’ out!  He gets a picture just for that!

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I’m new to the Portland area, and pretty much every show I shoot out here is in a new to me venue, so I am discovering the space as well as documenting the music.  The Crystal Ballroom is a visual wonder, with floor to ceiling sized frescoes along with ceiling to floor windows, a stage set slightly off center and into the corner and a cool springy effect to the floor due to it’s location above another open concert space on the first floor.  The floor’s bounciness seemed to lead to a noticeable increase in the energy of the dancers that night…as some folks seemed to delight in bounding to get that slight “Walking on the moon” effect.  They seemed more than speedy on their frink lines, the bathrooms were clean and they sold pizza!  A winning night for the location, the music and hope for the future…knowing that the music will live on thanks to the efforts of fans turned pro like Karl Denson.

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Elephant Revival ~ Interview And Exclusive Performance

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Elephant Revival make a mystic blend of instruments and voice that has captivated fans around the world. With recent trips out of the United States finding them new fans around the world the band is poised to take their universal sound world wide. I got the chance to sit down with the band over a weekend last fall and had the opportunity to get in depth with the band, and even captured a one of a kind mini concert with special guests the Shook Twins.  (The Shook Twins actually opened their home to us for the recording session and group interview!  Thanks ladies!)  Here’s the first of a series of interviews and videos from that weekend, as the band answers a variety of questions, including the poser “What would you say if you had the chance to speak to the world?”

Special thanks to Elephant Revival for the patience and openness they showed me, and for making music that lifts the hearts and minds of so many.

Let’s Ask moe. “How do you write your setlists?”

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To celebrate moe.‘s 25th anniversary, Honest Tune is going to bring you a series of inside looks and exclusive chats with the band.  Up first is a chats with the guys about their respective methods for writing setlists.   I have been lucky enough to catch up with the band at various stops across the country, and will be producing themed videos to help give an inside look at this legendary band.  Enjoy!

2015 Jazz Fest Preview

web_013Officially known as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell, Jazz Fest 2015, set for April 24-26 and April 30-May 3, has released its lineup. Particularly top heavy in talent, this year’s lineup looks like one of the strongest in the forty-six year history of the event. Elton John, The Who, Jimmy Buffett, Steve Winwood, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, No Doubt, Chicago, John Legend, Ryan Adams, The O’Jays, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Urban and Delbert McClinton lead the charge of house hold names.

The list of acts that will fill the eleven stages over seven days doesn’t slow down there. Widespread Panic, Wilco, Jimmy Cliff, Buddy Guy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal Trio, Jimmie Vaughan and Tilt A Whirl Band feat. Lou Ann Barton, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Pitbull and Ed Sheeran help fill out a strong out of town guest list.

web_033Jazz Fest was built on the wonderful local talent of New Orleans and much of that talent will be on hand. Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John will play a tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong and for the first time since 2005 the original Meters, Art Neville, George Porter Jr, Leo Nocentelli and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste will reunite for a set at the festival. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue have closed out the main Acura stage for the last two years and will be playing on the final Sunday again. The Radiators, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Galactic featuring Macy Gray, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with guest Art Neville, Anders Osborne, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tab Benoit, Rebirth Brass Band, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Big Freedia “Queen of Bounce” will all be there.

The Jazz Fest experience however, extends far beyond the easily recognizable music listed above. The food at the Fair Grounds is unlike most other festivals anywhere. For $6-$8 you can get a bowl of duck/pheasant/ Andouille sausage gumbo or crawfish/spinach/zucchini bisque, crawfish Monica or a Cochon de Lait Poboy and top it off with bread pudding with white chocolate sauce.

The visual aspect of Jazz Fest completes the assault on your senses. There are colorful flags and totems everywhere, especially in front of the three main stages, Acura, Gentilly (no longer the Samsung Galaxy Stage) and Congo Square. The Jazz and Heritage stage feature many of the Mardi Gras Indian groups in their hand made costumes that will stop many fans in their tracks, and multiple times a day there is a second line parade around the Fair Grounds.

The party doesn’t stop when the festival closes for the day either, as perhaps no city is better positioned to host the music and web_094food extravaganza that continues all night long. Famous spots like Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, The Maple Leaf, One Eyed Jack’s and all the clubs along Frenchmen St. will be packed night after night with established bands and special Jazz Fest one off bands that combine players from all the bands in town.

Jazz Fest is a two week party that should be on every music fans bucket list, and on the strength of this year’s lineup, it might just be time to cross this one off your list.

 

Check out Honest Tune’s coverage of the 2011 Jazz Fest: Heritage Reigns Supreme, Beyond the Fairgrounds:A Look Back Jazz Fesatival 2001 Nights

Photo Gallery of past Jazz Fest’s by Bob Adamek:

 

Interview! Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman and Billy Payne

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Words and Images by Tim Newby

 

This New Year’s Eve Leftover Salmon celebrated twenty-five years as a band.  In that time they have established themselves as true-leaders of the jam-grass scene with their influential and unique mix of sounds and styles that has branded them as a truly special one-of-a-kind band that is beyond description.  For many bands entering their 25th year they seem to be on cruise control, coasting towards retirement.  But Leftover Salmon is not one of those bands.  Since their return from a brief three-year hiatus from 2004-2007 following the death of founding member and banjo picker extraordinaire Mark Vann, the band has been anything but coasting.  The addition of Andy Thorn in 2010 on banjo seemed to push the band to new, exciting,  innovative heights.  The release of the 2012 album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, only confirmed this.

 

As the band enters its 25th year it continues to reach brand new heights and never seems to rest on past achievements.  Much like the addition of Thorn  a few years prior, a new band member added in 2014, legendary keyboardist Billy Payne from Little Feat, heralded new musical  peaks for a band that only seems to be getting better with age.  Following the addition of Payne, Leftover Salmon released their eighth album, High Country.

 

Following the release of their newest album Leftover Salmon founder, guitarist and singer Vince Herman, and newest addition Billy Payne checked in with Honest Tune to discuss the band’s twenty-five years, the addition of Payne, their newest album, and what the future holds for Leftover Salmon.

 

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Honest Tune: Thanks for checking in with us, what have you been up to lately?

Vince Herman: Playing music. [laughs} If they weren’t paying us for this I would be out doing it anyway. It has been almost twenty-five years, it will be twenty-five years this New Years. We are just ridiculously and incredibly lucky that we have been doing this for long and we have played with many of the good kind of people. Now we got Bill Payne in the band. He is one of the most recorded keyboardists in rock n roll.

