Monday, June 28, 2010

NYC: Victor Wooten

Article & Photos By Jarrod Dicker

Highline Ballroom, New York City
June 23, 2010

“It’s always fun playing New York City,” Victor Wooten opined as he flaunted a grin that stretched from ear to ear. “This is where it all happens, right?”
The grateful audience at Highline Ballroom exploded in merriment as Wooten humbly backed away from the microphone.

“I tour a lot and it’s tough when you have four kids at home,” he continued. “My daughter asked me for a Victor Wooten doll this Christmas just so she could see me more often. Today I miss her more than ever.”

In both professional and societal culture, Victor Wooten personifies the term “family man.” The youngest of five musically adept brothers (Regi, Roy, Rudy and Joseph), Wooten’s lineage is undoubtedly consecrated with the proverbial sangre azul ; grouping the family amongst other “musical monarchs” the Neville’s, the Mill’s and the Jackson’s. Dubbed by Victor as “the teacher,” older brother Regi began to coach the youngster in music theory when he was a mere two years old. Thirty-five years and five Grammy awards later, the bassist now stands in front of his “other” family; a crowd of 500 diehard fans at New York City’s Highline Ballroom. This was truly a night that will live in melodic infamy.

Originally constructed in the 1930’s to elevate trains from Manhattan’s city streets, the High Line district is now a 1.45-mile long arrangement that runs through New York’s Meat Packing District, west Chelsea area and Hell’s Kitchen. An intimate venue that accommodates up to 700 concert goers, the Highline Ballroom is something New Yorker’s are accustomed seeing in the resurrected musical borough, Brooklyn-- not on the edge of Manhattan. However this displaced ballroom--with its industrial d├ęcor, dim lit setting, and superb sound quality-- has become the new “go to” hub for indie groups, jam bands and affiliated genres alike.

The night began with New York’s Consider the Source, who instantly opened the musical floodgates with vivacious velocity and rhythmic rage. Self described by bassist John Ferrera as the biggest show of their young careers, the trio invaded Highline Ballroom with an arsenal of profound, effects driven timbre that channeled genres of 90’s metal, electronica, alt-rock and Hindustani. The trio, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, visually “spiritually and physically immerse” themselves in their playing seen by spasm driven maneuvering and awkward imbalances while performing on stage. Using this night to exhibit their most optimum original content, CTS bounced from comfortable funk to RPG fantasy to even heavily improvised electronica while still promoting new material (“How Am I Not Myself”) and young classics like the fan favorite, Simpson sampled track, “Old Chopper.”

Consider the Source concluded their abbreviated set (40 minute) and left the stage to allow Wooten’s crew to erect the bands’ preferred arrangement. Sound check came and went and the band began to assemble on stage, however something was very different. Following Victor Wooten was brother and guitarist Regi Wooten, drummer Derico Watson and…Steve Winegard? The crowd gazed in bewilderment as Victor snagged the mic to feed the befuddled minds. “Steve Winegard is stepping in for my brother Joseph who couldn’t make it here tonight. Let’s give a hand for Steve ‘White Chocolate’ Winegard!” This was the first of what would amount to nearly 10 instances where Victor referred to Winegard as “White Chocolate,” offering a jovial injection to an unfortunate Joseph Wooten deficiency.

The show opened with a layered jam session that pleasingly spanned a near ten minutes. The drums rode quietly in back, as Victor’s bass exposed light notes, tickling Watson’s anchoring drum pattern. Regi finger-tapped gently into a crescendo until the entire group came to fruition with an amplified and accelerated funk amalgamation.

Right off the bat, it was obvious that this evening was going to be one of musical dexterity. Wooten is known for his ambiguous on set development, and by way of the first number it seemed obvious that “improvisation” was set to be the key ingredient of this funk filled recipe.

On deck was “Pentagon Square,” a funk stimulated tune played entirely in 5/4. Regi’s ability to massage the entire neck of his instrument and finger tap up and down various scales with ease stood front and center as the jazz quartet accelerated full speed into the night. The group, anchored by Winegard throughout “Pentagon Square,” gazed at Victor in awe throughout. It was obvious that the pianist cherished the situation he was in and the players who bounded him.

What does it mean when the drummer of the band is the one with perfect pitch? This inquiry, asked by Victor, would be answered during the next song, “Don’t Be Deceived” written by drummer Derico Watson. This ten year old gem can be analogous to wine; as it’s audible worth has only proliferated with age. At this point, the once divergent crowd of adults, kids, music aficionados and others finally came together as one sole “spiritual” spectator of the Wooten quartet. Standing side by side, the only difference between each person was the distance their jaw was off the ground.

Nearly one year to the day Michael Jackson passed away, one could have guessed Wooten would eventually perform an interpretive commemoration to the fallen King of Pop. As the lights dimmed dark, Victor approached the mic; “Here’s a song you all might know.” With that, Regi began the signature backing chords of “One More Chance” with Watson checking in to anchor the rhythm section. Victor stepped in on queue and delivered bass lines that elegantly mimicked the young Michael’s voice. The crowd broke into an all out dance, as hippies, hipsters, jazz heads, and funk peeps alike came to a mutual understanding that this was the time to honor the legend. As my eyes closed I was hit with a feeling that could only be attained in such an intense and dynamic musical atmosphere. It soothed me to visually witness the great influence Jackson had across all genres of music and it was further incredible to hear Wooten do the tribute. The song segued gently into “Let’s Dance, Let’s Shout” and until eventually all instruments came to a sudden halt. Victor grabbed the mic and whispered the chorus once again, “Let’s Dance, Let’s Shout” and took a pause. The crowd returned the call by singing the lyrics back to Victor. This continued for four or five bars until Watson interjected with a blistering drum solo that jolted even the laziest of pigeons from the dusted rafters.

Another ad hoc jam ensued with Winegard and Regi Wooten exchanging riffs back and forth in a musically charged battle that left the audience victims of unrestrained *Space* launch . Mediated by Victor, the jam is soon conquered by Watson who decides that now’s his time to show everyone who’s boss. On a night that was unofficially reserved solely for the bassist, Watson took the cake. He delivered a 10 minute drum solo, unloading hammer-strike maneuvers and faster than rabbit rhythms that channeled the rapidity of = Dennis Thompson flowered with the finesse of Buddy Rich. Upon its conclusion, Victor states, “that song was called ‘Left, Right, Center,’ and originally featured three drummers on the album. Derico is doing triple duty.” Damn right he did.

