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Location: Zeeland, Michigan, United States

Hi. I wish I had a job selling squirrels. They're so furry, and give you toothy grins. Unless they're rabid, in which case they will eat your face off and then find the rest of your family. That's not so good, I guess.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Live Music Log, December 2017

12 2 17 BRAWLERS, BAWLERS AND BASTARDS:  3RD ANNUAL TOM WAITS TRIBUTE NIGHT featuring Buck Merill, Nate Hartmann, Chris Miroslaw, Matt Milcarek, Bob English, Mike List, Jessica in the Rainbow, Brian Koenigsknecht, Abe Savas, Chris Newman and Phantom 309, Libby DeCamp, Olivia Mainville and The Aquatic Troupe, Jack and The Bear, and Megan Dooley with the Hangdown Yer Heads   Bell's, Kalamazoo  I do not know what to write about this show, partly because I've mostly abandoned taking notes, and partly because I don't want to be the asshole who writes bad things about people.  There was a dazzling amount of talent on that stage, yet the show seemed smaller than last year.  I had a lot more fun, but a lot less of it came from the music itself.  It was an artistic success that played to about half the crowd as last year. I had people around me who liked to have me around, and I spent half the show worrying about someone I don't really know very well.  Matt Milcarek opened the festivities by semi-busking out in the hallway with his accordion, setting the enjoyably strange tone. Dooley played with a full band of ringers, including Brandon and Adam from Jack and the Bear, Bleu from the Troupe, Abe Savas, Matt, Chris Miroslaw from Treading Bleu, and Jarad Selner from Saxsquatch and Bridge Band.  I can not remember what anyone played, baaad blogger....other than Brian Koenigsknecht, who did several songs from The Heart Of Saturday Night album, in fully convincing Waits-in-71 drag.  Musical highlight:  Jessica In The Rainbow's utterly charming "The Piano Has Been Drinking."  Bob English's monologue also scratched my itch for the absurdly sinister. Libby DeCamp is from another, more languorous planet (possibly named Romeo).  Only other thing I will say:  apparently I'm still considered attractive by some, so...yay?

12 9 17 Carrie McFerrin #12/Matthew Borr #6 Potter's, Kalamazoo  My first time at a venue outside downtown, this one at a freeway hotel way on the east side.  Easygoing, breezy, a set designed to keep the patrons eatin'.  The Wild Sparklings are no more, long live Borr and McFerrin.  Got a reprise of Redemption Night's "Fools In Love," which just tingles my damn spine.  Other friends there too, nice dinner, nice low-stakes evening out.

12 10 17 The Crane Wives #37  Kent District Library, Cascade Branch, Grand Rapids 45 days between shows seems too long, at least for the insane.  So I played hooky from work for two hours for this one.  The same concert series that sponsored Dooley in October, set up by Dan's wife Alex, this was a hugely fun all-ages daytime affair, a good way to really hear the songs without the overlay of barroom bozos.  Caleb Trask was taken out of the closet, dusted, and given a stunning reupholstery.  Brand new songs Volta and Daydreamer shine bright, new triumphs from writers who Just Keep Getting Better.

12 15 17  Carrie McFerrin #13/Matthew Borr #7  Chau Haus Schnitzel Station, Kalamazoo  I probably shouldn't do repeat shows as much as I do, in fact I am going to make an effort in 2018 to diversify the acts I go to see, but dammit these are fun people who play well and like me, so here I am again. Went to a Christmas party afterward, the first I've ever been invited to by a non-relative that I could attend.

12 16 17 Olivia Mainville & the Aquatic Troupe #14/Jack And The Bear #2/Red Rio #2 Tip Top Deluxe, Grand Rapids  This was a whole lotta fun.  I'm an auxiliary member of their Scooby gang by now, somehow, along with Olivia's parents, Barrenger, Carlton, and assorted sundry.  Red Rio, aka Alexis Brooke, played as a trio, adding muscle to her intense delivery of songs that were whisper quiet at Founders.  Like if Mia Doi Todd hooked up with the Black Keys, for a nice obscure reference.  Then a whole bus full of bozos hijacked the Tip Top, with some interminable reindeer games involving balancing balloons.  Olivia and Brandon were seething, but they all paid their cover and then split, so the disruption subsidized the show.  Olivia's set is over half unreleased material now, so much of it excellent:  need new record now plz.  Higher Ground sounds like a hit to me.  And then Jack And The Bear:  OG Style, the two east siders in residence, Evan Close on bass and Christina Nielsen on trumpet and oil can.  Also played a couple new ones, in a promising return to Technicolor.  Not technically a west Michigan band, so I'm glad they play here so much:  the scene needs their sinister amiability.  You may sell your soul, but you will be shown a good time along the way.

12 22 17 Darcy Wilkin #9 Webster's, Kalamazoo
12 22 17  The Crane Wives #38/Olivia Mainville & The Aquatic Troupe #15  Bell's, Kalamazoo  Just about everyone I have met in the last two years was within a few blocks of each other this night.  It was a hard decision on where to go, but I chose the show without Christmas music (bleah).  At Webster's, the schmancy little room inside the Radisson Hotel, a killer lineup of Darcy, Matthew Borr, Dooley, and Matt Milcarek were doing a Christmas thing. (Carrie McFerrin was out sick.)  I only had time to catch Darcy, who gave her melancholy spin to the season, with "Christmas In Prison" and an Emmet Otter tune, along with a preview of the bonkers Rankin-Bass CFG show.  Then I hiked over to Bell's and never stopped grinning.  The Troupe were Bleu-less, as he was spending the holiday with family in the frozen north, but the three piece sound was good: like the duo shows with added Adam drums, nice relaxed takes on my favorite damn songs.  Crowd especially responded to the Boswell Sisters cover, Everybody Loves My Baby.  I have a theory on covers:  I see them as a reward to an audience for paying attention during the originals, like, "oh good doggy, now here's a Milk Bone after you ate all your nice kibble." A well chosen, well played cover will actually help win an audience over, as they remember your tunes fitting so nicely with that one you played they know and like.  (coughbringbackToxiccoughcough).  The Crane Wives are amplified to rock now, folk music is decidedly in the rearview mirror.  The uncategorizable band is being led by the bass down the path of the devil horns.  And I am AOK with this.  Hard to resist the urge to keep elbowing Brandon (seeing them for the first time) and saying "this is good, right?  Isn't this awesome?  Pretty swell? Eh?" Daydreamer is a whole other thing: a sunshiney song like the early ones, but tempered by all the water under the bridge since then.  They never stop growing as songwriters and musicians, and I am privileged to be able to hear that progression in real time.  I did not want to go home.

12 23 17 Corn Fed Girls/AARON WRIGHT  Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo  And here is the bonkers Rankin-Bass Christmas show.  Each of the six members dressed as a character from the classic stop motion specials.  Darcy destroyed her hair to embody Hermes the elf.  Jon Campos' Yukon beard kept threatening to steal the show, as did Mike Fuerst's inflatable ostrich-between-the-legs.  (Remove the beak, presto, not a family show.)  Silly trappings, amid some seriously skillful and melancholy songs:  their originals, plus songs from the specials, plus A Holly Jolly Christmas from the opener, Aaron Wright (dressed as Burl Ives).  If you have to do Christmas music, this is the way to do it:  with tongue pressed so firmly in cheek it starts to ache.