 

HT: How did it come about to have Bill join the band full time?

 VH: He produced a record of ours (2004’s Leftover Salmon) right before we went on hiatus. We had a great relationship with him and we did a bunch of shows with Little Feat. I have been going to Jamaica to the last five or six years to be part of the Little Feat fan fest. We have just played music in a bunch of different situations with Bill and we have good friendship and camaraderie on a number of different levels. He is a great writer and he is a good guy to sit around with on the bus.

DSCN2593editedBill Payne: I worked on a record with them. I produced a record for them that followed the concerts in tribute to Mark Vann. Paul Barrere and I were both part of those gigs. It was a bunch of people. It is a small enough world. Dave Miller was the monitor engineer at those shows and he had worked with Little Feat so there are just a lot of connections that happens with bands.

The guys got in touch with me a few years about playing a gig in Laramie, Wyoming. Andy Hall was playing, Sam Bush, and a couple of other folks and they asked me to play and I said sure I will play. So we kind of hit it off there. From there it just sort of blossomed into a gig about a year ago at Thanksgiving. I played with them in Boulder for two nights and then they asked if I wanted to go to Mexico with them (for Strings & Sol 2013). I said sure. Then I started doing dates regularly around New Years with them.

I just think they are a great band and the way these things work is I know I bring my own stamp in, but it works both ways. Leftover Salmon is a wonderful group of musicians and I love their material. They have three really great singers in Vince, Drew, and Andy. I can sing too. So we are really opening up what we can do. I think Vince recognized the best way to see what we could do would be to just ask me to join the band.

 

 

DSCN2611editedHT: I was at those shows in Mexico and it really worked.  I think you are such a natural fit with Salmon.  There are so many similarities that can be drawn between Little Feat and Leftover Salmon. Was there any thought at that time on your part that you might like to join full time?

BP: The thought had crossed all of our minds I’m pretty sure. I kind of held off because I wanted to see how everything would fit. I think I said why don’t we just consider that we are dating and took it in that direction. There is no rush. Little Feat is not doing anything right now. We might be in Jamaica in March. I am hoping Paul Barrere is healthy enough to make it down with us.

 

HT: What does Bill bring to the band that’s different?

VH: It is really cool to see our rhythm section go off on these improvs with Bill and go somewhere that Drew and Andy and I could never lead and Bill can. His vocabulary is so ridiculously large and when he improvises he can go absolutely anywhere. Those improvs are something that I don’t think the band has hit so consistently.

 

HT: Bill, what has it been like for you to join these guys?

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BP: I liken playing with these guys to being in the middle of a lake., and you are on your water-skis and you are going to be pulled out of the water at a moment’s notice by the world’s fastest boat so you better just hang on. That is how it is playing with these cats. They can play just about anything. Alwyn Robinson on drums and Greg Garrison on bass, those two cats as far as their musicianship and being able to take it to a lot of different places whether on a jazz level or other areas makes it a great experience for all us. Drew is phenomenal with his mandolin, guitar, and violin playing. Each and every one of these cats on their own is very strong. It reminds me of Little Feat in that regard because that was the way we were as a band. We were all pretty strong in our respective areas as well. And I think that’s what really makes a great group and enables them to generate a lot of momentum.

 

HT: Vince, it must be great to bring in someone who has such a large musical vocabulary and can speak so many musical languages.

VH: Yeah, you know we think it’s a pretty good fit. {laughs} He has really unique things to add. I just feel lucky as hell that I play with these cats, Drew and Andy, and all the guys that have been in the band over the years. I have a personal philosophy to always be the worst player in your band. It has worked for me.

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BP: [laughs} Vince is a wonderful player. He is just such a diamond in the rough. He is in a very good place to discover who he is. He knows who is, but he is still in that place of not quite believing he can play the guitar. He never comes off like he is shy, but when you play in this band you better be ready to step up. The rhythm section he has is a very good cushion, maybe better than what he had before.   I think that’s what we are doing now. It’s the dichotomy of feeling comfort and going to comfort zones, but still challenging each other. And that’s what keeps bands together for a good length of time. And it’s what keeps bands and their audience on a level where they keep progresses together, and are able to see it grow which makes it exciting for everyone.

 

HT: Is Bill on the new record (High Country, released November 2014)?

 VH: Yeah Bill is on the new record.

 

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HT: Did he contribute any songs?

VH: Just one called “Bluegrass Pines.” He wrote it with Robert Hunter. He has been writing with Robert Hunter lately.

BP: It’s like a lot of stuff I would do with Little Feat. Robert does the lyrics and I do the music and the melody. He is such a wonderful cat to write with.

 

HT: How was the approach to High Country? Any different than what you have done in the past?

VH: On this one we wrote some tunes together, mostly though we each kind of each showed up with tunes. The next album is going to be real New Orleans-centric. I think it will be more of a concept. Whereas High Country there is a thread running through it still has a whole lot of variety of ideas and topics running through it. It is definitely a Salmon record.

 

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HT: And Salmon records are always a party. You guys seem to really be enjoying what you are doing right now and the addition of Bill seems to have invigorated you even more.

 VH: Yeah we are really psyched about the new record, High Country. We might also have a live release coming out soon. And then we are going to go to New Orleans to work on a new record and we are starting to write for that now. Writing with Bill is a really fun process.

 

HT: Will that new album be out this year?

 VH: No, we will try and record it in the fall so it will probably be 2016. I guess I bring it up because we are fired up as we look down the road and we are making these cool plans. We got a trip to Hawaii going on. We are going to Alaska, Strings and Sol in Mexico. Ski tour in the winter. Then we start festival stuff up. It’s pretty exciting to be going into year twenty-five and have so much to do. It is a good place to be.

 

los6475HT: Besides the lineup of the band what do you think has changed for you over the last twenty-five years, Vince?

VH: There have been so many different phases of this band that I have liked. I started playing with Drew when I was just out of college. It was pretty footloose and hippie van when we first started. There was my first marriage and then there was another marriage. You go through all these periods of your life and somehow the band kept going constantly right through them all. It has changed a lot over that time. We used to do a five or six week tour. I can’t imagine doing that now. At one point we were playing like 230-240 shows a year.