Offering the audience a little taste of White Chocolate, Victor entered a groove he titled on the spot (“New York Five”) and left the stage open for Winegard to experiment with the keys. As the show progressed, Victor played a standalone solo “Aris Eyes” for his aforementioned daughter whom he was missing at home. The emotionally driven bass solo displayed even more elasticity and latitude from the world renowned bassist, tallying yet another fundamental direction the musician could navigate in. Following Victors solo, Regi took center stage and offered a funk medley to ignite emotions from the bottom of the barrel to a well satisfied crowd. He manned his guitar with great finesse, teasing funk classic’s “Jungle Boogie,” “Roller Coaster “and “Get Down.” Slowly easing into an appropriate finale to cap off what had become a fantastic night, the band encored with “Hali Baba,” a song that displays the didactic latitude of the bass player and his very skilled and often underrated supporting cast.

As all good things must come to an end, Wooten stepped off the stage after a successful evening with just a cordial wave and a wide smile. “We love you New York,” he exclaimed before his exit. And we love you, Victor Wooten.

Late Night Jam: moe.

moe. Live at Buffalo Rocks the Harbor on June 26, 2010.

Set I:

Jazz Wank>
32 Things->
Billy Goat>
32 Things(1)

Set II:

Hector's Pillow>
The Road->
The Road
Letter Home>
Wind It Up->
Encore (Story)

(1)-Show Biz Kids (Steely Dan) Teases

Leslie Bluegrass: A Weekend With The Henhouse Prowlers (Saturday)

Article & Photos By Justin Picard
Saturday June 12th, 2010

My day began just three hours after the previous day had ended. Brandon, Phil and Tony all awoke bright and early and were on their way to other engagements. I was too excited to sleep, so I reached into the cooler for a couple of coffee drinks and withdrew the ol' journal from my backpack. I sat at our quiet camp as the sun reached towards the sky, writing about the previous day's events. In the distance I could hear a golf cart chugging along towards me as the hummingbirds and dragonflies danced in the morning air.

The cart came within about five feet of my perch before coming to a stop. "Are the boys up yet?" Said the gentleman, referring to the Prowlers. "No. Not yet... We had a late night of pickin' and drinkin'..." I responded. "Nothin' wrong with that. My name is Burke and this is my wife. We're looking to get folks signed up for the band scramble, and we were wondering if they wanted to get involved." I glance over my shoulder at the still tents. "I'll come find you in a bit once the guys start getting up." Burke, agreed with the plan of action and excitedly let me in on the story of the Prowlers booking at Leslie. "They were heading back to Chicago from Lansing last year and I guess they had heard about our festival, so they stopped by. I got word that there was a band here looking to play, so I went up to the front and told them to pick one for me. They did and I said; You're hired, see you boys next year." His story made me smile.

Minutes later as Burke's cart barreled back down the path, I thought to myself "It could be a while." 11:30 rolled around and I took it upon myself to go and inform Burke that the Prowler's were still out and that I didn't have the heart to wake them. He was very understanding, and let me know that there may still have a few slots later on.

Around noon, rustling came from the tents in the Prowler camp. One by one the wookies awoke. I opened the cooler and began distibuting fruit, bagels, coffee drinks and Mountain Dews.

Within the first couple of hours of the Prowlers being awake; the band scramble ended and it was time for their first slot of the day. One by one, the schlep to the stage began.

Set One:

Shanandoah->Nobody's Fault But Mine, Uncle Pen, Won't Fight Alone, Unsteady, Black Rushing, How it Feels, Long Time Working it Out, Gospel Plow, Doing Alright, King of The Waltz, Ain't it a shame, Coming Back, Darlin Please Come Home.

This set was by far their most traditional of the weekend. I spent a good portion of the first set of the day taking it all in and fielding questions from Lou (who was now wearing the Henhouse Prowlers shirt that he had purchased the previous day) regarding the Prowlers. His interest in the band was quite exciting. After every set I would watch Lou wander over to the merch table, to look over the offerings and wait for a word with the band.

Following the set we made our way back to camp, where the Prowlers would prepare for their afternoon rehearsal. They would be recording a new album in the coming weeks during their Colorado run, so some last minute fine tunning was in order.

As I sat with them while they worked out songs; I threw out a couple of requests for the evening set. The first of which being a song called "Simplify" which was written by their former guitar player Ben Benidict. The song can be found on their most recent CD "Dark Rumor" and has become one of my favorites. There were some questions about the words so I took to writing them down for reference purposes. After a couple of starts and some confusion about the vocal phrasing; I stepped up and asked if I could sing the lead once through. After getting the go ahead from the boys, I hit the record button on my camera and handed it over to Lou to film of of the coolest musical experiences I have ever had... Singing one of my favorites songs with one of my favorite bands.

Following the song, I needed a second to collect myself... Whoa.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent grilling, drinking, practicing and making arrangements to get the tire serviced that had blown out on the band on the way in. Eventually the evening came and it was time for one last hike over to the stage for the fourth and final set. This time I decided to join the band backstage to get a few shots as they prepared. After some tunning and last minute setlist changes, they were called to the stage. Just before they took the stage Ben asked Laird to head back to camp to put away anything that may have been left out as it looked like rain was on it's way. Since Laird was responsible for manning the Merch table, I volunteered to head back to camp.

Arriving at camp I began laughing... There stuff was everywhere! I spent a solid ten minutes cramming all of their possessions into the van. I was dripping with sweat and moving quickly toward the stage. Getting just within' earshot I could here that they were playing the song that I had requested, "Simplify". Bastards!

Set Four:


I was unable to write down the setlist as I was composing questions for the interview that would follow.

Earlier that day, I had requested that they play "Helter Skelter" for the folks. "Give them a little something to freak them out." I stated. I never thought that they would actually play it... Let alone encore with it. I believe their explanation to the crowd was "They say after forty years a song becomes a traditional..." I couldn't help but laugh.

Back at the camp, preparations were made for our interview. At some point throughout the weekend, someone had let a deer skull at our camp. I took it upon myself to secure it to the front of the Prowlers van. With that, the last piece of the puzzle was in place.