12 30 17  A TRIBUTE TO TOM PETTY featuring May Erlewine, Max Lockwood, Karisa Wilson, Lucas Wilson, and Phil Barry  Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids  This was a must see.  Tom Petty was probably the last rock star everyone loves, with the passing of Bowie and Prince, and his early death was a damn shame.  Many many tributes popped up in the months since, but this one had a secret weapon:  Max Lockwood, leader of Big Dudee Roo, bassist to all, who organized this weenie roast as a charity benefit.  The spitting image of the man, with an eerily similar vocal range:  could call him a reincarnation if he wasn't already, you know, like 30 years old.  Other weapon, less secret:  the divine Ms. Erlewine, seen here in rare proximity to extremely amplified guitars.  Two other singers:  the powerful Karisa Wilson (oddly on vocals only:  doesn't she TEACH guitar?) and Lucas Wilson, an intense soulful fellow I couldn't place till someone mentioned he was in Sweet Japonic, a dudebro band from some years back.  Perfectly calibrated set list, great mix of massive and obscure, songs assigned to each singer with thought and care. Joe Van Acker on bass, Mike Lynch on keys, Phil Barry on extremely Campbellish guitar, and the very well named Daine Hammerle hammering away on drums.  Kicked off, perfectly, by May's sweet "Wildflowers," going right into a super punchy "American Girl" by Max.  Lucas' highlight:  a "Nightwatchman" that actually sounded BETTER than the original.  Karisa's:  the semi-obscure 2010 cut "I Should've Known It' that just MELTED FACES.  May has been playing "Learning To Fly" all year, but it lost no passion or sweetness in context. Phil took one vocal, on my all time fave "Honey Bee," and it was fuckin' glorious, footstompy fun.  Max sounded perfect on all the big ones:  "I Won't Back Down," "Last Dance With Mary Jane," encore "Running Down A Dream."  Slight surprise:  May took "You Wreck Me," and took it alllll the way.  Such a powerfully evocative singer, in folk and in the Motivational soul band, so good to see her just go for it like this.  If you weren't there, brothers and sisters, I can't help but feel a little sorry for you.

12 31 17  The Accidentals #4/The Crane Wives #39/Jake Allen #2/STEPHIE JAMES Founders, Grand Rapids  Third year in a row ringing in the new year with the Crane Wives, a tradition I will do my damnedest to maintain.  Even had a companion this time.  Founders is a very different atmosphere than the Wealthy Theatre, but in some ways it was superior:  being up front and standing meant no asses in my face for once.  (Instead I blocked the view of many others....)  Minimal jostling thanks to my tiny bodyguard.  Many tables cleared to make an unusually huge SRO section, since the Accidentals are kind of a big deal now.  Jake Allen was halfway through his set before I realized he wasn't just soundchecking. Impressive control of his guitar, including as a percussion instrument. Stephie James was marvelous:  a female Chris Isaak.  Looks like Punky Brewster, sounds like Tanya Tucker.  Her languorous, atmospheric tunes brought a welcome shot of blues to the evening.  Couldn't make out lyrics in the party atmosphere, Will Investigate Further.  The Crane Wives #39:  no less inspiring than #1.  Visibly and audibly jazzed by a big enthusiastic hometown crowd, they had a wee bit extra zing in their strings.  Front loaded with the great new songs, reaching back to favorite old ones, The Garden scorching the earth, Accidental Wives ripping out Safe Ship Harbored:  it gets no better.  Then the Accidentals, and they're great.  Tempered by the fires of grueling national tours, riding the confidence of a well-written, well-received major label album, they are not the same kids I saw exactly two years earlier.  They are kids who can do basically anything.  Did not play my favorite, Crows Feet, or their new single Earthbound:  instead gave the crowd tastes of some new tracks recorded the day before.  Memorial Day is a great sweet song.  Parking Lot is the most fun.  The End is a complete Olivia pinch, played amazingly.  In the new year I am going to strive to see more unfamiliar acts, I may have gotten too comfortable in 2017, but this was the way to end it in style.  Only regret:  wearing long johns.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

CW Album Ideas

I was bored on Christmas Day.  So I wrote this insane missive and dropped it into the email inbox of my favorite band, the Crane Wives.  I was almost immediately horrified at my own chutzpah, and quickly sent another titled Disregard:  "You are people with jobs, not my fantasy football team.  Merry Christmas."  But.  The next time I saw him, Dan Rickabus gave me a big hug:  said he totally identified with geeking out over your favorite music, and the second email proved I was coming from a place of crazed fandom rather than entitlement.  So, here, preserved in amber.  I stand by the hybrid idea.

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So.  Hiya.  Completely unsolicited ideas from your number one local schmuck.  It's been mentioned that you're considering rerecording songs from your first two albums, because of rights snafus to the original masters.  I HAD SOME THOUGHTS SURPRISE SURPRISE.  I envision this as something to be sold at shows as souvenirs, something to get people through till a new album (in 2019?) Three ways to go came to me, and they are as follows.  (I have very little else to do on actual Christmas.)

A.  RERECORDED TUNES ONLY
Pro:  maximization of renewed revenue from songs, but not recordings, you already own
Con:  longtime fans will have all this already, will be dubious of added value
I see this as a quick n' dirty session, maybe two weeks at Centennial, Dan and Ben on the boards, waking up the old songs with your new rawk sound.  Just enough difference from the old versions to hold interest for the hardcore, and a good way to get these songs into the hands of the new fan.

1. Safe Ship, Harbored 2. Shallow River 3. Strangler Fig 4. Counting Sheep 5. October 6. Hole In The Silver Lining 7. Tongues and Teeth 8. Caleb Trask 9. Show Your Fangs 10. Once And For All 11. Margaret (era appropriate, never released....hook for the old fan!) 12. New Colors 13. Easier 14. I Ain't Done

B. TRUE GREATEST HITS DISC
Pro:  shows the breadth of your whole career, minimizes time spent rerecording, adds new songs
Con:  duplication with what you already have for sale
In seven years, you have produced an impressive body of work.  This would be a bit of a victory lap till your next move becomes apparent.

1. High Horse 2. New Colors 3. Hard Sell 4. Tongues And Teeth 5. Empty Page 6. October 7.Rockslide 8. Easier 9. Down The River 10. Take Me To War 11. Strangler Fig 12. Safe Ship, Harbored 13. Once And For All 14. Volta 15. Sleeping Giants

C. HYBRID
Pro:  no duplication with current discs
Con:  leaves out the last three years
This would mix the five new songs of 2017, plus eight rerecords, plus Margaret.  I really like this idea.

1. High Horse 2. New Colors 3. Strangler Fig 4. Empty Page 5. Tongues and Teeth 6. Take Me To War 7. Show Your Fangs 8. Once And For All 9. October 10. Daydreamer 11. I Ain't Done 12. Margaret 13. Safe Ship, Harbored 14. Volta

Friday, December 08, 2017

Live Music Log, November 2017

11 2 17  Nicholas James Thomasma #2/RALSTON BOWLES/LEXI ADAMS  Creston Brewery, Grand Rapids  Last bonus show from my foot injury:  would not have been able to attend a Sunday night show otherwise, so uh, yay blister from hell?  No Schultz sightings, sadly, but I had a tasty cider while listening to these three very different musicians play songs and tell the stories behind them, in the round.  This, the first night in a new "Songtellers" series, was Nick's baby, and he tried (in vain) to hush the quaffers a few times...but those who wanted to get something from this were able to. In this more sober, contemplative setting, Nick shone, for me, much more than at Harvest.  Thoughtful, heartfelt songs, drawn from his life, played in this intimate setting:  I found it very appealing and affecting.  This is a man who loves his avocation, his vocation, and his city.  Lexi Adams was someone I had seen around in Kzoo (often at Dooley's aborted Craft Draft 2 Go residency) but had not heard yet. Now I have, and she's good. Moved back here from six years in Nashville. Still young, needs to deepen, but good.  Highlight was a song that felt more personal than the others called "You Got Me."  Ralston Bowles is a local legend, a raconteur, Elvis Costello hat at a rakish angle.  Life has been a challenge for him, but he keeps meeting it with his wry, observational songs.  He ribbed Lexi for strumming while she talked, and I swear he did it just so he could sing a song about asking for forgiveness right at her.  His lighter songs and heavier songs meshed well (tone and content, not volume);  I hope to hear more from him soon.