 

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HT: As a band you seem to be in a really good place, you can go where you want, when you want, and be the life of the party at every festival you go to. At this point twenty-five years in is there anyone you still look to as an idol or whose career you look to emulate?

 VH: Probably Lorde. {laughs} It’s like wow she’s 17. I guess Tim Obrien comes to mind. He was my inspiration to move from West Virginia to Colorado in the early eighties to see Hot Rize and be part of that bluegrass scene. Tim has always been an inspiration to me. You find your musical niche that you love playing and bluegrass was that niche for me. You don’t make Lady Gaga money in bluegrass but you can have a long career in this music. It’s not like you are burnt out with the audience because of over exposure.

 

 

HT: And bluegrass fans are very faithful.

 VH: They are. And I love what John Hartford said, “If bluegrass music was any more popular I would have to play it to people I don’t even know.”

 

 

Watch Leftover Salmon celebrate 25 years at the Vic Theatre in Chicago 12/13/14

 

 

 

 

Warren Haynes Presents the 26th Annual Christmas Jam

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Warren Haynes hosted the 26th Annual Christmas Jam in Asheville, North Carolina at the US Cellular Center on December 13, 2014. The charity has been held for what seems time immemorial, it is a night filled with southern rock, slide guitars and set tweeners. Featured artists included Gov’t Mule; Billy & the Kids (Bill Kreutzmann, Aron Magner, Reed Mathis, Tom Hamilton and special guests); Hard Working Americans (Todd Snider, Dave Schools, Neal Casal, Chad Staehly and Duane Trucks); Jason IsbellThe Revivalists with special guests Oteil BurbridgeJackie GreeneCaleb Johnson; Kevn Kinney; Jack Pearson; Paul Riddle and Love Cannon.

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The doors to the US Cellular Center opened at 6:00 PM and the line of concert attendees that wrapped around the building slowly began to filter into the venue. Love Canon Rangers included Love Canon and Steep Canyon Rangers band members, Mike Guggino and Nicky Sanders. They took the stage promptly at 7:00 and huddled under a soft beam of light on stage right. They opened the night with a Patsy Cline cover, Walking After Midnight. As folks made their way into the venue the set continued with a string full of covers; Doin My Time, Good ol’ Boys, Cherokee Shuffle, How Mountain Girls Can Love and closed with a ZZ top cover of Legs.

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With Washburn acoustic in hand Warren Haynes perambulated across the stage with another Asheville native, Caleb Johnson (the 13th season winner of American Idol) and opened with, Soulshine. Johnson’s husky rock n’ roll voice lent perfect melody to the tune. Haynes made the proclamation they had only been introduced the night before.

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The Revivalists set followed the quick duet of Haynes and Johnson. The energetic set seemed to entice those that had been sitting in the stands to come get a closer look. They opened with Not Turn Away and followed with a Solomon Burke cover, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. Lead singer, David Shaw jumped off the stage during Criminal to stand on the rail and sing to the crowd. After making his way back to the stage, Warren Haynes would join the band for Soulfight. They wrapped up their energetic set with a Who cover, Baba O’Reilly.

 

As the roadies cleared the stage to set up for Hard Working Americans, Love Canon would find themselves huddled stage right again for the first of their tweener sets. They filled the auditorium with bluegrass renditions of Axle F, She Blinded Me With Science, Hide Head Blues, She’s a Maniac and Sledgehammer.

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The supergroup Hard Working Americans (Todd Snider, Dave Schools, Neal Casal, Chad Staehly and Duane Trucks) would take the stage next. The group’s debut performance was almost a year ago in Boulder, Colorado for the Colorado Flood Relief benefit. They opened with a slow number, Ascending Into Madness, as Snider finished crooning the torpid tune he busted into a heroic dose of energy as he danced across the stage and took the group into a Will Kimbrough cover, Another Train. The vitality of the jam wrapped into, Is This Thing Working? The drive between Schools, Casal, Staehly and Trucks was tenaciously veracious as they plunged into a dark dank Frankie Miller  cover, Blackland Farmer. The set continued with a BR5-49 cover, Run a Mile and a Todd Snider song, Guaranteed. Kevn Kinney set in for a Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ cover, Straight to Hell before they closed the set with a Hayes Carll cover, Stomp and Holler.

 

The second tweener set was a bit more diverse with Centerfold, a J. Geils Band cover, Don’t you Want Me cover by the Human Leagues and a #40 Mozart cover.

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Jason Isbell wooed the crowd with a somewhat impressive set.  He played several of his tunes, Stockholm, Flying Over Water, Cover Me Up and Super 8. The former Drive-By Trucker covered Danko/Manuel and Heart on a String by Candi Staton.

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As Haynes introduced the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam Band (Danny Louis, Jack Pearson, Paul Riddle, Oteil Burbridge) he made the announcement for those who hadn’t heard that Vince Gill’s bandmate and singer Dawn Sears had passed away. Haynes dedicated the set to Sears and sent prayers to Gill. They opened the set with a Marshall Tucker Band cover, Take the Highway, Haynes sailed through the riffs. The set went on with two more Marshall Tucker Band covers, Southern Woman with Craig Sorrells and Mike Barnes and closed the set with Can’t you See.

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The final third tweener set of the night evening included Crazy Train, Physical, the Peanuts Charlie Brown Theme and Take on Me. While Love Canon huddled on the stage for the last time, the roadies set up giant fake speakers the Gov’t Mule set which would be dedicated to Neil Young.  Mule would take the stage with Jackie Greene and hammer into Cinnamon Girl.  The longtime friendship between Greene and Haynes was apparent as the two ping ponged guitar solos off each other. They quietly led the band into, Tonight’s the Night, their vocals giving way to slinky strings before drifting back into the melody and asking the crowd to sing the lyrics back. Matt Abts and Jorgen Carlsson joined the band for The Turnstiles. Old Man found Haynes and Greene back on vocals and a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover, Helpless, brought a montage of talent to the stage  Jason Isbell and Neal Casal. Greene would find himself solo on keys for, After the Gold Rush. Mule would return to the stage for, Cowgirl in the Sand and Down by the River. Caleb Johnson and Audley freed would join Mule for a Faces cover, Stay with Me, which was dedicated to Ian McLagan.  The two would stay on stage with Mule for the final song of the set, a Led Zeppelin cover, Trampled Under Foot.

