Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Aiken Bluegrass Festival 5.13 & 5.14.16


Aiken, SC

Words & Photos By Bain Stewart Media


The 2016 Aiken Bluegrass Festival took place on May 13th and 14th at the Fairgrounds in Aiken, SC. The festival brought many performers, venders, and attendees from across the country. All proceeds from the Aiken Bluegrass Festival benefit Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with disabilities improve their quality of life through safe interaction with horses. This is one of the most unique festivals in operation today. Not only are the festivalgoers given back-to-back powerful performances, they also get access to rare collaborations exclusive to Aiken Bluegrass Festival.

One word I would use to describe this festival would be “euphoric.” Music festivals always tend to give attendees a surreal experience to escape the realities of the “real world.” This festival throws all these feelings at you and more. Everyone at this close-knit festival is a part of what some would call a big family. While there is good music, food, craft beer, and various venders to be enjoyed by the adults in attendance, there are also various activities and food catering devoted to the kids. At ABF, there isn't an age cap, nor is there an age too young to attend. There are outlets to give every single person a safe and enjoyable time. We all love good music; we all love a good time, and its safe to say that in majority, we all love dogs. This festival is dog friendly. So while the little ones are running around and the adults are dancing to good music, anyone can take a break to say hello to the first dog in sight. In all honesty I’m curious of a better sounding occasion.

Black Water Deep kicked off the festival on Friday with some originals to get the crowd going. This Athens, GA native band brought smiles to everybody’s face with their classic approach to bluegrass. As the festival opener came to the close of their set, they paid tribute to Merle Haggard with a soothing “Mama Tried” cover. From there it’s safe to say that the people were ready for a weekend of music. Following Black Water Deep was Doug and the Henrys, a band based out of Augusta, GA featuring Henry Wynn Jr., guitarist Doug Johnson, and mandolin/violin player Henry Wynn III whom covered a variety of songs spanning multiple genres, including an homage to Bob Dylan with a cover of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” A festival full of heartfelt covers only grew from here. The Josh Daniel & Mark Schimick Project, known for playing with the Larry Keel Experience and The New Familiars kept the show rolling with their soulful blend of Appalachian rooted rock and bluegrass.

Rock and bluegrass is nothing foreign to the renowned husband and wife duo Larry and Jenny Keel, joined by banjo player Will Lee (“Wooley”) forming The Larry Keel Experience. The trio fished and picked through their set with Larry Keel originals as well as tributes in the form of The Grateful Dead’s “Ramble On Rose” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell.” Any other set as a prerequisite to what was to come Friday night was unimaginable. Mountain Express Band came together for a reunion performance to close out the first night of the weekend. This band hasn’t traveled or performed since the early 2000’s. They definitely didn’t hold back as they gave us an “Uptown Blues” and more prior to closing out night one with a cover of The Grateful Dead’s “Not Fade Away.” It was without a doubt a blast to see them smiling on stage once again.

With all of the talented musicians performing, there was also incredible collaborations/sit-ins with artists such as Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and his son, Silas Herman of Gipsy Moon alongside members of Greensky Bluegrass, Fruition, and many more. The big superjam of the weekend, “Larry Keel’s Aiken Allstar Band”, or as Vince Herman called it: “The Fruitsky Gipsy Salmon Experience-Grass” kept the crowd on their toes with heavy hitting unexpected turns. The jam featured Larry and Jenny Keel, Keller Williams, members of Greensky Bluegrass and Fruition, the two Hermans and more. They showed you how much the music is supposed to be about the fun. Keller brought in his rendition of “Pumped Up Kicks,” but changed the lyrics a bit singing: “Better run, better run, faster than my banjo.” Right when you thought the superjam was over, they all collectively sang “Wake and Bake” with a clever play on words for the chorus: “Wake and Aiken.” These bands came from Oregon, Colorado, and other various places nationwide making the conscious decision to travel to the small town of Aiken, SC to perform at this festival. To me and probably to most, that says a lot.

One of the funnier experiences I had while covering the festival was watching Keller Williams walk off the stage after the first (and largest) superjam of the weekend. Keller decided he was going to slap himself in the face as “face drums” since this bluegrass superjam was without drums. He held true to this and without fail played the face drums throughout the set. After finishing up the set he stepped down the stairs of the stage and looked at me with blistering red cheeks and said: “No more face percussion. Ever. It hurts. You know what, here’s an addition, it wicked hurts.” All of us who have experienced a Keller Williams performance know just how much of a clown he can be. But, as clown-like as he is at times, he knows how to play a mind-blowing performance.

As if the performances couldn’t get much better, Fruition blew it away with an extended set followed by a multiple song encore fueled by the thunderous crowd that wanted more. The band went on to play multiple original works as well as several covers such as “Lifes Been Good” by Joe Walsh. Their encore came to a close as they welcomed other artists, staff members, and friends on stage for a heartfelt “Meet Me On The Mountain.”

It really is such an incredible feeling to walk away from a music festival and say to yourself, “Wow, that didn’t seem real.” The friendships that are born, the musical experienced, and the all around atmosphere of this camping festival really makes an impact on those in attendance. All in all Aiken Bluegrass Festival is truly one of a kind.

