Saturday, September 26, 2009

Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival - Saturday - Including Robbie Fulks Killing Saturday Night

Since I had to spend most of my day working on lecture notes, I didn't get to see as much of the fuller day of the first ever Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival as I would have liked.

I finally got over to the main stage around 5:00 p.m. and saw most of the set from Austin-based Los T Birds. Playing Tejano and Conjunto music, these guys had a good sound and a fun act. I arrived just as they took a turn for straightahead country, singing a successful version of George Jones' "Today I Started Loving You Again" and then a slightly less successful version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." After "The Cowboy Cumbia," they played a Ramon Ayala norteno. Then they talked about the moment when the Mexican and American and Texan musics got all mixed up, and they played "Wooly Bully" much to the delight of various members of the audience who either were already dancing or wanted to be dancing.

I was a particular fan of Dr. Sonny Trujillo, the Professor of Accordion, who didn't move around all that much but sure could play! Dr. Julian Limon Fernadez, the president of the group and Dean of Drums and Percussionology, thanked the Virgen de Guadalupe (who resides in his bass drum) for keeping the rain and wind away, and the group played a cumbia estilo texas to end their set.

I was walking back home to get some food when the sound of brother-and-sister duo Kate and James Hathaway convinced me to turn around. They were singing a mournful country gothic number with shades of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, so I figured I would see what they were all about. With James on guitar and Kate on the Andean charango and making good use of their sibling harmonies, they were worth catching. I particularly liked a song with the chorus, "I don't know where I'm running from or to / But I'm running from you." I liked it because they made that lyric sound much more heartfelt than the novelty country lyric that it might be. They also had the accompaniment of a lovely sunset.

Then I did go home for dinner.

And then I came back for Robbie Fulks. And what a show he put on! With his gangly legs tapping out the beat, his bluegrass-trained hot fingers flying up and down his fretboard and his big smile and witty words keeping the crowd entertained between songs, this was non-stop entertainment par excellence, starting with the band playing an introduction for the WWHP radio DJ who was introducing them!

The running joke of the night was the fact that this was a folk festival. Robbie said, "Look, I'm not a folk guy whittling in the woods or drawing murals of tractor accidents... I'm not sure why they booked me." And later, "Maybe we can insert some comments about public policy? Or ask them to sing along? That's very folk, right? Well, let's play this one in a laid back style." And finally, "Maybe they booked me because my last name is Fulks, and they got confused, huh? Well, I'm glad my last name isn't Hospice... That would make for some tough gigs."

The folkiest part of the set was a great version of U. Utah Phillips' "Orphan Train" featuring the harmony vocals of bassist Mike Fredrickson back-to-back with Benny Martin's "That's a Good Enough Reason," during which Ed the drummer beat our the rhythm on the microphone stand. The Benny Martin song is about the way that a woman looks in a miniskirt being "a good enough reason" to be in love with her. As Robbie said, "Benny Martin just wrote about any subject that entered into his weird head.

Noticing that the crowd wasn't exactly overflowing with UIUC students, Robbie said, "It's great to be here on the edge of campus. We have a lot of people under the age of 75 here! You guys are majors in hippieology, huh?"

Every song in the set was pretty terrific, and the musicianship in the four-piece band was ace, whether Robbie was talking the solo himself on his acoustic guitar or Grant Tye playing extremely tasteful solos on the electric. They played tight but had a lot of fun, and they all produced excellent solos on the set-closing "I Want to be Mama'd." (Robbie did, as you maybe can see if you look in the lower righthand corner of the photo here, sit down during the drum solo.)

In a show full of non-stop awesomeness, there were nonetheless three highlights for me:
  • Robbie introduced the song "No Girls Allowed" by saying, "This next song is a hillbilly song. Short of opening a still and getting arrested or going to a NASCAR event, this is as hillbilly as it gets." The turnaround lyric of the song is "No girls allowed -- just women," which feeds into the most brilliant lyrics that I've heard in 2009, I think:
    Yeah, my fiancée,

    She’ll know some Bronte,

    And a little music beyond Beyonce.
    Brilliant. That is brilliant.

  • They started getting all spectral and new-agey on the guitars and symbols, and then when Robbie started singing, "She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene," the crowd went nuts, realizing that they were playing Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." They played it as if Lou Reed had written it, and it was awesome. Apparently, Robbie has a whole forthcoming album of Michael Jackson songs. Watch out, World!

  • And then the encore was -- with urging from the crowd, including maybe six or seven shouts from yours truly -- "Let's Kill Saturday Night," and it was just perfect -- what a great song and what a rockin' performance. I don't know how I'm going to get it out of my head, and I don't know if I want to.

The whole set list was as follows:
  • Goodbye, Good Lookin'

  • Parallel Bars

  • Cocktails

  • Georgia Hard

  • It's Always Raining Somewhere

  • Cigarette State

  • No Girls Allowed

  • Tears Only Run One Way

  • The Buck Starts Here

  • Rock Bottom, Pop. 1

  • Still a Lot of Loving (??)