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Billy and the Kids (Bill Kreutzmann, Aron Magner, Reed Mathis, Tom Hamilton) closed out the evening. They busted out with Shakedown Street,  Reed Mathis the most energetic gent of the evening would dance, head bang and just flat out jam most of the set never failing to smile as he tossed out the bottom end like candy to children.  They would roll through; Tennessee Jed, Crazy Fingers, Bertha, Deal before hitting a rarity of the night, a Phish cover, Chalk Dust Torture. They bounced quickly back into a Bobby Band cover with Col. Bruce Hampton, Turn on Your Lovelight. Hampton would remain on stage for a Col. Bruce Hampton cover, Basically Frightened that would segue back into Turn On Your Lovelight and reprise back to Chalk Dust Torture. Estimated Prophet and Me & My Uncle would keep the crowd on their toes before Haynes would appear on stage for a Beatles covers, Dear Prudence and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The evening concluded with The Band cover, The NightThey Drove Old Dixie Down.

 

Bear Creek Music And Arts Festival 2014 Get On Up and Get Down, Get Down!

 

Bear Creek Music And Art Festival 2014
Words and photography by Rex Thomson
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Chris Robinson
Chris Robinson

 

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If you’re looking for the most dedicated fans of funky music, look no further than The Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida every November at the annual Bear Creek Music And Arts Festival. Thousands and thousands of people flock to the park for the show, disregarding the uncertainty of camping in the winter months for a chance to see one of a kind jams such as Chris Robinson fronting an all-star version of Soulive, Dumpstaphunk hosting their traditional, nigh legendary super jam, Roosevelt Collier and O’teil Burbridge putting a parade of special guests through their paces, an artist at large program that boasts bassist George Porter JR., sax man Pee Wee Ellis, beat master Bernard Purdie, guitarist Grant Green Jr., the horned one Skerik, trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick and many others, jam band superstars Umphreys McGee, a rock solid line up of the funkiest touring bands in the nation like Orgone, The New Mastersounds and Lettuce with up and comers The Nth Power, St.Paul and the Broken Bones, Locos Por Juana and Yojimbo representing the future. Okay…that was a pretty long sentence, but it’s truly difficult to capture the magic of Bear Creek in mere words. Lucky us…we get to use pictures too!

Yojimbo's Carley Meyers
Yojimbo’s Carley Meyers
Grant Green Jr.'s Orchestra At Large
Grant Green Jr.’s Orchestra At Large

 

Roosevelt Collier and Oteil Burbridge
Roosevelt Collier and Oteil Burbridge

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George Porter Jr.
George Porter Jr.

The Spirit Of Suwannee Park is the home of over a dozen concert events a year, effectively launching the outdoor season with the Aura Music Festival, then wrapping it up with the epic dance party that is Bear Creek. While the line up IS funk heavy, the true purpose of Bear Creek is to bring the music that makes folks get up and moving, and year in, year out that’s exactly what happens. So while you may hear some jazz, some crunchy rock jams or even some unclassifiable hyper insanity you will feel the urge to boogie…and there is simply no fighting it. But for once you don’t have to take my word for it…you can judge for yourself!

Lettuce
Lettuce

 

Before we go any farther, I want to give a shout out to Jebb Long, for his amazing work taping seemingly the entire festival and sharing it with all of us! Concert tapers are true documentarians, selflessly buying insanely expensive audio gear, getting to shows super early, defending their rigs from errant beach balls, glow sticks and loud talkers…then sharing the fruits of their labors with everyone for no charge! Thanks to their efforts, these moments of musical bliss aren’t lost to the sands of time but preserved forever in sharable digital glory.

ALMOST ALL BEAR CREEK SETS ARE AVAILABLE FOR STREAMING OR DOWNLOADING HERE!

THANKS JEBB!

Dirk Quinn Band
Dirk Quinn Band

 

Locos Por Juana
Locos Por Juana

 

Though I recommend downloading the entire weekend’s music and turning it up on the loudest device you have access to, I do want to steer you folks toward some of the musical highlights from the weekend, starting with my favorite new discovery, Locos Por Juana. With a core of musicians from or descended from Columbia, the band mixes Latin rhythms, world music flourishes and a rock and roll aggression into a new whole. Their high energy set and diverse line up of percussion and horn fills and sit ins made their sets some of the most dynamic of the weekend. Speaking of dynamism, no act raised the stakes higher than Yojimblo, the New Orleans trio that buried the madness needle in the far red and never looked back. Fronted by trombonist Carly Meyers as if she had the bomb from Speed strapped to her person, primed to explode if she went less than fifty miles an hour the band is a melodic assault, only rarely slowing down to feature Meyers surprisingly sweet crooning. While she whirls like a dervish, drummer Adam Gertner and keyboard player Doc Sharp both add to the cacophony and ground it at the same time, allowing Meyers all the room she needs for her flights of fancy. It’s nice to see new acts bringing such energy and confidence to the stages of Bear Creek…it lets us know the future is in good hands.

Yojimbo
Yojimbo

The Nth Power, Brainchild of drummer Nikki Glaspie, formerly of Dumpstaphunk and Beyonce herself’s road band, unites herself, Nigel hall and a cadre of hand picked musicians may be a new band in name, the combined years of experience among the players clearly defines their pedigree. In the year since I last saw them perform they seem to have settled into their own groove. Their two sets on the main stage might have looked puzzling to someone not in the know about their membership, but just the slightest sampling of their combined talents showed them to be a force for reckoning. Thunderous beats gave way to delicate grooves, party line refrains transitioned into soulful singing while the grooves never seemed anything but as tight and as natural as they could be. It’s very impressive to see how fast they have gelled together, and the surety which they commanded the crowds attention spoke volumes about how far this band has come and just how high they can yet climb.

The Nth Power
The Nth Power

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At the other end of the spectrum are the returning mainstays, Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk and The New Mastersounds. Having been a part of the festival since before it even WAS Bear Creek, these bands sounds are hard wired into the very DNA of the annual funk out and they always come ready to play, never holding anything back. Lettuce and The New Mastersounds welcomed guests like Alecia Shakour, Jennifer Hartswick, Bernard Purdie and 10 year old guitar phenom Brandon “Taz” Niederauer while Dumpstaphunk used one of their two sets to host the nigh legendary “Dumpstajam” which has evolved into a “Don’t miss” slice of swirling organs, bass duels and slinky, squealing guitar rampages. While in some cases the adage “Familiarity breeds contempt” could ring true, such is not the case at Bear Creek. Even if the bands didn’t take great pains to vary their set lists from year to year, almost every song seems to receive a transformative moment brought on by the fresh faces joining in on the fun. Florida’s own Rosevelt Collier teamed with Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge were joined by The Nth Power’s Nigel hall to bring a helping of Southern soul to the proceedings, mixing sacred steel gospel with down home jamming, seemingly enjoying the show themselves as much as the audience they performed for.

