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  • Alpine Country Blues Festival

    by lobo91 ( 14 Comments › )
    Filed under Music, Open thread, Uncategorized at June 16th, 2019 - 8:57 pm

    This Saturday, my travels took me to the tiny hamlet of Alpine, Arizona. Basically, Alpine barely qualifies as a “wide spot in the road,” since the road it’s on isn’t that busy, either. You pretty much have to go there intentionally, because it’s too far out of the way for anyone to find it accidentally. It’s located just across the state line from New Mexico at 8,050 feet, which does make for some interesting weather. More about that later.

    Obviously, I must have had a very good reason to visit such a place, right? As it turns out, Alpine has a country and blues music festival every June, and this year, one of the headliners was the Ally Venable Band. Ally Venable, playing two and a half hours away? I’m there!

    Like its larger cousin in Flagstaff, the Alpine Country Blues Festival is in its seventh year. It’s a much more casual event, though. No VIP section, and certainly no catering. In fact, they don’t even have a parking lot. Attendees just find a spot to park on the side of the road. They do have plenty of vendors, though, so at least nobody was going to starve (and the beer was only $4, rather than the $8 in Flagstaff, so there’s that).

    I arrived about noon local time, just as things were getting started. I staked out a piece of grass, unfolded my camping chair, and settled in for a day of music (and a few of those $4 beers, I must confess).

    The weather was good. It was about 75, with a breeze blowing toward the stage. Although it was partly cloudy most of the day, the lack of shade took its toll. Sunscreen was a hot commodity (along with cold drinks—did I mention beer?).

    There were a total of seven acts on the bill, weighted more toward “country” than “blues.” The first was an acoustic country/bluegrass band out of Colorado called Thunder and Rain, which included a stand-up bass, mandolin, and dobro. I know most of you probably never heard of the dobro before I mentioned it last week as one of the instruments Megan Lovell plays, but it’s a real thing. I have a picture to prove it.

    Not being much of a country music fan, I have to admit that most of the afternoon’s performers sort of ran together for me. One that was memorable, though, was a South African musician by the name of Riann Smit. He’s more of a blues player than country, but what makes him stand out is the fact that he’s a solo artist in the true sense of the word—he plays all by himself. Using the miracle of modern electronics, he creates loops of himself playing various instruments and then uses them to accompany himself while he sings. All of this is done on the fly, rather than being pre-recorded.  Sort of a high-tech one-mane band. Here’s an example.

    One interesting thing about the set up at Alpine is the fact that the “green room” in an open-sided tent next to the road, which makes it easy to spot the upcoming artists as they arrive.  Ally Venable turned up around 3:00, although she wasn’t scheduled to go on until 5:20. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, she looked very much the teenaged “girl next door” that she is. She stopped to talk to a couple of young girls in the audience before making her way to wherever she went for the next couple of hours. Hopefully, someplace with air conditioning.

    At about 5:00, after the fifth band finished their set, Ally’s band began setting up. Her usual trio of Bobby Wallace on bass and Elijah Owings on drums was augmented by a keyboard player whose name I missed, and can’t seem to find anywhere online. It must have been an experiment, because I’ve never seen them play with one, although it did bring an interesting dynamic to the sound.

    When Ally appeared a few minutes later to do a sound check, she had been completely transformed, Disney princess-style.  Instead of jeans and a t-shirt, she was dressed in a clingy long-sleeved mini-dress and thigh-high boots, looking more like she should be taking the stage in a nightclub in NYC or L.A. than a field in rural Arizona. Listening to some of the people around me in the audience, I got the impression that many of them had never heard of her, and had no idea what they were in for. They were about to be surprised!

    The band launched into a nearly 10 minute cover of Bill Withers’ soul classic “Use Me,” making good use of their newly-acquired keyboards. By the time they were through, and the audience had a chance to pick their jaws up off the floor—err, grass—there was definitely no question that the “little girl” had every right to be up on stage!

    Although Ally just turned 20 in April, and could easily pass for 16, she’s already an accomplished musician, singer and songwriter with numerous awards under her belt. Recently signing with blues powerhouse Ruf Records, her third album, Texas Honey, debuted at number two on the Billboard Blues charts. A native of the east Texas oil town of Kilgore, Ally has been playing professionally since she was just 14, balancing performing on the weekends with attending high school during the week. A protégé of east Texas blues guitarist Lance Lopez, she’s also worked closely with Gary Hooey and Mike Zito, who produced Texas Honey.

