Monday, August 25, 2008

Vacationing with Greg Brown

If you've ever taken a listen to a Greg Brown song and said "I'd like to hang out with that guy," then your prayers might be answered. It looks like you can vacation to Costa Rica along with Greg Brown and legendary guitarist Bill Kirchen. I couldn't believe it either, but just click here for the trip details.

Financing Richard Shindell's New Record

A friend just pointed me to the fact that Richard Shindell is soliciting fan financing for his new record. The obvious thing to exchange for our advance support is the final product -- the CD itself -- but you'll find that you can arrange for a guitar lesson or Richard's ginger risotto recipe if you are willing to pony up enough cash. (Heck, he'll even paint your house for $30,000.)

The other news (from the beginning of July -- we're always catching the fast-breaking stories here at the Sound of Blackbirds) is that Richard has injured his finger in an accident that he will not describe.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 Mountain Stage NewSong Contest, Part II

As y'all saw in my August 7th posting, I was selected to be a finalist in the Midwest Regional Round of the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest, which meant I got to perform on Monday, August 11th at the legendary Ark in Ann Arbor, MI. Here's an account of my adventures...

After hosting a house concert (which you will get to read about soon) for Carrie Elkin and getting to bed around 12:30 a.m., I got up at 4 a.m. to pack up the Vibe and hit the road with fellow Minneapolis songwriter Benjamin Tucker. Now, having done the brutal drive through Chicago to Michigan several times (once to meet up with Matt and drive to Lake Huron in search of fireworks), I had definitely opted to go around Chicago to avoid the mess of construction and traffic. Taking this route, I figured it would take about 12 hours--an estimate that was happily correct, especially considering neither Ben nor I had taken the time change into account. Having allowed some extra time in case of random acts of madness or a stop by the Wisconsin state troopers, we arrived at the Ark right on time.

We and 6 other finalists crammed ourselves into the dressing room, where all sorts of music legends had signed the wall. (If you ever find yourself in the Ark dressing room, look for my name next to Eddie From Ohio's.) The lovely NewSong folks ordered us pizza, hooked us up with drinks, and gave us lots of time to get to know each other, which was really one of the best things about the experience. NewSong is all about identifying and supporting emerging talent, and that was really the feeling you got that night.

It was, however, a competition, and having never participated in anything like this, I found myself getting pretty nervous. And I had lots of time to get myself worked up since I was performing right near the end. Thankfully, once I got on stage and just started singing, it all melted away, and I performed a solid mini-set. We each got to play two songs. Although neither of them had to be the song we originally submitted, I did choose to play my qualifying song "Come Life" as well as "Green Jacket" (Mother Banjo fans, look for a demo of that soon on my website.)

After all the finalists played, Patrice Pike (one of the three judges that night) played a short set. Coming for a more rockin' background (she was actually a 2006 finalist on the reality TV show "Rock Star: Supernova"), her songs had a good energy, but it was her soulful voice that really stood out.

Following Patrice, all the finalists were invited on stage, and the evening's host Gar Ragland (also a judge) to congratulate us and announce the winner. Although I had been nervous about playing, I was oddly indifferent about the results--probably a good thing since I was not the winner. The winner was Steve J. Dawson. A well-known commodity in his hometown of Chicago, he is a teacher at Old Town School of Folk Music and plays in a band called Dolly Varden. He had a great voice and delivered some really catchy country tunes.

After the show was over, we all hit the pub next door--Conor O'Neill's--where we sat ourselves at the appropriately named "Writer's Table." Joining the finalists were Gar Ragland and Ron Sowell, the Music Director for Mountain Stage and the third judge. We had such a good time, I didn't get to bed until about 2:30 a.m., when I crashed at my friend Susie's. The next morning Ben and I hit the road back to Minnesota, making great time and making it back into St. Paul just in time for a pretty grand late summer thunderstorm.

To see more photos of my Ann Arbor adventure, visit my "Pics" on my MySpace page.

For more info about the regional finalists, click here. I can't speak for all the regional finalists, but the Midwest Regional Round had some pretty great songwriters. I especially enjoyed Ernie Hendrickson, whose lovely Americana tunes were accompanied by some pretty fine guitar picking.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: Report from the Saratoga Music Festival

Here is guest blogger Ken Dixon checking in with a report from Sunday's Saratoga Music Festival. (For Ken's Falcon Ridge rundown, see his post on Steve Ide's blog.)