Lettuce with Alecia Chakour
Lettuce with Alecia Chakour
The New Mastersounds with Jennifer Hartswick
The New Mastersounds with Jennifer Hartswick

 

Dumpstajam with Taz and Tony Hall
Dumpstajam with Taz and Tony Hall
Nigel Hall with Roosevelt Collier and Oteil Burbridge
Nigel Hall with Roosevelt Collier and Oteil Burbridge

These collaborations aren’t limited to the regulars…this year we were treated to a head lining turn by Chris Robinson, who found his way to the amphitheater stage through his friendship with Eric Krasno of Lettuce and Soulive. The blues rock founder of the Black Crowes now fronts the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and was lured to the festival by the chance to play with not only Soulive, but some of the greats of of music like George Porter Jr. and Bernard Purdie. Purdie has appeared on more studio recordings than most anyone alive, and his drumming can literally be called “The Backbone of Funk.”

Chris Robinson, George Porter Jr., Eric Krasno and Ian Neville
Chris Robinson, George Porter Jr., Eric Krasno and Ian Neville

From studio sessions on James Brown, Aretha Franklin and many more to leading his own bands, Purdie is rightly revered in the industry and near deified in the funk community. George Porter Jr., himself a father of the form with his band the Meters bowed to Purdie onstage and was openly giddy about the opportunity to to play with him. Lettuce and Break Science drummer Adam Deitch was so honored to meet the man who had so influenced his development as a player he asked me to snap a shot of him with his hero…and honestly I was a bit awestruck in snapping the shot. Some moments you don’t want to miss…

Bernard Purdie and Adam Deitch
Bernard Purdie and Adam Deitch

 

 

Umphreys McGee's Jake Cinninger
Umphreys McGee’s Jake Cinninger

 

Returning for their third time headlining the festival, Umphreys McGee is riding a wave of love from their dedicated fan base, who turned their newest release, “Similar Skin”, into one of the fastest selling Jam band records in recent memory. The bands eclectic influences show in their lightning fast in song stylistic changes and their far reaching cover tune choices, with even the most experienced of audiences having no idea which way they’ll head next. Their sound is aggressive, heavy and yet still harmonic and melodic enough to capture the more laid back among the crowd. While their inclusion on a funk festival line up may look odd on paper, in practice they work perfectly for the underlying dynamic of the overall festival spirit…their fans never stop moving and grooving to the music, no matter which direction the band chooses to go at any given second. Known for their visual presentation as much as their musical direction, there’s an element of near sensory overload that blends the auditory and visual components into a coherent whole that can literally leave an audience dumbfounded…exhausted and joyous at the experience. Their enjoyment at headlining the main stage two days straight was obvious, and a concerted effort was made to ensure that no fan left the show wishing for more. That sort of dedication, commitment, just plain love for their listeners is a pleasure to see and I truly wish there were more acts that followed this philosophy.

Umphreys McGee's Brendon Baylis
Umphreys McGee’s Brendan Bayliss

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Bear Creek attracts a wide variety of people from the neophytes ready for their first camping experience to the die hardiest, the fans who simply refuse to let the festival season end. These are the kind of people who build home made, battery powered air conditioners to survive the summer festivals, who have check lists that have been honed from years of practice that are meticulously followed….cars packed days in advance, costumes bought and made months before hand. The Spirit Of The Suwannee is a year round camp ground, with its beautiful trails and river views to it’s well worn and laid out camping areas, and, as such, they are ready for everyone. A general store onsite breaks the mold of festival vending by not only having everything you could need, from food and beverages to emergency camping supplies all the way to musical instruments and fire wood! The park also boasts a restaurant that serves an all you can eat southern styled breakfast buffet that will help replenish the lost energy from the previous nights craziness. One of the best parts about visiting a venue that hosts as many events as they do is, quite simply, the fact that practice makes perfect. At this point they’ve seen and done it all, and most importantly, they are prepared for any contingency. Nothing…not rain, nor snow nor sleet or hail shall keep this park from it’s appointed duty…to host the best outdoor events in the country year round!

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Camp  Funknjam
Camp Funknjam

4J7A8596_edited-1As I said earlier in the article, Bear Creek is a haven for special collaborations that fans have only dreamt of…and these moments aren’t born of chance or happenstance, it’s all part of the grand design, and the weaver of that web is Bear Creek talent buyer Paul Levine.

 

Eric Krasno and Paul Levine
Eric Krasno and Paul Levine

The music scene is actually smaller than most people would think, and the players are all just as much fans as anyone in the crowd…some might say even more so. There’s a glee in the eyes of everyone wandering around backstage, seeing friends and other players who they respect and admire…keeping instruments handy, ready to join in at any moment with any band, just for the joy of playing. it’ what separates festivals from concerts…the sheer amount of talented individuals on hand and the chance interactions that can spawn lasting friendships and collaborations. Big Gigantic, though not on the bill, is a fine example of musicians meeting, finding much in common and creating something that could evolve into a musical juggernaut. Though not every sit in is destined to spawn a national touring act, each can inspire a new train of thought, a new outlook or simply an idea in the mind of the players that could eventually grow into a song, a style or a genre all it’s own. Or it could just be a wicked nasty guitar face off that melts the minds of all withing earshot. Either way…it’s pretty sweet.

Dumpstajam with George Porter Jr. and Tony Hall
Dumpstajam with George Porter Jr. and Tony Hall
Chris Robinson and Eric Krasno
Chris Robinson and Eric Krasno
Dumpstajam
Dumpstajam

Over the years Bear Creek has shown a savvy in it’s bookings that is truly inspired, and at it’s core is the Orchestra At Large set, a special last day treat, this year curated by Grant Green Jr. With legends like Purdie, Porter and Pee Wee Ellis, the later of whom played sax on most of James Browns early hits and worked a number of different roles in many famous acts, even serving as Van Morrison’s band leader and arranger during his hey day to call on as well as Taz, Roosevelt, the ladies of horn Jennifer Hartswick and Carley Meyers, New Orleans sax man Khrys Royal, Green had the easiest job in the world. After finding enough songs the players knew collectively he simply set back and let the pros do what they do…and reveled in the eye of the musical storm of which he found himself.