11 3 17 Kaitlin Rose #2/Carrie McFerrin #11/STACY KOVIAK-DAVISON  Webster's, Kalamazoo  Another in-the-round show, with the three singers taking turns rather than playing sets.  I really like the variety this engenders, especially when it's just people with acoustic guitars, which can get samey.  Kaitlin Rose has no chill, and this is a good thing:  intense songs sung intensely, while compulsively prowling the performing area.  (Lil less room for prowling in tiny Webster's than the Old Dog stage...)  "Bad Mother" is an anthem for the ages, and I hope it finds a way out to the wider world.  Carrie has never lacked for confidence, she will say or do just about anything that pops into her head, but she is still somehow deepening as a performer: what she plays sticks with you harder than even a year ago, if that makes any sense.  And she played a song so funny that I stopped breathing for a couple moments. Stacy Koviak-Davison is the leader of the band Treading Bleu and a former bandmate of Dooley in Dooley Noted; first time hearing her, and I liked it a great deal.  Brought the chill that Kaitlin can't.  She plays solo very seldom, so we got to hear songs that were very old and very new, non-band material.  Wish I'd rolled tape.  I find it strange that they allow us ruffians to enter the rarefied atmosphere of a schmancy hotel steakhouse for these tiny music shows, but I hope they don't wise up any time soon.

11 4 17  REGINA SPEKTOR  20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids I don't go to shows by national or international artists all that often: the cost is always high, the crowds are always large and noisy, and there is so much good stuff right here.  Made an exception here, even for the hated 20 Monroe Live, and oh my Jeebus was it the right call.  Has to be in my top five shows ever.  Soviet-born Spektor came out on stage, all alone, sat down at her piano, and whispered "I love you" into her mic, and that set the tone:  intimate yet raucous, hushed and celebratory, sacred and profane.  (Sooo many f bombs.)  Despite a bad head cold, she held 1,200 people in the palm of her tiny hand for 90 minutes.  No band, just her on a grand piano, electric guitar on two songs, or a keyboard with accompanying drumstick-on-wooden-chair.  She told stories, and bantered with the audience, and was just an all around delight.  Favorite line:  "I wasn't born here.  I'm a refugee.  I'm the one they're REALLY scared of."  Musical highlights:  "Ode To A Politician," "Don't Leave Me," "Better," and the encore "Samson" that I filmed here.  Reaffirmed for me that there is nothing so powerful as a righteously pissed off woman with an instrument and a strong voice.
11 10 17  Ladies Songwriter Night:  Darcy Wilkin #8/HOPIE JO/Kaitlin Rose #3/Lexi Adams #2  Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo  I really enjoy these multi-artist hootenannies, if you couldn't tell.  This one was not quite in the round, more like two half hour sets each (which made for a pretty long night, with flagging attention from the Old Doggians).  Darcy was low key Darcyish, with added Nesmith. "Ransom Street" came out of retirement, a paean to summer in the city with the old folks that really makes you feel the sun killing you. Kaitlin was restlessly Kaitlinish, at one point pulling the cord out of her guitar with the stage stalking. I've given up mostly on taking notes, but I think she played "Dreamt Of Montana," an impossibly lovely song.  Lexi Adams played much the same material as at Creston, but with many more covers, most affecting of which was a soaring "Angel of Montgomery."  Hopie Jo leads a band called Peach Lavender, and like Stacy Koviak-Davison, doesn't play solo often, so we got to hear her working out how to get across her message without a band, and she did it well.  She sounds like Zooey Deschanel THINKS she sounds:  charming tiny voice with big ideas.  A good night of stellar tunes.

11 11 17 May Erlewine #8  Gopherwood Concert Series at the Eagles Lodge, Cadillac  I bought five raffle tickets at Harvest Gathering.  With one of them, I won ice cream for five, yay!  I had to go home Saturday night.  In Sunday's drawing, apparently, I won two passes to this concert series in Cadillac; that is, two seats to every show in the run.  I didn't know this till almost two months later, at which point I had missed a Lindsay Lou show (s'allright, it was a Crane Wives night).  But a dude tracked me down at the Frauenthal and hooked me up with my prize, and so off to the north went Rich Wojtas and I.  This was the Mother Lion show again, with the candles and the poems and the red dress amid the black shirts, but it was such a different vibe than Bell's.  Up North is where May is loved by all: about a third of that room knew her personally.  A long high second floor meeting hall, packed to the brim with mostly older folks primed for folk music and coming away mostly satisfied.  I met Frank Youngman.  I could not stop myself from shouting along with Never One Thing.  I somehow shook May's hand without perspiring on it.  So worth the two hour drive.

11 16 17 Morgan Haner #2/THE FOUNDING  GR Live at Home at the BOB, Grand Rapids
               KARISA WILSON  Grand Rapids Public Library, Main Branch
               The Founding #2/PEAT IN THE CREEL  Wealthy Theatre, Grand Rapids  Cutting my hours at work led to a monster silver lining, a Triple Show Thursday.  WYCE's noon broadcast from the BOB featured Morgan Haner, a friend of the Crane Wives who now runs sound at Founders, and writes and sings wry heartfelt songs about the things that shape us.  Think Vic Chesnutt, or Robbie Fulks in low gear.  Not sure how anyone stays that nice after living in Chicago so long.  He was followed by an Irish band, formerly Blarney Castle, six members, all 23.  I want to hate them, for their youth and talent, but they are too skilled to shut out.  Interest was piqued enough to check out their show later that night....but first, I stopped at the GR Main Library for Music In The Stacks.  Literally:  a couple dozen chairs were set up between the biographies, and Ms. Wilson played in front of the great old windows facing east.  She is a longtime fixture in our local scene, very glad to finally catch her performing; she doesn't get out as much because of demands on her time as a music teacher.  Thoughtful ballads, skilled strumming, covers included Billie Holiday and Ernest Tubb (!).  Bought her album, tastefully arranged neo-soul, the ever present Max Lockwood on bass.  then, off to the beautiful Wealthy Theatre for a passel of Irishness.  Peat In The Creel were more traditional in sound than the Founding, four members ranging in age from late twenties to late fifties, one woman on flute, cracking jokes and tossing out jigs and ditties like it was no thing.  The Founding impressed me.  Traditional music is not my go-to genre:  I admire the skill that goes into it without always enjoying it.  But these youngsters, numbering six, the only woman on vocals and flute (again), put enough idiosyncratic spin on their original music to maintain and build interest in the casual listener.  Between songs, the band's (more or less) leader, Joel, told the story of how they came together, and Jesus is this kid funny.  I mean, his comic timing!  If this music thing hits the crapper, he could set up shop in Dr. Grins.  I am not really that easily impressed by people who think they're funny, this guy really is.  Should mention all six members were highly skilled on their instruments;  whatever they are putting in the water in Kalamazoo, I hope they never replace the pipes.