Bain's Photo Gallery

www.aikenbluegrassfestival.org

Monday, May 30, 2016

Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down Feat. Bill Nershi & Genetics 5.27.16 (Photos)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Buckethead 5.17.16 (Photos)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: The Drunken Hearts' Love & Thirst


Words By Derek Miles (Miles Photography)

As of May 6th, Colorado’s very own Drunken Hearts have released a new batch of songs on an EP the band has aptly titled, Love and Thirst. The album was produced, recorded, and mixed by Rob Eaton at Immersive Studios in Boulder, CO and Silo Sound Studios in Denver, CO and mastered by David Glasser of Airshow Inc. in Boulder, CO.

Having only seen this band live a handful of times, I was eager to hear their studio sound. Andrew McConathy’s vocals and songwriting are what give this band such a distinct identity. The themes and imagery of the songs on Love and Thirst are pure, focused, and just what you would want out of a contemporary country rock band. Labels aside however, the band truly exhibits a proud command over their music while paying homage to the influences that have guided them.

The album kicks off with an upbeat track titled “Happy,” which muses upon the journey of a happy and fulfilled life. The song bustles along to the steady driving rhythm of drummer Alex Johnson, not unlike the heartbeat of a romantic traveler as he looks to the future for inspiration. Cody Russel’s pedal steel interweaves with banjo, fiddle, and electric guitars creating a rich harmonic texture for the vocals to ride on.

The entire album shines with a well balanced mix and dynamic, 70’s Allman-esque guitar harmonies. That being said, you can definitely tell this album was mixed, recorded and produced by a guitar player. Some songs have over five separate guitar tracks/overdubs including: acoustic guitar, two to four electric guitars of varying tones, and pedal steel guitar. Yet, the mix is impressively clear considering all of the different tracks and instruments. However, the guitar-centric nature of the album is by no means a bad thing, it is rock music after all.

The title track “Love and Thirst” brings the band’s namesake into the spotlight with a longing, sullen mood but is hopeful in overall tone. It evokes the struggle of love on the road; doing what you love while leaving a loved one behind – the reality of a touring musicians’ plight. The song features some nice melodic arrangements and is certainly a standout track of the bunch.

“Highs” is probably the most varied track on the album. It begins light, mid tempo, with a more or less standard feel. The groove of the song then changes near the middle to something reminiscent of a String Cheese Incident tune with added percussion and muted island-like guitar riffs. The song then proceeds to a heavier, minor jam segment and finishes out instrumentally.

You can really hear Rob Eaton Junior’s contribution on this album. His guitar lines and harmonies really standout on these songs, giving the appropriate character to the different moods of each track. A highlight guitar solo comes through on the second to last track “Under the Sun” – a burning lead over a latin-tinged rhythm. Jon McCarten really pushes this one along on bass as well.

Love and Thirst is a solid effort. It is enjoyable from end to end. The album has great flow, which can sometimes be an overlooked component when choosing the running order of songs. As a relatively young band, these gentlemen are surely on the upswing of their musical career together. They show confidence and promise while always being a fun band to listen to, always danceable yet reflective and passionate. The Drunken Hearts continue to push the limits of a contemporary edge while remaining thematically traditional and true to soulful country rock.

www.thedrunkenhearts.com

Monday, May 23, 2016

PREVIEW: Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down Feat. Bill Nershi (May 27 & 28)


Join us for two nights of Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down featuring Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident) with special guests Genetics! Night one takes place on Friday May 27 at Stage Stop in Rollinsville, CO (purchase tickets here)! Night two will take place Saturday May 28 at The Bluebird Theater in Denver, CO and is presented by GroundSwell Cannabis Boutique (purchase tickets here)!

www.facebook.com/RooseveltTheDr

www.facebook.com/billnershi

www.geneticsmusic.com

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Euforquestra 5.15.16 (Photos)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Congress & Eldren 4.30.16


Hodi's Half Note
Fort Collins, CO

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)


In an unusual twist of fate, Virginia transplants The Congress moved back home after a number of years in Colorado. In chatting with guitarist Scott Lane, he said not to worry, as this was their third show in the Centennial State in as many months. Most bands relocate here, but as the years grind on and more bands saturate the market it may start trending the other way. There is enough homegrown talent here to satiate the masses, but Colorado, and Denver especially, have always been a musical hub. A transient place of hot nights in packed clubs, The Front range is one more stop before heading to the next burg. For The Congress it just made more sense to move back home. Hodi’s Half Note had a packed lineup with Eldren and the Cycles creating a Congress sandwich.

We arrived just as Eldren was taking the stage. Looking at them, they looked like a conglomerate of Dutch Pimps prepared to melt faces. First impressions aside this band is a progressive shred fest wrapped up with pop sensibilities and solid musicianship. Eldren has an ethereal, spacey sound loosely rooted in the pop sounds of past decades. “Something About You” was an intense love song featuring snappy drum beats and trippy vocals. They have a whimsical style and focus on intricate compositions sometimes dribbling into darker musical spaces. All of this backed up by piercing harmonization and narrative song writing. One such song was the epic pop opus “Sunny Rain DayMoon,” and the video for it is most definitely worth four minutes of your internet time.