 

Grant Green Jr.
Grant Green Jr.
Orchestra At Large
Orchestra At Large

There was even a moment when the diminutive Taz and the elder green shared a moment, as all barriers of age fell away and music united the two in a way nothing else could.

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That, to me is the highest point of Bear Creek mystique, seeing the players, young and old, lose themselves in the joy of connecting on a level so far beyond the verbal…moving into the spiritual planes. After three days of multiple stages of music, Sunday slows the pace down to alternating stages, with the second sets of The Nth Power, Dumpstaphunk, The New Mastersounds and Lettuce closing everything out. Though worn from days of musical fie sparking them long into the night, the fans don’t sneak out early at this festival…they stay til the echoes from the last note have long faded…excitedly swapping stories and wondering “What could possibly top this year?”

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While the music plays and the lights dance, however, the work goes on behind the scenes. A dedicated recycling crew works to make their program a model of efficiency, doing what they can to leave this picturesque park as they found it when they arrived days earlier. This year incentive programs offered attendees a chance to win prizes, including tickets to next years festival for helping collect and separate recycling waste. It’s a fine way to motivate and inspire fans, and having enthusiastic crew members like Michelle Lee, Lindsey Bradley Brown and Chase Walks made the weekend more like fun than work.

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Bean Spence
Bean Spence

As it says in the name, Bear Creek is an ART festival, and that is not simply lip service to the community, but a true commitment on every level from the promoters to increase awareness and show case the talents of the artists who make our world a brighter place. Boasting a robust artist alley, a “Live Painter” program with a dozen artists and a open submission contest to create the annual festival poster.

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Bridget Adams

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This years winner, Evan Warren, claimed the honor and seemed genuinely moved accepting his prize and the company he was in, with past artists including Ralph Steadman, illustrator and collaborator of the late Hunter S. Thompson. Lyle Williams, Bear Creek promoter enjoys the contest, seeing it as chance to give artists a chance to share their visions with the world and secure memorable works of art that stand out from the crowd.

 

Lyle Williams presenting Evan with his prize package
Lyle Williams presenting Evan Warren with his prize package

 

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Evan Warren giving thanks.

 

The sense of community that pervades the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival extends from the grounds of it’s home the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park to the stages themselves. For years the Purple Hatters stage stood in the music field, named for a fallen member of the park’s family, Rachel Hoffman prized head gear. Tragically, this year the other two stages were named as two more of the parks long time crew, Derek “DC” Corner and Robert “Buffalo” Roffe. “DC” worked festivals around the country, helping lead security teams and keeping their presence to a helpful background, while Buffalo made sure the lights stayed lit, the sound stayed loud and the love kept flowing. I knew both men, and was lucky enough to call them both friend. Seeing the stages listed as “DC’s Forest Stage” and “The Buffalo Amphitheater” brought my heart to my throat when I first opened the program. It was a fitting tribute to those who work is going best when they are unseen by the average festival attendee, but without whose efforts the show simply wouldn’t happen.

Derek "DC" Conner
Derek “DC” Corner
Robert "Buffalo" Roffe and friend
Robert “Buffalo” Roffe and friend

It’s easy to forget the sheer amount of logistical planning, scheduling wizardry, stage building, sound and light rigging, audio and visual design, catering, cleaning, trash removal and the thousand other jobs that go into putting on a music festival. Luckily, the Spirit Of The Suwannee and it’s many events has a tight knit crew of regulars that make these many gigantic parties go off without a hitch. Over the past few years I’ve come to know most all of them, from the owner of the park and his parents who founded this music playground to the men and women who live and work on the site year round to the aforementioned production crew that brings the stages to life so many times a year. On a personal note, I’m proud to count myself among them, serving as a staff photographer for the event as well as reviewing the party, and was this year privileged to take the staff photo.

Hardest working folks in the biz!
Hardest working folks in the biz!

There are numerous faces missing as the break down was in full swing, and no faces are missed more than DC’s and Buffalo’s. But, as in the name of the park itself, their spirits were there watching over us, as they did in life. They were missed, but I know they would have wanted everyone to live up to the oldest of showbiz credos…”The show must go on!” And so it went. Times change, faces change, but love…love is forever. See you next year Bear Creek!

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Dave and Kristy
Dave and Kristy
Big Ginger
Big Ginger
Cuties
Cuties

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Sister Sparrow with Roosevelt Collier and Bernard Purdie
Sister Sparrow with Roosevelt Collier and Bernard Purdie
The Wizad and the warriors
The Wizad and the warriors

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Farmers
Farmers

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Lettuce's Adam Smirnoff
Lettuce’s Adam Smirnoff
Lettuce
Lettuce
Khrys Royal
Khrys Royal
Jennifer Hartswick
Jennifer Hartswick
Dumpstaphunk's Tony Hall
Dumpstaphunk’s Tony Hall

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Suwannee Hulaween Thriller Nights

Suwannee Hulaween
October 30th – November 2nd 2014
The Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park
Live Oak, Florida

Photographer/Writer: Amber Jennings

Suwannee Hulaween Thriller Nights

The Suwannee Hulaween Festival presented by Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions transformed the Suwannee Valley into an amazement of fantasy where mystic lurked throughout the cypress forest and the collective mind-boggling art installations transmogrified the Spirit Lake to a spooktacular afterlife themed arena that was nothing short of grandiose. The host of the event, The String Cheese Incident, would for a second year in a row give fans an experience to remember for a lifetime with seven sets of music that an included an explosive Suwannee Hulaween extravaganza set on Friday evening.

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Festival goers would experience very little wait for wristbands and schedules before entering the campgrounds when Suwannee Hulaween opened it’s gates for a pre-party event Thursday, October 30th that included MZG, Modern Measure, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Particle and Electron on the Amphitheater stage. As festival goer’s met up with their respected tribes to set up camp the sun slowly began to sink behind the giant cypress’ and temperatures dropped to a mild chilly level. The Amphitheater stage located between the Main Stage and Spirit Lake was nestled in the cypress forest, the kinetic art festooned from the stage into the tall trees and billowed over the crowd. The yellowy haze from the setting sun pulsed through the Spanish moss as Florida based DJ twins, MZG, formerly known as Monozygotik kicked off the event on the Amphitheater stage. The hybrid electronica project, Modern Measure would take the stage next. Kyle Holly added a layer of organic mixture to the electronica with live drums during the set.

