Day Three (Saturday July 24th) - Saturday was the weather redeemer for Friday as the sun burned off the mist, the sky cleared and graced us with a gorgeous Berkshires summer day. I got down to the Mainstage even earlier than Friday and yet the perimeter of the seating area was again largely surrounded by folks brandishing tarps. The festival authority person lorded the power humorously announcing the time as "six fifty-six," then "six fifty-seven," then "six fifty-eight," then "six fifty-eight and a half" which was a real groaner. After placing the tarp in basically the same spot as Friday, I availed myself of a shower. The line was short and quick and the shower facility was drastically improved over what we had in 1999. Feeling like a person again back at the campsite we fired up the borrowed camp stove for fresh brewed Wawa coffee and cooked oatmeal with maple syrup; nothing like roughing it. We pretty much stuck to the Mainstage Saturday, with the only exception being one workshop set during the dinner break. Even with a good amount of sunscreen, the direct sun felt so strong on the skin that we felt the need to cover up some by laying a shirt or a towel over our legs to keep from burning. The air temperature was pleasant but the sun was amazingly strong.
Brave Combo - A good set from another dance stage import; Brave Combo comes by their name by virtue of their origin as a "new wave polka band." In their twenty-five years as a band they've mastered many musical styles that made their way into a varied and interesting set, but every so often they launched a high energy polka which kind of reminded me of the Busch Gardens Williamsburg polka band on steroids. Yikes.
Erin McKeown - Although her set was well received by the audience, her music failed to dent my consciousness significantly. I think I recognized a couple of tunes from WXPN airplay.
Most Wanted Song Swap - This is the moment when the four top vote-getters from last year's Emerging Artist Showcase are invited back to perform a Mainstage song swap. I'm not sure how they'll determine next year's Most Wanted considering how the rain messed up this year's showcase, but Jeffrey Foucault, Carla Ulbrich, George Wurzbach, and Terence Martin all demonstrated what got them invited back from 2003. Ulbrich's humorous lyrics were very reminiscent of Christine Lavin, especially her song "The Guy Who Changes the Light Bulbs." Already established as a sideman, songwriter and member of the group Modern Man with David Buskin, George Wurzbach treated the crowd to some well written and sometimes humorous tunes.
Vance Gilbert - Gilbert has a way of relating to the audience with humor that transcends his musical performance which is always enjoyable in it's own right. Gilbert supplements his own songwriting with many cover songs. He did a few numbers from his current duet album with Ellis Paul including the Lucinda Williams penned title track "Side of the Road." As memory serves I think he brought out Ellis Paul to sing with him on a song or two and Paul returned the favor during his Sunday Mainstage.
Lucy Kaplansky - Her bio describes that she came up as a background singer for Shawn Colvin and the contacts she made in that circle of singer-songwriters has served her well. Kaplansky is without question the most well-connected artist at Falcon Ridge and perhaps to these ears the most overrated. A great many of the other artists either praised her or asked her to come out to sing with them or both. Her music strikes me as competent but has never really piqued my interest.
John Gorka - Like Steve Forbert's set, hearing John Gorka was like reconnecting with an old friend and rediscovering many of his great songs. His song about New Jersey was especially nice to hear. He brought out Lucy Kaplansky to sing with him reciprocating his guest appearance during her set.
It Just Takes Two - We gave up the dinner hour for more music at the Workshop Stage with Aoife and Rushad from Crooked Still, Lowen & Navarro, Nerissa & Katryna Nields, Sloan Wainwright and Steve from her band, and Sonia & Cindy from Disappear Fear. Crooked Still finally strayed from their debut CD to perform a couple of tunes written by Rushad which were both high energy cello workouts, one with disturbingly weird/shrill vocals. Lowen & Navarro seemed to be trying to ingratiate themselves with the festival crowd without actually seeming like they were trying, but they managed to take advantage of every opportunity for workship participation over the four days. Give them credit for that even if their rapport with the audience was a little stiff. The Nields were great as they always are. Sloan Wainwright and Disappear Fear didn't really do anything to alter my indifferent impression of their music.
Girlyman - Girlyman kicked off the night's concert with a fewArnold Schwarzenegger references due to his recent use of the term to describe California legislators. I was hanging in with this rather quirky set until they lost me with the old Dusty Springfield classic "Son of a Preacher Man" sung by their male singer without the requisite gender change.
Richard Shindell - Like Lucy Kaplansky, I find Shindell to be competent, similarly well connected in the business, his music pleasant, and his enthusiastic reception from the audience to be somewhat surprising. As the sun went down, it got amazingly cold for a July night, so much so that I had to make a dash back to the tent to regroup with jeans, long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt, and a blanket for Bev.
Eddie From Ohio - Even more baffling is the crazed audience reaction that this Virginia based band got every time they took the stage. EFO's first Falcon Ridge appearance coincided with our last visit in 1999, and I'll admit that at the time I got caught up in the hysteria of appreciation for their set and bought several of their CDs; which when listened to later elicited a strong feeling of what was I thinking. This time around I hate to say it but I found their music annoying at best, especially the song that one of the members wrote about someone giving him the finger on his birthday. I think they need the services of a good producer to help them weed out the ill-advised songwriting impulses.
Debbie Davies Band - A female electric blues guitarist is very unusual and her set was more than competent, but having been totally knocked out exactly one week prior by another blues woman, Shemekia Copeland, it was hard to get too excited about this rather average sounding set of electric blues.
Lowen & Navarro - Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro primarily work the west coast, making this east coast festival appearance somewhat unusual and special. In their workshops they presented as many tunes as possible from their upcoming next album under the premise that they would not play anything from it during their Mainstage set; and while they did construct their set primarily of older material, they couldn't resist throwing in at least one of the new songs from their upcoming project. Their warm and mellow vocal blend sounded great with their combination of rhythm and lead acoustic guitars, showing why their partnership has lasted these sixteen years and why they have been able to have many other well known artists record thier compositions. Surprisingly, their reception at Falcon Ridge was somewhat reserved, with nowhere near the frenzy that greeted Eddie From Ohio.
Richie Havens - Havens headlined the Saturday night concert and the realization that his voice, delivery, and instrumental accompaniment has not changed a bit in his roughly forty year career was a stunner. With conga drummer and lead guitarist, Havens performed his usual energetic acoustic guitar strum, all of which combined with his unique vocal style to produce pure magic on the Ridge. The only way Havens set could've been any better would have been for it to last longer. Although he likes to say that he's not political, social issues are never far removed from his material which this time included a cover of Jackson Browne's "Lives in the Balance" an obvious reference to the Iraq war. By the time Havens finished and we hiked back to our campsite and prepared for bed, there was again only about four hours available for sleep.
(To be continued...)