Monday, September 17, 2007

ACL 2007 Sunday

It was girl’s day at the festival; at least for the first half. Jennifer Niceley started things off very… nicely. With her smooth smoky voice and her jazzy dark style, she enchanted the crowd.

She also won this year’s contest (voted on by all 4 of us)
Then we headed over to the Austin Ventures stage for Amy Cook. Amy was your classic Austin musician. She came to Austin and was determined to play ACL in two years (it took 3). She can sing, she can rock, she writes wonderful songs and she had plenty of enthusiasm and spirit. It is artists like her that keep me coming back to Austin and helped push Deb and many others into moving here.

After Amy we split up. Deb and Linda went on to see Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams and Guy Forsythe. Liz and I headed over to the Wa Mu tent to finish up the ladies section of the show with Grace Potter. This was the tent where 5 years ago (or was it four; they are all starting to merge) an up and coming Los Lonely Boys blew the roof off the place. Well, at times, Grace and her band reached that same level of intensity. It took a few songs to get going, but once they did, wow. Grace traded off between a Hammond organ and an assortment of electric guitars (although she left the lead playing to her guitar player) including a Flying V. So, if you haven’t figured out yet, this was classic rock and roll, with the Hammond organ laying the counter point to the blazing guitar solos. Watch out for this woman and her band.

In the same tent we were honored to hang on the rail and watch one of the great harmonica players and blues legend, Charlie Musselwhite. He absolutely did not disappoint. It was like grandpa up there, a sweet old man, making eye contact and smiling. And then he picked up the harmonica and man did he wail. His band was top notch too, with a young guy (maybe in his 30s) playing some of the best guitar licks we saw all weekend. Unfortunately, I was on a mission and had to leave early.

My daughter Jessie has been a fan of The Decemberists ever since I played The Mariner’s Revenge Song for her. So much so, that a couple of years ago she painted her impression of the inside of a whale (You have to know the song to understand). She has yet to see them live and we just couldn’t make their Hollywood Bowl show (with orchestra!) earlier this year. So, without telling her, I printed out a digital copy of her painting and brought it with me to Austin. So there I was, in a huge line to get the Decemberists autographs. At least I had the lovely Lucinda Williams to entertain me while I waited. After about 20 minutes a Waterloo Records employee comes out and at about 10 feet in front of me says, “You guys may not get in”. Then comes to about where I was and says, “It is really doubtful you’ll get in”. And then a few feet behind me, “It’s not going to happen”. I stuck it out and sure enough with only 5 minutes left for signing he came out again, went two people in front of me, placed one of his employees in the line and said, “This is the end of the line. Sorry folks.” I was so disappointed. I had to do something. So I went up to another Waterloo guy and said, “Could you do me a big favor?”. “I’ll try”, he said. I showed him the picture and asked if he could just give it to them. I told him it was my daughters and that I wanted Jess to know that they at least saw the painting. So he walked up to the road manager and asked him to give it to them. The guy asked who it was for and I said it was for my daughter. He then wanted to know where she was and I explained that I was from California and she wasn’t with me. He said, “Okay”, and passed it on to the band. The lead singer looked at it and smiled, then signed it and passed it on. The next thing I knew I had the entire band’s signatures on the sheet. I can’t wait to give it to Jess.

I met up with Liz at the Dell stage (I should get some sort of money for mentioning these names, don’t you think?) for the Amos Lee show. Amos is one of the top singer/songwriters out there right now and we kicked back and prepared for a nice mellow show. Little did we know that the Philadelphia native knows how to use electric guitars. What a mix of music he played for us. Starting off with some Philly soul, he rocked, he joked, he sang a children’s song and through it all, you just had to love him. He comes off as such nice guy. Even though I really have enjoyed his CDs, I totally underestimated how good he was going to be in concert. This was one of the great surprises of the show for us.