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By the time Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band hit the stage the sun had kissed the Florida sky goodbye, strands of lights draped through the cypress’ and up to the vendor booths lit up and lighting designs inundated the trees with hues of yellow, green and magenta’s indulging the spectators with the first glimpse of the twilight magic that would unfold. The funk infused ensemble emerged and Mary Frances “Mama Funk” purred out powerhouse vocals on “Wake Yo’Self” while bass player Al Al “Sweet Nasty” Ingram’s idiosyncrasy for dropping bass bombs had the crowd pumped. Derrick “Dr. Ock” Johnson’s trombone slid the band into “Quick-E” the set continued with JP “Smoke Machine” Miller on guitar and Lee “Insta Funk” Allen on drums for “North Carolina” “Sunday Afternoon” “24/7” “Nah Brah.” They covered Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nothing But a G Thang” into “Funk Life” before ripping out a Dirty Dozen Brass Band tune “Ain’t Nothing But a Party.” The set concluded with “Livin’ the Dream” and “Trunk Fallin’ Off.”

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LA based band Particle continued to rage the pre-party show. The livetronica, electrofunk band opened with the Kill Bill theme song “A Battle Without Honor or Humanity.” The set continued with a segue of tunes Triple Threat> Organ Chords> I’m Awake> Launchpad. Aaron Magner and Jason Hann joined the band for “Knee Knocker” and they closed the set with a Beck cover “E-Pro.” Electron closed the event on the Amphitheater stage, the super-group from Philly covered rock sensation Pink Floyd tunes “Comfortably Numb” and “Brain Damage.”

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As the crowd dispersed following the late night show, it would prove to be an impossible feet for the curious to preview the Spirit Lake. The Teeth Portal would beckon to the inquisitive but stern security guards held their ground to keep the Spirit Lake a surprise for the next day’s festivities. Those that wandered to the campground side of the lake watched in awe as the lights from the guarded and enigmatic psychedelic wonderland teased from across the water.

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Suwannee Hulaween would kick off the first official festival day on Friday, October 31st. The Spirit Lake stage would host the first band of the day, Post Pluto. As people entered the Spirit Lake area through the Teeth Portal to catch the opening act they would be mesmerized by the play land that stretched out before them. The Spirit Lake stage would grab the festy goer’s attention off to the left, with its plush red curtains and Day of the Dead paintings adorning the top of the stage. The platforms on either side of the stage congregated with hula hoop artists, fire and belly dancers along with the aerial performers would enchant many.

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Sprawled out in front of the Spirit Lake the Natural Mandala Art, Sonic Forest, JellyDome along with several other art instillations would captivate those not lost in ecstasy by the Spirit Lake stage.  If this wasn’t enough eye candy that comes under the direction of Art Director and longtime String Cheese Incident Lighting designer, Andrew Carroll, the Infinite Infant and all of his toys would be sure to blow your mind. The history of the Infinite Infant is something of note, the motorized metal sculpture 16-20’ tall x 8-10’ wide x 10-12’ long was designed by Charlie Smith. Its massive cauldron and the cauldron’s of all its toys would provide fiery comfort to all over the weekend as temperatures dropped below freezing. The three fire cauldrons celebrate the history, intention and symbolic meanings of our past, present and future existence. The Infinite Infant brings 10 ft. tall “Hot Mama” – the earth mother, 12 ft. tall “Mr. Nice Guy” the corporate suit, along with these fiery cauldrons two more could be found between the Spirit Lake stage and the Spirit Lake. Alongside the fiery installations was another hypnotizing installation, Dillon Endico’s,“Because of the Lotus.” The projection mapping on paintings would transfix onlookers at night through the combination of traditional painting and projection mapping making the paintings seem to come to life and morph into different phases as light cast upon them in varying ways. In total nearly 100 artists and performers filled the Spirit Lake area with color, creativity and gave a community vibe that made it an all day and night spectacle not to be missed.

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Judah & the Lion’s set on the Amphitheater stage would start shortly after Post Pluto. The migration from one stage to the next flowed nicely, as one band would wrap up the next stage over would begin their set. The first act on the Main stage would be Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass. Dressed as angels they had the crowd stirring up dust as they danced to the hellishly fierce pickin’ the band was throwing down. Emancipator took stage on the Amphitheater stage while the dust was still filtering through the air from the Greensky’s performance.  The electronica, trip-hop artists opened with “Old Devil” and preluding to the dropping temperatures to come included “Soon it will be Cold Enough to Build” and “Fires.”

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To the excitement and anticipation of all 8,000 attendees the hosts, The String Cheese Incident took the main stage for the first of their six performances. The attendees decked out in magnificent customs ranging from the afterlife, zombies, day of the dead to fairytale characters gave the band a warm welcome the band teased a Friday the 13th jam before Kyle Hollingsworth keys zipped through the night to unfurl, “Restless Winds.” The set continued to the delight of everyone with Keith Mosely on vocals for “Joyful Sound” his fast bass run exploding through the night. A slinky salsa “Pygmy Pony” was a nice ride with Jason Hann and Michael Travis softly keeping rhythm as Billy Nershi and Michael Kang swayed the crowd with their strings, they segued into Piece of Mine > Give Me the Love. They ripped into “Valley of the Jig” the electric jam with its ferocity melting the crowd in euphoria and smiles spread as everyone lost themselves in the moment. They closed the set with “Can’t Wait Another Day.” As the Main stage cleared to prep for the thrilling second Cheese set the crowd dispersed for ferris wheel rides, partake in some grub and beverages and catch DJ Shpongle on the Amphitheater stage.

