Written By/ Photos By Bob Adamek
The first weekend in August each year, Johnstown, PA rings the surrounding mountains with a blanket of sounds from New Orleans and beyond in a three-day musical blow out featuring a diverse pallet of styles from NOLA funk to reggae, to blues to bluegrass. Flood City is a relatively small festival with large acts like Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John, International Bluegrass Hall of Famer Del McCoury and 80â€™s alt rockers The Smithereens. Music devotees get an up-close and intimate look at some world class bands, and performers have a relaxed setting in which to perform.
Johnstown, in western Pennsylvania, has a distinct look: Â an old industrial town bearing the marks left behind from its steel city roots, the Cambria Iron Company. Set in the stunning Conemaugh River valley amongst the Appalachian Mountains, the festival site is a wonderful mix of urban and rural landscape, with an old warehouse and working freight train tracks bordering one side, and mountains rising right from the Conemaugh River on the other.
he festival site, known as Peoples Natural Gas Park, is a success story born of hard work and determination. A building called the Oil House, which contains two of the festivalâ€™s four stages, was an old lubricant storage facility from the steel works days. After an extensive environmental cleanup, it has been transformed into a beautiful building, pavilion and large grassy lawn, providing festival goers a fitting backdrop for the A List acts.
The heart of this yearâ€™s festival was Saturday, when staple New Orleans acts Dr. John, Anders Osborne, Big Samâ€™s Funky Nation, Eric Lindell, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes and the Royal Southern Brotherhood featuring Cyril Neville and Devon Allman, were joined by Steve Kimock with Bernie Worrell, the NY Funk Exchange, and several other great undercard acts.Â The day had a party atmosphere, as the bands that were not on stage got to hang out with each other and the crowd.
Touring behind his successful 2012 release Locked Down, Dr. John brought five Grammys and 50+ years of experience to a highly energized crowd. For over two hours, Dr. John growled through 18 songs from 11 different albums, reaching back to his roots by playing guitar on some songs, and splitting time between his funky, strictly New Orleans piano and the swirling warmth of his Hammond B-3 organ on others.
Opening with the title track from Locked Down, Dr. Johnâ€™s new material sounded very fresh, something not found in many recordings from artists who started producing work in the 60s. The other songs the band played from that record, â€œGetaway,â€ â€œRevolutionâ€ and â€œBig Shot,â€ also have an edge to them and belie a drive, a push to be better.
There were songs during the night that had purpose behind the lyrics, like â€œSave Our Wetlandsâ€ and â€œLetâ€™s Make This a Better World.â€ Others were just about fun, like â€œLet The Good Times Roll,â€ â€œOne 2am Too Manyâ€ and Koko Taylorâ€™s â€œWang Dang Doodle.â€
Dr. Johnâ€™s band is made up of seasoned veterans â€“ several who have been with him for many years â€“ and is driven by drummer extraordinaire Ray Weber, recently of Dumpstaphunk. But, one of the nightâ€™s highlights came during the encore when Dr. John returned to the stage by â€œhisselfâ€ to tear up some funky piano, eventually drifting into a jaw dropping soulful version of â€œSuch A Night.â€
Anders Osborne delivered a little bit of everything from his repertoire, showing off why his sets have been packed all year and why his popularity is soaring. His set was slightly shortened by some rain earlier in the day, but the end was the highlight of Flood Cityâ€™s Saturday.
Kicking it off was the hypnotic â€œSend Me A Friendâ€ from his new release Black Eye Galaxy. This song perfectly fits the style of soloing that Anders loves, dirty, low-down distortion and powerful guitar over a spellbinding rhythm. After a long solo that greased all the joints woke up the band and energized the crowd, Anders showed off his brilliant and heartfelt songwriting with a trio of slower, thoughtful songs including â€œBurning On The Inside,â€ â€œGot Your Heartâ€ and â€œIâ€™ve Got A Woman.â€ There is a soulful purity to Andersâ€™ voice, a cunning quality that makes you feel his lyrics.