11 17 17  The JetBeats #2/Dangerville #2  Billy's, Grand Rapids  I was accompanied out by my friend Julie (her idea!) to this night of Old Time Rock and Roll in Eastown.  Dangerville are proud dinosaurs, amps to eleven, off color jokes between songs, hit em hard and fast one two three four, rockabilly psychobilly rah rah rah.  Seemed obnoxious in March, somehow more fun tonight.  It had been too long since I had seen the JetBeats:  AJ Dunning, formerly of the Verve Pipe, was a member for a whole year, yet here I was watching his swan song with the band.  I love this concept so much:  the Beatles with Yosemite Sam shooting at their feet to make them dance.  Like how you imagine a show at the Kaiserkeller might have sounded.  I love their originals too, especially Top Of The Line and Backstabber.  Also loved that every kind of Grand Rapidian was out there on the dance floor:  all ages, races and genders, boogying down.  Almost made me wish I could dance.

11 24 17  THE WILD SPARKLINGS/STRANGE COUNTRY  Webster's, Kalamazoo  I tracked Matt and Carrie separately in the past (though I don't think I've ever seen Matt without Carrie), so for their new duo name, we'll call it a first show.  I can't claim much objectivity any more when it comes to Borr and McFerrin;  these are great people and good friends who play music I like very much.  That said, the new name seems to have lit a fire under Mr. Borr:  he had two new very good songs on this night.  Carrie is writing too, a godsend since her quantity has long lagged behind her quality.  Acoustics, harmonies, an occasional Laurie Laing assist:  this is what nights are for.  First time officially seeing Strange Country too, though I have seen Mike List and Pete Weir playing with others around town several times by now.  They are well named:  straight country bent and twisted into a shape that country music detractors can appreciate.  It was also fun seeing them play their shitkickers in the rarefied atmosphere of Webster's, the land of the $28 salad.  Thank you all for existing.

11 25 17  THE DACIA BRIDGES PROJECT  Harmony Hall, Grand Rapids Went into this one semi-blind, based solely on the participation of Sarah Halsey Fuerst, of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and the Corn Fed Girls.  In this band, she is on electric bass, first time I've seen her play it, along with some other Kalamazoo ringers on violin and drums, backing up a force of nature with an acoustic guitar named Dacia Bridges.  Some more scratching of that Vox Vidorra itch, with opinionated soul with occasional dancey leanings played on organic instruments for a hell of a sound.  If Karisa Wilson is mostly placid, then Dacia Bridges is mostly turbid:  gleefully stirring the waters to see what comes up.  First time in this room since discovering Dooley here, which led to somehow making a million friends in Kalamazoo.  Had some tasty lamb soup.

11 30 17 Olivia Mainville & The Aquatic Troupe, Steve Hilger and J. Oscar Bittinger at GR Live, Home At The BOB, Grand Rapids  I wasn't sure I should even count this as a show--I won't count it in the numbering--since the Troupe played maybe 25 minutes, at noon, and I barely paid attention to the other acts.  It amounted to me hanging out with friends, which I haven't successfully done on a regular basis in over twenty years.  They are so painfully young, but so talented, so genuine.  I am not worthy.  But I'm sticking around anyway.  Notable:  Adam was trying to decide whether to spring for tickets to the Grammys for $200 a pop (he's a member of the Academy as a producer), asked my opinion.  I said few people get the opportunity to see so many of their heroes in one room at once.  He went for it, and blamed me, so if Jack And The Bear don't make rent this month it is apparently my fault.  Olivia's Danger Death Ray sounded so good on live radio:  the sunniest ode to necrophilia ever.  Mr. Bittinger was talented, as was Mr. Hilger (excellent intertwined acoustic lines with a partner whose name I did not catch), but I was tuned out.  Baaaad blogger.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Live Music Log, October 2017

10 11 17  Open Mic at Louie's Trophy House, Kalamazoo  The lengthy gap in shows between this and the last one is where I took a twelve day trip out to the Pacific Northwest.  I used to look forward greatly to these trips....but now I know people.  I missed them, and I missed a LOT of good music while I was gone.  In Bend, Oregon, I missed the Accidentals by a day;  in none of the towns I stopped in was any live music to see on the night I was there.  So, on my way back into Michigan, it occurred to me that I could attend Carrie's open mic for the first time, so I veered off to Kalamazoo.  It was really good to see her, and Kevin Hamman, and Lisa Moaiery, and maybe Ken?  Maybe Darcy?  For the first time in my life, I have more friends than fingers, but of course most of them are sixty damn miles away.  John Roche was grave and gravelly. Kate Arcangeli was earnest and high pitched, with a keyboard instead of guitar.  (Her last song was acapella, frickin fearless.)  Tyler Wood was memorable for playing guitar with only one arm:  he strums with his nubbin, and sings very well.  Kevin Hamman and Mike List were both great. Timothy Patrie was another keyboardist, with a flawless high tenor. (No one ever needs to hear Candle In The Wind ever again, however.)  Lisa Moaiery and Carrie ended the night.  I wish I could come out more often on random nights, but not if it meant working mornings, because screw that noise.

10 12 17  The War And Treaty #2/THE HACKY TURTLES  Founders, Grand Rapids  This band is so powerful that the crowd at Founders (mostly) shut the hell up and marveled at what they were seeing and hearing:  a hurricane of amplified blues, of down and dirty gospel, a kind of revival meeting that atheists desperately want to attend.  The core of the band is husband and wife Michael and Tanya Trotter, who moved from Baltimore to Albion and began making music.  When it came time to tour, they put together a phenomenal band from around the area, tight, professional, multiracial, grinning because they know they're good. The energy pouring off the two massively powerful singers during the show was overwhelming;  I am afraid that Michael in particular may have an aneurysm on stage someday.  They are now touring the South, and I hope the South gives them back, because there's a chance they won't.  Opening was the Hacky Turtles, a kind of Go Rounds Lite:  no bass, funny hats, highly versatile, guitars funky or plinky at turns,  trumpet and banjo making appearances.  Slight faux-Caribbean flavor. Like 311 had gone to finishing school.  Praising with faint damns a bit here, but they were entertaining.

10 13 17 Lisa Moaiery #2 Harvey's, Kalamazoo
               RIVER BEND  Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo  This night was kind of weird and unfinished, lotsa ships passing in the night.  Started on the pleasantly ramshackle deck at Harvey's for some of Lisa's tunes, a bit awkward since few others there seemed to be there specifically for her, but she has some very thoughtful songs and a relaxed way of delivering them. Headed over to Louie's intending to see Jesse Ray...but the show started way later than Facebook had indicated.  A young kid named Jacob Rollins played the blues, with massively impressive slide guitar licks and extremely awkward vocals.  Clearly a disciple of Son House and Charlie Patton, but no young white boy in 2017 should be singing about picking cotton.  I left there and went to Old Dog to catch River Bend, a cover band from Otsego which Kaitlin Rose sometimes fronts when it's time to release her inner Ronstadt.  Eric the sound dude was on drums. It was inconsequential but super fun, a good break for her I'm sure from her own emotionally laden songs.  They did Badfinger's No Matter What, a nice slightly obscure surprise.  Nothing I saw this night rocked my world, but it all keeps the hamster running in the wheel.  Music in, life out.

10 14 17 May Erlewine #7  Bell's, Kalamazoo  This was the triumphant coming out party for the Mother Lion album, a small tour with a big band, playing the whole album with only a few other tunes thrown in.  Very sedate (the rare Bell's chairs made an appearance), dim lighting with red predominant, adoring audience:  the kind of show where the artist occasionally reads some poetry aloud and is listened to.  A tiiiiny bit too precious compared to the all out joyfests she puts on with the Motivations, but a great experience nonetheless.  Opening violin pyrotechnics by Katie Van Dusen, who also played with May's band.