After the show we tried to move up to the rail, but the Decemberists fans were too young and too willing to be sardines for a couple of hours. So, we backed up just a bit and found a nice spot to sit. Of course that didn’t stop the growing crowd from infringing on our personal space. Hell, this is a festival, there is no personal space. Oh well. So it goes. We relaxed and chatted with the younger people around us. We enjoyed talking to the girl in front of us until her boyfriend showed up. “Hey, you didn’t tell us your boyfriend was TALL GUY”. It wasn’t really a problem though. I was able to look off of his shoulder and had a full view of the stage. The Decemberists did not disappoint as they threw themselves into the music while the crowd acted like an Indigo Girls crowd, singing along to every song. This was Liz’s first exposure to the band and she fell for them. How could she not fall for them with their strange stories, goofy hooks and nerdy looks. If these guys don’t become the big alternative band soon, I’ll be surprised. Maybe they are. I should go check.

As the last note faded from the stage, Bob Dylan and his band took the AT&T stage for the final show of the weekend. Deb and Linda had found a spot on the rail by the sound booth, so we started the long winding trek through the crowd. It took about forty five minutes, but we finally met up with them. There isn’t much to tell you about the show. Just before going onstage, Bob requested that there be only 2 long shot non moving cameras for the big screens and no spotlights at all. So, if you weren’t at the front of the stage, you really didn’t see anything. I can understand Bob not wanting anyone to see him close up, but does the rest of the band have to pay for it? And why wasn’t this worked out earlier. In a smaller venue, I can understand this. But at a festival where people are so far away, it just isn’t fair. I could go on, but I won’t. If Bob wants to stay mysterious I won’t get in his way.

This morning we headed over to Waterloo Records, one of the great record stores, and finished off my CD buying for the month. Their staff is always so helpful, going the extra mile whenever possible. If it wasn’t for the Waterloo guy, I wouldn’t have gotten those autographs. Thanks guys/gals. See you online when the KGSR CDs go on sale. What a great time we all had this year. Liz wants to come back and we all hope to be in Austin next September. Thanks to everyone for their nice comments, and thanks for reading this far. It is always fun to bring this to you all.

Signing out until next year…

Saturday, September 15, 2007

ACL 2007 Saturday

Day two of the festival and it looks like it is going to be another beautiful day. We find our special parking spot that is less than a mile from the park (it took us 6 years to figure this out?) and costs us nothing. Liz is holding up great considering it is her firstACL . And, she is learning things she never thought she'd know. Luckily, as the saying goes, what happens in Austin, stays in Austin.

The gates actually open early. Okay, not before 11am but 11:12, which may be the earliest they have ever opened. We decide to do some shopping first and then head over to see Willy Mason. We saw him 2 years ago and you could tell he was the real thing. But he was young and his songwriting still wasn't totally polished yet. When we got to the stage we almost didn't recognize him. He has really grown into a man (he really looked almost like a teenager back then). And his songwriting skills continue to grow. You can see it in his second CD and I can't wait to hear the third one. He was really good. The highlight of his show was when he brought his mom out to sing duet on a couple of songs (one she wrote). She is a singer/songwriter also and hopes to someday have a record released. It was such a sweet moment. And the harmonies! It is really hard to beat when family members harmonize together. Their voices always blend so nicely.

Our first risk of the day worked out well. Dr. Dog got moved to the big stage when the White Stripes canceled (they didn't replace them, everybody moved up one slot and they took the opening slot). What a fun band they are. With loads of energy to spare, they proceeded to pound out Beatlesque pop songs with just enough feedback fuzz and furry to give them a winning sound. Throw some psychedelic strains into the mix and serve very hot.

We decided to have an early lunch (1:30) and headed over to the food court. This area is classic Austin. Not just because of the food, but because you actually hear several stages at the same time; all different types of music all at the same time is soooo Austin. We heard a bit of Back Door Slam (sounded really good) and The Legendary Soul Stirrers (from Chicago apparently, but maybe not legendary enough for Liz to know who they are). We also caught the beginning of Raul Malo's set, which started off hot with an old Mavericks song, then moved into his new album of country crooner classics. But, that was the stage we were headed to, so we headed over after a quick meal and caught the end of the show, which, like the beginning, really cooked.

As Raul left we settled in at the front of the stage and stayed there the rest of the day: easy on the legs, a bit harder on the butt. :-) We blew off PaoloNutini (he was fun to watch last year, but the CD didn't do much for me) and relaxed while listening to the fine reggae of Stephen Marley as it blared across the field. Guy and a friend joined up with us just in time to hear a good set from Steve Earle. Steve, played solo most of the show. But when it came time to showcase his new songs, he added a dj , who laid down some bass beats and scratching while Steve played his guitar and sang about the problems of the world. It is a really interesting sound and I can't wait to hear the new CD (okay, I know I keep saying that, but how else can I say it? So manyCDs , so little time).

