Keel Family Function: April 2nd-4th, 2010

Like The J-man, I had been looking forward to Wanee kicking off my festy season for quite some time. That is, until I headed to a poorly attended Larry Keel & Natural Bridge show in mid-February. Despite the low turnout, Larry and company hit the lucky few with nearly two hours of their wicked brand of newgrass. Post-show drunken thoughts led me to reminisce about how great last year’s Family Function was and wonder why I hadn’t heard anything about the 2010 version. After a quick chat with Natural Bridge mando-slayer, Mark Schimock; I discovered that the Function would indeed go on this year. I got to go home excited about moving the festival season opener up two weeks.

Flash forward to Thursday, April 1st. Around noon, just before my three hour drive to Atlanta, I get a call from J-man confirming my press pass plus one. Having been to the first Keel Family function last spring, I was fully willing and expecting to pay full price for this small, family-friendly festival. None the less, this call was a great surprise. Arriving in Atlanta I headed straight to the brewery where a friend was working for the evening tasting. After a few hours of free beer and music, I responsibly left my car at the brewery and caught I ride home with said friend. After a failed attempt at trying to rest up for the beautiful weekend ahead of me, we ended up playing Rock Band until 3 am. I woke like a kid on Christmas morning, at 7 am... uncontrollably excited.

Just another short two hour drive to Lafayette and Cherokee Farms would be home for the weekend. I picked up my car and stopped at the ridiculously huge Dekalb Farmer’s Market (yes, the same one Alton Brown frequents) to get some last minute munchies. I had a vague memory of how to get to the place once in Lafayette, mostly because of the super-convenient and out-of-place Walmart just down the road. As I approached the festival grounds I noticed it was set up much like the previous year. Maybe 20 vendors selling the usual various goods: clothes, jewelry, hippie trinkets, food, drinks.

I picked up my wristband at a table near the entrance and was told to camp where I pleased. I’m pretty sure there was a special section for family camping but I didn’t waste any time looking for that. I went straight to the spot I had last year up on a grassy hill by the tree line, then decided to go a bit further into the woods for shade, privacy and the like. There was another huge hill, covered in tents and cars, facing the stage. Once I settled in, I took off through the woods towards the music. I passed by several campsites strewn throughout the woods and a small pond right next to the stage. Everything was so laid back there was even someone camping ten feet from the stage.

I caught the end of Uri & Friends opening song, a standard but raunchy 12 bar blues. Uri turned out to be one of the best new finds of the weekend. A raw blend of blues, soul, funk and rap delivered via bass thumping front man, backed with guitar, trumpet, keys and drums. I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the aspects that usually come along with the smaller fests is the ability to bring a cooler or pockets of beer directly to the stage, and it was no exception with this fest. I definitely appreciated the Sweetwater tent and purchased a few of their fresh, local, Atlanta brews. Making me feel even better about my fancy microbrew purchase was the fact that all Sweetwater proceeds from the weekend went to Pepperland Farm Camp. This big positive brought on a big negative though. There was only one recycling barrel. I didn’t even notice it until Saturday as it wasn’t too well-labeled or in the best location. This minor green set-back was easily made up for by bringing in Tree Leaf Music and Tree Leaf Studios to power both stages with sun and wind. The good people at Tree Leaf even brought a bio-fuel powered generator for further greening of the festival.

While soaking up the beautiful scenery and wonderful family vibe of Cherokee Farms I got loosened up with Lefty Williams and readied myself to witness “The Godfather of Psychedelic Parlor Room Jazz”. I had not seen Col. Bruce since the previous year’s Family Function and had never seen him with the Quark Alliance. As if this wasn’t enough, the Alliance was joined by the one and only DJ Logic for the duration of the set. After an enthusiastic introduction from Cleveland, a friend and Chattanooga NPR DJ, Bruce and band slipped into the funky smooth beat of James Brown’s “There Was a Time”. Being a James Brown freak and Augusta native, this opener only further enhanced my good mood for the evening. DJ Logic clicked with the band from the start and they group went straight into the up-tempo inspirational number “Feeling Good”.
The rest of the set blazed on with a psychedelic mix of bluesy jazz and funk. Closing the set with an epic "Time is Free" and a fourteen minute version of Sun Ra's “Space is the Place” really sealed the deal. The point I’m trying to make is, do not miss a Col. Bruce Hampton show if he is in your area.