  • Orphan Train

  • That's a Good Enough Reason

  • Busy Not Crying

  • Every Kind of Music But Country

  • Billie Jean

  • She Took a Lot of Pills and Died

  • Can't Win for Losing You

  • I Want to be Mama'd

  • ENCORE: Let's Kill Saturday Night

Yeah, he played a few songs.

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.

Monday, September 21, 2009

XM Broadcasts Womenfolk Special

XM Satellite Radio will broadcast my 2009 Womenfolk bird special "I'll Fly Away" on Tuesday, September 22nd at 11 am CDT/12 pm EDT. Airing on XM's folk channel The Village, the show features your favorite bird songs including local Minnesota artists and KFAI listener requests. If you have a satellite radio, tune in! If you don't, just get a free online subscription.

Ray Alden RIP (1942 - 2009)

Tina Aridas sent word this morning on the NYbluegrass-oldtime mailing list than Ray Alden died yesterday morning; he had been battling cancer.

A collector, a record producer and a fine musician, Ray contributed an incredible amount to the old-time scene over his life, and luckily, a lot of those contributions were in the form of compact disc compilations -- such as the American Fogies and Young Fogies series on Rounder -- so his legacy will live on. Most recently, he has been heading up the Field Recorders' Collective, a group that issues big and beautiful compilations of old-time music field recordings -- sets for the old-time music connoisseur.

To the best of my knowledge, Ray appeared twice with me on The Moonshine Show, once when the Field Recorders' Collective issued their first batch of material and then once with his band the Southern Schoolhouse Rascals. I wish that we had created more opportunities over the years where we could have shared Ray's immense knowledge with the New York City listening public.

A brief remembrance written by Dan Peck can be found here; I'm sure more will come.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This Week at the Farmers Market

I didn't catch the name of this band, but they were playing some solid violin-driven gypsy jazz. And there was some nice double double-bass interplay. (In the photo here, the second bassist is turned away tuning. My bad.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Washington Square Park Reunion

For several years now, there has been a wonderful reunion each September in Washington Square Park of musicians who used to play bluegrass and stringband music there in the late 1950s and 1960s. It has always been a terrific gathering of old friends with some introductions to some of the new members of the scene -- myself included, I suppose, although without an instrument in hand. And the weather, I think, has always been fairly nice as well.

Being in Urbana, I wasn't able to go this past Sunday, but Frank Beacham put together a nice write-up with some very cool photographs, such as the one below of Steve Mandell and Eric Weissberg.

As Frank's photos show, this year attracted some new A-list celebrities to the reunion: David Bromberg, John Goodman and Suze Rotolo were all in attendance, hanging out in the park.

(HT: Brian Frizzell.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Utah Still Riding the Rails

A friend of Red House Records sent us this photo from a Minneapolis train yard. Spotted by West Bank blues legend and local activist Papa John Kolstad, it pays fitting homage to the late great Bruce "Utah" Phillips, who was among many things, a hobo and lover of the rails.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jim Malcom at the Heartland Gallery

There has been a terrific Celtic music series running here in Urbana-Champaign for the past several years. As Dean Karres, who runs the series, told me on Sunday night, they have been extremely fortunate in being able to bring top Celtic talent into town. Tommy Peoples, David Munnelly, Paddy Keenan and Ged Foley? Yeah, I would say so!

On Sunday night, the featured act was Jim Malcom, the former lead singer for the Old Blind Dogs, one of the two or three best Scottish bands out there (and a group that I, sadly, have yet to see live). The performance was at the Heartland Gallery on Main Street in Urbana, a convenient two-block walk from my house.

Jim came out ready to play and ready to engage: a lament about Scotland's having been knocked out of World Competition concluded with, "And you made it in, isn't that right? And you don't even care!" He spoke of his hometown of Dundee, noting that the jute produced in Dundee had been used to make the blankets for both the North and the South in the U.S. Civil War and also both the French and Germany armies in World War I. Keeping us up-to-date on the implications of current immigration laws, he said, "To work in the U.S. I have to get a cultural visa -- a P-3 -- and so I have to 'faithfully and accurately represent the culture of Scotland'... So it's doom and gloom from here on out!"

His voice was in fine form from the opening "Lochanside" to his version of Andy M. Stewart's beautiful "The Valley of Strathmore," the melancholy "An Hour in the Gloaming" and the historical "Battle of Waterloo," the playing of which once earned him boos -- his only ever -- in France. The original "From the Clyde to the Susquehanna" was a terrific song about a Scottish miner coming to the United States to be a farmer and ending up back in the mines -- in Pennsylvania -- instead.

The set ended with Robert Burns' "A Man's a Man for A' That" (which Jim used to sing with the Old Blind Dogs) and the strange claim that Jim was going to disappear because of an important teleconference but had found Robert Burns himself -- still alive in this the 250th anniversary year of his birth -- to fill in.

When the second set started, lo and behold, there was Robert Burns, offering to sing a few songs and wondering if he would be able to figure out how to play Jim's guitar and harmonica. Starting with the uptempo "Rantin Rovin Robin," on which we sang a chorus or two, and then the famous "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose," the rest of the set was all Robert Burns.

"Deil's Awa wi the Exciseman," "The Shepherd's Wife" and the beautiful "Now Westlin Winds" were all highlights. After a little limberjack interlude, the show closed with "Auld Lang Syne" -- not with the common melody used on New Year's Eve but instead with a melancholy little tune that provided perfect closure to the evening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lucinda Williams To Get Married During Minneapolis Concert

As part of Lucinda Williams' 30th Anniversary Tour, she'll be playing at Minneapolis' legendary club First Avenue (yes, the club Prince made famous in Purple Rain). She's played the venue many times during her three decade career, but this one will stand out--not just because she's digging out some of the classics and playing from her whole musical catalog but because she plans to get married on stage to Minneapolis native Tom Overby. For more, check out Chris Riemenschneider's article in the Star Tribune.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Report from Ellnora: Erin McKeown and Natalia Zukerman

Well in the end, I was only able to catch one -- yes, only one -- of the Ellnora shows this weekend at the Krannert. But it was a good one.

Erin McKeown and Natalia Zukerman shared the stage together for just over an hour, trading songs and playing on each other's. Erin played her rockin' big-bodied Gretsch guitar throughout, and Natalia mostly played her acoustic guitar but picked up a lap steel sometimes when accompanying Erin -- a notably good instrument on "The Little Cowboy."

It was a positive and fun vibe, and the space was pretty packed. (They were playing on Stage Five, the Krannert's open mezzanine stage, set among its other stages.) While they played on the stage, a spraypaint artist off to the side worked on creating likenesses of the weekend's performers. (Natalia said that the sound reminded her of her home in Brooklyn.)

Erin talked about her Cabin Fever house concert series, where she broadcast a number of concerts from her cabin on her website -- inverted house concerts, if you will. She and Natalia played a set together for that series where they were sitting on stools in the river behind Erin's house. One of the songs that they played that day was "We Are More," and they worked up a particularly good groove on it at the Krannert.

The setlist looked like this:
  • NZ: "Indiana" -- I don't have the title right, I fear, but a great opening song

  • EMcK: "The Foxes"

  • NZ: "Over All the Noise in Brooklyn"

  • EMcK: "We Are More"

  • NZ: "Brand New Frame"

  • EMcK: "Rhode Island is Famous for You" - awesome swing song that Erin has rejuvenated

  • NZ: "Bill" - 'This is a song that started out about a first date and ended up being about Bill Clinton.'

  • EMcK: "The Little Cowboy"

  • NZ: "Come Undone"

  • EMcK: "The Taste of You"

  • Together: Johnny Cash's "Big River"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Music Galore at the Krannert Center This Friday and Saturday

Where are Ani DiFranco, Jerry Douglas, Erin McKeown, Natalia Zukerman, Richard Julian, Jim Campilongo, Leni Stern and The National all playing this weekend?

The Krannert Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign! It's the Ellnora Guitar Festival.

Not sure where I'm going to find the time. There are lectures and papers to be written after all. And it's also our home football opener on Saturday. This town is going to be crazy.

(Ani DiFranco, Erin McKeown, Richard Julian and Leni Stern are all Postcrypt veterans of one era or another, for the record. And maybe Jim Campilongo and Natalia Zukerman, too? I'm not sure.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Road Trip Music Video

They say:
Our camera takes 1 exposure every 10 seconds, as we drive from San Francisco to Washington D.C.

Music is by Michael Nyman.

(HT: Jeff Lax, who found it on Andrew Sullivan's blog.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Laughing Waters Bluegrass Festival

The Laughing Waters Bluegrass Festival is my favorite Labor Day tradition in Minneapolis...a free bluegrass festival in Minnehaha (Dakota for "waterfalls," although often mistranslated to mean "laughing waters") Park, a short walk from my house. As always, it was a lovely people-watching event of hippies, bikers and families. After my sister and I got loaded up with seafood tacos and calamari from Sea Salt Eatery, we settled down to enjoy the end of the set from the Sawtooth Bluegrass Band --a group of very young boys in matching blue shirts who did some nice traditional bluegrass tunes. Two of the members just won third place at MBOTMA's Duet Championships at this year's Minnesota State Fair; they did a nice rendition of Gillian Welch's "By the Mark." Then came my favorite local bluegrass band--The High 48's. Here's what they played:

Never Been So Lonesome
Leaving Me Tomorrow
Jeanne Marie
Ain't Gonna Be Your Fool
Who Needs Love
Square Fingers
I've Endured
Mill City Stomp
Joe Hill's Will

Encore: Orange Blossom Special

Derek Johnson's voice sounded particularly fine today, and the band really kicked it with a high-energy tight set. Following them, we heard a bit of Hello Stranger before we walked back home.

Another fine Labor Day, full of good bluegrass and good times.