Several members are multi-instrumentalists, and at one point during the show keyboardist Jeff McCollister whipped out a trombone. They had played FOCOMX the week prior to a sellout crowd in the same room. Now they were performing for about 35 people and one enthusiastic photographer. To say their style was eclectic would be understating, but Eldren is a jaw dropper. Put these guys in any late night tent in any festival across the country and the next morning they are all anyone will be talking about.

The Congress came home for a two-night run with a stop at The Bluebird before sliding up to Fort Collins for one more evening of fun. After a pretty boisterous audience in Denver, they were greeted with a pretty tame one in the Choice City. The end of the semester combined with bad weather probably kept most people at home. And that is too bad because despite the lack of a crowd, The Congress threw down for 90 minutes of powerfully soulful funky grooves that captivated us all. They are an analog sound at a time currently dominated by synthetic and produced audio.

The members of The Congress are students of Motown and caretakers of a style from a bygone era. The combination of Scott Lane’s incredible guitar work and Jonathan Meadows ridiculous vocals make for a memorable experience. They warmed us up early with the Doris Day classic about contentment, “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be).” The Congress treated us to a tongue-in-cheek version of Mariah Carrey’s “Always Be My Baby.” It went surprisingly well. Another highlight was the searing original “Walls” featuring a huge solo from Lane. Meadows pours his heart out on the stage with each performance. His vocals shake the walls. The Congress treated us to the bouncy bluesy “When I’ve Got The Time.” Overall, it was a powerhouse set from The Congress. With their return back East many feared they would play in Colorado less frequently. It’s obvious this band is dedicated to the fans they gained while living out here. They already have two gigs in Denver scheduled. You can go see them at The Big Wonderful or Cervantes on June 4th. Beyond that they will be playing several festivals across the U.S. this summer. As the rain continued to drizzle outside, I made my way to the bar for my tab. The Cycles were setting up, but with a newborn and a wife at home it was time to take my exit. Until next time Hodi’s.

Nick’s Photo Gallery

www.thecongressmusic.org

www.eldrenband.com

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Infamous Stringdusters 5.7.16


The Fox Theatre
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos By Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)


"The boys are back in town, the boys are back in town…" a phrase usually associated with the summer classic of baseball, the returning of old friends, and the band “Thin Lizzy” can be applied directly to the Infamous Stringduster’s playing the Fox Theater in Boulder this past Saturday night. Being part of a 2-day, first time headlining, Red Rocks extravaganza was just not enough for the Duster boys as they decided to grace us with their ever-evolving jamgrass sound in the intimate, but truly awesome setting which is the Fox Theatre. Coming off a massive performance the night before with JJ Grey & Mofro, the Infamous Stringduster’s were ready to “let loose” and give their adopted hometown crowd a show to truly remember them by.

With no opening band this time around for the Dusters, the music started promptly around 9pm and would last until mere moments before the 1am bell struck. Starting off with the classic Old & In the Way tune “Hobo Song” excited the crowd from the first note struck, and a couple of Duster classics “All That I Can Take” and “Rivers Run Cold” got the audience into the foot-stomping mode, while fiddle extraordinaire Jeremy Garrett was able to warm up his fingers with some quick riffs that sounded like they could have come from an electric guitar/mandolin.

In recent performances, the Dusters have become more willing to lay down some amazing covers of well-known songs, and Saturday’s performance at the Fox was no different. Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” The Killers' “When We We’re Young,” and the Grateful Dead classics “Jack-A-Roe,” “Scarlett Begonias,” and “He’s Gone” were all played with explicit precision and sounded like they could all be a part of the “Pickin’ On Series” we have all become accustomed to. Dobro genius, Andy Hall, handled lead vocals on most of these covers, with his twangy country style coming through beautifully to emulate Tom Petty’s gritty song-writing about a long lost love interest of his. The true cover highlight was the rousing, approximately 15-minute “Scarlett Begonias” which provided each Duster the chance to shine with solos being passed back and forth, and massive smiles jumping from one band member to the next.

Other Duster staples “Well, Well,” “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” and a blistering “High-Country Funk” made their way onto the Fox stage Saturday night with vocals being handled by all members of the band. To point out a couple of highlights, upright bass aficionado, Travis Book, and his booming vocals sang “Night on the River” and “Keep on Truckin’” while a massive group of Jamily members wearing “Let Panda Sing” t-shirts convinced the band to allow banjo player, Chris Pandolfi, to lead the group through “Ring on Finger,” which was received with raucous excitement. I will say, I have not met a group of more dedicated/rabid music fans than those of the Duster’s “Jamily.” Ranging in all ages, genders, and geographical locations, these Duster fanatics bring with them a level of energy and pure musical love that is unmatched in our current music scene.

In the end, this was another precise/well-handled performance by the Infamous Stringduster’s and with Panda and Andy Hall now living in Colorado, it might be only a matter of time until their other three musical compatriots make the long drive out west. And if they do…we will be waiting with open arms to truly accept them into our musical Jamily/hearts. Just as the song “The Road to Boulder” implies, it is hard to stay away from Colorado for that long.

Kevin's Photo Gallery

www.thestringdusters.com

The Infamous Stringdusters & Fruition 5.6.16


Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words By J. Picard
Photos By J. Mimna Photography


There is something special about one's first Red Rocks show of the season. For many, the occasion marks the beginning of summer. We arrived at the Colorado landmark and pulled down into the second entrance box office where we secured our credentials. We met up with photographer and all around great guy, Jim Mimna, who would be shooting the show for MusicMarauders. Collectively we drove up, making a handful of turns down the small two lane roads leading towards the venue and it's upper lots. We arrived at Upper North, where we secured a spot, opened our hatchback, pulled out our chairs and began drinking an assortment of Colorado brews including Elevation's First Cast IPA and Crazy Mountain's Mountain Livin' Pale Ale. Jim headed down to the lower lots to prepare to head into the famed venue and as rain fell sporadically, we hopped into the car to avoid the incoming moisture. Throughout our time in the lot we we approached by folks registering voters, selling goods and friendly faces passing innocent smiles. The doors opened and a short time later Fruition took the stage triggering our climb into Red Rocks for what was sure to be a great evening of music!

We entered the venue through the upper entrance and in the distance we could hear Fruition getting started as we hit the restrooms and grabbed a couple of beers before heading down to row 50. At Red Rocks it's important to plan ahead, as the hike from the seats to the restrooms and concessions and back are lengthy.

With a solid early crowd in attendance, Fruition dug into a set of originals and covers that combined components of acoustic and electric music for a beautiful sound. The beginning of their set was relatively mellow and focused mainly on song writing and vocals with the intermittent trading of guitar licks. It wasn't bluegrass, it wasn't rock, it wasn't pop, but damn it was good. Fruition had a sound that was all their own and was accentuated by the guitar playing of Jay Cobb and the mandolin playing of Mimi Naja. About three quarters of the way through the set they brought out Jeremy Garrett of The Infamous Stringdusters for some added fiddle. Jay announced that they would do one more song, to the disappointment of the Colorado crowd. They announced that they would fit in two, triggering a large roar from the peanut gallery. They jumped into a fast-paced picking frenzy and finished with a song that was credited to Colorado's own, Tyler Grant.

Folks poured into Red Rocks hugging friends and high-fiving with excitement to see one of their favorite bands. An extended break following Fruition eventually translated into the Stringdusters taking the stage. With smiles on their faces and a frenzied crowd craving a dusting, the band began with "No More To Leave You Behind" off of their 2007 release Fork In The Road. Up next was Johnny Cash's "Big River," with a sing along ensuing and following Jeremy's lead. The ever-so-sweet "Summercamp" came next with Travis Book dragging his bass to the front line to contribute clean and well executed vocals.

The band brought up Nicki Bluhm as their first guest of the evening for "See How Far You've Come" off of their new album, Ladies & Gentleman. Her added vocals were beautiful and the harmonies among her and the band were near flawless. It was clear that they had just come off of an extensive tour and were firing on all cylinders. Nicki remained for another cut off of the new album in "Run To Heaven." An unexpected song came in the form of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody To Love," with Nicki nailing the Grace Slick vocals. The Stringdusters returned to a five piece for "Peace of Mind," from their 2014 release Let It Go! The Instrumental "Sirens" made an appearance before the band welcomed their next guest to the stage. The band called Grammy-winner country music star Lee Ann Womack up for "I believe," a song that she performed on Ladies & Gentleman.

"Do you know what a dream come true it is to play with musicians like this?" Lee Ann said, as Andy Hall waved his hand at her as if to say "psh."

"The Way I'm Livin'," a song off of Lee Ann's new album followed in "Stringduster style." It was the most country sounding song of the evening, which featured hauntingly beautiful vocals and captivating instrumentation. It's not to suggest that Lee Ann should get a new band, but their collective sound was incredible. The Stringdusters returned to a five piece for "By My Side" off of Let it Go, followed by the classic "Tragic Life" off of Fork In The Road with Travis returning to the mic on both. The latter of the two, was a near ten minute rendition that included some wild and developed improvisation from a group of seasoned professionals. The relative traditional by Howard Tate, "Get It While You Can," came next as the crowd committed to another sing along. We made our way from row 50 center up towards the top of the venue for a big picture perspective. The crowd, though decent in size, only filled the venue about three fifths of the way.

Another instrumental followed with a quick pickin' "Black Rock" that had the crowd dancing wildly. In the middle of the composition the band broke into Phish's "First Tube!" I quickly realized that no one in our vicinity seemed to recognize the song. It felt lost on the bluegrass crowd, but was extremely cool none the less. The set wound down with the self-titled track off of Let It Go. Nicki Bluhm returned to the stage for Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" to close The Stringdusters set. When it came time for the vocal chant "you know our love will not fade away (claps)," the song seemed once again lost on the crowd who seemed aloof.

Overall the set was enjoyable and tight, reflecting a band on top of their game. With the proper pairing, the band should be starring down the barrel of their first Red Rocks sellout in 2017. Up next was JJ Grey to close the evening. With limited attachment to his music and the mountains beckoning for our return, we departed around 9:30 PM with a whole evening of relaxation in the mountains ahead of us. We headed up Coal Creek Canyon singing "So look up to the mountains, where an old dirt road ends, if you wanna see me again..."