10 20 17  REDEMPTION NIGHT:  MATT GABRIEL/Carrie McFerrin #10/Megan Dooley #13/Brian Koenigsknecht #6/Darcy Wilkin #7/Olivia Mainville (with Brandon James) #14  Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo  This is probably the pinnacle of my life as any kind of public person:  a show I conceived, packaged, and sold, with a lot of help amid the dead ends.  I had a very musical marriage:  we met in the mtv.com chatroom when I mentioned the band Supertramp, her improbable favorite.  After it dissolved, great swaths of music were now minefields of bad feelings.  I wanted to stop feeling sad every time I heard the Beatles' I Will or Domestic Problems' Untitled, among many others.  So the idea:  ask some of my new musician friends to play these songs, to reclaim them, to make new happy memories to at least partially overwrite the old sad ones. Redeem the songs:  REDEMPTION NIGHT.  It first started forming in my wee noggin back in May, and I started talking about it to a few people in June.  Megan Dooley's enthusiastic reaction to the concept led me to pursue it vigorously, and Darcy Wilkin's advice and assistance is what got the thing to the finish line.  Three attempts to put this together as a house show all failed:  I was about to give up when Darcy suggested Old Dog Tavern as a site, $5 a head instead of $20, costs amortized across the masses.  Confusions over who could play what dates where led me to ask more singers than I feasibly could feature....so of course in the end I featured almost all of them. Oct. 12 would have been my tenth anniversary, the 20th was the closest to that dread date I could get.  Kaitlin Rose Parmenter graciously let me have that date in exchange for keeping Matt Gabriel, already signed for that date, on the bill.  I didn't know Matt, but his intense melodic musings fit well in the end as an opening set, and I was glad to meet him and hear his talent.  Carrie was a hoot, bantering Carrieishly between bouts of smashing my heart to splinters with Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit," Inara George's "Fools In Love," and a slow version of her "The Wolves." Ably assisted by Mike List on lap steel:  I wish I had more time in between vacation and foot problems to corral more collaborations between these amazing people.  Dooley had refused to tell me what she picked to play off my list of Redemption Songs; she walked up in her long white pimp coat, flashed a shark smile, and completely destroyed me with "I Will," the song I had sung over the phone to my wife that (we both later agreed) had clinched it, and Bright Eyes' "First Day of My Life," a song she was obsessed with. Her own redemption song:  Coldplay's "The Scientist." I didn't talk to her much that night, she was back at the cool kids table while I was on the edge of my seat at the stage, but it meant a lot to me that she was always behind this. Brian was....feeling jovial.  No pain.  Loose limbed.  Dude was drunk.  But that voice!  His redemption song:  Tom Petty's "A Face In The Crowd." Carrie and Laurie Laing added harmonies on a couple tunes, Dooley duetted on a killer "Please Call Me Baby," my beloved "Last Of The Venues" was played, then he finished up with a masterful rendering of Supertramp's "Downstream," a piano ballad he found a way to blow us away with on acoustic guitar.  Darcy was really battling uphill against an increasingly disinterested crowd of also rans, but I sure appreciated her efforts.  "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" was affecting.  Then, for TMBG's "She's An Angel," she called me up on stage to botch pushing one key on a Casio, and ambushed me a little by getting me to sing on the last chorus.  Mortifyingly thrilling.  Another highlight: her original, "Letters In A Drawer," very appropriate to the theme.  Olivia was coming from another gig in Zeeland so she played last: she had no connection to the other players except possibly Dooley, so I was very grateful for her participation.  She redeemed the hell out of "The Man Who Sold The World,' then played a bunch of new songs, one so new it has no name yet, as well as the Boswell Sisters' 1934 hit "Everybody Loves My Baby," then Brandon (along for the ride on googly eyed bass) closed the show with "The Deal."  There were half formed plans for a grand finale where I would lead the ensemble in Da Vinci's Notebook's "Enormous Penis," but I could not herd the cats together, and I was feeling too overwhelmed to fight off stage fright anyhow.  The crowd was loud and frequently disinterested, none of my family could make it, and my foot was in a boot from cellulitis.  It was perfect anyway.  Thank you to all who sang, all who came, and Ken Campbell for filming it.  It's all downhill from here. And who doesn't like sledding?

10 21 17  Thunderbolt & Lightfoot #4/Gifts Or Creatures #2/Brian Koenigsknecht #7  Rootead, Kalamazoo  Beautiful show in a beautiful space on an unusually beautiful late indian summer day.  Started off at Carrie's Backyard Boutique, with Bride of Fleckenstein once again jamming acoustically while clothing was sold;  from there, Laurie accompanied me over to the (really hard to find) new venue, Rootead, in an old factory next to the Kal-Tone Guitar craftery. Sedate compared to the previous night's rowdy:  thoughtful songs and arrangements in an airy (tiny bit hipster) space.  (Unfinished:  there were some jokes about the chasm of bricks immediately behind the performers.)  T&L have possibly the best harmonies in Kalamazoo and that is saying something;  I hope for more material from them. (Mine your Corn Fed Girls past!) Gifts or Creatures, ostensibly headliners, played in the middle, a set very close to what they played at Harvest Gathering but only as a duo this time.  I get the definite sense that Brandon Foote could melt our faces off with that guitar should he so choose, but he uses effects and techniques to soothe and inform instead.  And Bethany is the perfect partner for their little historical curio songs.  Brian played last, tonight in a very sober vest and proper trousers, with his bud Geoff on guitar and a string duo: absolutely pindrop beautiful.  (Let me be clear, I like my Brian both ways.)

10 22 17 Megan Dooley #14  Kent District Library, Cascade Branch, Grand Rapids  I am adding this show in two months late because apparently KDL deletes its events and I completely forgot it happened.  Only two days after Redemption Night, too.  Dumb me.  Dooley does not like early shows, though her voice does:  she sounds so good in an environment in which she can be heard.  I'm sad that she's retired so many originals, but her cover choices remain impeccable:  at least one song from every decade, she says.  Once again sang the reefer song to a roomful of children.  She's a shark, but she's taken the pledge:  friends not food.

10 22 17  Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys #4/Dan Rickabus #3  Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids  My bad foot meant I couldn't work, and could instead attend this Sunday show, part of the Farewell Huggy Bear tour.  Mark Lavengood is leaving the band to stay in GR, and they seem to be taking the opportunity to ditch the "Flatbellys" name.  Dan opened the show with a few Void/Journal numbers on ukulele, with a couple of Flatbellys guest shots. I didn't take notes, so I can't remember everything I'd like to, but this was SUPER FUN TIMES.  Lindsay Rilko's voice is the finest honey, and the three men are No Slouches Either. Top notch musicians playin' around, to a crowd that kinda sorta listened (I hate you, Pyramid Scheme).  Hightlight:  "In Transit," a Flatbellys tune just released as a Lavengood solo single, and the grand finale, John Hartford's "Get No Better," in which Dan, Emilee, Molly Bouwsma-Schultz, May Erlewine (who also guested on her own song "The River Jordan"), and Max Lockwood joined the jamboree.

10 25 17  Open Mic at Louie's Trophy House, Kalamazoo  I seriously can't remember anything musical from this night, other than T Rex Roth's intense reading of several Pat Carroll songs.  But I had fun with people who seem to like me, and some really tasty chicken wings, and that is Living My Best Life right now.

