Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Falcon Ridge Rundown

My friend Nick, who was with me for all of Falcon Ridge except for the hail storm, has posted a rather extensive write-up on his brand spanking new blog. Now, I've got some issues with Nick's opinions on a few matters, but I'm going to leave that for a separate post. I'm going to run through some day-by-day highlights from the festival, and then throw up some setlists in separate posts, I think. My notes, by the way, are soaked and smeared and mostly illegible. That may help me be brief.


  • Seeing The Horse Flies kick off the festival was terrific. I have been describing this legendary band as "old-time music meets Sonic Youth" as of late because of the way that they combine heavy percussion and electrified instruments with a bouncing old-time string band groove. Richie Stearns rhythmic banjo playing is just a marvel. All of that said, they are a little bit one-note, and the set was just one steady groove as compared to a well-constructed entity with rises and falls and moments of climax and brief lulls.

  • The Jason Spooner Trio brought out Red Molly to sing and play on a cover of Neil Young's "For the Turnstiles." The sound was great, and given that I had slept through most of Red Molly's set, I was pleased to see some more of them on the main stage.

  • Crooked Still's set was superb. So I was maybe a little disappointed in their show at the Bowery Ballroom; well, I thought that they brought the party at Falcon Ridge. Greg Listz's banter, which I found mildly off-putting at the Bowery, struck me (and the rest of the crowd) as pretty damn hilarious at Falcon Ridge: "My motto is that I will mudwrestle every single one of you! Just form a line after the set!" He would come back to the theme several times during the set. The band really hits its stride on "Ain't No Grave," getting into a total groove, and Tristan Clarridge played a pretty serious cello solo on "Come on in My Kitchen." The set wrapped up with "New Railroad," "Oh, Agamemnon" and "Hop High" right in a row, and those three were just bam, bam, bam good. So a mild mea culpa from me for my negativity and some serious props to the band for their performance. I challenge my former self to justify the "niche band" comment -- these guys are worth seeing no matter what.

  • Seeing Randall Williams after hours at the Focus Tarp was quality. He played some of the songs that he would later playing during the Most Wanted Song Swap Main Stage set on Saturday -- "Stronger for Your Flame" and "Ride This One Around" -- and they just grooved that little tarp.

  • Also at the Focus Tarp, we heard Robert Mattson sing "The Swedish Jewish Divide" about cross-cultural marriage. It's pretty great -- full of fun puns (e.g. "There's no Methodist to this madness."). You can listen to it on Robert's MySpace page.


  • I did not think that this year's Emerging Artist Showcase was all that great. It was nice to see Lucy Wainwright-Roche, and her "Saddest Sound" had us all singing. Brad Colerick, who followed Lucy, did a nice song about sweet corn (a la Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes") and a solid tune about finding Jesus in Juarez. I slept through a good number of the acts here and there, though, so maybe I missed some other treats.

  • The Strangelings rocked out with "Matty Groves," ripped straight from Fairport Convention -- Meredith Thompson swung her hair like she was in a heavy metal band.

  • During the song swap, John Gorka played a terrific new song called "Ignorance ad Privilege" inspired by the late U. Utah Phillips and his worldview. Eliza Gilkyson described how, when she writes a happy song, she gets so excited that she "gets down and does 10 for Jesus" -- this obviously became the catch phrase of the weekend. I was half-asleep when she said it, but during some difficulties with the keyboard on stage, she asked the sound crew to "turn up the low end on this motherf*cker." Vance Gilbert gave us a version of Thelonius Monk's "'Round Midnight."


  • The Rolling in the Aisles workshop first thing in the morning was excellent. Anthony Da Costa busted out "Poor Pluto" first thing. Jack Hardy sang the awesome "Dick Cheney's Daughter Cannot Get Married." And then David Massengill hit us with "The Ballad of the Pissed-Off Eunuch." He introduced the song by saying, "Some closed-minded parents have a problem with this one. The kids always seem to like it though." The song was just one innuendous term for coitus after another. It was brilliant. It was hilarious. It is why David Massengill will not be back at Falcon Ridge for five or six years probably. (This is known as the Dan Bern Phenomenon -- after he played "Missing Link" on Main Stage on a Sunday afternoon.) Anthony Da Costa played a Dan Bern song about who might have been the fifth Beatle, giving a nod to Jack Hardy -- "Shut up and sing the song!" Joe Crookston sang a song that he collected in the Finger Lakes called "Red Rooster on the Mash Pile" about a drunken rooster -- everyone joined in on that one, and Anthony Da Costa leaned up against Jack Hardy during his guitar solo.

  • During the Most Wanted Song Swap, Randall Williams did a terrific song called "I Will Come for You" about a U.S. soldier who fathers a child in wartime France and then only finds out that he has a daughter years and years and years later. It was a terrific song.

  • The Most Wanted Song Swap concluded with Anthony Da Costa leading the group in John Elliott's "Feet to the Fire." As I described in a previous post, this song is absolutely killer -- I, in fact, asked John Elliott for the chords just so that I could learn it to play after hours at Falcon Ridge -- and it rocked the house on Saturday afternoon.

  • Vance Gilbert's introduction of Nerissa and Katryna Nields during the Change is Gonna Come workshop: "Now, the moment that they have been waiting for."

  • I missed it -- because I was driving to and from the train station at the time, not because I was sleeping -- but I am told that The Nields' evening set rocked. I, in fact, was told this repeatedly upon my return. I was down on the Nields recently, and it sounds like I should issue another mea culpa because all of the reviews of this set were thumbs up. Nick has a good description of it in his post. I wish that I too could express the excitement.

  • Martin Sexton's closing set was rock solid. He is a great performer -- lots of vocalise and lots of building and releasing momentum over the course of the set. He sang both "Glory Bound" and "Black Sheep," which makes me worry that he has to do these at every single concert that he does. But if that's the case, he did not let on at all that it was a bother.


  • As was described in the last post, Sunday ended a bit early because of the arrival of the end of the world (or something approximating it). But the Gospel Wake Up Call was as solid as ever with Eddie from Ohio, Nerissa and Katryna Nields, The Strangelings and Vance Gilbert all contributing and joining in on each other's songs and just having a solid time. "Operator" by Eddie from Ohio is always by personal favorite, and I thank them for doing it time and time again. Vance Gilbert hilariously yelled at a member of the stage crew who was trying to help him adjust his microphone: "I was born Episcopalian! Get off my stage!" I don't even know what that means, but it was great.

No comments: