Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Millennium Music Magazine

Millennium Music Magazine is a wide ranging music site run by friend and fellow Rambles writer, Charlie Ricci.  Charlie makes no secret of his musical preferences and his strong opinions make for interesting reading on his website which has grown from "CD Reviews Online" to the more encompassing "Millennium Music Magazine". If any of the CDs you read about there are of interest, be sure to use the Amazon link at the top of the home page because the few cents generated help support the site.

Millennium Music Magazine: http://www.angelfire.com/music3/cdreviewsonline/

Rambles Website

I write occasional record reviews for a site called Rambles which is run by a writer/musician named Tom Knapp out of Lancaster, PA.  Rambles is an exceptionally well done review site that originally concentrated on Celtic music but has stretched out to include virtually every musical genre; the only thing you won't find there is mass market pop, rock and rap. Rambles has an extensive book review section as well and also allows their writers to review movies and concerts too. The writers are volunteers who write for the love of music, the joy of sharing their opinions, and for the review copy of the CD. If any of the CDs you read about there are of interest, be sure to use the Amazon link because the few cents generated help support the site.

Rambles: http://www.rambles.net/index.html

Falcon Ridge 2004 - Day One

The 16th annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival took place July 22 to July 25, 2004 in the Berkshire Mountains at the beautiful Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, NY. Complete festival info is available here: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/

Early Bird Camping (Wednesday July 21st) - The site opened on Wednesday afternoon for campers to arrive and set up. We pulled in around 6pm and set up the tent in what we thought was the quiet side of the upper camping area. Had a delicious and inexpensive dinner a few miles down the road at the Crossroads Diner (routes 23 & 22, Hillsdale, NY), and picked up dessert and some excellent Cape Cod chips (Beachside BBQ potato chips and a three flavor tortilla chip assortment) for the festival at the corner gas station/convenience store.

Another festival attendee was in the store at the time asking for a hoagie and acting surprised that I could tell he was from Philadelphia. I helpfully translated for the attendant that what this guy wanted was a "sub." The guy seemed to really be annoyed that they didn't know what a hoagie was - I guess he doesn't travel outside the city of brotherly love much. It has always seemed like common knowlege to me that the term "hoagie" is only used within an approximately a 50-100 mile radius of Philadelphia. Any hoagie lover knows that once you venture beyond the realm where this sandwich is called a hoagie, you might as well not even bother because the roll will be substandard. A good hoagie requires a good Italian roll and for some reason this is rarely found outside Philadelphia. But I digress.

A good night's sleep turned out to be elusive as it turned out that we were not in the "quieter camping" section after all. A guy in the next tent engaged in extremely loud and obnoxious conversation all night, trying to coerce everyone who walked by to drink and carouse with him, which I could have dealt with if he hadn't progressed to hooting and hollering between 4-5am, finding a like minded soul across the campground who answered each hoot and holler in kind. Before I finally drifted back to sleep around 5am, the loudmouth was lamenting that he couldn't find anyone to form a drum circle with him. In the morning we took down the tent and moved to another spot that was actually in the "quieter camping" section.

Day One (Thursday July 22nd) - Historically, the festival began on Friday night, with a five hour emerging artist showcase on Friday afternoon as a bonus. Traditions die hard sometimes, so even though the welcome announcement still comes during the Friday night concert, the festival has expanded to Thursday, to make a four day event. By the time we moved the campsite on Thursday morning, it was too hot and humid to think about hot coffee or even cooking anything for breakfast, and since events weren't scheduled to start till afternoon, we took time in the morning for a trip into Great Barrington, Massachussetts, about 10 miles from Hillsdale. After picking up a few items, like a new tarp to cover the tent to keep rain out, it was nearly lunch time so we stopped at Martin's Restaurant, an old favorite of ours from the time when daughter J went to Simons Rock College in Great Barrington which is also how we originally became aware of Falcon Ridge.

After an excellent meal, we set off in search of the Great Barrington health food store. I found the location from memory but the building was deserted. We hadn't been standing there more than a moment or two when our puzzled look apparently caught the eye of a passing motorist who kindly volunteered that the health food store had moved to larger quarters. We then went to the new location and what a drastic improvement - it now is a quite large food market specializing in natural, organic, and health food products. The new store has large departments for produce, meats, cheeses, dry goods, bread, packaged products and so forth, plus they offer a very attractive selection of hot and cold prepared foods that you can buy to go or eat there in a cafe section. We picked up up a few excellent items for consumption during the festival, then it was back to Falcon Ridge.

Thursday Workshops - To start the festival, there were six workshops structured for discussion of music business issues, divided between two stages. We opted for "Music Biz II at the Family Stage".

Art and the Recording Artist: Making an Honest Record with Crit Harmon and Dave Chalfant - This was an interesting discussion workshop on how to deal with artistic issues while recording in the studio and how to avoid many of the pitfalls that often hamper the process. Chafant is best known for his work with the Nields, both as player and producer, while Harmon has made his mark as guitarist and producer for artists such as Mary Gauthier, Martin Sexton, Susan Werner, and Catie Curtis to name a few.

Working With Agents & Managers - This was another discussion workshop with a ten person panel consisting of an assortment of folks from all sides of the music business including agents, managers, artists Lowen & Navarro, a record company guy from Koch Records, and Anne Saunders who selects the artists who perform at Falcon Ridge. This was another interesting discussion, especially for the many different perspectives offered.

Performance Skills Critique with Vance Gilbert - Initially I hadn't planned to attend this session, not being a musician myself, however having been impressed by Vance Gilbert the last time at Falcon Ridge in '99, I decided on the spur of the moment to stick around for this workshop. Gilbert's sense of humor and rapport with the audience is better than than most stand up comedians and while his music is fine, his personality is what really makes his contributions to a festival like this something special.

First he conducted a class in what to do and what not to do if you're a musician who wants to make a positive impression on the audience at an open mike gig opportunity. He then selected four performers from the audience to each perform a song, stopping them when necessary to make adjustments. This almost two hour session was every bit as entertaining as any of the musical performances at the mainstage. The first three victims were excellent performers as well, with lots of talent and good songs to sing. The last subject kind of insulated himself from ridicule by performing a song he wrote for his wife on their wedding day. This workshop was a totally unexpected pleasure that really got the festival off to a roaring start for me.

Mainstage, Thursday Evening Concert - By the time the Vance Gilbert workshop ended and we picked up some food for dinner at the vendor area and made our way to the Mainstage, the first set was well underway.

Charivari - This was one of several fine bands imported from the Dance Stage to play a Mainstage set and although we missed the beginning, we heard enough to know that this outfit is a first rate purveyor of New Orleans style Cajun music.

Steve Forbert - A very happy addition to the Falcon Ridge lineup this year; Forbert's voice and presentation seems not to have aged a bit in the twenty-six years (is it even possibly that long ago?) since his first album arrived in 1978. Hearing him play was like revisiting an old friend. He did a nice job structuring his set to include both his new songs and old favorites like "What Kinda Guy" and "It Isn't Gonna Be That Way" and his live renditions were significantly enhanced by the excellent lead guitar work of Mark Stuart. I didn't realize quite how much I enjoyed his set until Sunday morning while striking camp when I discovered that "Going Down to Laurel" was seriously stuck in my head ("it's a dirty stinkin' town").

Mark Erelli Band - Although I'd heard of Mark Erelli, I'd never actually heard him before. With his excellent backing band the Spurs, they did a nice mixture of styles concentrating mostly on western swing. The Spurs most assuredly would consider it a compliment to be compared to Asleep at the Wheel although Erelli seems a bit more laid back than Ray Benson. An enjoyable performance.

Aoife O'Donovan & Crooked Still - Just out of the gate with their first album released simultaneously with their Falcon Ridge appearance, Donovan and her band by virtue of their Mainstage set and many workshop appearances wound up as the happy beneficiaries of much positive festival buzz. Donovan's voice is lovely and her band is made of of highly talented musicians playing cello, banjo and bass. The overall effect is not unlike Allison Krauss & Union Station or Nickel Creek although it remains to be seen if Crooked Still can write memorable music like their forebears. They seem to still be finding their live legs and their genre-busting cellist Rushad Eggleston seemed to have his cello on overdrive much of the time.

David Bromberg Band - The headliners of all three nighttime concerts were all amazing and it was a somewhat rare treat to hear the great David Bromberg who proved that he still plays and sings the pissed off blues better than anyone. For his first Falcon Ridge appearance, he added Ashokan fiddle & dance specialists Jay Unger and Molly Mason to his band as special guests. Considering that he grew up in the Hudson Valley, it's sort of surprising that it took this long to book him for Falcon Ridge, but in any case his set was a definite highlight of the festival for me. It was well after midnight by the time we arrived back at our tent to pack it in for day one.

(To be continued...)

Monday, July 26, 2004

WXPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend 2004

Well, it was a tough job (to go two out of three days) but somebody had to do it... (originally written as email to musically inclined friends on Sunday July 18, 2004).  WXPN's Singer- Songwriter Weekend took place July 16th through 18th at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, PA. 

Rachel Yamagata -  I was totally brainwashed by hearing "Worn Me Down" too many times (I guess it wore me down) as it's been in hot rotation on xpn for the last month so I bought her disc at the merchandise table before her set (big mistake, potentially).  If Yamagata had kept her mouth shut between songs, she might have been able to pull off quirky, or maybe even interesting, but as it was she came off more annoying than anything else.  Was kicking myself for not trying to return the unopened CD to the merchandise table. The good news is that I'm listening to the CD now as I type this, and it's much better than she was, really good in fact.

Fountains of Wayne -  Nice live versions of many of the great songs on Welcome Interstate Managers.  Nice and loud too.  Fifty-somethings rocking out like they probably haven't in years.  Music that parents and twenty-something kids can agree on.  Great choice to headline the first night of singer-songwriter weekend.

Nellie McKay -  I think Nellie added many new rercruits to her fan base with her set that opened Saturday's program.  She threw in a couple of new songs including one that promotes Kerry while pining for Nader.  She slowed down some of the songs just slightly from the record, like "Clonie" which allowed the audience to hear and understand the words and enjoy the humor.  The more intense rap sections like on "Sari" won her applause just like you sometimes get after a great instrumental solo. On "Won't You Please Be Nice" the crowd picked up on all of the humorous lines.  Although she's been touring and performing constantly for the past six months or so behind her record, she's still apparently not comfortable on stage yet and she's still got a definite deer-in-the-headlights quality to her stage presence that is totally endearing.  A great opener for Saturday.

Mindy Smith -  As Mindy Smith was playing, I realized that this time last year I had never heard the names Nellie McKay or Mindy Smith and yet this was the second time seeing McKay and the third time seeing Smith, thank you WXPN (Sony too).  I sense a slight attitude in Mindy Smith that she thinks she's better than you - I could be imagining that, but I don't think so.  She's written a few really good songs and a bunch of average ones, has a nice rootsy sound courtesy of the excellent guitarist she works with, plus for this gig she borrowed one of the members of Nickel Creek to play with her. It's still curious how she came up with the Dolly Parton connection while still an unsigned unknown but it has served her well. This was the most enjoyable performance of the three I've seen her do.

Lauren Hart, Mutlu, Jim Boggia -  "Philly Local in the Round" as it's been dubbed by Helen Leicht of xpn, this being her one and only contribution to the station that I not only don't find annoying, but actually enjoy.  This being the second time I've had the pleasure, the first been the free 6pm show at the Kimmel Center on 3/24/04 with Mutlu, Boggia, Amos Lee and Phil Roy in which all four were excellent.  This time around Lauren Hart was pleasant but her songs were forgettable.  I really like what I've heard thus far from Mutlu - he writes some great stuff and has a great voice that doesn't hesitate to soar into falsetto range - he might be the next generation of blue-eyed Philly soul. I'd tell you what's up w/his name but I don't remember exactly, I think it's his actual last name maybe - he's American born (Philly native) to a Turkish family - might be a little presumptuous with the whole one name thing, but he does have the talent apparently to pull it off. Jim Boggia is always an enjoyable, engaging performer, did a few newly written songs this time - his highly energetic stage presence does kind of make me nervous however - he might think about cutting back on the Wawa coffee. All three joined for a great finale version of the old Staples Singers song "I'll Take You There" - a nod to WXPN who use that song to promote their recent fundraising project for building their new studio - medley'd with the old Stones song "Waiting on a Friend."  Nice.

Michael McDermott -  If not for his excellent lead guitar player, this set might have been a total waste. Who am I kidding, this set was a total waste.  McDermott seems like a complete John Mellencamp wannabe only without Mellencamp's ability to write a catchy song. He only stopped the rock posturing between songs long enough to say over and over again how he waited for ten years to be invited to Singer-Songwriter weekend and how glad he was to be here. If not for the fact that I was surrounded by guys who seemed to be totally into it, cheering wildly and singing along, I'd think that Bruce Warren has some explaining to do.  Maybe he does anyway. Or maybe I'm just missing something...

John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting -  Ondrasik has such a powerful voice and sense of melody that he (like Julia Fordham or Kim Richey to name a couple recent examples) can totally take command of a song, regardless of how much or how little instrumental backup there is. This was a solo performance on acoustic guitar and piano with assistance from one additional acoustic guitarist. He's written a few really great songs ("100 Years") and a few average ones -his batting average is good though. He's clearly revelling in his stardom however he seemed genuine enough onstage that it never came off obnoxious.  At one point he singled out some little kid sitting up on the base of a light pole elevated a bit above the crowd, asked the kid his name, and said how it totally made his day that during "100 Years" this kid who looked about ten years old, was singing along every word of the song.

Shemekia Copeland -  Only being marginally familiar with Copeland I briefly considered not staying for the last set on Saturday's lineup. What a monumental mistake it would have been to leave and not hear this. Copeland, who is the daughter of old time bluesman Johnny Copeland, performed the best set of the two days and basically blew everyone else off the stage.  Her voice is more soulful than bluesy although it works great for both types of song - absolutely on par with the greats like Aretha.  Her songwriting is excellent too - no stretch at all to include her on Singer-Songwriter weekend.  Her band was smokin' hot, totally excellent all the way around - guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards - two electronic keyboards, one set to sound like a piano, the other as the classic Hammond B-3 organ - all players sounding as great as one would ever hope to imagine.  By the time she did "It's 2 AM" the entire crowd was up and dancing and didn't sit down for the rest of the set.  If I had had any idea of how great this set would be, I would've twisted the arms of all my Friday night compatriots to come back with me for Saturday's concert. In retrospect it makes total sense that they scheduled her to close the show.  When Jonny Meister introduced her, he said that when he started doing the Saturday night blues show on xpn 27 years ago, Shemekia wasn't even born yet.  He remembered her at age ten or eleven coming out on stage during her father's concerts to do a song. According to her website, she's fully booked for the rest of the year touring as opening act for B.B. King and then opening for Dr. John. The Dr. John tour comes our way October 19th at McCarter Theater in Princeton - we may have to give that some serious consideration. Anyone near Foxwoods Casino in CT might want to know that she's there w/B.B. King on 9/4.  This set was as good as it gets. Check out her complete tour schedule here:

New Blog for Music Discussion

Welcome to my music blog. I'll begin by admitting outright that I'm obsessed. After one too many concert reviews emailed to friends and family, it was diplomatically suggested that perhaps I should start a website or blog for such discussion. I've not done this before and haven't even read that many blogs, but here goes. I will enjoy reading all reactions and further discussions that this generates.  Incidentally, I ran across a photoblog quite by accident the other day, and it's quality also motivated me to start this blog; you can check it out here http://www.durhamtownship.com/index.html. One day soon I would like do a photoblog as well.  Anyway, on to the music.