10 27 17  The Accidentals #3/The Crane Wives #35/JAKE ALLEN  Frauenthal Theatre, Muskegon  Jack Clark co-runs the Red House Concert Series that stages such great shows in the Grand Haven museum;  he was one of the people I talked to on the road to Redemption Night.  This was his Big Fish:  a thousand seater with the biggest band in Michigan right now.  I first saw the Accidentals and the Crane Wives at the same time;  the numbers above tell you where my loyalties lie...but the Accidentals are more and more impressive, as their road tested skills and ever-improving songwriting propel them across the country on Sony's dime.  I love the Wives' songs, first and foremost, but the Accidentals achieve a solid wall of sound, with only three (or four) players, that is complex, melodic, and affecting as hell.  "Crow's Feet" is an amazing song.  Other highlights:  ""Memorial Day," "Earthbound," "The Sound A Watch Makes When Enveloped In Cotton," the company of Julie, and the grandeur of the Frauenthal Theatre.  Kate said she thought this might be the biggest crowd they've ever played for!  There was a new Emilee song, "Volta," and both bands joined forces for a roaring "Sleeping Giants." Second Wives show I've ever seen, after Harvest Gathering, with nothing from the first two albums:  they can see the future from here.  Jake Allen is a guitar wizard, also in the Accidentals' touring band, who has good songs but somehow sounds like a CCM artist to me, I need more time with him.

10 28 17  Domestic Problems #2  The Intersection, Grand Rapids
                The Crane Wives #36  Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids  The old love battled the new love, and the new love won.  DP is a classic party band with a horn section and brassy original tunes from the heyday of GRD Rock, in the late nineties;  they only play a few times a year, so I bought tickets early for this event.  With my injured foot, I had to sit down in the back, which compromised my enjoyment immensely, and also reminded me strongly of the time my ex wife and I went to see them at Billy's, and her agoraphobia forced into the room BEHIND the stage, where we could hear but not see. The band were dressed in Stars Wars themed costumes.  Billy, the singer, had a Leia wig and a T shirt reading "Don't Call Me Princess."  They were to play their album Play in its entirety....for the second set.  The first set was full of sweaty fun, but as the second started, I was watching the time, not wanting to miss any Wives.  When buddy Dan threw up the bat signal, I left the Intersection without a backward glance, got my illegally parked car out of the lot somehow without hitting any costumed revelers in line for the eighties dance party, and got to the Scheme just in time.  Dan: Mario.  Ben: some kinda Boy Scout character I didn't know.  Emilee:  Han Solo. Kate:  almost unrecognizable as Tina from Bob's Burgers.  The new song, Volta, was repeated.  The safe ship was harbored.  Stefany had a toothache.  These are my favorite songs, and my favorite people:  no way to really deny it.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Introductions

Matt Gabriel is a singer/songwriter from Grand Rapids who has spent over ten years honing his bluesy folky sound.  Making his Old Dog debut tonight. His next local show will be at Our Brewing in Holland on November 24.

Carrie McFerrin is not from here, but she is OF here now:  raising her family, hosting the open mic at Louie's every Wednesday night, and playing her swanky twang for our lucky ears, often with her musical partner Matthew Borr.  (Band name to be revealed next week Friday on this stage!) She will also be playing in the round with Kaitlin Rose and Stacy Koviak-Davison at Webster's on Nov. 3.

In many ways, Megan Dooley IS Kalamazoo music.  15 years of playing her own great originals and songs from the vast American songbook, she has crafted a lasting legacy of music, and she is nowhere near done yet. She will be at the Cascade Library on Sunday, and at the Hilliards Corner lounge next Sunday.

After being a valued part of the Kalamazoo scene for almost 20 years, this is Brian Koenigsknecht's moment:  widespread acclaim for his album From The Shallows To the Deep, powerful live shows, and collaborations with just about everyone in town.  Tomorrow night at Rootead is just such a night, with Gifts or Creatures, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and a string section.

Darcy Wilkin has a lot of irons in the fire: longtime membership in the folk group The Corn Fed Girls, the long-running WMUK show Grassroots, which she hosts with her father, Mark Sahlgren, and now she's venturing out to play solo.  She is playing Nov. 2 at the Richland library, and the 24th at Louie's along with Brian and Jonathan Timm.

From Holland, Olivia Mainville is the youngest act here tonight, but she has accomplished a great deal, with much more to come.  Constant touring with her Aquatic Troupe has paid off in great sound and wide recognition.  Her new single, Danger Death Ray, comes out on Halloween.  She plays with Brandon James tomorrow night at Grand Armory in Grand Haven.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Olivia Mainville and the Aquatic Troupe, "Danger Death Ray"

Olivia Mainville just turned 21, and she's already on the third reinvention of her sound. First was earnest balladeer, then lively pop-folk party music, and now, with this song and some other new ones I've heard, we're heading into black magic purveyed with a smile. Danger Death Ray is a cautionary tale: you can love the dead, but maybe don't LOOOVE the dead. Doomy tympani punctuation to lively gypsy swing, anchored by Adam Schreiber's idiosyncratic timekeeping, Bleu Quick's trusty trombone (the only surviving element from the first LP), and a welcome jaunty violin darting around the periphery like a tipsy hummingbird. Recommended for fans of Gogol Bordello, Davina and the Vagabonds, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and early Andrew Bird. This video clip is an in-studio live recording, NOT the final studio version: for that, check iTunes and Bandcamp, rather appropriately, on Halloween.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Live Music Log, September 2017

9 2 17 Brian Koenigsknecht #4  Harvey's, Kalamazoo  I was about an hour late, for reasons I already can't remember, but it was a low key show, just a dude playing for mostly his own friends on the pleasantly ramshackle upstairs deck. I remember Ken Campbell, Jeremy Rilko, and I think John Mickley?  Chuck for a while?  Istanbul Sky is a man-weepy masterpiece.  Last of the Venues is the best song I know about that feeling after a good show, not wanting the night to end. And I love hearing How To Rest, even in a much lower register than nature intended.

9 2 17  Lazy Genius #2/HOLLYWOOD MAKEOUT  Mulligan's Pub, Grand Rapids  After all the folky rock and rocky folk I've been partaking of, I felt the need for something snottier, so I ascended fifty miles and descended fifteen years for a late rawk show at Ye Olde Shithole.  This kind of insouciant noise rock will never completely die, not while guitars and amps are relatively cheap, it just won't make it past the local pubs especially often any more.  Bands usually play in reverse order from billing, so when Lazy Genius started I thought they were CARL, even though I saw them play last winter at Long Road with Chance Jones.  At that previous show, I was impressed by their dynamic sound and thoughtful lyrics;  here, on an ancient shitty PA (probably still from the original Intersection, once housed here) mixed by a sound guy wearing boxing gloves, all was sludge. I saw him listen to the dire din coming from the monitors and actually nod his head in satisfaction. Sludgy vocals, sludgy guitars, occasional desultory tambourine clangs from a girl who resembled Mindy Kaling.  Will see again, but never here.  Hollywood Makeout fared a little better, since they played slightly quieter or at least with more space between notes, giving the dodgy PA more time to catch up.  Machine-gun precise drummer, theatrically showy bassist, singer/guitarist who is gorgeous in that Tina Weymouth just-doin-my-job way.  Again, need to see in better venue.  I didn't see it happen, but on the night I was there, the bouncer (allegedly) pushed a disruptive customer out the door BY HER BREASTS.  It caused a social media shitstorm, of whose effectiveness I do not know.  But even if this assault, by bar staff, didn't happen or happen differently, it is all too easy to believe it did.  Years and years of unearned anger and privilege, of curdled tattoo misogyny, have soaked into the walls, to be time-released into the patrons as the paint peels.  Mulligan's is bad.  Do not go there, do not spend your money there.

