Monday, October 11, 2010

ACL Week - Saturday (Day 4)

The second day of the festival again had perfect weather. In the mid 80’s with light breezes and occasional cloud cover, it is hard to imagine better weather conditions. We had lots of holes in our schedule for Saturday and it was going to take some luck to fill those in. And there were mixed results.

We started very lucky, checking out Balmorhea, an instrumental band that spends most of its time writing soundtracks. The music was both beautiful and, at times, intense, with exciting arrangements from their unique lineup. With violin, cello, stand up bass, keyboards, drums and guitar (sometimes banjo or electric bass), they created an exciting sound that got the day going.

Linda, Liz and I moved over to the number 2 stage for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. When last we saw them, they were playing the tent; blowing the roof off, like nobody since Los Lonely Boys back in 2002. The question was, were they ready for the big stage. The answer was unquestionably yes. Coming out in what can only be described as a Tina Turner outfit with a Tina Turner attitude to boot, Grace isn’t a Tina clone. She’s a rocker and she gave life to that old, tired genre we call classic rock. She had the crowd going wild, and not just the fans in the front row who probably got a bit more of a show than the rest of us (she joked that she didn’t realize how high the stage was). Look out world, Grace is just going to keep getting bigger and better.

Crossing the entire field, it was time to check out the Boss’ favorite young band, New Jersey boys, The Gaslight Anthem. They put on a solid set of what is becoming the New Jersey sound (A little Bruce and a little Jesse Malin, a lot of energy). They had a nice crowd singing along. They are a lot louder than Bruce or Jesse, but their desire to speak to the people is the same. This is another band that is coming on strong.

We couldn’t figure out how to fill the biggest hole in our schedule, so off to the football tent we went and watched Alabama lose their hold on the number one ranking. But it was a nice rest, which we would need for what was coming next.

I’ve been waiting to see Gogol Bordello for some time now. I missed them the last time I was here and have been kicking myself ever since. And on this day, I got everything I came for and more. Gogol is best described as gypsy punk. But if you were to pick a band they resemble it would be Flogging Molly. The energy and craziness on stage is the same, if not more so. The crowded was bouncing around, floating people and singing when they were supposed to. They were easily one of the highlights of the festival for me. You get a feel for this in the studio CDs (especially the new one produced by Rick Rubin), but you have to see them to really get the energy they send out. Check them out when they come to your town. You won’t be disappointed.

The crowds were growing and it was time to move on. After some tacos at Maria’s it was off to The Gallery over The Continental Club to see guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan. Jimmie was playing with the Mike Flanigin Trio (can’t remember the drummer’s name) with Mike on organ. Together they put on a potent set of jazz with heavy blues themes. I haven’t been to a jazz show in some time, but they made it sound so good it made me want to get back to the local jazz clubs. The interplay between the three of them made it sound like this was a regular gig for them, but the truth is, they are just that good. The room had a maximum occupancy of 49, so, yes, it was an intimate evening with Jimmie just a few feet in front of me. It was a wonderful way to finish off the evening.

ACL Week Sunday (Day 5)

It’s Sunday and the final day in what may be my final year at ACL. The day started with 15 year old phenom Ruby Jane. With a bluegrass base and the spirit of a… well, of a 15 year old, Ruby plays a mean fiddle, a solid guitar, sings beautifully and leads the band with a crazy intensity that you normally only find in a 15 year old (there we go again). She yells with joy during band members’ solos (and sometime her own too) and you can just feel that the spirit of the music is in her. I can’t wait to see how time changes this young lady. She’s got a hell of a start though.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists were billed as a blend of punk and… well it doesn’t matter, because there was no blend, at least today. Their brand of punk is smart and I believe socially relevant, but it is just punk. After about 20 minutes we were ready to move on. If that is your thing, you might enjoy them.

Liz, Linda and I met back up as Frank Turner got his set going. Frank is from Manchester England and has a sound that reminds me of a modern Big Country (although not nearly as anthem like). He was a lot of fun too, singing about refusing to grow up and making a great sing-a-long out of it. It was a good call from Liz.

At the same stage a half hour later was valley boys, Dawes. Landing somewhere between Americana and modern rock, these youngsters (okay, they aren’t that young… I’m just getting older I suppose) showed that they had a desire to write the important songs about important subjects. They have a long way to go and could easily get sidetracked by fame, but keep an eye on these guys. There was a fun moment in the middle of the set. The lead singer/guitar player, did a nice solo and was making the big stage moves. When the solo ended, there was a big applause from the crowd. I don’t think he was expecting that and he got this huge grin on his face. I love when the spirit of rock works both ways and the fans actually light up the performers. Good show. Good luck guys.

The tent was jammed when we got there. Linda found her way in but Liz and I decided to just find some shade under a tree and listen from a distance. It may have been a bit of a mistake as Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue put on one hell of a show. Playing trombone, trumpet and singing, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, at the tender age of 24 has all the skills to rock a crowd. Playing songs that were probably around before his father was born and mixing them in with more modern music, the band shook the tent to its foundations. I’m kicking myself for not trying to get inside, but even without seeing the show, we were definitely entertained. I will not miss him next time.

As many in the crowd shuffled out, we slipped in to the front of the stage, meeting up with Linda again to see Martin Sexton. Martin has an unusual voice, but it comes with great power. Accompanied with just his guitar and a second microphone (in which he vocally reenacted Hendrix’s famous Star Spangled Banner to open the show), Martin was funny, charming and driven. My only two problems with the show were 1) that he came back for an encore and sang “God Bless America” (why?) and 2) he was much more religious than any of us expected (when I told Deb this today her reaction was, “Jesus”, to which I replied, “Exactly”). Otherwise we enjoyed his show.

We continued to hang on the stage, and waited for the great Richard Thompson to appear. With only an hour to perform, Richard dispensed with any chit chatting with the crowd (he did make a few humorous remarks) and went right at it, singing several songs from his latest CD. All but one of the songs found him on electric guitar and he brought down the house several times with his solos. Not one to hog the stage, he traded solos with his violin player and sax player and overall rocked the house. His current band is tight and obviously very talented. This may have been one of the highlights of the weekend. I can’t wait to see him again.

There was only one band left playing in the park (well, actually 2 with Norah Jones refusing to get off stage on time, causing a bit of a musical mess as the Eagles came on and played on top of her) and it was the weekend headliner: The Eagles. It appeared that a good 50,000 people decided to stay for that show with people seated all the way back toward the exit sign in the middle of the park. Knowing the venue, we left the park and walked over to the trail behind the stage where we could hear the show perfectly. It would have been nice to see them, but that was impossible in the park anyways. We listened for a good hour and a half before deciding it was time to go home. They played mainly their hits and solo hits which I suppose is what the crowd wanted but doesn’t lend itself to a consistent sound (especially with Joe’s material). The music sounded very close to the record, so if you like that, you would have enjoyed the show. I couldn’t really tell if there was any real passion here, but they sounded good.

The three of us headed back to Deb and Linda’s house and hung out for awhile. It was weird not being with Deb at the festival for the first time in 9 years, but overall it was another good experience. In the morning we all (along with Deb’s mom) got together for breakfast and now I’m heading home. I don’t know when I’m coming back here. I hope to check out South by Southwest (SXSW) next year and if something special happens I could find myself at ACL again, but for now, I will just say a sad goodbye to one of my favorite cities. Goodbye Austin. Goodbye ACL.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

ACL Week - Friday (Day 3)

Okay, so this is actually the first day of ACL. But for me, it is already on to a third day of music. And what a beautiful day it was. The sky was clear all day with occasional breezes and temperatures in the mid 80s. The grass has grown out very nicely after last years mud fest and overall the park was in great shape.

