Saturday, September 26, 2009

Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival - Friday

This weekend was the first ever Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival, and there has been some really amazing music blowing through the blocks of downtown Urbana -- blocks that luckily/amazingly are walking distance from my house. I mean, in New York, I was never able to go back home for dinner before going to see Robbie Fulks or anything like that.

Last night, I was over at The Iron Post (where earlier this month I regrettably missed Charlie Sizemore -- found about that show just a bit too late). I came in about midway through the Corn Desert Ramblers' set. They were playing straightahead bluegrass favorites. Their fiddler, Dan Andree (pictured here), had a really smooth touch and some solid chops.

After a brief break, fiddler Liz Carroll took the stage. I don't think that an hour of music has ever passed so quick for me -- it was that great that I was actually like, "What? It's over? No way..."

Liz is no joke by any stretch. As we reported here, she played at the White House on St. Patrick's Day. Last night, she was joined by Jim DeWan on guitar, and the two of them performed a non-stop set of tunes (including two vocal numbers featuring Jim -- one of them a David Mallett song) that had, for instance, two women trying to Irish stepdance in a crowded bar.

They opened (appropriately) with a set based around "The Champaign Jig Goes to Columbia" and then moved into a set of Cape Breton tunes. After a totally groovalicious set starting with "The Roman Boys," Liz said, "Wow! We're practically impaling you with Irish music!" And we were loving it. The next set was "Princess Nancy/Out on the Road," the latter tune inspired by a dog that is no longer with us... (Oh, that's sad...)

Before the last set, Liz said, "I'm going to have to take it slow because I hope to have some hair left at the end of the weekend" (by which she meant on her bow, but I had to be told that). Then they proceeded to lift the roof right off of the place. Starting with "The Silver Spear," the last set was fast, it was grooving, it was hotter than a prairie dog stuck in a tailpipe and it was just damn amazing.

We demanded an encore, and it took a little bit of work, but they came back. And Liz admitted, "Ok, the truth is that we kind of just lost our minds there! Is that the fastest that we ever played? ... Oh, Jim says that he actually nodded off for a bit. I see..." For the encore, they played "The Diplodicus Jig" by request -- it's named after the longest dinosaur. Another brilliant one.

Hats off to Liz Carroll and Jim DeWan!

From the Iron Post I rolled up the street (one block closer to home actually) to the Rose Bowl. This place is a honky-tonk in the classic style, and the band that was playing, the Prairie Dogs, was a great roadhouse band. Armed with guitar, bass, resophonic guitar, banjo and a couple of banjo jokes, they play a mix of country, bluegrass and western swing.

I walked in to the sounds of "Y'All Come," and soon they were singing "Mountain Dew" and "Sixteen Tons" and "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" and "I've Just Seen a Face"... Hey! That's not a country standard! Or well, I guess maybe it is these days.

A Merle Haggard medley -- "Mama Tried / Okie from Muskogee / Old Man from the Mountain" -- was followed by John Prine's "Paradise" and then a medley of "Wreck of the Ol' 97 / I've Been Working on the Railroad / New River Train" and then Jimmy Martin's "Ocean of Diamonds" and "Sophronie" and then -- yes, they had to -- "Happy Trails."

What a hit parade! People were dancing and kicking back beers and just generally loving it.

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