Setlist: No More To Leave You Behind, Big River, Summercamp, See How Far You've Come, Run To Heaven, Somebody To Love, Peace of Mind, Sirens, I believe, The Way I'm Livin', By My Side, Tragic Life, Get It While You Can, Black Rock, Let It Go, Not Fade Away

Jim's Photo Gallery

www.thestringdusters.com

www.fruitionband.com

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jans Ingber's Funk Fellowship 5.13.16 (Photo)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Turkuaz & The Nth Power 5.6.16


Fox Theatre
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)


As we traipsed into the Fox, the Nth Power's Nikki Glaspie was already thumping her drum kit with such explosive power she had her own fallout. Part John Bonham, part Clyde Stubblefield, all woman, her work kept me engaged in their set throughout. Beyond the rhythmic queen, the band swayed between groovy, soul-drenched, vintage funk and overly ambitious, borderline self indulgent playing. To be fair, every time I started thinking that they were trying too hard, they'd snap into some laid-back hook and I'd forget why I was being critical in the first place. While, I thought times were a bit overboard, it takes chops to be able to go overboard, and they had them. Nick Cassarino's guitar playing was mostly clean, and when they laid in the pocket he was really at his best.

Turkuaz took the stage in a rainbow of outfits, each assigned a color, and rocking it from head to toe. The look added reinforcement to a sound that was as colorful as it was exhilarating. Resting on the shoulder's of Michelangelo Curraba's atomic drums and the devastatingly funky bass lines of Taylor Shell, everything they did was deeper in the cut than an infection. The nine piece was one of the tightest, rhythmically driven musical endeavors I've ever seen. The songwriting was polished, dynamic, soulful, and succinct.

Vocally, guitarist Dave Brandwein commanded the assault with the backing of a beautiful pair of female voices, Sammi Garet and Shira Elias. The vocal surprise of the night came from Bari sax player, Josh Schwartz, who hit a few high notes that left me stunned. With a bulletproof rhythm section and dynamite vocalists, it was no wonder the rest of their arsenal was comparably equipped to deliver knockout punch after knockout punch. Greg Sanderson, clad in more red than Little Red Riding Hood, stepped into the spotlight for one of the evening's first solos, and set the bar for a knee-buckling foray into the world of "the one." From there, trumpeter/ keyboardist, Chris Brouwers switched roles faster than Tyler Perry in a "Madea" movie, sometimes simultaneously synthing things up while hitting the horn accents. "La Flama Blanca," wearing white, Craig Brodhead slaughtered riff after riff in a psychedelic onslaught of groovy leads and well-timed hooks. His keyboard served to accessorize his guitar and give him some input on the less guitar-driven arrangements.

The collective reminded me of some sort of Quantum Leap band, stuck traveling through time, playing shows in the present that reflect the history and future of funk music. The timbre of their instrumentation was remarkably crisp, thick, balanced, and sonic. They all served the music over their egos. They were all phenomenal role players who appear to be gracious, kind folks.

This show was an absolute blast. I danced like it was my job along with a few hundred other people who were also getting busy "working." The joy spilled out onto the sidewalk as we chattered excitedly about funk's newfound future. I rode a natural and euphoric high on my journey back home, on a headwind of funky residuals and rhythmic elation.

Every once in a while you see a band for the first time, and you KNOW it won't be the last. Friday night, I left Boulder knowing I'd be back for more.

Brad's Photo Gallery

www.turkuazband.com

www.thenthpowermusic.com

Friday, May 13, 2016

Khu.éex’ Feat. Bernie Worrell 4.19.16


Seattle, WA
Nectar Lounge

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)


Bernie Worrell, also known as the Wizard of Woo, is an amazing keyboardist who has been a part of not just one, but two acts that have fundamentally altered the course of music history. He was a founding member of George Clinton’s legendary Parliament-Funkadelic collective, and he also toured with the Talking Heads, notably performing on their renowned concert film, Stop Making Sense. He has been fearless with his implementation of new and different instruments, and this has aided his contributions to some of the best dance music ever recorded.

At the start of 2016, he went public about his struggles with Stage IV lung cancer. This was met with a vast outpouring of sympathy from his many fans, and people began to organize benefits nationwide. In Seattle, Staxx Brothers’ frontman David Michael Stedman’s idea was to gather some of the best local funk musicians to assemble a stacked bill of artists paying tribute to Bernie at Fremont’s Nectar Lounge. As the event grew closer, Bernie announced he was still in good enough health to perform, and that he would be bringing his current band, Khu.éex’, along for the show.

The show also featured sets from Seattle acts Tip to Base, Staxx Brothers, Midday Veil, Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme, and Marmalade. Each group treated the audience to a fun set of funk music, with the Staxx Brothers digging deep for an absolutely huge cover of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” and Midday Veil dropping a nice cover of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”

Bernie and Khu.éex’ took the stage in the middle of the evening, strategically playing to the largest crowd. It was truly a special moment to watch him walk onto Nectar’s stage, and to hear the audience’s great appreciation for all of the music he had given them. The small, elderly gentleman was draped in a vibrant purple coat and hat. He moved slowly, but deliberately, as he walked across the stage. He wore a giant smile on his face, and consistently engaged his audience throughout his performance. During breaks in his playing, he would look down and joke with fans, shaking his finger and laughing with them. His playing is still spot-on, even in spite of his condition. When he gets going on the Moog or organ, it’s a pretty unmistakable sound. As I stood there, I felt so thankful for the chance to see and hear him in this intimate setting. Looking around, I could tell this sentiment was echoed by the other patrons.