    After finishing “Use Me,” the band played a couple of songs from the new album, including the title track and “Broken,” both originals. Next, she reached back to her second album, Puppet Show, for her cover of Bessie Smith’s iconic “Backwater Blues,” which is a perfect showcase for both her vocals and her fiery guitar work. A song about the 1927 Mississippi River flood that stands as one of the nation’s worst natural disasters even today, the chorus includes the line:

    Backwater blues done called me to pack my things and go
    Backwater blues done called me to pack my things and go
    ‘Cause my house fell down and I can’t live there no more

    And then it came true. The wind picked up to about 25 mph, the skies opened up, and we were suddenly in the middle of a rain storm. To make things worse, the wind was blowing directly toward the stage, drenching everything with wind-driven rain. It doesn’t take an electrical engineer to know what that means, of course. Electric guitars, amps, lights and water are a bad mix, so the show came to a crashing halt. Everyone ran for the hills—or their cars—and that was that. The 2019 Alpine Country Blues Festival came to a premature end.

    No time for autographs or pictures this time, unfortunately.

    So that’s what a dobro looks like!

     

    The view from the stage

     

    Getting set up

     

    “Do you want to hear some blues?”

     

    Moments before the rain struck

    Flagstaff Blues & Brews Festival–Day Two

    by lobo91 ( 148 Comments › )
    Filed under Music, Open thread at June 13th, 2019 - 9:20 pm

    After getting my Larkin Poe fix the first day, I was ready for Day Two of the Flagstaff Blues & Brews festival. My hearing had mostly returned by morning, so I went off in search of coffee before making my way back across town.

    It was just about time for the complimentary lunch to be served in the VIP corral when I arrived, so that was my first stop. It was surprisingly good. Of course, I spent the better part of three decades eating MREs and stuff, so what do I know?

    Saturday’s lineup included a total of six bands, with Kenny Wayne Shepherd as the evening’s headliner. Of course, there was really only one person I was there to see: Samantha Fish.

    Samantha Fish originally hails from Kansas City, Missouri, which has a pretty well-known blues scene. As a teenager, she frequently visited local blues joints with her dad, where she soaked up everything she could about not only music, but what it meant to be a working musician on the road today. By the time she was 18, she began sitting in with various performers, and soon became a local phenomenon.

    Her big break came in 2011, when she was signed by the German label Ruf Records and embarked on the label’s annual Blues Caravan tour of clubs and festivals all over the US and Europe. One result of that tour was a compilation album called “Girls With Guitars,” which featured Samantha along with tour-mates Dani Wilde and Victoria Smith, both of whom are originally from Brighton in the UK. In the middle of that tour, the label released Samantha’s first solo album, “Runaway.” The title track quickly became a staple of the shows on the Caravan tour. As this video shows, Samantha was already at home playing to large audiences, and had become adept at working the crowd.

    By 2013, Sam was touring relentlessly with her new band, which included veteran musicians “Go-Go Ray” Pollard on drums and Scot Sutherland on bass, each of whom had been playing professionally since before she was born. The years she spent touring with these veteran road warriors acted as a finishing school of sorts, as they pushed her to higher and higher levels musically. It was during this time that her second album, “Black Wind Howlin’,” was released to significant critical acclaim. She still plays the title track on occasion as an encore during live shows.

    2015 saw the release of her third album, “Wild Heart,” which solidified her status in the blues world. At about the same time, Pollard decided to return to his first love, teaching music to kids, while Sutherland went off to pursue solo projects. A number of lineup changes followed, until Austin native Chris Alexander became her full-time bass player after filling in frequently over the years. Chris has since become an indispensable member of the tour, taking charge of the equipment setup.

    2017 saw a radical departure for the Samantha, with the release of not one but two new albums, both of which were completely different from anything she’d done before—and from each other.  In March, she released “Chills and Fever,” which was a collection of lesser-known R&B songs from the 1950s and ‘60s. Along with the new album came a newly-expanded band, which now included keyboards and a horn section, as well as a makeover for herself. Gone was the long red (or sometimes dark blonde) hair, to be replaced with a Marilyn Monroe-inspired platinum blonde cut. The retro look was completed with false eyelashes, heels, and pancake makeup.