After Bruce, Logic and the Alliance left me with third degree burns from the shoulders up, it was hard not to go back to camp and chill out. However, I knew this was not a possibility as my friend Cleveland had warned me of the rocking roots reggae that the Josh Phillips Folk Festival was about to crank out. I made a quick trip to camp, stuffed my pockets with cans of beer and chilling supplies and headed back to the show. After experiencing some well-written originals alongside reggae renditions of Taj Mahal’s “Queen Bee” and John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aereoplane”, I walked away with a thoroughly rocked soul.

I woke up Saturday morning to the sound of a drizzling rain. This was somewhat expected, but with only a ten percent chance of precipitation, the rain only fell for about 10 minutes. The first thing on the schedule was “egg decoration and art creation”. While I’m sure many parents and kids enjoyed this event, this festivarian did not make it. I did attend the next portion of the weekend, the Pepperland Kids Jam with Donna Hopkins and Caroline Pond. In support of the Pepperland Farm and music camps, Donna and Caroline invited any and all children up on stage to dance, sing and play along with the set.

After a sweet-ass “I Saw The Light” into “The Hokey Pokey” I was ready for the big kids jam. At about 12:15, Slim Pickins hit the stage and jumped right into “Wheel Hoss”. The young-looking band from Chattanooga then broke into grassed up version of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” and gained a new fan. The next band up, Bobby Miller and The Virginia Daredevils, delivered a little more traditional brand of bluegrass. With a style that was very mando/twin fiddle driven; Bobby and The Daredevils cranked out classics like “John Henry”, “Reuben’s Train”, “Sally Goodin” and “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” with a few originals mixed in for good measure.

Following Bobby Miller were the Mosier Brothers featuring David Blackmon. I don’t understand why all of the Blueground Undergrass members were not there, but Jeff Mosier and David Blackmon were enough for me. All I knew was Jeff is the man who taught Phish the way of the grass in 1994 and Blackmon is the man who sat in with Widespread Panic for many a show throughout the 90’s. The set started off with an interesting, ten minute, up-tempo “White Dove” but the rest was pretty mellow. The Mosier Brother's songs had a very Peter Rowan-esque vibe to them and they closed with a beautiful “Gentle On My Mind” » “Blue and Lonesome”.

Next on the schedule was the Eye of the Dawg Showcase. A little on the cheesy side, this was still a good idea and perfectly placed in the schedule. The showcase featured a representative from most of the bands present for the weekend. Larry Keel, Col. Bruce, Jeff Mosier, Donna Hopkins, Grayson Capps, Bobby Miller, Ralph Roddenberry, Lefty Williams and a few others. I believe this was called the songwriter’s showcase the previous year. It was a nice, relaxing set for the overcast afternoon. Not many people can rage 100% from 11 am to 5 am and the organizer, Thomas Helland i.e. T-Dawg, took this into consideration. The rest of the evening was filled with sets from The Ragbirds, Ralph Roddenberry and The Side Effects, and Grayson Capps. The clouds slowly moved on as darkness fell on the hills and a cool breeze crept in.

Somewhere along the way, the schedule got a little backed up. Instead of going on at 9:30, Larry and Natural Bridge took the stage at 11:35. But not before we got an announcement from the stage warning us of a roadblock on the road leading directly to Cherokee Farms. This was not the best news but it shouldn’t have concerned most of the festival patrons as there was really no need to leave all weekend. It was very cool of the T-Dawg to step up and make the announcement and he may have saved a few people a lot of unnecessary trouble.