Seeing him play with Khu.éex’ was itself a unique experience. This iteration of the group featured a stacked lineup: Bernie, Skerik (saxophone), Stanton Moore (drums), Preston Singletary (bass), Captain Raab (guitar), Gene Tagaban (vocals), Clarissa Rizal (vocals) and Om Jahari (vocals). Their music is amalgamation of jazz, funk and tribal music. The jazz influence can be felt most strongly from Skerik and the rhythm section, while Bernie’s playing constantly makes anything they do sound extra funky.

The vocalists draw heavily on traditional Inuit folk music, which includes a lot of spoken-word sections. This actually mixed really well with the band’s jazz stylings, and gave the set the type of cool, coffee-shop-open-mic vibe that wouldn’t have seen me surprised to see people snapping their fingers after each song. Their music at this show was focused on delivering Bernie some healing energy, something that was made obvious by their mid-set tribal healing ceremony. Here, they draped Bernie in a special blanket, while explaining the use of music to heal in their culture. They referenced Bernie as a great and powerful healer in his own right, and said that it was our turn to help to heal him, as he has helped us all in so many ways through his music.

My favorite part of the set was watching the interactions between Bernie and Skerik, who is well known for his crazy onstage persona. The two clearly had the upmost respect for one another, and they love to joke around together. At one point, Bernie got on the mic and quietly implored the audience to clap louder after a particularly nasty Skerik solo. It was a bit of a sensory overload, watching these two brilliant musicians play off each other, only feet away from me.

It was a delight to see Bernie up close and personal, and quite an inspiration to see him still radiating positivity, in spite of his health issues. Even in his old age, he continues to set an excellent example for the rest of the world to follow. This was an awesome benefit that I am glad to have been a part of, and Seattle did a great job of turning out on a Tuesday to support (and give thanks to) a living legend. As Bernie walked off the stage, we all basked in the look of deep appreciation on his face, a wonderful expression of his decades-long musical connection to his devoted fans.

Scott's Photo Gallery

www.alittlebigband.com

www.bernieworrell.com

Thursday, May 12, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: The Grant Farm's Kiss The Ground


Words By Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)

Fort Collin’s based, National Flat-Picking Guitar Champion, and Trey-Anastasio look a-like Tyler Grant has done it again. Kiss The Ground is Grant’s latest release under his own independent record label “Grant Central Records” and it has all sorts of goodness attached to it. Conceptualized, funded, and in the end recorded through the help of an ambitious “Kickstarter” campaign The Grant Farm’s 3rd album is, “An ambitious concept album focusing on struggle and achievement in modern society” according to the Kickstarter webpage. I would have to agree.

The Grant Farm consists of Adrian Engfer (bass/vocals), Sean Macaulay (drums), Kevin McHugh (keyboards/vocals), and of course Tyler Grant shredding away on a variety of guitars (electric/acoustic) and lending a hand on vocals as well. I remember first seeing Tyler back in 2008-2009 as a part of the well-missed and hugely-loved Emmitt Nershi Band, and he was playing bass! (I was also at his last show as part of EM Band in Boulder at the Nomad Theater) Whether Grant is playing bass or shredding away on guitar, he has a commanding stage presence and a tone that is truly recognizable. The Grant Farm is a well-practiced touring machine, playing all over the country headlining and opening for a variety of bands in the bluegrass/jamband scene. All four musicians lended a hand in creating Kiss The Ground and Grant played the role of main producer/master technician.

Kiss The Ground: The Grant Farm (2016)

Get In Line: The main song of this album (Reprise/Radio edit also appear at the end) is a bluesy opener with Grant taking center stage right-away on electric guitar. Kevin McHugh plays a great/funky keyboard riff in the background as Grant shreds away with his country-ish tone. Get in Line is a great way to foreshadow the rest of the album with lyrics such as “No matter what you hope to find” giving me the impression of this being a “set-up” for later songs.

Wanderer: Take the story-telling of a Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson and combine it with a jazzy/piano centric beat, "Wanderer" is a great way to continue this album. “Siren’s are singing loud tonight, we’ve got a long way to go” is sung with a deep baritone voice playing right along with Sean Macaulay tapping on the high-hat with perfect precision. I wonder what Grant would sound like playing a true jazz-style guitar…

The Keg: The first song featuring Grant on an acoustic guitar on this album, "The Keg," is an interesting song to say the least. Coupled with a bluesy sound and folk-like vocals is a slide guitar solo which highlights the diversity of Grant’s guitar abilities. “Colorado here we come, when we make it back we’re going to have some fun” proves to me that Grant is a true Coloradoan no matter how far away touring takes him. I will say The Keg does have a weird-sounding guitar intro and a funky bottle breaking/dog barking ending…but not all things can be perfect.