Duct tape was applied to the windshield of the van for a quick fix and with that the weekend had come to a close.

There are many reasons why the Henhouse Prowlers are my favorite band; Their level of musicianship, their deep/essential catalouge of songs, their respect for the music, and because of who they are. I feel fortunate to be able to call this amazing group of musicians my friends.

For all who read this...

You are invited to join us for an evening with the Henhouse Prowlers; Saturday August 28th, 2010 in South Lyon, MI at The Barn! For details & information click here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jam of The Day: Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Live at Winterland Arena on May 29, 1971.

Casey Jones, Me And Bobby McGee, It Hurts Me Too, Promised Land, Loser, Playin' In The Band, Hard To Handle, Me & My Uncle, Truckin'-> Drums-> The Other One-> Wharf Rat, Sing Me Back Home, Cumberland Blues, Sugar Magnolia, Deal, Not Fade Away-> Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad-> Not Fade Away

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leslie Bluegrass: A Weekend With The Henhouse Prowlers (Friday)

Article & Photos By Justin Picard
Friday June 11th, 2010

As I sped towards Leslie, Michigan from just north of the Detroit area; my phone rang. On the line was Ben Wright, Banjo-slinger for The Henhouse Prowlers. "Do you have any way of getting a hold of the promoter?" He asked. "We got a flat tire near Michigan City and can't it looks like we may not make our first set." I processed the information and said "I'll work it out." After a minute of brainstorming, I called my secretary (my mother) and asked her to gather all of the contact information from the Leslie Bluegrass Festival website. A minute later, I had a handful of phone numbers and I was making calls.

I called the festival's hot line and was directed to the promoter, Burke's cell phone. I informed him of the unfortunate situation and he calmly stated that it would be taken care of and he'd see us soon. So I shot a text message over to Jon Goldfine, Bass extraordinaire. I stated that the situation was resolved gave him the updated contact info.

A short time later I was pulling into the festival grounds. I was greeted by a most unfortunate site; two police cruisers, one unmarked. They waved me past without any issue. I pulled up to the main entrance and was assisted with tickets and camping information from a couple of older women, clearly excited that the festival was upon us. "What the hell are those cops doing here? They need to beat it." Exclaimed one of the women, with conviction. "You boys camp where ever you like!" exclaimed the other woman.

My brother; Brandon and I pulled into the campground and made our way to the back, as to not be within range of offending people with our late-night antics. We parked our cars front to back to obstruct the open view of the area that would become our raging grounds. As we set up our tent and camping gear, I received a text from Ben. "We're heading to the store, do you need anything?" The only thing that came to mind was "Beer." I then informed him that we would be camping towards the back of the loop if they were interested in joining us, to which I received "We don't camp with wooks." from Ben. Fair enough, I thought.

My Brother and I made our first trip over to the Mainstage to get some bluegrass. Immediately it was clear that the level of attendance would be modest, with small pockets of older folks in traveling chairs occupying the area in front of the stage. As we listened to a group of gentleman, all sporting different color pastel button-ups; it was clear that this festival would be a celebration of the most traditional of bluegrass. The band wrapped up their set it was announced that "The Henhouse Prowlers set was switched to 4:00 pm." I thought that Jon had told me it that their set had been switched to 4:45 pm. That being said, I shot them a text message, "updating" the band on their scheduled time.

Approximately twenty minutes later, as Brandon and I drank our first round of beer and began playing a camping game called "Polish Horseshoes" similar to horseshoes, a white touring van came cruising down the road towards our site.

Enter The Henhouse Prowlers...

I smiled as I recalled the last time I was graced with the presence of this group of wookies/top notch musicians. It had been almost a year since I had seen them at Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI. I was excited. After all, they were my favorite band. The smiles were huge as they piled out of their van. Coincidentally the beer in which Ben was cradling was Dark Horse's "Crooked Tree IPA" a beer that was recommended to me by staff writer and beer conesuer Andy Zimmer. Delightfully coincidental.

It was so good to see my friends; Ben, Jon and Ryan Hinshaw (fiddle). That occasion would mark my first time meeting the most recent addition to the band; guitar beast Eric Lambert. As most people are when a new member joins their favorite band, I was weary. I knew from recordings that his playing fit well into the mix, but I looked forward to see him live. Eric and I hit it off immediately, with discussion of traditional bluegrass to some of our favorites including; Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, ect. Eric's knowledge of specific "Acoustic Allstar" shows blew me away. Then came the discussion of Jerry. I knew right away that Eric was not only a good dude, but insightful when it came to some of my favorites.

The Prowlers were also joined by a young man by the name of "Laird", who was a banjo student of Ben's and would be manning their merchandise for the weekend. Now that almost everyone was in attendance, it was time to start the get down. It was great to catch up with the guys and from the get go there was some friendly shit talking and non-sense. Excellent.

As 4:00 neared, the Prowlers prepared for their first of four sets. They utilized their outdoor dressing room to shuffle into their suits. They went from wooks to dapper gentleman in a matter of minutes. In order to get the merch over to the mainstage, they drove the short distance and unloaded their merch/gear backstage. A few minutes later and Brandon and I were on our way to what would be my brother's first live experience with the band.

Set One:

Carolina Moon, Shadow of a Man, Doin' Alright, Drifter, Hope You've Learned, Take Me Back, Sunny Side, Uncle Bubba, Sitting Alone, Georgia Mail.

After "Uncle Bubba" a gentleman wandered over to me and asked if that track was on either of their albums. I said "Yes." He smiled and said "I'm blown away!" Then making a dash towards Laird and the merch table. Another gentleman named Lou, was very excited about the Prowlers. He bought two cd's and a t-shirt. He had a lot of questions for me about the band as well as some advice that he gave to the band, freely. Lou was very kind and it was exciting to see someone take such an interest in the band, right from the get go.

Following their set, they drove the van back over to camp and loosened up a bit. However, as they are professionals; the party didn't start until they had fulfilled the days obligations. We spent the time prior to their 7:15 pm set relaxing, grilling and trying to keep cool in the warm sun as they composed the evening's set list. As 7:00 rolled around; The Prowlers slipped back into their uniforms and one by one made their way back over to the stage, instruments in hand. Just prior to the second set, a couple of my brother's friends; Phil and Tony arrived for their first bluegrass experience. Their lack of bluegrass experience was exciting to someone like myself who has a great appreciation for the music. I anticipated that they would be blown away by what the witnessed that day.