    In November of that year, “Belle of the West” came out, which was a much more intimate album. Featuring mostly acoustic songs, it was recorded in the Mississippi hill country and featured a number of guest musicians from the area. One notable song on the album was “Gone for Good,” which she has played in her live shows for years but had never gotten around to recording. These days, her live set list consists about 80 percent of songs from these last two albums. She’s also begun playing a couple of new songs off her upcoming album, “Kill or Be Kind,” which is due out in September. In Flagstaff, she played both of the new singles, “Love Letters” and “Watch it Die,” which the crowd loved. I predict another hit.

    Between those two tracks and a third song, “Bulletproof,” which she played a number of times on her recent European tour, it seems safe to say that “Kill or be Kind” is going to be a return to her blues-rock roots. In fact, she played that tour with a four-piece band configuration, leading many to speculate that we’d seen the end of the horn section. It’s not clear what the future will bring, but the full band was on stage in Flagstaff, horns and all.

    It was interesting to watch the preparations for Samantha’s set on Saturday, particularly after watching how Larkin Poe did it the day before. The band members each prepared their own instruments, while Chris Alexander took charge of the crew. He not only checked all the levels, but even tested and tuned all of Samantha’s guitars. Sam herself was nowhere to be seen until the MC announced her, at which point she walked across the stage and picked up a guitar. Very different from the hands-on approach Larkin Poe took. I’m not sure what it really signifies about either of them, though. It could just be that Rebecca Lovell is a something of a control freak, while Samantha trusts her crew to get things done without her.

    I really don’t get the impression that it’s about being a prima donna or anything, because I’ve seen how they both act off stage. Megan and Rebecca have handlers who keep them on a schedule. I was actually the next person in line to meet them after the show when their guy announced “Okay…that’s it” and herded them away. Samantha, on the other hand, would probably still be there now signing autographs and smiling for photos if there were people in line. She has no handlers.

    All things considered, it ended up being a great weekend of live music at a wonderful venue. I’ll definitely plan to return next year, and I highly recommend it to anyone within reasonable travel distance of Flagstaff.

    I think the important takeaway from it all is that there really are millennials—and millennial women, at that—who are devoted to keeping these uniquely American music styles alive. It’s not all about Justin Bieber and whatever autotuned former Disney child star is popular this week, so there’s hope for humanity.

    Next weekend, I’m off to see another of their breed, a young Texas guitar-slinger named Ally Venable, when she plays at a festival in the tiny hamlet of Alpine, Arizona. Stay tuned!

    Pictures:

    I’d recognize that white Gibson SG anywhere…

     

    Sam is looking stylish in leather

     

    You don’t need a custom lap steel to play slide guitar…

     

    Jammin’ with Chris Alexander

     

    Time for the ever-popular cigar box guitar

     

    No handlers in sight!

     

    Flagstaff Blues & Brews Festival–Day One

    by lobo91 ( 129 Comments › )
    Filed under Music, Open thread at June 10th, 2019 - 10:00 pm

    As many of you are aware, I took a little road trip over to Arizona this past weekend to attend the Flagstaff Blues & Brews festival. This was the festival’s seventh year, and the first time it’s been two days. There were a total of ten artists—four on Friday and six on Saturday. Friday’s main draws were Larkin Poe and Tab Benoit.

    I got to the festival site, which was the driving range of the Continental Country Club on the east edge of town, shortly after the first artist began playing, and while there was a line to get in, I got to skip it, since I’d had the foresight to get a VIP pass. A quick scan of my ticket, a magic wristband, and I was set.

    I spent some time walking around the venue, scoping out what they had to offer, and came away impressed. They had a ton of vendors, including more than a dozen different food trucks. One of the most popular was serving Maine lobster, if you can believe it. Lobster. At a concert. In northern Arizona. Only in America.

