It’s gonna snow here in North Carolina today. From Raleigh to points East, schools are closed and
Food Lions everywhere are perilously low on bread and milk. TV Weather folks are living the
dream! A good day to put a big hunk of something in the crock pot, pay some bills and just kick back.
The other news that’s permeating the landscape is the passing of Pete Seeger. More interesting
writers than I will expound upon his life – please read them and reflect. I will say that had he
not been a musician, I think we would still be mourning his death. His courage, convictions and
strength of character would have bubbled up no matter what. I don’t think he was a leader by
intention but he certainly was by example. At 94 he had a good run for a picker. Travel well my
friend, may we keep your candle lit . . ..
Speaking of leadership, the IBMA announced the Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2014. Among the new members are several people I met during the IBMA Week here in Raleigh. I met Ted Lehmann (http://tedlehmann.blogspot.com/) and his wife Irene the very 1st day of the week, in of all places, a parking deck. Ted may have been the most overworked person in Raleigh – interviewing, taking photos, writing, publishing – I don’t think he slept the entire week! Alane Anno (http://www.alaneanno.com/) is an exquisite photographer. She’s got a great eye and knows the Bluegrass scene inside and out. It’s good to see her recognized as an industry leader – she
deserves it! If Ted and Alane are any indication of the caliber of folks in this years class,
we’re in good hands!
Also in the Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2014 is Pattie Hopkins. Pattie is the fiddler for the
Kickin’ Grass Band as well as the Lynda and Pattie Duo. She’s also, I found, with Rachel Koontz
and the Morning After. I had gone to Raleigh’s Southland Ballroom to see Dangermuffin, and The
Morning After opened the evening with a great set! I do like some Dangermuffin! Steven Sandifer
has a world beat drum style that lays right in with Mikie Sivilli’s smooth jam guitar. Add Dan
Lotti’s slightly raspy vocals (he reminds me of a whiskey-worn Paul Simon) and the sound is just
right. A highlight for me was when they were joined on stage by Les Raquet for a nice version of
“Franklin’s Tower.” Equally entertaining was Rachel Koontz and company. The Morning After has a
Newgrass meets Calypso meets Motown sound that’s very cool. Koontz has a great stage presence and
the band as a whole is fun to watch. Add these folks to your list of bands to see!
“Some people… some people like cupcakes exclusively, while myself, I say There is naught nor ought there be nothing so exalted on the face of gods grey Earth as that prince of foods… the muffin!” F. Zappa
Photos by Dave Brainard, Grassicana – All Rights Reserved
If a picture’s worth a thousand words it would take a photo album to describe last night’s Tim O’Brien / Darrell Scott show at Fletcher Opera Theater. Scott and O’Brien treated a capacity crowd to two sets filled with soulful, old time, gospel, traditional country, bluegrass, string band music. These two are masters. Two voices and two instruments creating musical textures and layers that intertwine and spiral up into a single beautiful sound. There were three part harmonies with Scott’s guitar as the third voice. There was baroque-like intstrumentation behind traditional gospel vocals. Several times during the show I commented to myself, “wow, did I really just hear that?” It was intricately smooth. It was elegant. Most of all it was just great fun! At the end of the first set, Scott and O’Brien were joined on stage by students from Durham’s Central Park Elementary School, who sang “Keep Yor Dirty Lights On” and John Prine’s “Paradise.” Appropriate numbers for students that, as we learned last night, have converted their classroom to solar power and are completely off the grid! Other hghlights for me were their cover of George Jones’ “Just One More” and the poignant “Fiddler Jones.” All in all it was another great night presented by the fine folks at PineCone!
I truly believe there are forces in the universe that guide and nurture. Call it Divine Intervention, fate or what have you – I’ve learned not to question. Whatever they be, the Muse of Traditional Music was having a good day when she converged the paths of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz. Mandolin Orange was meant to be. Accompanied by Robbie Link (Craiqdown, NC Baroque Orchestra), last night’s sold out performance at Fletcher Opera Theater was amazing. 600 fans witnessed a benchmark performance that served to reaffirm why I love live music. As much as I like their albums, there’s a beauty to a Mandolin Orange show that can’t be captured in a studio. Frantz and Marlin compliment each other so well – you can see their friendship played out song by song - feel the emotion in songs like Hey Adam and Waltz About Whiskey. My favorite Mandolin Orange song, Night Owl, was taken to a new level by Robbie Link’s exquisite bowed bass. I hope Yep Roc sees fit to release a live album soon! Replete with Mandolin Orange favorites and classic traditional tunes as well as a tribute to Phil Everly, last night was one to remember.
Thanks, as always, to PineCone for presenting yet another stellar show and to Mandolin Orange for reassuring the Fates that the future of music is in good hands.
You may think it odd that I’m covering a race on a music blog. It’s not that strange really. There’s a passion to grass roots racing that’s much akin to Bluegrass jams and garage bands. On a cold weekend in January, 90 cars showed up at Dillon Motor Speedway to race for more pride than money. Billed as The Street Stock Nationals, racers came from all over the the US to compete. James Swan, the feature winner, pulled from Wisconsin and came away with $2000, a trophy and a kiss. I’m fairly sure the 2 grand barely covered his weekend expenses, but the trophy and kiss are priceless. If you’re not familiar with Street Stock racing, it’s pretty much the last home for old Camaros, Monte Carlos and T-Birds. Stock bodied American V8s with a racing cage and chassis. At local tracks around the country, Street Stocks are a support division to the faster and more glamorous Late Models and Modifieds, but they’re race cars in every way. Every January, Ron Barfield, owner and promoter of Dillon Motor Speedway, gives them their day and makes them the featured class. They respond with a passion (there’s that word again)! On a day when temperatures hovered in the 30s, 32 cars took the green flag for the feature race. A cold racetrack is a slippery racetrack, and with grip a fleeting thing, there were more than a few “incidents.” A 100 lap feature that should have taken an hour to run, went a bit longer, but no one complained, and no one threw in the towel. Crews banged out fenders, changed tires, hoses and even radiators on damaged cars trying to get back on track after accidents. No points on the line, all prospects of a win gone, these guys thrashed just for a few more laps of racing. That’s passion. I’ve covered all forms of racing – every NASCAR division, Indy Racing League, NHRA on down to local bull rings, and the bull rings are by far my favorites. I’m not saying that Jimmy Johnson doesn’t love what he does, or that he’s not passionate (I’ve met the man, he is) but its not like Michael Odom, who uses 2×6 planks to load his race car on a home built trailer, or Raymond Polk who had to lay on the ground of the frozen infield to work on his 4 Cylinder Pure Stock. Jimmy Johnson and Danica Patrick may be the face of American racing, but these guys are the soul of the sport. For every Tony Rice or Sam Bush there are a thousand great players you’ve never heard of. For every Dale Earnhardt Jr, there’s a thousand great drivers you can see every Friday and Saturday night at short tracks all across the country. Hats off to Ron Barfield and Dillon Motor Speedway (http://www.dillonmotorspeedway.com/) for giving them a day in the sun!
11:40 Saturday night. After a great opening set by Michael Rank and a fairly forgettable Erin Nenni Band, The Backsliders take the stage at Raleigh’s Pour House. These guys enter the room chest first, grab your attention and hit you with it! They started with an instrumental, exploded right into Abe Lincoln, covered Backslider classics, added tunes from a much anticipated new album and even threw in a Meat Puppets song. All with a ragged, in your face energy that just cut threw the room. THIS is what I came to see! As much as I like their albums, The Backsliders are a live band. THIS is why 100,000 kids want guitars for Christmas! THIS is muscles flexed, nostrils flared, top down, engine revved Rock and Roll! Ain’t nothin’ finer – gitcha some!
Michael Rank opened for The Backsliders Saturday night at Raleigh’s Pour House. My initial intent was to cover his set as part of a single write up of the show, but I don’t think that’s fair. Rank deserves his own space. Accompanied only by Ron Bartholomew on mandolin we got to hear the seeds of the songs that grew into his latest album, Mermaids. It’s easy to see why it’s getting strong reviews. As he laid bare his heart he drew me in, as only a poet and a songwriter can do. I’m bound to listen more . . . .