Monarch King Meets His Maker: A funky bass line to start from Engfer, church-like feel starting from McHugh’s organ playing, and a wailing guitar solo from Grant make this one of my favorite songs of the entire album. “Let go, Let go, Let go” is repeated numerous times through "Monarch King Meets His Maker" reminding us listeners of the idea to not get stuck on the little things, and make sure to focus on the positive. The real highlight of this song for me is Engfer’s funky bass line that is present throughout the entire piece, with various time changes woven in between.

Fill Your Cup: Not my usual cup of tea, "Fill Your Cup" is the first true “country oriented” song from Tyler Grant and his talented bandmates on this album. As soon as I heard the lyric “Flat-tire on your Chevy truck” this song was lost on me, but I will say the vocals did sound very harmonized and went with the beat provided by Macaulay on drums.

One Hundred Ways: A Spanish guitar-sounding intro gives "One Hundred Ways" a truly Grant-centered focus as he can be heard playing numerous instruments on this number. Utilizing a pedal-effect to enhance his guitar distortion, Grant shreds on top of his own acoustic guitar playing with McHugh playing some very nice “Island-y” type of organ. I would say this song is one of the best examples of Grant’s guitar prowess, and overall is a great addition to Kiss The Ground. (It also feels like Part 1 of a 2-part song, with “To Kneel” being that 2nd part.)

…To Kneel and Kiss the Ground: Most using just their instruments, playing around with numerous time changes, and a definite progressive-rock type of finish gives this original Grant Farm song very unique qualities among the many great songs on this record. Grant takes center-stage with one progressive guitar lick after another, and vocals only do come in at the end to help round out the two-part song. (With One Hundred Ways being Part 1 in my opinion)

Fireflies: With a much slower pace and definite country style lyrics, "Fireflies" is a nice change-up for The Grant Farm as this is this records first true ballad. “Don’t leave me lonely when you’re with me babe” and “Keep the light burning babe” are just two of the lyrics which give me the impression that whoever wrote this song for Tyler Grant’s band is deeply in love with their significant other and wanted to make sure this record proved it. Grant uses some great chord progressions with a very high-pitched tone to wrap this beautiful song up in one pretty ballad/package.

Colors: A complete 360 degrees turn-around from "Fireflies," "Colors" is a much quicker/bluegrass type of song which highlights Engfer on the upright acoustic bass and his great rhythm keeping ability. This tune does have some interesting lyrics with “Monkey Joe sat on the beach watching all the colors” being just one of many. McHugh can also be heard raging on what sounds like an old-school upright piano, playing in unison with Engfer’s thumping bass lines.

The Innocent One: Another song featuring Grant on acoustic guitar, "The Innocent One" feels like a tribute song with many of the lyrics referencing seeing a friend in the distant future. “See you on the mountain, see you on the mountain” is repeated over and over with the emotions of each time it is repeated increasing ever so slightly. Utilizing much slower pace and very empathic lyrics this original number is a nice tribute to whomever's loved one past away.

I Wish That It Would Rain: The last song of Kiss The Ground, before the radio-edit of "Get In Line," highlights Grant’s guitar shredding ability with a country-ish vocal style. “I Wish That It Would Rain” is a great way to end The Grant Farm’s 3rd independently released album and gives Grant one last chance to show us why his name is at the forefront of the band.

Overall, I enjoyed Kiss The Ground and look forward to seeing The Grant Farm perform these songs live around our great state of Colorado. I thoroughly recommend checking them out if you have not already, you will not be disappointed!!

www.grantfarm.net

Monday, May 9, 2016

Steamboat Stringband Jamboree 5.6 - 5.7.16 (Photos)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bombino 4.29.16 (Photos)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

moe. & Chris Robinson Brotherhood 4.15 & 4.16.16


Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)


Listening to moe. was one my very first forays into the jam scene back in 2010. I have always admired their songwriting and ability to improvise, in addition to the uniqueness of their sound. In recent years, I haven’t found myself listening to them as much as I ought to. There is so much else going on that I honestly had stopped thinking about them. The announcement of this run in the Northwest piqued my interest, and it seemed like a good chance to assess how the band was doing in 2016. With a couple of awesome venues and old-school psychedelic rockers, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, co-headlining, it made perfect sense to road trip down to Portland from Seattle with some friends, then return the next day to catch the Seattle show.

-Friday April 15, 2016-

Wonder Ballroom
Portland, OR


We arrived early to the Wonder Ballroom, found a close parking spot, and then headed to my go-to dinner spot before a Wonder show, Queen of Sheba. This hole-in-the wall Ethiopian joint serves up amazing veggies on a large piece of injera, a flatbread pancake that doubles as your utensil. This was the perfect way to restore my energy from the drive down and prepare my body for a long night of dancing.

Returning to the Wonder, we walked in a few minutes before Chris Robinson Brotherhood took the stage. This was my first time seeing the band or any of its members perform, so there was a lot for me to take in musically. The first thing I have to mention is that Neal Casal is an absolute monster on guitar. I knew he had to be a fairly prodigious musician to be selected to compose all of the intermission music for ‘Fare Thee Well,’ but I had no idea of the full extent of his talent. I’m glad to say I won’t be sleeping on any more opportunities to see him perform.