    Anyway, after checking out the amenities, I headed for the VIP area, where I would end up spending most of the weekend. Unlike the general admission area, there were a couple of large tents with tables and chairs, along with some nice padded folding chairs on the lawn. The tables came in handy when it came time for dinner, which was catered by one of the local casinos. The only thing that wasn’t free was beer, wine and cocktails. I could get used to this VIP thing…

    After hanging out for a while, I made my way over toward the stage, where the second artist was winding up their set. Since it was a festival, the next artist in the lineup would stage their equipment off to the left side of the stage as the previous act was finishing, which was kind of interesting to watch. I eventually saw one of the roadies unzip a padded double guitar case and pull out a battle-scarred sea foam green Fender Jazzmaster, followed by a banjo. That could only mean one thing: Larkin Poe was in the house! (or on the lawn, as it were)

    As soon as the stage was clear, the crew began setting up for Larkin Poe. Much to my surprise, Megan and Rebecca Lovell were right there in the middle of it, plugging in cables and adjusting speakers. Rebecca acted as the general, directing her troops until everything was just right. When she was satisfied, she nodded and said, “I think we’re good to rock and roll!” With that, she picked up her guitar and launched into a blistering rendition of “Summertime Sunset,” which has become their standard opening number. They then went straight into “Trouble in Mind,” followed by “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues” before stopping to catch their breath.

    For those who aren’t familiar with Larkin Poe, they’re a self-described “roots rock/Americana” band based out of Nashville. Fronted by sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell, Larkin Poe was formed back in 2010 following the breakup of their previous band, The Lovell Sisters. Megan and Rebecca, along with eldest sister Jessica, took the bluegrass scene by storm in 2006 when they decided to enter a music competition on a lark, and the rest is history. The girls spent their teen years touring (which was possible because they were all home-schooled) and released several successful albums. Eventually, Jessica decided that life on the road wasn’t for her, though, and at 19, she left the band to go to college and eventually get married.

    Undeterred by the loss of their leader, Megan and Rebecca almost immediately formed what would become Larkin Poe, although just what that meant took several years to shake out. They began playing bluegrass, and then swerved toward country, before finally trading in their acoustic instruments and making the jump to blues-based rock with the album Kin in 2014.  Since then, they’ve never looked back.

    Megan and Rebecca are both accomplished multi-instrumentalists who began playing classical violin and piano at around age 4.  As The Lovell Sisters, Jessica played fiddle and sang lead, Megan played dobro (an acoustic version of the lap steel guitar she plays now), and Rebecca played mandolin and banjo. Rebecca was actually named the top mandolin player in the country when she was only 15. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can see some of those early performances to this day. Rebecca sometimes cringes at the clothes and hairstyles she wore as a (as she puts it) “chunky” teenager, but the talent was definitely there. Ever heard a Jimi Hendrix solo on mandolin? Now you can say that you have.

    Today, Rebecca mainly plays electric guitar, along with banjo on a few songs. At 27, she’s an accomplished singer, songwriter, musician and producer who did all of the arrangements on their two most recent albums. She’s currently engaged to another up and coming blues-rock star, Tyler Bryant. Megan, 29, pretty much exclusively plays an original 1948 Rickenbacker lap steel guitar these days with a custom rig that allows her to play standing up. She’s married to Nashville-based guitarist Mike Seal.

    Aside from their obvious musical talent, Megan and Rebecca are about as different as two sisters could be. Megan is quiet, reserved and introspective, while Rebecca is anything but. It definitely shows on stage. While her lap steel is an essential part of what makes them Larkin Poe, Megan is content to be off to the side. Rebecca, on the other hand, is definitely in the driver’s seat. She plays with reckless abandon, constantly in motion, working the crowd and feeding off their energy. It’s something that really doesn’t come across in their recordings, or even in videos of live performances.

    And I got to experience it from eight feet away.

    Someone famously said, “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” I think he was mistaken.

    Some photos:

    Megan running cables

     

    Rebecca tuning her baby

     

    “I think we’re good to rock and roll!”

     

    Harmonies are a big part of Larkin Poe’s signature sound

     

    Rebecca has the “rock chick” thing down

     

    The Slide Queen

     

     

    Saturday Open…4 shifts to go

    by coldwarrior ( 53 Comments › )
    Filed under Open thread at June 8th, 2019 - 9:37 am

    It’s Monday for me tho…that said, 4 shifts to go then I’m off for 3 weeks. 3 weeks.

    I was getting close to the point where I stop accruing PTO time and that is a No-No-HELL-NO in my book. It was necessary to burn 3 weeks of vacation to rectify this near disaster.

    Enjoy Yinz’s weekend!


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