As I walked over to the stage with Brandon, Tony and Phil; I informed them that it was The Prowlers first gig playing together and to be understanding of their musicianship.

Set Two:

Turn Me Loose, Cold Sheets of Rain, Back Up and Push, Borrowed Time, Mountain Girls, Cumberland Blues, Syracuse, First Train Robbery, Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Don't Even Say Goodbye, Caroline, Mandy Jane.

Encore: Morning Dove

Midway through the set Phil turned to me with a smile and said "Their first time playing together... Sure." I smiled back, with a sarcastic look.

Their obligations fulfilled, it was time to let loose. The beer began flowing, The Bug sprayed was unleashed, shit-talking commenced, and the evening was underway. It was essential that firewood be obtained to Brandon headed off to make it happen. He wandered back about twenty minutes later empty-handed. He told us that it was on it's way. He had met an odd gentleman, who said he'd bring it right back to us. When Brandon asked if the gentleman knew where we were camp the gentleman replied, "Right there in the back..." Odd indeed.

Shortly to follow the gentleman showed up with a golf cart full of firewood. We inquired about the necessity of a fire ring, but the gentleman said there was no need, "... just be sure not to burn the place down." The fire was lit and the drinking continued. Slowly the instruments came out. The music began with Ben and Ryan doing some traditional claw-hammer banjo tunes. Soon after Jon stepped in with the upright.

As Eric slowly drifted into slumber, a gentleman scurried over to the fire, guitar in hand. "I heard some G-runs on a bass, so I thought you might need a guitar." Stated the gentleman. He was welcomed to the jam with openness and he did not disappoint. He fit in as if he had known the Prowlers and had played with them before. Someone would call out a tune and they'd go right into it, without hesitation. Minutes Later Eric came to and fetched his mandolin.

I had a blast that night; singing and listening to my favorite band pick songs around the campfire. As I glanced around the fire, Laird sat listening/learning, Brandon lay in the grass with a smile on his face, Tony appeared to be emotional with excitement behind a pile of empty beer cans, Phil sat quietly smiling and the Prowlers gave me one of the most enjoyable musical night of the 2010 festival season thus far. The 5:00 am realization hit hard as one by one the troops disappeared into their tents. I wandered around the campground alone, I heard a few groups still picking away.

I drifted back to camp and climbed into the tent. The sunrise would bring a whole new day of music.

Jam of The Day: Will Bernard

Will Bernard Projects Live at Highline Ballroom on June 7, 2009.

1. crowd
2. Baby Goats
3. banter
4. 571
5. banter
6. Aquafresh *
7. introducing Cheme
8. The Weasel *
9. banter
10. Blister
11. Magpie
12. Frontwinder
13. Cure All
14. banter
15. Maple Plank *
16. introducing Leah Siegel
17. I Got Loaded +
18. banter/encore break
19. Snakes & Spiders (?)
20. goodnights

Will Bernard - guitar
Robert Walter - organ
Stanton Moore - drums
Tim Luntzel - bass

* = w/Cochemea Gastellum on sax
+ = w/Leah Siegel (Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout) on vocals

Recorded, Tracked, & Mastered by Scott Bernstein

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Phish: Cleveland: 6.12.10

Article By Andy Zimmer
Photos By Greg Molitor

Driving through the night from Chicago to Cleveland, with a car full of borderline insane individuals, I felt at times like I was in a scene out of “A Clockwork Orange”. The car catapulted itself down the highway, almost independent of my control. And the crazed conversations of my travel companions lent an air of dystopian humor to our progress. Drives like this are a test of one’s will and patience; and should not even be attempted by the inexperienced or elderly. Without the proper planning and preparation they can turn pretty ugly really quickly. Fortunately, for me and my passengers, this was not my first rodeo... destination Cleveland.

The drive left me with plenty of time to get into my own head... analyzing, and then over-analyzing, the show from the previous night, wildly speculating what may go down at the next show, and trying to find perspective on a tour that was only one show old. You would think that, after years of doing the same exact thing, I would have worked through all the possible scenarios. But such is the nature of my addiction to Phish shows.

We arrived at Blossom Music Center in the middle of the afternoon. No hassles getting in, no long traffic jams, ample parking, and SHADE... so far, so good. We settled-in for the afternoon, took a quick survey of “the scene”, and then spent some quality time in the shade with a beer. As show time approached, we made our way to the main gates. Now, this was my first show at Blossom, so I could be “off” on a few of my observations; but getting in and out of the venue was a clusterfuck. From what I could tell, there was only one gate to get in an out. In addition, all foot traffic was funneled over a bridge, causing a major pinch point. These obstacles created a major traffic jam of fans that was in no way efficiently dealt with. However, the mob scene did allow me to get a glimpse of one my favorite “tour standards”... NAKED GUY! Every Phish tour I have ever embarked upon, I have had a run-in with Naked Guy. At this point, I really look at it like a good omen... the presence of Naked Guy means that all is right in the universe. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I almost ran over Naked Guy as I was pushing my way into the venue. One minute, I’m wheeling along trying not to take out the person in front of me, and the next moment I’m staring at a fully-naked hippie lying spread eagle in the middle of traffic. Perhaps, not the best place to lie down, but who am I to start questioning Naked Guy!?

Once inside, the venue itself was beautiful. I’ve been to lots of amphitheaters and, except for a rare few, they all start to look the same. Blossom was, in many ways, fairly typical. However, the top of the lawn was ringed in forest-sized trees, giving it a fairly secluded feel. After taking a lap, we found our prime viewing location, Gordon-side under the pavilion, and settled in.

The band took the stage to an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd and immediately settled in to do what they do best. The show opened with a cover of the Band’s “Look Out, Cleveland”. As a fan of the Band, I was familiar with the song, but I never expected to hear Phish’s take. I know that Phish had covered a Band tune or two in the distant past, but this opener caught me completely off-guard. Perhaps they were jamming some of the Band on the tour bus. Maybe it was just supposed to be a shout-out to the city of Cleveland... along the lines of the “Jesus Left Chicago” from the previous night. The world may never know. Regardless, the hometown crowd seemed to enjoy the choice and the band did it justice. The version was short, and followed the original version more closely than most Phish covers, but was a great way to start the show.