9 8 17 Olivia Mainville & The Aquatic Troupe #13  New Holland Brewing, Holland  It seems vaguely treasonous to say this, but I might have the most fun at an Olivia show out of all the acts I go see.  These slightly brain damaged young people seem genuinely enthused to have me around.  They joke with me, with each other, with the audience, during the show.  They give me cider.  They eat my pinwheels.  I hung out with her parents, for gods sake.  Dwayne and the Rock Johnsons!  Brandon goes off the rails and sings Disney tunes, Olivia looks on exasperated and secretly tickled, Bleu is my ally in lobbying for old songs, Adam sits back and benevolently observes the circus. Good to see Steve, lovely to meet Janet.  (Olivia's actual parents, not Anna Paquin and Gilda Radner as appearances might suggest.)  As these two videos suggest, Brandon's influence is sending Olivia down a darker, stranger path, but her sound is still uniquely her own.

9 9 17 Megan Dooley #12  Crane's Pie Pantry, Fennville  Dooley can only be Dooley.  She has no artifice, no guile, no bullshit manufacturing capability.  This early afternoon show by the Pie Hole found her hungover and grumpy, and she let us the audience know it.  She kinda yelled at me, then gave me her fries.  And she sounded wonderful; her brain might not like it early, but her vocal cords sure do.  Part Of Your World rang out among the apples like a crystal clear bell.  Whistled La Vie En Rose pierced every heart.  And the reefer song, again, to the small children.  She is the greatest.  Later that day, she took the first steps toward recording her new album.  And then the next day, her cat messed up her hand really badly.  Watch this space.
9 9 17 Papa Vegas #4/Crane Wives #33/MISS ATOMIC  Perrin Brewing, Comstock Park (Fifth Anniversary Party)  The past and the present collide in a remote part of GR.  Perrin is a brewery with a pub added after some success came their way;  the location is not the best, way the heck out off the main drag beyond Comstock Park.  A stage and a series of beer tents and booths were set up in the backyard, and parking was way the hell down the street.  Coming from Fennville, I thought I saw Kate walking down the road, thought, naaah.  Parked in a hay field planted on undeveloped industrial land, and promptly ran into Dan and Kate, who WERE on foot.  Even the artists had to park in the boonies?  This was a Lonely Show, knew no one here, buncha drunken louts, dudes broing down, attractive women with really homely men, so much beerness.  Miss Atomic wanted to be the Killers sooooo bad.  There were some melodies there, but the Brandon Flowersisms (including a white blazer in the blazing heat) kept me from digging too deeply for them.  Early 90s soft rock is coming back it seems. The Wives were good, they're never not good, but I was feeling so out of place that I can't say I enjoyed it much.  Emilee was freaked out audibly by the buzzing, diving quadracopter. Some dude behind me:  "Hey, that chick looks like Michelle Branch." There was a weird echo on Dan's drums that I kinda liked, like a Jamaican dub sort of effect.  I took Kate and Dan to Fricano's, which they had never had, and tried not to squee like a fangirl through dinner.  Pizza meant I missed most of Jake Kershaw, a 17 year old kid with lightning fast guitar skills.  He was playing mostly warmed over cock rock, but he was playing it so freaking well that he definitely has a bright future.  I did see him close with Hendrix's Voodoo Child, which was genuinely astonishing.  Most of the crowd left after young Kershaw got done:  it was getting cold, and Papa Vegas apparently isn't a draw any more, which saddens me.  They sounded great, but they looked tired (except for Joel's daughter, new to the band on keyboards, adorably hopping up and down to her dad's songs) and they played just less than an hour.  No Resolve, no Never, but two really good new ones, indicating they're keeping to their schedule of one new album every nine years.