A rare seated show at Raleigh’s Southland Ballroom packed in a crowd ranging from 18 to 80 to see a tribute to 2 Country Music legends. Canady Thomas, backed by Allyn Love’s masterful guitar and Roger Gupton’s solid bass covered Patsy Cline classics from Crazy to Walking After Midnight. Highlights for me were 3 Cigarettes in an Ashtray and Randy Travis’ I Told you So. The Johnny Folsum 4 traveled the Johnny Cash timeline from the Sun Record days up to his work with Rick Rubin. David Burney sounds like Cash and truly evokes the Spirit of The Man In Black. Add in Eleanor Jones’ interpretation of June Carter Cash, and there’s magic in the room. Toss in a couple of Brenda Lee Holiday tunes, and it’s down right festive! These two bands made Johnny and Patsy proud and continuously reminded me why I like Country Music!
Justin Townes Earl ain’t no kid and he ain’t walkin’ in nobody’s shadow! Watching his show at Southland Ballroom I got the feeling that this guy’s going to get what he wants. Things are going to be his way, both on and off the stage. He’s intelligent, witty and engaging and he has the confidence and talent to thrive in the industry. His “between song patter” is all from the Ego, but when the music starts the ID takes over. He plays with a style that can’t be taught – straight from the core. At times it’s hard to tell if Justin Townes Earl is playing the music or if the music is playing Justin Townes Earl! Maybe he has an old soul. Maybe Hank Williams and Billy Holiday have taken up residence with his spirit. Maybe he made a deal at a crossroads somewhere. Whatever. Rarely do the cosmos align to produce such a talent. Maybe I’m the luckiest photographer in Raleigh for having experienced it!
Thanks to Southland Ballroom and Marianne Taylor for bringing him to town!
The Backsliders are back and will be playing Raleigh’s Pour House December 14th. I’m not sure when I first heard a Backsliders song, or even which song it was. It was probably on Boot Liquor internet radio or something very similar. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it was impressed me enough to want to ferret out more. I found a copies of “Throwing Rocks at the Moon” and “Southern Lines”, but I was late to the party. By the time I’d “discovered” them, The Backsliders had come and gone. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed those two CDs and I did get to hear Steve Howell and the Lonesome Teardrops do some Backsliders material but I never got the chance to actually see The Backsliders. Then sometime last year I think, they got back together. They’ve played a few gigs, and, I just found out, they’re back in the studio! December 14th should be a great show – Backsliders classics along with (maybe) some new material. I’ll be there this time around – not gonna miss the party again!
Last night was the 13th annual Post-Turkey Day Jam at Carrboro’s Cats Cradle, presented by stellar musician Jon Shain and benefiting The Interfaith Council for Social Service (http://www.ifcweb.org/). I almost didn’t go. Our Thanksgiving Feast was also yesterday and I was quite stuffed and comfortable, kicked back thinking of good excuses not to venture out. It was cold outside, it’s a long drive, the car needs gas, the cameras aren’t ready – I’m stuffed and sleepy! Eventually, however, it was the prospect of John Howie Jr and Steve Howell together again that pushed me out of my tryptophanic malaise. SOOOO glad I went as the night would offer up some sweet musical desserts to top off the day’s meal! Presented as a songwriter in the round format, the first set included Jon Shain, Sally Spring and Ted Lyons, Brett Harris, and Birds and Arrows. The second was Lynda Dawson and Pattie Hopkins of Kickin’ Grass and John Howie Jr and Steve Howell, together and solo. Both sets included new songs, which is always a treat, great musicianship and some very, very good harmonies. As I said, I primarily went to see John Howie Jr and Steve Howell, and they didn’t disappoint! It really was great to hear them together again. They alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Last night was the first time I had the opportunity to see Birds and Arrows live. I’ll definitely make plans to see them again. I also got to hear Sally Spring. Wow – what a voice! Sweet and pure, strong and gentle – add your superlative here – It applies! It’s no wonder she charts so well in Europe! Find a way to see this lady – it WILL be worth the effort! The true highlight of the evening, however, was when Andrea Connolly of Birds and Arrows added her voice to Sally Spring’s. For just a few moments, my world stopped – there were no other sounds, there was no other activity. It was just magical! It would be something if these two collaborated on a project down the road, but that’s just my pipe-dream. If it never happens again, I’ve got a musical memory that will last my lifetime. Like I said, I’m SOOOO glad I went!
Thanks again to Jon Shain, The Cats Cradle and especially The Interfaith Council for Social Service, for all the good work they do! Interfaith Council