There was a second microphone on the stage, and we could see Steve's beautiful and very talented wife sitting in the back. Nevertheless, you never know, so we crossed our fingers. Sure enough, AllisonMoorer joined Steve on a few songs, including a beautiful love song that he said he "didn't have to act when he sang it with her". Awww. Great set.

Everyone wanted to see the Indigo Girls and I thought it would be fun to see them with such a large crowd. Also, because of the White Stripes canceling, Damian Rice got moved to the number 2 spot. This meant that it would be nearly impossible to get close to the stage. With that in mind we sat back down and waited. Zap Mama better we worth it. Yep, that was the next band on stage, Zap Mama. And what an interesting show. Not really my cup of tea, but it was fun and we did bounce around to the rhythms which jumped from funk to Brazilian to salsa and back to some world beat that I guess you can call Brazilian soul. The leader of the band is a tall beautiful black woman from Belgium I believe, and she has such a creative way of performing. It was a world beat kind of show with a big beat to keep you dancing. And could she dance, doing a bit of break dancing, and the splits and spinning like a wild woman, all while wearing a formal length dress. Very impressive. Also impressive was her band with three backup singers (one was a lady bass player, another had pipes that were incredible), a very good guitar player, a percussionist, some solid keyboards and the man I'm guessing is the arranger of the band; the drummer. What a showman he was, twirling his sticks as he swung his arms down on the drums. He was very very good. The biggest problem was the timing of the show. The sun was behind the stage and it was impossible to see anything. They really need to close up the back of that stage.
And so we settled back down and waited again. It wasn't quite as comfortable this time as one or two, uhmmm, ladies, really wanted to be on the rail and we weren't interested in giving up our spots. So they got just a bit too close and for the first time we felt a bit squeezed. But it wasn't too bad. The worst part was we could hear Damian Rice just enough to know he was putting on one hell of a show. Damn.
I was really hoping for a band show from the Indigo Girls, but they came out and did their duet instead. About half way through the show they brought out the band that has been opening for them on tour, and played the rest of the set with them. They can rock so hard and have so much fun doing it, I really don't get why they do the duets so much. It doesn't really matter. IG shows are always a lot of fun and this was no exception.

Alas, it was just too crowded to get near enough to enjoy Arcade Fire. We heard a couple of tunes from far away. They sounded and looked great. The stage looked like it was way cool, but we couldn't be sure. It was bad enough that we were so far, but to also have to hear Muse blasting in the distance made it impossible to enjoy them. So, we settled for some good margaritas and Mexican food at a local eatery. And our day was done.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ACL 2007 Friday

Friday was easily one of the best ACL days we have had in years. In fact is seemed like one of the shortest days we've had. But by the time we left the Saxon Pub, at 12:30am, it was nearly one of the longest.

ACL started, as it normally does, about 15 minutes late, with the theme from Star Wars blaring. After a quick shopping spree at theACL tent (t-shirts where so-so this year, which is better than last year, but the poster is a lot better, which isn't saying much), we headed over to see Sahara Smith who was about half way through her set. She seemed pretty good, at times a bit like Beth Orton. I've got a short snippet below.

Seattle has it's cows (I think it is cows) and some other city somewhere I believe has pigs. But Austin, one of the coolest cities in the U.S. has an art project with guitars.

Then it was off to the big stage for one of the highlights of the day and maybe the weekend. Jesse Malin rocked the small crowd that gathered like only a New Jersey boy can. Hey Mike, what the hell is it? Is there something in the water? With only an hour to play, Jesse kept up the pace not to mention the passion, giving us easily the most exuberant and exciting set of the day. He did slow down for a ballad or two, but watching him perform, he never seems to be really slowing down. What a potent rocker he is. Do not miss this guy the next time he is in town.