Dear Matt and Ellen:

I had never before been to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, but when I got the notice from Gillian Welch last month that she and David Rawlings were to make a rare visit to our neck of the woods, (3.5 hours from home in Shelton, CT, ugh) I decided to go for it and get a $40 lawn ticket. Not knowing how long it was going to take, I left home at 8 a.m. for the concert that was to start at 2:30 and culminate in Bob Dylan’s current blues set.

At 11:30, they were turning cars away from the lot, but I drove in anyway, found a shady spot, drank some water, ate some bread and butter, chopped tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, poured on olive oil and put the lunch in tupperware in a cooler, where the wine stayed the entire day because they don’t allow alcohol in the parking lot and venue.

That’s my first gripe with SPAC. They allow wine and beer in picnics brought in for dance recitals and symphonies that occur in the shed in the nicely wooded park, but rock fans are treated poorly: coolers rejected, bags searched. They want you to purchase 12-ounce draft beers for $9 and 16-ouncers for $11. Then you’re fenced in, in a “beer garden” reminiscent of a NYPD holding pen from the 2004 GOP National Convention, behind the concession stands, so the music on stage at the bottom of the hill is a rumor.

I sat in the shade, reading the Sunday NY Times until the queue started forming about 1:15. At about 1:30, two lines were allowed to enter, slooooowly, as people were getting searched. They opened a third line. I finally got in, set my folding chair in a nice close spot and wandered to the aforementioned beer garden. No dice. It wasn’t going to open until 3 o’clock.

The music finally started at about 2:30. Gillian and David came out at 3:25. David was wearing a cowboy hat. They opened with “Miss Ohio,” from their last record. Indeed, it has been so long since they had a new release, it could BE their last record, for all I know.

Gill remarked that Nashville is in a drought, while the northeast has been getting soaked. “I feel like a mushroom,” she joked. They played eight songs in the set, including “I Want to Sing that Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “My First Lover” (“You kind of look like a banjo crowd,” Gill said) and a couple with which I’m unfamiliar and am thus hopeful they’re recording them. The last song in the set was “Time (The Revelator)” and the huge applause (indicating that the crowd was cooler than I thought) brought them back for an encore. Unfortunately, the sound people had turned off their microphones, so Gill and David stood there, playing one chord, for about a minute, until ONE of the mic sets was turned on for “I’ll Fly Away.” David played his guitar break, holding that old Epiphone up to Gill’s vocal mic, while she strummed chords in the lower instrument mic.

Steve Earle came out around 4:25, kicking off with “Come Back Woody Guthrie.” The set featured a lot of things from his new CD, which is pretty New York-centric. He mostly worked with acoustic guitar and a loop pedal with some sample beats for a rap thing he was doing with the guitar. It was interesting.

Steve used the f-word in the usual exciting variety of nouns, adjectives and verbs, then made a concession to age: “”This is the end of the tour and I realize that these glasses don’t work too well anymore.” He came back for an encore, too.

At 5:30, around the time I was getting thirsty, Conor Oberst came out with his “Mystic Valley Band,” that was written on the bass drum. I’m unfamiliar with what he’s been doing since his last Bright Eyes recording. The new stuff sounded good, but I had been sitting down for several hours without a beer and this was supposed to be a summer festival, so I went looking for brew.

I had been wondering why there weren’t too many sketchy people in attendance, but then I saw the beer yard. Yeah, an $11 Magic Hat, then another and the absurdity of some of the people became plainer.

Many were wearing old Grateful Dead shirts. Some looked as if they’ve been living in the woods nearby in the 20 years since The Dead last played there. I imagined a lot of the anti-alcohol rules were the result of Jerry and the kids.

I was also dismayed by the ubiquitous cigarette smoking, especially among 20-something women. It was enough to make the few pot smokers, including one named Ken, appropriately enough, who sat next to me with his horse-trainer girlfriend Claire, seem purposeful.

Anyway, the big surprise for me was the appearance of Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova, whose song “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once” won the Oscar this year. I think most people didn’t know who they were until “Falling Slowly” cranked up halfway through their set. It got a huge ovation and was one of the highlights of the day (along with the scary, dark ride home on the Taconic Parkway with the deer waving at me from the shoulder). Glen called Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison “for me, the Holy Trinity” and “I want to say it’s fookin’ brilliant to play with Bob Dylan. It’s just fookin’ great to be here.” Maybe he wasn’t caged up when he was sipping his beer.

At 8:15 Levon Helm came out, setting up his kit on the right of the stage. He had five guys in a complete horn section, who added a great New Orleans touch to the set. Little Sammy Davis played blues harp, starting off the set with “Baby Please Come Home.” Helm, proving that you can look spry and frail at the same time, sang early in the set and kept great time throughout, except for a few tunes when he came out front and sang with his daughter. Levon also played mandolin on “Rag Momma Rag.”

Most of the headliners, including Earle, Hansard and Inglova came out for Helm’s encore, with Gill this time donning a cowboy hat to sing harmony on “The Weight.”

Dylan came out at 9:53, but I was starting to fade by then and knew I needed to get home by 2 to get six hours sleep to get back to work.

People I spoke with said the venue can accommodate 30,000 and I guess I could believe it if there were a Dead show, but even the number 10,000 seems a lot because of the small parking areas around the place.

Anyway, Dylan (who I saw six months earlier) cranked through “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat,” “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “Rolling and Tumbling,” before I had to go. I punked out and left for the long ride home. The evening was capped off by the flat tire I had THIS MORNING, on I-91 on the way to Hartford. I’m lucky it didn’t happen
in the dark last night.

Love, Ken.

Michael Bolton on the Economics Blogs

See Chris Blattman's post (mostly taken from the Foreign Policy blog) about Michael Bolton and peacemaking.

In the comments section, someone references Toto's "Africa," for which I had a recent bout of extreme enthusiasm.

Folk Brothers: "Worst President Ever"

The quality is not particularly great on this one, but it was a definite crowd favorite at Falcon Ridge this year, both during the main stage set and during a workshop the following day.

The song is what Tom Paxton would refer to as a "short shelf-life song."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The following post has zero musical content.

Back in the day (i.e. when I was 13), I had a wonderful naked woman drawn in ASCII symbols hanging next to my computer. She was a true feast for the eyes.

But economist Greg Mankiw? Really?


Thursday, August 7, 2008

2008 Mountain Stage NewSong Contest

At Matt's bidding, I'm posting the big news in my musical life and that is that my banjo-playing alter ego Mother Banjo has been selected to be a finalist in the Midwest Regional Round of the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest! As part of this songwriting competition, I'll be headed to Ann Arbor to play the legendary Ark with Patrice Pike and 9 other talents from the region. Wish me luck, and if you live around Ann Arbor, come out for the big show...and wish me luck!

Mountain Stage NewSong Contest
2008 Midwest Regional Round Finals
Monday, August 11, 8 p.m.
The Ark
316 S. Main St.
Ann Arbor, MI
(734) 761-1818

Lots of other great songwriters selected in the regional rounds, including Anne Heaton and my pal Carrie Elkin. For the full listing of finalists, click here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Where is Rushad?

In some recent posts about Crooked Still (here and here), I have mentioned the departure of founding cellist Rushad Eggleston. Some readers have inquired about what he is up to these days. Well, Ben did a little bit of research and discovered that he is playing with a group called Tornado Rider. The band provides some photos on its MySpace page:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Some Nice Falcon Ridge Photos

One of my Moonshine Show listeners sent me a note today to thank me for hipping him to Falcon Ridge, and he included a link to some really cool photos from the Friday of the festival including lots of participants in the Emerging Artists Showcase. (So that's what those people looked like!) In particular, dig the close-up of Bronwyn Bird's nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed-fiddle) above -- she's from the band Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers.

In general, there is lots of good stuff up on The Feast of Music blog, most of it catering to my contemporary classical side as compared to my folk and bluegrass side.

Falcon Ridge 2008 Tornado Fund

Well, folks, apparently the hail storm wasn't all fun and games for everyone. The word on the Falcon Ridge website is that they are soliciting donations for the festival in the wake of the bad weather last Sunday.