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When the String Cheese Incident sauntered back on stage they were dressed in white suits with white top hats, their faces had been painted white with black paint across their eyes. Nershi and Mosely wore long white wigs. Joining them on stage was Rhonda Thomas and Tony White on vocals, Antibalas Horns included Martin Perna (Baritone Sax, Flute), Jas Walton (Tenor), Jordan McLean (Trumpet), Jeff Pierce (Trumpet, Trombone). They opened the set with a Rolling Stones cover “Sympathy for the Devil” Mosely on vocals while Nershi shredded out the riffs. They segued into “Ghostbusters” Tony White on vocals with the Antibalas brass blasting away while giant air filled ghosts shot up from the front of the stage and waved and swayed to the song.  Kang took lead vocals for Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” before passing vocals to Rhonda Thomas for a Paul McCartney cover “Live and Let Die.” Enormous sized skull balloons were released into the crowd, confetti was shot out from the stage and pyrotechnics burst from the stage in massive explosions. Nershi took Acapulco on “Just Passing Through” and they continued the set with a Blue Oyster Cult cover “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and segued into a Doors cover “Break on Through” and Led Zeppelin cover “Stairway to Heaven.” Kyle sang lead for “Heaven” a slow Talking Heads cover before reprising back into “Live and Let Die.” The monster finale was a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Behind the stage a monstrous sized rendition of Michael Jackson emerged with hands that reached out over the stage, dancers dressed as zombies danced on the sides of the stage, it was a killer, thriller night!

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The third set for the night had monster jams, the Cheese opened with “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and went into a Kool and the Gang cover “Hollywood Swingin.” They continued the set with You’ve Got The World, Hotel Window > Rosie > Zombie > Rosie, Way Back Home > Just One Story and they encored with “Superstition.”

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The night would continue on with Beats Antique on the Amphitheater stage and Thievery Corporation back on the Main stage. By the time Thievery took the stage the temps had dropped to below freezing and the winds had started to pick up. After Thievery everyone rushed to Spirit Lake for Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Billy Gilmore’s Jam and the amazing art instillation’s that morphed into a cosmic pulse of colors and textures. The cauldrons warmed chilled bodies while fire performers danced through Spirit Lake.

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Saturday would prove to be just as fun as the day before with everyone surviving the 60 mph winds and the sun popping out behind the clouds. The three stages would bounce to and fro with a few conflicting schedules, Strung Like a Horse, Beartoe, Cope, The Heavy Pets, Shane Pruitt Band and Nahko and Medicine for the People would all take turns in competing for the masses. Keller Williams and Friends which included Reed Matthis from Marco Benevento and Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers on the Main stage had everyone in smiles. They opened with “Kidney” and continued with favorites like “Doobie in My Pocket” “Samson and Delilah” “Scarlet Begonias” “Wish You Were Here” and “Born to be Wild.”

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The second night of the String Cheese Incident would ratify even larger jams then the night before and they would outdo themselves in the magnitude of music. The first set opened with Search > Lost > Mouna Bowa. Nicky Sanders from Steep Canyon Rangers sat in for “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.” Keller Williams joined Nicky and the String Cheese for “Resume Man” and “Pack it Up.” Keller took lead vocals for one of his songs “Alligator Alley” and a Grateful Dead cover “Franklins Tower.” The second set was a space-meld of psychedelic dank jams with “Let’s Go Outside” opening into “Black Clouds” they found the “Sweet Spot” and had Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic set in for “Birdland.”  They rolled into Sirens > Rivertrance > Drums > Swamp > Rivertrance and encored with a super heady “Bollymunster.”

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Suwannee Hulaween would continue into the early morning hours with the New Deal, Kung Fu, Big Gigantic, Applebutter Express.

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Sunday was magic as the temperatures climbed and people started to warm up as the sun rose above the campground. Most festival goers still sported their costumes from the first night of the festival whether from the weather being too cold to change or just the sheer enjoyment of wearing a costume for three days it didn’t matter it just made it easier to spot newly made friends in a crowd. The day would kick off with Ghost Owl on the Main stage and Suenalo on the Spirit Stage. The Soul Rebels would offer a chance to see a set on the Amphitheater stage with little conflict in scheduling. North Carolina’s Asheville goddess, Rising Appalachia, would perform on the Main stage. The beautiful sisters seemed to call out the sun as their rich powerful message resounded through the campgrounds. Their set included, Mississippi, Scaledown, Filthy Dirty, Fly Around, Downtown, Pretty Lil Foot, Cuarto de Tula, Stromboli, Tiny Fish Lungs, Medicine, Honey Baby. The Dean Ween Group was sandwiched between Rising Appalachia and the String Cheese would include favorites “Dickie Betts” “Transdermal Celebration” “Ghost of the Frontier” and “Sweet Jan.”

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The String Cheese would wrap up hosting the Suwannee Hulaween with as much bravado as one could imagine. The first set opened with “Sometimes A River” into Close Your Eyes > How Mountain Girls Can Love, a “MLT” and Love Is Like A Train > So Far From Home > ‘Round The Wheel. The second set pushed the jams to even greater levels of joy. They opened with Colliding > Late In The Evening, Look At Where We Are, Song In My Head > This Must Be The Place > On The Road, Bumpin’ Reel. They ended their Incident with a big bold “Texas.”

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Future Rock would hold fans over on the Amphitheater stage between major schedule conflict EOTO on the Main stage and Van Ghost on Spirit Lake. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead would close out the festival with Truckin> Uncle John’s Band> No Quarter Jam> Uncle John’s Band> Let It Grow> Crazy Fingers> Help On The Way> Slipknot!> Franklin’s Tower.

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As the stages cleared most found their way back to their campsites or wandered one last time through the mystical play land of the Spirit Lake. The last of the firewood was dumped into the Infinite Infant and his cauldron toys as temperatures once again plummeted below freezing. Those left huddled around the cauldrons for warmth buzzed of chatter focused on what a great event Suwannee Hulaween and how much they were looking forward to next year’s Suwannee Hulaween these words would echo through the morning as campers packed up to head home.

 

Jeff Austin ~ The Art Of The Pause

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It’s safe to say this has been the most eventful year of Jeff Austin’s life.  The birth of a daughter, the recording of a new album…he bought a couple new Metalocalypse T-Shirts…Oh…and he left Yonder Mountain String Band after 18 some odd years.  The band parting ways with Austin created something of a uproar earlier this year, with fans choosing sides and drawing lines.  Rather than add fuel to the fire Austin retreated from the spotlight, and has only now begun returning to the public eye, taking his new group out on the road to rave reviews and sold out shows.  We caught up with Jeff in Portland, Oregon last week for a quick chat about his new band, his reactions to the media frenzy and life as a new dad.

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To check out the EPIC “Rag Doll” and the rest of the Jeff Austin Band’s late night Hangtown Halloween Ball set, click HERE