The band dropped into “Ocelot” for its next offering. A newer song, off of 2009’s Joy, “Ocelot” is not necessarily one of my favorites off the album. As a long time fan, I've grown accustom to many of Phish’s silly lyrics and fantastical stories. Yes, I do think that there is a deeper meaning to many of their lyrics than they get credit for. But some are just nonsense. “Ocelot” is a good example of this and, as a result, I’ve had a hard time getting into the song. That being said, the band played a good, not great, version of the song. The jam at the end showed signs of the tension and release jamming that I felt was missing from the Chicago show; which gave me hope for good things to come.

The opening flutter of Paige’s piano immediately gave away the next song. “Water in the Sky” is a simple, serene little number. Although it is never a number that I look forward to hearing, I don’t mind it. Usually played short and sweet, Phish typically inserts this song between two longer, and jammier, tunes. This was no exception, as “Water” was over quickly and the guitar-intro to “Stash” got the crowd back on their feet. A consistent crowd pleaser, Phish always gives themselves room to explore within the constructs of the song. Jams can range from the ambient-ethereal to the downright dirty. This version of “Stash” was not as heavily improvised as some, but was well played. The jam started out fairly down tempo and ambient. However, unlike the previous night where these style jams never really came together, the band was synched-up and moved through the space as a single unit. Although they transitioned the jam back into the main body of the song just as it was really getting interesting (a little too early, in my opinion), I liked what I heard.

Continuing with their trend of digging deep into their bag-o-covers, Phish treated new and old fans with a serious rarity. Yes, the Lynyrd Skynyrd penned “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” was played once last summer, but I actually had to dig into my Phish archives to find out when it was played previous to that (Summer ’93... in case you’re wondering). This was a serious delight for me to hear. Despite my well-worn tapes with versions of “Curtis Loew” from many tours past, this was one song that I had never seen Phish play live. Phish’s take on the country tinged ballad was done well. Slow and solemn, fitting the story related by the song, “Curtis Loew” will never be a balls to the wall rocker. But it doesn’t need to be.

“Sample in a Jar” brought the energy on stage, and throughout the venue, back to peak levels. I don’t know one Phish fan that, flat out, just doesn’t like “Sample”. It’s a damn catchy tune, and always turns into a giant sing-along. This version, although shorter than I was expecting, was no exception. “Sample” injected an instantaneous burst of energy and enthusiasm into the crow. It would have been fine with me if the band had just kept playing it.

After “Sample”, the band dove into “Time Turns Elastic”. This is a newer Trey composition, but has the feel, somewhat, of a much older piece. Like many early Phish tunes (“Fluffhead”,”YEM”,”Reba”), TTE sounds like it is actually written in movements with portions that are heavily composed. Unfortunately, TTE does not stand up nearly as well as the previously mentioned songs. I actually enjoy the composed instrumental sections, and there is usually a high energy jam at the end. However, the vocal arrangement and structure of the song is horrible and usually marks the “bathroom break” of the set for me. For a tune that regularly clocks in at over 15 minutes, there just isn’t enough there to hold my attention. I’ve thought that if they kept the composed instrumentals and then scrapped the vocals in favor of a mid-song jam, the song could work. But that’s not my decision.

Saving the best for last, Phish ended the set with what was, up to that point, their best playing of the night. The “Mike’s Song”>”I am Hydrogen”>”Weekapaug Groove” was just about as good as any live version that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. The jam produced huge waves of sound. Held down on the bottom end by Gordon’s dirty bass, and driven to a manic frenzy from some eerie/brooding keyboard playing, Trey unleashed a monstrous sonic assault that kept climaxing with every note. Who says that tantric sex is the only way to have a 10 minute long orgasm!? “Mike’s” segued nicely into the ethereal “Hydrogen”. Similar to “Slipknot”, of “Help on the Way”>”Slipknot”>”Franklin’s Tower” fame for all you DeadHeads, “Hydrogen” basically just serves as a connector between the other two tunes. But it is a beautiful little number, and I always enjoy the tasteful guitar work that it comes with. “Weekapaug” started out straight funky, with Gordon laying down some porn-worthy bass lines. Some noodling guitar work from Trey melded into a guitar-organ jam, with both instruments weaving around each other’s sound. Ultimately, Trey took the reins of the jam, leading it to its peak and back into the end vocals.

Overall, a solid first set. Sure, there wasn’t the same level of technical playing that was exhibited the previous night in Chicago. But the improvised sections seemed much more together and inspired.

After the customary half-hour break, the band took the stage for the second set and immediately launched into one of my favorite covers. In my opinion, Phish plays covers better than any other band around, and their version of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” was no exception. Clearly a fan and band favorite, this was a great way to kick off set numero dos. The song was nicely drawn out, with some pure rock and roll guitar work from Trey. Eventually, the rock-forward jam slid into a stereotypically Phishy space-noodle jam. Paige was layering keyboard tones behind Treys rambling guitar. When these jams are “on”, they really work well. And, to my ears, everything was coming together. The jam slid deeper into space before a familiar rat-tat-tat of the drums announced the beginning of “Harry Hood”.

During the set break, as my friends and I were playing the “what will Phish play during the second set” game, I predicted (a.k.a. recklessly speculated) that we would hear “Free”, ”Character Zero”, ”The Squirming Coil”, and ”Harry Hood”. All of my “predictions” were really just songs that I like and wanted to hear; so I was excited that the band chose to give us a “Harry Hood”. “Harry Hood” is perhaps the most archetypal Phish song that I can think of. It contains all the hallmarks that help to define their sound……technical/composed elements, audience participation, a great platform for jamming, quirky lyrics... you get my point. During the mid-song jam, Paige was using a synth tone that would peel paint off the walls with lysergic-ease. It provided the perfect counterpoint to the intensity coming from the three other musicians. Gradually, an airy, mellow direction was diligently explored- almost drifting into space, but not quite- before the tune was built back up for its colossal, and euphoric, ending... the crowd mesmerized, taken captive by the sound, and manipulated like marionettes. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the song there wasn’t a single concertgoer that didn’t feel pretty damn good about “Hood”! “Backwards Down the Number Line” secured the third slot of the set. This is another one of Phish’s newer songs with clearly introspective lyrics. Maybe this reflects the new, more mature, direction that the band has taken. Perhaps the creative partnership between Trey and long-time collaborator Tom Marshall has taken on a more serious tone as they both find themselves squarely in their mid-40’s. With Phish, it’s really anyone’s’ guess. BDTNL is one of my favorite “new” Phish songs, and one that I have enjoyed seeing grow. This version had a long, synth-heavy improv section that was relaxed and spacious. However, instead of letting the jam dissolve as they had during the second set of the Chicago show, the band stayed together and moved through the space as a unit. BDTNL worked its way into a second new Phish song titled “Twenty Years Later”. Another reflective sounding song, I’m not so sure that this will move me in the same way as BDTNL. The chorus had a nice sing-along feel, and the jam had moments of intensity. But, overall, the song didn’t do a whole lot for me.