Once again our favorite photographer was here. It only took one shot with my camera to get this wonderful picture of her. No need to stalk her this year. :-)
ACL is all about decisions, and we made a difficult one after Jesse's set. As we walked across the field we could hear Joseph Arthur just starting up. It sounded real good and maybe it was a mistake passing him by, but we really can't complain. Because... our next show was the Heartless Bastards and we got a set that almost equaled the quality of their name. Playing a set of I guess you can call it alternative rock, what you will walk away with is the lead singer's voice. Just when it starts to sound like a lot of modern bands, she will dig down deep and just blow you away. A very good set. I'm still not sure if I'm buying their CD. We'll see how the rest of the weekend goes. :-)

It was time for a quick bite and for me, the luck continued. Salt Lick, one of the best BBQ places in Austin is at the festival this year. I had a sausage wrap (high protein, low carbs... oh whatever) and it was very good. The girls had the sandwiches which weren't nearly as good as getting them at their restaurant. Meanwhile, one of the propane tanks exploded in a trailer behind the park causing a huge plume of smoke to rise. A couple of people were seriously injured (workers I believe).

After lunch, we headed to the Austin Ventures stage for Will Hoge. If you like the Black Crows you will like this band. They are young and hungry enough to really give it all they got, and we were lovin' it. He had one of the funniest comments of the day. Looking out at the smoke he said, "I hear a trailer caught fire. I'm sorry to hear that. Being from Tennessee, I can completely relate".

A decision was made... We wanted to get nice and close for Crowded House, so we ditched Blonde Redhead and made our way very close to the front, right on the middle rail (I did run over and snap a few pics though). This worked out perfectly because Blonde Redhead was playing right across the way. Their full, at times almost lush sounds bounced across the hills, sounding really good. After a while though her Yoko Ono type voice starts to get to you.

If Jesse Malin wasn't the highlight of the day, Crowded House was. Putting on a very short 1 hour set, they always remind us of how great pop rock can be when it is written with intelligence, wit and charm. There was very little time for banter, and Deb thought they should have left the ballads at home (being a festival, you need to crank it up a bit), but no one argued that they sounded great (much better than they did at the Glass House earlier this year). The video I shot was really really short. The videonazis were out jumping into the crowd to stop people from video taping the show. Idiots. But that is a rant for another time.

The weather, did I mention the weather yet? It was a beautiful day. Never got over 93 and the humidity was relatively low. But as Crowded House started playing, a few rain drops found there way onto us. The band noticed, and of course, do I have to tell you what they played next? It was a perfect time to hear, "Weather with You". They left us, as any great band should, wanting so much more.
After the show, we headed over to the Waterloo tent to start buying CDs where I caught up on my Jesse Malin collection. It was there that we ran into Guy, one of our lurkers. Guy has plenty of music in his head and really should chime in more often. This is what you get for emailing me Guy. :-) We had a great chat waiting for Spoon to start up. The crowd was pretty big for Spoon so we stayed as far back as we could. And maybe that was okay. They were a bit disappointing to us. Although I like their music, the energy never seemed to get off the ground (or stage); even with a horn section (I think there was a horn section... that's what Deb said).

We left the show early, sorry Bjork, grabbed some tacos at taco X press, and headed over to the Saxon Pub for Jimmy LaFave. Up first was a guy we may check out today, Mario Matteoli put on a good set of roots based rock.

We then got really rocked by Dustin Welsh. His wall of sounds band was really hot. Notice I said "sounds". Dustin plays banjo and dobro. He's got a violin player (she plays a lot of lead) and a female backing vocal. There is also an acoustic guitar. They all sing harmonies. The drums of course. And then, a metal styled guitar player, right down to his unisex shirt with holes in it and necklace. He played a classic big auditorium rock guitar. The merging sounds were great. It is too bad the room was so small and the mix had too much of the guitar in it. They would have been even better.

And finally, to end the evening, Jimmy Lafave. He has such a unique style and he brings it to all the songs he plays; even covers. And there were some great covers, from Dylan to Donovon to Bruuuuuuuuce. But live, he hardly notices the crowd and even said thank you out of the side of his mouth. The guitarist and keyboardist were hot, trading leads and really thrilling the crowd with the smooth solid delivery. Maybe expectations were too high and we were too tired. The evening ended on a great note with Jimmy covering "The Weight", one of my favorite songs. And now Deb is yelling for us to get in the car, so off we go for day 2.