First up was Sahara Smith. She has a sweet voice and some nice songs that might be called country, but lean to the left and don’t really have much in the way of twang. We enjoyed the set.

We then moved to the tent, now called the Clear Stage, for Carolyn Wonderland. They have taken all of the seats out of the tent and re-planted grass. I was early and was able to kick back on the grass until the Gospel band that was playing had finished. I then slipped up to the front, dead center, for one of the highlights of the day. Carolyn came out and as she always does, rocked the house. I don’t know what is taking America so long to find this truly talented lady. She picks her guitar like no other woman I’ve seen play. She can easily (and I mean easily) hang with the best guitar players playing. Her voice is strong and soulful. She can even handle the trumpet. Check out the video I have here. The sound gets screwed up, but hang in there for a bit and you’ll get the picture. She is really amazing.

I forced Liz to check out Angus and Julia Stone (couldn’t get Linda to bite), and she was surprised by how much she actually liked them. Hailing from Australia, the brother and sister team create a very unique sound. Julia has a voice close to Joanna Newsom’s, but she uses it in a much more assessable way. Her melodies are sweet and she sings with such joy, you easily will forgive anything unusual about her style. She also plays a mean harmonica, did some rocking out on electric guitar, and played some of the coolest rock trumpet I’ve ever heard. Watching her dance around in her bare feet, reminded me of the young Natalie Merchant; filled with a passion for the music. Angus, is a more straightforward singer/songwriter, with a feel that only seems to come from down under (be it Australia or New Zealand). Together, they go from soft to rock in an instant. Near the end they did, what sounded like a several minute jam based on Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand”, with Julia playing harmonica and trading leads with their violin player. It was great. Check out their CDs, I think you’ll really enjoy them.

I caught most of Band of Heathens set. They are a country rock band, leaning heavily on the rocking. It is better than you’d expect. And with a name like that, you know they’re going to interesting.

Amos Lee has grown up since we saw him 3 years ago. There were no surprises this time, other than it was a very straightforward set. His Philly soul music will melt your heart along with other body parts. Okay there was some strangeness. At the very end he, along with his buddy Angel, sang a Barry White type song about wanting to take a shower with you/her. I just found it so strange after his traditional set of music; but fun.

I had heard Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses on The Loft on Sirus XM not too long ago, so I was looking forward to seeing Ryan show us his stuff. And he came with both barrels blazing. Somewhere between Steve Earle, Dylan and maybe Neil Young, Ryan Bingham sings about this world and still is able to rock you off your feet. It was a perfect final set for tonight. As I walked out, I could hear, but couldn’t even come close to seeing The Strokes on one end of the field and Phish on the other. I’m guessing, if you stood in the middle of Zilker Park, it would have been a very strange feeling.

Friday, October 08, 2010

2010 ACL Week - Thursday (Day 2)

We finally met up with Deb (who is going to miss the festival to take care of her mom) and headed over to Zilker Park for a benefit for some state senator. In the huge park that was ready for the event, only one stage was lit up and we settled in for an hour plus show from the amazing steel pedal playing of Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Somewhere between funk and the Allman Brothers (with a strong leaning towards Gospel) lies RR. Somehow, he took this staid, stiff group of political junkies and wannabe players and got them moving and grooving to his fine beats and blistering steel pedal playing. If you only watch one of the videos I post, this should be the one. Half the crowd was out of their seats dancing by shows end.

We jumped in our cars and headed over to Saxon Pub. Deb had told us about this wonderful Blues singer/guitar player named Seth Walker and that seemed like a logical next move. Seth has a smooth soulful voice and he laid down some great songs, playing jazzy leads and getting great support from his two piece (stand up bass and drums) band. Several times he used a reggae beat making me think of a gutsier, more talented Jack Johnson. Another good show under our belts.