I always appreciate the fact that Phish is willing to put itself out there and take risks, especially with their choices of covers. Usually, the band and audience are rewarded with a great moment in music. But, like any foray into the unknown, sometimes things don’t always work out as anticipated. The next song, a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” was a good example of the latter. The guys played their hearts out, Paige belted out the lyrics with an honest earnestness, yet the song never really came together. Sure, it was fun to hear, but it won’t be claiming a spot in my “dream set” any time soon. Speaking of “dream sets”, Phish followed up the lackluster cover with two songs that would absolutely make the cut. I had only seen “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony”>”Suzy Greenburg” combo on, maybe, one or two previous occasions; so I was all smiles when I heard the first noodlings of “Oh Kee Pah”. If you have ever wanted to see ~15-20,000 people absolutely GETTING DOWN... Blossom during “Oh Kee Pah”>”Suzy G” was THE place to be! The whole venue was a full-on dance party and, although the songs were not long, the band played the hell out of them.

After sending everyone’s head to the moon, the band decided to give the crowd a breather as they transitioned into “Waste”. This mellow number has been historically used as a bathroom break song for many, but I like to stick around and enjoy it. Yea, it’s slow-ish and mellow, but it has a pretty melody and Trey always seems to sing it from the heart. This was a fairly run-of-the-mill version, and gave everybody just enough time to empty their bladders and grab a beer before Phish catapulted into the evening’s next rocker.

“Character Zero” is a balls-to-the-wall rock song, and one that I always enjoy hearing. The soaring guitar solos, playing the tension and release game like a pro, and the anthem rock-esque vocal delivery of “Character Zero” was a fitting end to an excellent set of music. The band pushed the song to peak after peak, splitting the sky with aural pleasure. After a short encore break, Phish returned to the stage with their final offering of the night, “The Squirming Coil”. This is a song that, over the years, has found a good home at either the end of second sets or the encore. For me, it’s a great way to end a Phish show and has always sent me off with a smile of contentment. The band gave the song its due diligence and ended it, as always, with Mike, Trey, and John leaving the stage; allowing Paige to close out the show with a flurry of piano.

Like clockwork, as the last notes of “The Squirming Coil” floated away on the breeze, the lightning started. I’m talking BIG, light up the whole damn sky, lightning. With every bolt that cracked through the air, the crowd let forth a massive cheer as they stumbled towards the exit. Hippies, tour rats, frat boys, girls dressed like butterflies, and every other sort of person imaginable flooded out of the venue and piled into their cars……bound for destinations unknown. Following suit, we joined the parade of fools; however, I knew EXACTLY where I was heading... home, to bed!!

My Day With Cornmeal

Words and Pictures by Rex Thomson

Writing this review of the Taste of Bloomington Festival, held last Saturday, June 19th, and the Cornmeal show directly following it Underscored a very important thing to me…I love my life. Let me please get that out of the way first and foremost. I may not have much by the way of regular riches, but the money I could swim like Scrooge McDuck through the money vaults of my spiritual wealth, my soul dividends! If I was to describe my personal nirvana, it would read like a giant music festival, and be full of the bands I love and I would be surrounded with those I love, the music fans. The devout. My people; my tribe. And you could bet your life that Cornmeal would be playing on that imagined line up, and doing a late night to boot! Where ever you are in the world whatever you are doing, find a way to make it work for you. Life is short my friends. Too short to waste any time with things that you don’t like doing. Some things must be done, to be certain, like standing in line at the DMV(And then no having to be stopped by security and everyone else in line form going over the counter when I was told that my social security card was not valid! I mean I had my passport and my social security card and my old drivers license, and she still wouldn’t believe I was who I said I was!!! And then I…wait…Calm down…return to your happy place. You’re at a Cornmeal show….calm….Okay). Everything else is up to you. Speaking of life being too short, it’s definitely too short to miss a chance to see Cornmeal and three other acts play for a grand total of 11 dollars. Thems American dollars, by the way! Since a good Cornmeal show is worth way more than eleven dollars, even twelve dollars, and there are no bad Cornmeal shows, (Just shorter ones!) that are a hell of a bargain.

Speaking of getting things out of the way, for Journalistic integrity’s sake, let me state that when it comes to Cornmeal, I have no integrity. Okay, like, I have integrity, but no objectivity I suppose would be the proper way to put that. See, I’m a fan. Not just of their incredible live shows, or their genre bending songwriting, but of them as people. Meeting Cornmeal is not some big elusive thing, they are the friendliest band on the scene, almost to a fault! They sit around after shows, and gab with their well wishers, and do this for the finest of all purposes, to connect with their fans. Manys a time when I have seen bands come out after concerts and treat meeting their fans like a victory lap, charging egos on the unbridled enthusiasm of their fans, while remaining aloof and self involved, then jetting after they had their gullets stuffed, metaphorically speaking. Not so with Cornmeal, they are there to learn about you the fan, not to tell you of them , the band! As a fan of the band, I noticed a lot of the same faces at their shows, from Florida to Arkansas, and many places in-between. As with many bands on the music scene, they have built a core of fans, myself included, who will go to see them wherever and whenever they can. They call themselves Cornstalkers, because an internet search of the term Cornlovers was far to horrifying to describe here in this writing. Hell, I still get the heebie-jeebies thinking of what I saw. Is there a form of bleach you can use on your brain? Please tell me there is!

