Monday, August 31, 2009
Posted by Matt Winters at 6:21 PM
A quick report from this weekend here in Champaign-Urbana.
On Friday night, I was back at the Research Park at the University of Illinois to see an evening of bluegrass music. Because it had rained throughout the day, the crowd was a lot thinner than it had been for the Kathy Mattea show two weeks ago.
My new political science colleague Tiberiu and I had stopped off for a beer on the way to the show, so we arrived at the end of High Cotton's set. A traditionally-oriented bluegrass band based here in Central Illinois, we caught "No Hiding Place," "Man at the Mill" and "Orange Blossom Special." I wish that we had made it there to see their full show, and I look forward to catching them next time around.
The headliner for the evening was Hot Buttered Rum, the West Coast acoustic string band. My first exposure to these guys was my first day in Indonesia. I met a couple from Berkeley that was staying at the same homestay in Jakarta as me; mentioning bluegrass, they asked me if I knew Hot Buttered Rum and hooked me up with a disc. Friday was my first time seeing them live.
Their set started off fairly slow, I thought. I wasn't feeling the groove all that much. We were seated off to the side, so the sound was a little more muffled than if we had been in the direct line of the speakers, so that might have been it. We also struck up a conversation with Jim from John Deere who is running the John Deere research center at the Research Park, so maybe it was learning about dry-land farming in Montana that kept me out of the groove.
But then -- after a while and toward the end of their set -- things started to pick up. "Blackberry Pie" brought me in, and then they laid down some serious groove on "Up on Cripple Creek." There was a funkified version of "Walls of Time" and then some solid flute-playing on the final song, which -- I'm serious about this -- made the dance pit come alive. In fact, I think I would have had a much different concert-going experience if I had been down in that dance pit. A lesson for next time.
The most interesting thing, I thought, about Hot Buttered Rum was the quality of the drumming, which propelled even the songs where I wasn't feeling the groove. The rhythm was steady and only fancy when it needed to be. I also was surprised that the solos were not a bit more aggressive; the band played in a pretty chill fashion, not letting the individual members shine as much as they might. Maybe that's a West Coast thing.
On Saturday, at the Urbana farmers' market (Market at the Square, if you like), there was good and/or interesting music at every corner. The guys who really caught my ears were Tom and Matt Turino, a father and son playing accordion and guitar respectively. They had a great sound together and played a couple of really nice tunes while I was picking out some handmade soap and considering the merits of a second loaf of bread.
Matt and Tom will be having a CD release party this Saturday at the Iron Post -- just a few blocks from my apartment. Unfortunately, I will be in Toronto, attending to professional duties.
Tom is a member of the music department at UIUC; he studies Andean and Latin American music and has written a book on the music of Zimbabwe.
Little did I know that I would be seeing more of Tom later in the day. While I was at home working on my lecture notes, the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival was going on two blocks away. When some seriously good Zydeco music started floating in the window, I decided to make my way over to see it in person. The group was Big Grove, featuring Tom Turino on accordion and vocals (and fiddle on a tune or two), Ben Smith on fiddle, Ben Hay on guitar, J.B. Faires on bass and Gordon Kay on the drums. (Matt Turino plays with the band, too, I guess, but he wasn't on stage with them on Saturday.) They had plenty of two-step swing and played some lovely waltzes. There was lots of room for dancing, although only a limited number of people doing it, but I saw some lovely waltzing and some smooth two-stepping.
They'll be playing at the Alto Vineyards tasting room in Champaign on September 12th.