The set really started to launch on the more irreverent and bluesy â€œYa Yaâ€ from 99â€™s Living Room, when Osborne invited guitarist Eric Tessmer from Austin TX on stage, fresh from his set at The Oil House stage. The two guitarists stretched and reached, chasing each other around, notching up the energy and the crowd. When the song finally ended, Anders brought out another friend, John Fohl, guitar player for Dr. John.
Anders tore into the muscular â€œOn the Road to Charlie Parker,â€ the driving first track from 2010â€™s American Patchwork. Now a three guitar front, the band rocked and jammed for over 10 minutes, leaving the crowd excited and screaming.
Eric Lindell played one set on Friday night and another on Saturday evening, each with special guest Anson Funderburgh, the veteran Texas blues guitarist, on board. Funderburghâ€™s guitar added the perfect voice to Lindellâ€™s songs, most of which were soulful, easy tempo blues, some with a rhythm and blues feel, some with a funky feel, and some with a country feel.
Funderburghâ€™s solos were not pyrotechnical; they were careful, well thought out and melodic. They were much like the solos of Lindell himself, championing feel and musicality over flash. This was a great compliment to Lindellâ€™s voice, which is both gritty and sweet at the same time.
Lindell also had Myles Weeks on upright bass and Will McMains on drums, a rhythm section that has traveled with him for three years now that made the set fantastically tight and intuitive. These guys are young, but have a swing feel of much more mature players. They also seemed to appreciate having Funderburgh with them for these sets, as they zeroed in on him during his solos. Rounding out the band were saxophonists Brad Walker and Chris Fitzgerald, whose horn section work served the purpose of the church choir, answering in the affirmative to the soulful vocals, giving the music the feel of a hot sweaty bar in Memphis or New Orleans, where soul music reigns supreme.
The Royal Southern Brotherhood (RSB) is a supergroup, put together from brand name musicians, and this one lives up to that billing. Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and Mike Zito make up the front line. All of these guys can sing and all of these guys can write. Drummer Yonrico Scott and bassist Charlie Wooton anchor the rhythm section and are as tight and talented a duo as you can find.
Two separating characteristics of the RSB are that they are servile to the song above all else, putting aside their own egos and playing only what is necessary to make the song better, instead of showcasing their own talent. Second, they are completely committed to their live performance, giving the audience what they came for: Â a fun show.
Allman and Zito traded solos with ease, and worked together for the setâ€™s highlight, a funky and soulful version of â€œFire On The Mountain,â€ sung by Neville. As the song built, the two guitar slingers came together and soloed at the same time, resting back to back, ramping up the energy and the crowd for over 15 minutes.
Three bands turned in seriously crowd pleasing performances: Â Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Steve Kimock with Bernie Worrell, and Big Samâ€™s Funky Nation.
Big Samâ€™s Funky Nation was the perfect late night closing act for a long day of great music on Saturday. Big Sam is a trombone player and MC styled front man extraordinaire. His audience call and response, and commands to dance squeezed every bit of energy left from the crowd. His hour and a half set left little time for people to rest, put their arms down, or stop singing and screaming. Everyone was smiling or shaking their heads in disbelief at the level of energy Big Sam and his band maintains.
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes played an hour set in the Spangler Subaru tent, crushing the crowd with a combination of tight, often blistering musicianship and greasy low down New Orleans funk. Running through Sketch favorites like â€œSaucy Jack,â€ â€œCora Leeâ€ and the super funky â€œYa Herd Me?,” the band pulled people out of their seats to get up and dance. The dayâ€™s heat and humidity peaked during their set, fitting the high energy level of the music, leaving the band and crowd drenched.
Kimock and Worrell had Kimockâ€™s son, John Morgan on drums, and bassist Andy Hess with them. They filled the appetite of jam band fans with an hour and a half set in the Polacek Pavilion. The set had long and intense solos, highlighted by four players completely in tune with each other, reacting and turning, talking through their instruments. The interplay of the band in the instrumentals was hypnotic to watch, grazing through style and rhythm changes, moving together and marveling at each otherâ€™s playing.
Late Saturday night into Sunday, festival director Todd Wagner and his staff were confronted with a very tough decision. The severe weather that shut down Lollapalooza in Chicago on Saturday for three hours was on its way to Johnstown. It was a situation certain to disappoint the directors, fans and bands alike, but everyone understood what was at stake.
Thinking of the safety of everyone first, Wagner ordered the main stage to be taken down, and the schedule was reworked to accommodate the dayâ€™s lineup on three stages instead of four. Signs were printed and hung up all over, informing fans of where to go (two long standing brick buildings on site) in case severe weather was to strike.
The storms broke up before they got to Johnstown, but the staff did a great job of making everyone feel safe. The threat of the storms probably cost the festival in terms of day gate attendance, but the fans and artists that were there were very grateful for the care the Flood City Music Festival took in ensuring their safety and comfort.
Johnstown has a wonderful growing artistic scene, spearheaded by this festival which brings world class acts to the gorgeous western Pennsylvania mountain town. The last several years have established consistent A-list lineups, making it a destination festival youâ€™ll want on your calendar for 2013.
Setlists & Downloads
Locked Down, Save Our Wetlands, Do You Call That A Buddy, Wang Dang Doodle, I Walk On Gilded Splinters, Right Place, Wrong Time, Let The Good Times Roll, Getaway, One 2am Too Many, My Indian Red, Makinâ€™ Whoopee, Caravan, Revolution, Big Shot, Letâ€™s make A Better World, Goinâ€™ Back To New Orleans, Big Chief, Such A Night
Download an audience recording of this set, HERE
Send Me A Friend, Burning On The Inside, I Got Your Heart,Iâ€™ve Got A Woman, Ya Ya, On The Road, To Charlie Parker
Download an audience recording of this set, HERE
Royal Southern Brotherhood
Fired Up, Hurts My Feet, Keep On Rockinâ€™, Moonlight Over Mississippi, Left My Heart In Memphis, Fire On The Mountain, Ways About You, Could Get Dangerous, Sweet Jelly Donut, New Horizons, All Around The World, One Way Out
Download an audience recording of this set, HERE
Steve Kimock & Bernie Worrell
Intro, Stella Blue, Nana’s Chalk Pipe, A New Africa, Ice Cream, Hey Man, Red Hot Mama, Come Together
Download the soundboard recording of this set, HERE
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes
Hey Lilâ€™ Mama, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Club Fabulous, Saucy Jack, Hâ€™yaaaaagh, Biscuits & Gravy, Cora Lee, Africa, Ya Herd Me?
Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the fest by Bob Adamek…
[PHOTOS|SETLIST] Steve Kimock, 5/11/12
[PHOTOS|SETLISTS|DOWNLOADS] Govâ€™t Mule (with Dr. John), 6/9/12
[FESTIVAL REVIEW|PHOTOS] Sounds of the South Head North for Flood City Fest
[ALBUM REVIEW] Anders Osborne : Black Eye Galaxy
[FEATURE|INTERVIEW|VIDEO|PHOTOS] On the Jam Cruise Scene with Keller, Anders, Col. Bruce, PGroove, 7 Walkers…
[INTERVIEW|FEATURE] Eric Lindell: Rich In Other Things
[LATEST NEWS] Dr. John hospitalized in Lincoln, NE; Officials confirm he is okay
[INTERVIEW| FEATURE] Talking improvisation, brass, and leading Funky Nation with Big Sam Williams
Great review of the 2012 festival from Honest Tune: ow.ly/eTkis
— Flood City Music (@floodcitymusic) October 30, 2012