So, after answering a call on the red phone (The line that tells me of Cornmeal shows within a couple of hundred miles of home) I laid plans to be there, at all costs. It’s been like five weeks since my last show and the shakes were starting to make it hard to type. I passed the word to my friends not lucky enough o have red phones of their own, and started to get antsy with anticipation. Then, out of nowhere, I learned that this was to be a twofer, as Cornmeal was also going to be playing an earlier set, that same day, three blocks away. Rubbing my hands in my best Mr.Burns, evil anticipatory fashion, I made my plans, called all I could think of and a few numbers at random from the phone book and spread the word.

The city of Bloomington was celebrating its local cuisine and culture with a “Taste of Bloomington Festival”, which is a nigh perfectly named opportunity to sample foodstuffs and beverages from local restaurants and area confectioners. A perfect way to sample the vibe of a city, with a mixture of local and regional bands, the food of the city itself and its peoples gathered in one place at one time for one reason; to have a good time! It seemed like such a good idea that the sun itself, that pesky ball of fusion in the sky decided to turn its full attention on us. I know I have been in hotter places before, but wowee zowee was it hot! As I approached the Bluebird I saw a choice spot in front of the club. Upon careful studying of the rules of parking, I realized that the two hour limit on the spot would go beyond the five o’clock cut off and happily left my car four doors down from the club, in plain sight for free! A fine omen to start the day. I walked in the general direction and came across a cluster of easy ups around a government building, and figured “This must be the place!” Hi-yo! I walked around the booths marveling at the art work on display, and the fine craftsmanship involved in the various sculptures and such. Being an art buff, I was lost in wonder for a moment, then it hit me…There was no music! I asked the nearest artist where the stage was and he said “All the world’s a stage man!” Granted, metaphorically accurate, but I needed something a wee bit more concrete. So I found someone with a little more are knowledge and found that the “Taste of Bloomington” festival was a couple of blocks away. With the sun keeping me company, peeking at me through every window and around every corner I found the entrance and quickly got my hand stamp. When the helpful stampers saw my gear and asked me why I was there, they gave me a second, different handstamp, which I assumed to be some sort f media thing. Doing this photojournalist bit I have been given laminate cards, handstamps and one place had a monkey I had to carry around, to denote my being press. Though I miss Chauncey the Bonobos monkey, and still correspond with him often (Yo Chauncy! OOOk OOK my brother!) , I generally don’t like anything that obvious. But this stamp would prove to be the exception to the rule!

Sadly, I missed the waiter and waitress races. We have a similar race in my hometown of Louisville, and being a bartender, I love to see the server bartender war put aside for these things! The first band I got to see was hometown favorites, Coyaba, a reggae/world music band whose island beats fit the scorching temperatures perfectly. There is a fine line in my mind between embracing another cultures idiosyncrasies and exploiting them. That said, rather than being a bunch of white kids from the Midwest trying to sound like Caribbean troubadours, Coyaba came off as musicians in love with the open sound and skittle guitar riffs of island music, adding in a fierce percussionist named Laura. Though there were more prominent members, none stood out in the mix like she did; her variety of hand drums and percussion toys adding a depth and confidence that copy cat bands lack. In fact, that was the essence of my experience with them, their overwhelming realness. Coyaba may take their sonic influences from a far away land, but they make music in the here and now, and do it with honesty, which is all I ever ask from a band!

Upon the conclusion of their set, the band took refuge back stage to avoid the heat, a wise move that sadly I could not emulate. As a journalist, my gig is o cover the event, and you can’t do that hiding in the shade. But I was thirsty, and as I looked around for a water fountain or vendor I spied something that made my heart jump! There was someone drinking a glass bottle of Coca-Cola! An old school full size bottle of Coke! Rarely in my life have I ever coveted something that much. After he was assured I wasn’t trying to take his beverage, he bemusedly directed me to the local Mexican restraints booth, which made perfect sense. Mexico is a country that has coke exported to it in its original formula, well, okay, minus the cocaine, and is still sold in bottles. I bought on and had the longest, nostalgia inducingest drink ever. Then I was asked the question that would change my entire gastro intestinal day…”Would you like a taco?” I said no, as I was trying the whole, live on a budget thing for a change when he said “No…free!” handed me a taco on a plate. From the first bite I was in heaven. I thanked him and moved on. Taking pictures of the pizza booth, I spoke with the vendor and he pulled a pepperoni slice of the pie he had just removed from the onsite oven and plated it up and handed it to me! When I started to protest he was adamant about my trying it. Again, local made, and delicious. Next was the Chinese food booth, where I was presented an egg roll. A damn tasty egg roll. Finally I walked up to the last booth on the strip, a pita and hummus place. Accepting my obviously now standard free sample, I managed to get a few bites down as I was approaching my personal stuffed point, when the proprietor asked me how I liked it.

“It’s great”, I said, “But I’m so full!”
He smiled and said “Thanks, be sure to give me a good score. Hey, where’s your scorecard?”

It hit me instantly. All of these vendors had looked at my hand first, and seen my camera. They thought I was one of the judges or something! Since I am known for being quick on my feet I lied and promised him a top mark, and went away chuckling to myself. But the Karma wheel, it does turn, and I was faced with a near instant universe reckoning. My stomach made plain obvious that breaking my usual no food during super hot outdoor shoots rule was not a good idea. In fact, my stomach decided it may just be for the best to evacuate the area. Not wanting to throw up in a porta can in 100 degree weather, I started the long negotiation process with my stomach that we have all had at one time or another. For the record and as a warning, if you ever see me stock still lost in thought, I am probably arguing with the cymbal clanging monkeys that reside in my head, and probably should not be disturbed. Finally quelling the uprising, I wandered back over to the main stage, only to find out that another internal bet, that I wouldn’t see much by the way of dancing in all that heat was lost, as Polka Boy started up. Apparently the one thing more powerful that the sun is the power of the Polka!

There is a strong German population in Indiana, and the favored Teutonic Toonage is the accordion accompanied polka! No ordinary Polka tunes were theses, as they were also no ordinary polka-ists! A wide range of covers and influences were on display, from comical Lawrence Welk influenced intros and Tank yous, to the wild covers of songs , including a rip roaring cover of one of my recently overplayed old school favorites “Istanbul (Not Consantinople)” by They Might Be Giants! Their accordion players were top notch and went wireless, going out into the crowd, inspiring wild twirling dancing. An uproarious “Roll out the barrel” got about a hundred dancers going in nigh ridiculous heat.