As the shine jar made it's way around the stage, the band made some last minute tune-ups and T-Dawg introduced Larry Keel and Natural Bridge. They started off with a slow spacey intro and quickly built into the main theme of what I've only seen labeled in taper's setlists as "Miles Voodoo". It was an excellent free-form jam causing the members to come together for the main theme and then seem to completely fall apart, each going their own separate direction, only to come together again for the single-lined theme. This nine minute intro jam blended seamlessly into the second tune, a new one with the potential to be yet another Natural Bridge staple. "Open my eyes before the sun, hit the road at a steady run...". Great first lyrics to kick off a show. One of my favorite aspects of this band is the cover selections. If it's not a traditional bluegrass number or a songwriting buddy's song, it's probably a reggae or old-school soul cover. This time it was "O Me-O, My-O" by Lee Dorsey/Allen Toussaint. This one is great to sing along with Larry's gnarly voice. The spaced-out grass jams continued on with the aggressive flat-picking attack of ";Fishin' Reel" and "Ruby", which showed off Mark Schimock's powerful bluegrass vocals. Quickly becoming another Natural Bridge hit, the band played a tune written by a war vet friend, "Baghdad Blues". As Larry mentioned, the song has a traditional Jimmy Martin feel to it. Of course this meant they'd have to play an actual Jimmy Martin tune and "Sunny Side of the Mountain" is what they pulled out next.

After ripping through another three-and-half minute instrumental at a blistering pace, Larry brought up Chris Spies on the keys and John Milham and Jeff Sipe on drums...yes, two full drum kits and keys for the remainder of the set. The first song from this conglomeration was ";Ko Ko Joe", an old Jerry Reed swamp-funk tune that Larry recorded for his Journey album. From here the audience was taken straight to deep space with a seven minute "Trance" into dueling drums and back to "Trance".

Coming way too soon, Larry makes the 'one more' announcement, inviting up Grayson Capps and Ralph Roddenberry for "Columbus Stockade Blues" and "Liza Jane". It was 1am and once again, Larry, Jenny, Mark and Jason had blown my mind and left me wanting more. The Natural Bridge set brought up my only other complaint of the festival. I want more Larry Keel and Natural Bridge at my next Keel Family Function. I'm thinking they could do an hour and half set each night. I got to hear 15 great tunes, but I know they've got a lot more in their repertoire.

I hung out for a late-night jam with Donna Hopkins, Col. Bruce, Jeff Mosier, Jason Flournoy and others. This went on for about an hour and then I found myself next to the massive fire pit trying to keep warm with the rest of the late-night freaks. Mostly waiting around to hear what Zoogma with DJ Logic was gonna sound like, I forced myself to listen to Digital Butter. I say forced because I'm not much into drum machines and space blips and Digital Butter turned out to be a DJ accompanied by a hot-chick singer. It wasn't bad for what it was, and I may have even enjoyed the way they chopped up Aretha's "Soul Serenade". At about 4am I drug myself back to camp for one last night cap, satisfied with the day of music I'd just experienced. As I played big spoon to a lady-friend and drifted off to sleep, I think I heard Zoogma warming up.

I woke up Easter morning feeling pretty good for not getting much sleep. After fully waking I realized the tree shade had let me sleep in until 12. Too late for the Easter service at the stage, I made it down in time catch a little gospel music. It was a humble little guitar/harmonica duet singing their hearts out. Slightly disappointed that I wasn't watching a traditional bluegrass gospel quartet, I had a seat in the grass and reflected on the first festival of the season. It was damn good. The grand Easter egg hunt that followed the gospel set was my cue to hit the road. All in all, it was a near-perfect fest that I'll be convincing friends and family to attend in 2011.

-Danny Johnson

Keel Family Function 2010 Compilation

Bobby Miller & The Virginia Daredevils
El Ti Manchero (420 Polka)
Reuben's Train

Col. Bruce & The Quark Alliance w/ DJ Logic
Feeling Good
Space Is The Place

Josh Phillips Folk Festival
It's All About Your Breathin'
Steam Powered Aereoplane
Queen Bee

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
Miles Voodoo
new song?
Baghdad Blues
Trance >
drums >

Mosier Brothers w/ David Blackmon
Blue and Lonesome

Pond Farm Pickers
Stepping Razor

Slim Pickins
Georgia On A Fast Train
Take Me Back To Chattanooga

Uri & Friends
My Woman Is Crazy
The Chicken Hawk
Half Man, Half Amazing

Download Compilation Here.


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