Deb departed and Liz and I took off for the Continental Club. We got in just as Jon Langford joined Deano Waco and the Purveyors. Jon, mixes folk, country and punk into a crazy, fun, loud stream of music that was both sloppy and tight and always foot tappin’. We were bouncing in our seats and he had most of the crowd out of their chairs dancing (which reminds me... Why is it that Texan’s, no matter what the beat or style of music, insist on swing dancing to everything? At least at the Continental Club). We had a great night. Bring on the festival.

ACL day 1

It is a beautiful day here in Austin. It's in the mid 80s and the music is floating through the air. Liz and I are sitting on the soft grass in the Clear tent waiting for Carolyn Wonderland. Life is good. I can't believe this is my last ACL. What was I thinking? :-)

There are videos up on YouTube from last night at ( I think that's the link). I'll write about last night tonight.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

2010 ACL Week - Wednesday (Day 1)

I’ve been apprehensive for weeks now about how this year, my last year at ACL, was going to go. The list of bands playing the event was the weakest (at least for us) since... Well, in the 9 years I’ve been going, this is the worst. Still, you never know what will happen. At least we have the clubs. Or so we thought. Searching on the web for a show tonight turned out to be just as bad. Only Jon Dee Graham was the type of quality performer that we were willing to pay for. What is going on?
But let’s start from the beginning.Jet Blue recently started direct flights from Long Beach to Austin. They also started trading mileage through American Express, while at the same time, Southwest stopped working with AMEX. It was a no brainer. So, for the first time, I had a wonderful quick flight (about 2.5 hours). I barely made a dent in my reading. The highlight was getting to hear most of Vin Scelsa’s show on Sirus/XM’s The Loft. I love listening to his raps and his interesting mix of music, but only get to hear him once in a while since he is only on twice a week and in the middle of the day. Coincidentally, he played several Austin based bands during his two hours, including: Alejandro Escovedo, Scrappy Jud Newcombe and Shawn Colvin. What a wonderful way to fly.
With Deb’s mom in town, Liz and I ended up at (I won’t say the name of the hotel, because it is designed to be cheap) a hotel near their house. Between my bugs and her interesting stains, it is a bit scary.

After settling in, and not having a real meal all day, we took off for our annual trip to Salt Lick BBQ. Now I love tradition as much as the next guy, but this is beyond tradition. It is a calling. It is... the devil waving you in. As you walk through their large gravel parking lot, the smell hits you like a ton of cow (or maybe that’s pigs). In fact, you don’t even have to get out of the car to smell it. In fact, I can smell it now. Oh wait, that’s because there is some in my fridge. Seriously, it is the best BBQ I’ve ever tasted. Just look at these pictures of the pit. Okay, I’ve got to stop because it is 2 in the morning and I’m getting hungry just writing about it.

You would think, with such a large state, there would be room to properly build roads and intersections. Apparently not in South Austin. We couldn't use the GPS that Deb loaned me (oh, that’s another story...The rental agency didn’t have any GPS’s because it was a local dealer and they only sold one a month. They didn’t have any maps either because... Ready? The company wants them to sell more GPS’s). So, the hotel we are staying at has an address which is actually just the highway it is off of. Her GPS wouldn’t let us type in the address. So, I pulled out my IPhone. And with that, we proceeded to drive around in circles for about an hour. We finally called Deb and she some how guided us in. But it is so strange, with highways intersecting and each one has a side road on each side. What a mess!

We finally ended up at The Continental Club to see Jon Dee Graham. I’ve seen him there many times over the years and he puts on a nice show. He rocks hard and has moments of brilliance, but over time, it seems to be missing something. Still, I love seeing him and will probably do so again. I’ve got a nice little performance linked in. The sound was too loud for the camera, but you’ll get a good feel for the show from it. Tomorrow, we are going to a benefit at the park that will feature Robert Randolph. Should be a great time.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Flying on JetBlue listening to The Loft on XM. It's almost like Vin Scelsa knows I'm on my way, playing Austin favorites Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Alejandro Escovedo And now Shawn Colvin. It's a good sign.

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