The Polka boys set ended and it was time to get to it. The Cornstalkers, Ronnie, David and Jamie, Amber and the rest, along with me congregated near the front of the stage. The day before had been Allie’s Birthday, and I had earlier asked her if her celebration had been extreme. “It was a bit late” she said, “but I’m fine”. The tired smile belied the twinkle in her eyes at the prospect of taking the stage. She is a trooper, and a bouncing in place whirlybird dynamo from which Conmeal draws raw energy by the mega watt! I wondered to myself what sort of set we were in for. In all the times I have seen them, I have noticed a few trends, like day sets usually being a little more up-tempo, and night sets featuring long extended psychedelic jams. Trends are just that, and this set was a fine mixture of up and down tempo, of ebb and flow. There was even a long Psychedelic break. The Cornstalkers danced and swirled, Allie was presented with gifts of Bourbon and flowers from a comely fem photog, and there was much rejoicing. I have a practice I keep at Cornmeal shows, as I walk the crowd, shooting them from every angle conceivable (Still looking to be suspended from the lighting rigs!) where I seek out faces of folks whom I spoke with prior to the set. It’s fun to find folks who haven’t seen the band before, and then find them during the show, to see their reactions. Afterwards you will find them astounded, and in line to buy cds and shirts. Chris Gangi, the Bassist, got off luckiest at the day show, his side of the stage sheltered from the sun. He plucked and thumped away, his deep resounding tone providing an excellent counterpoint to JP Nowak ‘s precision drumming. An aside from a veteran of many shows, JP is quickly growing in power and presence. Many was the time I found myself lost in rhythmic slapping of the stage, keeping time along with him, feeling his passion thru his playing. Banjoist Wavy Dave Burlingame held forth with his slippery finger picking and his wry delivery of lyrics. His sideways smile says it all for him, he’s having a ball. JP’s brother Chris Nowak, gets an astounding variety of sounds from his guitars, from the natural acoustic tone, to full on Pink Floydesque explorations. When he pulls out a glass slide and start stretching notes to absolute limits, and pulling licks from seemingly thin air you wonder why you took so long to see this band, and when you can see them again! Then the deal breaker kicks in, the magic sparkplug, Allie Kral.

So talented is the band, that I at times find my attention riveted to a member as they launch into a solo or particularly tight auditory turn. And in those moments, the thing that shakes that spell is more often than not a long beauteous squeal of a violin being bowed by its mistress, a demon on the fiddle capable of stealing the soul of any would be step toer, Ms.Allie Kral! Attention is paid to her for so many reasons, her mastery of the violin, the gajillion candle light power smile, the glamour magazine beauty she embodies and her overall friendliness. But in the end she is sum of all those arts and so much more! After the set finished, the band, having blown minds and converted the few remaining first timers, hopped the bus and made the three block ride to the Bluebird, the night’s venue, and a wonderful bar in it’s own right. Walking back to the bar with a few of the Cornstalkers, I Hung in fornt f the venue, and watched the band and their soundman load in. Sitting and resting myself for the evening festivities, I noticed Allie wandering towards the bus. I called to her and she came and sat with us on the bench, greeting fans and well wishers, and sharing tales of the road and life. She even offered to step up her aid in a political endeavor I have under way, more on that to come another day.

As I sat, soaking up the love on display from both the fans and the artists I began to fell charged up, electric. I could feel the floor ground thump and pulse as if alive! Then someone walking past said “Hurry up, Fresh hops is starting!” Okay, good deal, I am not losing my mind! Allie went to eat with the band and I went to work, and what fun work it is! I get to see all kinds of bands at different stages in their careers, like the up and coming The Fresh Hops. They mix funk and soul with guitar jams, and have a bit of a merry prankster at the forefront on violin. Now, usually I feel sorry for any fiddler sharing a stage with Allie, but he trod the boards with a fun efficiency! The denseness f their sound bespoke a range of sonic possibilities, and I can’t wait for my chance to see them play a full show, so I can hear the explorations first hand!

Another thing I love about the bluebird is the proximity to the Home of Herm, hands down one of the best lighting men on the scene. Using a stack of computers and personalized programs, he becomes one with his equipment and the music. Seriously, that he is not like Lady GaGa’s light guy or something equally huge is beyond me, and I can’t wait for that day!

Now the stage was set, everyone was primed and the members of Cornmeal eyed each other tensely. From the crowd a yell of “Get to work” was heard, followed quickly by the follow up “Lazy rock stars” A smile spread on Allie’s face and they launched in to the opening of a 3 hour plus set, silencing me, I mean the random fan who had dared question their work ethic. The ebb and flow of a Cornmeal show is like an intimate encounter set to music, the set rises and falls, with moments of rest needed after instances of wild abandon. The crowd was in perfect tune, leaping into the air when the music quickened, swaying as if in a trance when they took on almost Middle Eastern droning tones and dancing arm in arm when the simple Bluegrass roots from which their sound was born shine through. I even caught the bartenders bobbing to the beat as they poured drink for the thirsty attendees. Two full sets later the show was winding up for a big conclusion. The band is fond of featuring a fun cover or two, but had kept the night free of most of that til this point, before pulling out Paul Simon’s ‘I know what I know” a personal fave cover by them, a perfect blend of band and song! As usual, I sang my voice raw, and danced till my knee wouldn’t bend. While the band took a much needed break before coming out for their encore, the foot stomping started. Those, like myself on the stage lip began beating in time. Someone had a pair of empty pitchers, and began beating them on the stage in time, adding staccato flourishes that rang above all. Wild mad energy was being unleashed, the pure love of a crowd wowed and begging for more! A rare two song encore followed, thankfully slightly less crazed than the set closer, keeping me from working myself into an emergency room visit state of exhaustion.

After the stage the band came out and sent a few minutes meting and greeting the sweat drenched remaining fans. Allie, all traces of tiredness gone from her smile radiated enrgy, and said “I think I could go for another hour!” I wish they had. The drive home took two hours, and I arrived at 5:30 in the morning, still sing along! It’s going to be about eight weeks til my next show, and it may sound crazy but that sound like an eternity! Oh well, at least the show was recorded! When that recording is published, we will do an update to this review and add a link. Til then, here’s a clip of Cornmeal Performing “I know what I know”.

And a here’s their appearance on CNN from their Atlanta show, opening for moe. And you better believe I was there for that!