9 15-16 17  EARTHWORK HARVEST GATHERING Earthwork Farm, Lake City  GREGORY STOVETOP/E MINOR/Thunderbolt & Lightfoot #2/NICHOLAS JAMES & THE BANDWAGON/Seth Bernard #3/JIVE AT FIVE/Go Rounds #3/RED SEA PEDESTRIANS/Steve Leaf & The Ex Pats #2/Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish #2/The Northern Fires #2/SARI BROWN/ANNE ERLEWINE/BILLY DAVIS/MICHAEL BEAUCHAMP-COHEN/GIFTS OR CREATURES/Stepladders #2/VESPRE/FRED ZEPPELIN/Crane Wives #34/DANIEL KAHN/Dan Rickabus #2/Public Access #3  Another festival....but a very different one.  For all its Michigan leanings, Hoxeyville is very much a traditional hippie festival;  Harvest feels utterly unique.  Very short 45 minute sets by everyone, from the unknown to the highly famous.  A robust and extensive volunteer culture that could have you washing dishes alongside the musicians you came to see.  Over a hundred acts over three days, carefully curated by Seth Bernard, Bill Chesney and a select few others.  I could not stay for Sunday, sadly, but I sure as hell made the most of my weekend.  (And learned my lesson:  a hotel room in Lake City meant I traded some connectedness for a good night's sleep.)  Spotted Dan Lauterbur as I walked in, a good sign that I was gonna know people.  The biggest difference by far between now and a year ago is just the sheer number of acquaintances I have, people who seem to like to see me.  They can't ALL be brain damaged, can they?  I kicked off my festival in the century-old Bernard barn (smaller than ours, but much better kept) with Gregory Stovetop. Long beard, wild eyes, Tom Petty T shirt. Much talked up by Dan and Seth Bernard of late, this set was solo, with a flying V and a drum machine.  A small dervish child in front of the stage stole the show.  It was very Murrican, and it was okay.  He played a full band set later in the evening to widespread acclaim, but I chose a different adventure.  Next to the Hill Stage (where I and a big big big log were to get well acquainted over the next two days) for a woman named Elizabeth Landry, who goes by E Minor.  Paradox:  sunny blues.  Bassist playing a contraption built from an oil drum.  Slow torch song Dust Out of Sand was a highlight.  She had a commanding presence and a great voice.  Will Investigate Further.  Next up, same stage, was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, with their tight harmonies, sweet songs, and almost no crowd.  Most of the people there to see them were friends from Kalamazoo (and me). Mike Fuerst dared to wear a cowboy hat.  The Change were a dire JV Blues Traveler, so of course they drew three times the crowd for their hippie dirges.  Blargh.  I went and had a gigantic grass-fed hamburger.  Came back for Nicholas James and the Bandwagon, led by my Hoxeyville savior, Nick Thomasma.  Answers the question:  what if Tommy Chong was really good on the guitar?  This is not a criticism:  this is grinning Americana, shaggy dog anthems in the spirit of Todd Snider and Arlo Guthrie. Tours the nation in an orange VW bus. Ended the last song, whose chorus had been "She'll be mine," with "She'll be her own person but she'll love me just the same."  Second best joke of the festival. Passed up a second helping of Stovetop for the old-coot swing of Jive at Five, made up of most of the festival's elder all stars, impressive as hell, rocking that jump blues and dizzy swing for all the cool cats.  Frank Youngman, Mark Schrock, Madcat Ruth, and company, some of the best pure fun sound I heard all weekend.  Next up, my first trip to the biggest stage, Cedar, for the Go Rounds.  I know there's melody under the noise somewhere, and I hope they don't give up shoveling till they find the pony. They risk floating off into dance prog oblivion like Of Montreal.  But Texas Desert Rose, Shock and Awe, and (the still very welcome) Jump Into The Fire prove there are nuggets of gold for the patient.  Up the hill for the Red Sea Pedestrians.  A twin band of sorts to the Corn Fed Girls, another collective of Kalamazoo super-musicians, klezmer origins but not tied down to one sound (unless you consider awesome a sound). Rachel Gorman is a clarinet superstar.  Need To See Again.  Way way out to the Market Stage, the most remote, for the only time, for the last two acts of Friday night.  Steve Leaf and the Ex Pats, to me, have achieved the tension-and-release, dynamic pwawawang sound that the Go Rounds are chasing.  They've taken all their videos down off YouTube, which is perplexing, but seek out their records for sophisticated rock and roll.  Much more raucous live, and funny as hell, with extended bits about radio morning shows, credit where credit is due, and the best audience troll I have ever seen:  the same two lines of Neil Young's Harvest Moon, over and over and over, for ten minutes.  The audience went from amused, to perplexed, to slightly annoyed, to fist pumping joy.  Steve Is A Monster.  Last up, Jesse Ray and his highly inauthentic, enjoyably frenzied take on rockabilly.  This is music as aerobic exercise, and a great way to close off a night.
I started out Saturday refreshed, thanks to the glory of not sleeping on the dirt, and headed back to the festival grounds for a long, long day of soaking in all the sounds.  I missed Nik Carman, an 11 year old guitar whiz.  I was going to catch a few songs by the Northern Fires, then sneak off to the Corn Fed Girls....but the open mic ran late, then there were sound issues, and Laurie had seen me, I didn't dare leave for fear of giving offense.  Pesky new friendships!  But I was glad I stayed, because they have never sounded better.  Laurie and Noah can have pitch issues at Old Dog, but here in the sunshine the harmonies rang out loud and true, on a great batch of new songs, for a really strong set. Over to the big Cedar stage for Sari Brown, whose life story was much more intriguing than her songs.  She came out, a small woman in a small dress, you're thinking, oh here comes the twee.  But she was older than she looked, and an ordained minister!  Married to someone with little English.  Her newer songs were Jesusy, nice but not my bag, her older ones were knottier and naughtier. Gotta try different things sometimes.  Same stage for Anne Erlewine, sister of May, apparently started her career first.  Looks a lot like Lily Tomlin.  Somewhat saltier than the sister, sleepy acoustic accompaniment aboundeth. When Vox Vidorra broke up, Theo kept their slot here....but then Theo didn't show, the only cancellation of the 118 acts here, so I stayed at Cedar, again, severe crick in back from leaning on electrical box (I forgot a chair) for Billy Davis.  A very elderly guitar legend, member of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, contemporary of Hendrix, thrust into a starring role late in life, playing in a guitar duo with a fiftyish white dude. Seriously awesome playing, seriously retrograde songs.  I swear to God one song sounded like an unrequited yearning  aimed at a daughter of a friend.  Off to the barn, and the best-placed old truck bench in the world, for the next three sets:  Michael Beauchamp-Cohen, on holiday from Red Tail Ring, is absurdly good looking and ludicrously talented, with a voice like spun honey, and it is not fair.  So good that I saw Darcy (or is that Dirgey now?) stay for someone's whole show for the first time ever. A highlight was Ohio Turnpike, and a John Prine tune with Max Lockwood sitting in.  Next:  Gifts Or Creatures, a Lansing married duo with Max and Dan backing them up, performing their entire new album, a song cycle about Michigan history that I need to own, combining as it does so many of my geek loves.  Soft sound, but steel at the core. Reminds me of Hem. Grand Rapids Brakeman was a highly propulsive highlight.  Stepladders next, Bill Chesney and his crew of ringers playing pop-rock straight up, Emilee as vocal foil on several tunes.  One song, I think it's called Starting 5 For 5, is about sports, and it's hilarious:  makes you wonder why so few dudes write love songs to their teams.  Left to get lunch, won ice cream for five in the raffle right as I walked up.  Back to Cedar for Vespre, a woman from Detroit singing what she called "soulgaze."  Just her and either a keyboard/sequencer (okay) or a guitar (much better).  Bewitching presence, only a 25 minute set. (Only has one single out yet.)  Walked up to Hill Stage, caught the end of alt-country TC-turned-Nashvillian Dylan Lancaster, for an unexpected country song about Beaver Island.  And then:  Fred Zeppelin.  The 12 year old son of Corn Fed Girl Jon Campos on precocious guitar pyrotechnics, along with Phil Barry, Mike Fuerst, Matt Gross of Knee Deep Shag, and other ringers, doing Led Zep covers at high volume.  Completely ridiculous, and face meltingly awesome.  Matt Borr and I were screeching along with glee.  Back to Cedar for the Crane Wives, who officially played for the biggest crowd at the entire festival.  They're headliners yo.  Extremely energetic set, feeding off the crowd's happy vibes and returning them fivefold, grinning madly through the tales of woe and sadness.  For the very first time, I heard nothing from the first two albums:  looking to the future now.  (Or just a short slot.)  I had Matt with me, so I didn't crowd the stage, but I wanted to.  So old, so fat, so 23 in my mind.  Back to the barn for the rest of the evening:  caught the tail end of John Sinclair, the old beat poet/impresario who founded the White Panther party, managed the MC5, and hung out with John Lennon a bit.  There was a recitation of the history of Delta blues, with chugging, skronking accompaniment by a large crew of Earthwork all stars, plus Billy Davis, that was mesmerizing in its erudite ramshackle glory.  Daniel Kahn was a name that meant nothing to me, I was just riding the bench till Public Access, but he was the biggest pleasant surprise of the festival.  A Michiganian who now lives mostly in Berlin, playing with a trio called the Disorientalists, he presented an audiovisual tour de force cabaret performance about the life of Azerbaijani Assad Bey, who lived as a Muslim in 1930s Germany.  History lesson, cautionary tale, jaunty knees up, all in one. In a century old barn in northern Michigan.  Life can be very strange.  And now, the ten person crew assembled for the Dan Rickabus Experience:  a debut airing of most of his Void/Journal album with a full, rich sound.  Different from the layers and layers on the record, but much bigger and more ambitious than his ukulele renditions.  Emilee on keyboards!  Kate on percussion!  Max and Ben trading off bass!  Alex Atkin and Steve Leaf on geetar!  And the maestro drumming and singing and exploding with infectious joy.  Really glad I got to see that.  Then, the teenage guitar geek's instrumental fever dream, Public Access.  Boiler suits, sunglasses, big melodic riffs pounded into submission by seven guitars.  Ben and Dan anchoring it all.  Encore Smells Like Teen Spirit had the crowd going absoreetly apeshit, myself included, jesus was I hoarse after that.  It was 3 am.  I had seen a lot of people I know, some a lot less than I would have liked, but I had actual companionship for a larger portion of my time than perhaps ever before in my life.  I drove the two hours home in the wee hours, all the many tunes I'd heard still ringing in my ears to keep me awake.  Thank you, friends, and thank you, music, for making life in this terrible time worth hanging around for.

9 22 17 Brian Koenigsknecht #5/Thunderbolt & Lightfoot #3/MIPSO  Bell's, Kalamazoo (Oktoberfest)  An extremely unseasonable heat wave gripped Michigan:  four or five days in a row in the 90s, in late September.  The tent put up in Bell's backyard for this event just trapped the heat from the audience's bodies like a boiling pot.  Blargh.  Brian was playing with a fullish band, including strings, and it sounded marvelous, especially Istanbul Sky and Nova.  His soft-gravel voice got attention, even with all the beer a-flowing.  Phil and Sarah had a smaller sound than Brian, two voices and a guitar, and they lost the super-beery attention, but those who listened were rewarded with impeccable harmonies on their charming songs.  Mipso was a band that exists.  I was too hot by then to care much.  From North Carolina, all exceedingly, even offputtingly good looking, excellent vocals, Mumfordy, too slick by half, someone else's favorite band, have a safe trip back to wherever that is.  I am going home to lie in front of the fan with the dog.

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