As a group, CRB serves as a vibrant link to a bygone era, while still keeping things remarkably fresh and innovative. Their sound is an eclectic blend of psychedelic rock and Americana, but during the improvised sections they ventured into funkier territory. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall has found an extremely tasteful way to integrate the synthesizer into what the band is doing, and it helps push their jams in a spacier realm than I was expecting. Putting all of this together gives you an experience that is enjoyable to a diverse swatch of music listeners.

Chris Robinson himself is a legend outside of this band’s work, and he really ties the sound together with his impassioned vocal efforts. His voice has that perfect nasal twang that really pops next to a fingerpicked guitar, and between him and Neal there is no shortage of that dynamic here. The two men have an effortless connection when they play together, showcasing the results of years of practice. Their interplay, both vocally and on guitar, is justifiably at the centerpiece of the band’s sound. They flat-out rocked the house, and the moe.rons seemed extremely appreciative of what the group had to offer.

Although it was a co-headlining bill, CRB only played a single set. moe. was up next to unleash a full two-set performance. The sextet came onstage grooving and never stopped until set break. “Big World” opened up the festivities with some phenomenal Al Schnier falsetto crooning. The catchy vocal melody had everyone in the crowd getting down early in the set, with Chuck Garvey absolutely ripping the lead guitar part. The resulting jam eventually found its way to the Latin-infused grooves of “Ricky Marten,” a standard setlist pairing with “Big World.” This song saw Al taking on some additional lead duties, unencumbered by his vocals. Towards the end of this jam, bassist Rob Derhark authoritatively dropped the bassline to “Billy Goat” and moved the band forward into that song, as percussionist Jim Loughlin got his first chance to bust out his vibraphone. This song is centered around Rob’s vocals and bassline, and kept the show flowing outstandingly. Jim was tearing it up on the vibraphone during the jam, but still keeping to the back of the mix.

After a solid 25-minute opening frame, the band slowed things down a bit with “Do or Die,” another Rob-sung tune. This hard rocking song is more in the vein of Widespread Panic, and features some great screamed lines in Al’s vocals, which contrast the soft parts well. After a break to tune up, the group began to play the vocal intro to “Spine of a Dog,” causing the audience to break into cheers. This song’s nonsensical lyrics are beloved and memorized by most moe.rons, and getting the entire room singing along is one of the best ways to really get the party going.

The party continued in a big way as the jam segued right into “Buster,” one of the band’s quintessential heavy-hitters. This one contains a wonderful, jazzed-out breakdown that is masterfully accented by Jim and drummer Vinnie Amico’s forcefulness. The groove from this breakdown propelled the group into a lengthy jam that saw Rob getting into some dirty slap-bass, before slowing down for a few minutes. Out of this well-executed tempo change came a transition into the set-closing “Cathedral,” which helped everyone to wind down nicely for a break in the music.

Second set eased back in with a nice rendition of “Silver Sun,” before diving into “The Road.” This song saw the band unleash some of their amazing three-part vocal harmonies. Neither Rob, Al, nor Chuck is afraid to push their voice right up to (and sometimes past) its limit, and their fearlessness pays off in a big way at times like this. Their vocal style works so well for them, and as an added bonus is totally inimitable. I started to freak out during the jam because I saw Al take a seat and begin working on his keyboard. Surely enough, he began to tease out the opening melody to “The Pit,” doing so alone for a bit before Chuck and Rob joined in.

“The Pit” is one of my all-time favorite moe. songs, so I moved closer to the stage for a good look. Al uses a nice Rhodesy setting on his keyboard for the song’s riff while Chuck capably smashes the devilish guitar part on his own. This foreboding song is about hell and the devil, though the lyrics don’t go much deeper than that. It has a great, dark sound and usually gets really chaotic improvisation. This jam featured lots of vibraphone, until Rob took over the spotlight and started slapping. This paved the way for the band to move into “Timmy Tucker,” a classic tune that easily stretched over twenty minutes in this slot. It contained a few jams, each punctuated by Rob’s great vocal. The end of the composition saw the band jump right back into “The Road,” driving the crowd totally wild. The band kicked it into high gear to perfectly finish out this glorious second-set sandwich.

The set was nicely capped by “Wind It Up,” with the crowd screaming its refrain “Be on my side, I’ll be on your side!” as Jim got a well-deserved chance to play lead on vibraphone during the composed section of the song. Al spent most of this song on keys playing around with his effects, producing some crazy background noises. They saved us a fat encore, with robust takes on “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Downward Facing Dog.”

This was the most fun show I had seen moe. play in several years, and this warmed my heart. The world is a happier place to be when moe. is playing up to the high standards they have set for themselves, and as long as they can keep delivering like this I know that I will see a lot more of them in the future. I’ve seen them play a couple of underwhelming shows before, but this was one of the nights that accentuates the upside that always keeps me coming back.

Set One: Big World > Ricky Marten > Billy Goat, Do or Die, Spine Of A Dog > Buster > Cathedral

Set Two: Silver Sun, The Road > The Pit > Timmy Tucker > The Road, Wind It Up

Encore: Stranger Than Fiction, Downward Facing Dog


-Saturday April 16, 2016-

Showbox Market
Seattle, WA


Chris Robinson Brotherhood again started things off at Seattle’s Showbox Market. The group mixed things up for this set, understanding that many of the fans had also attended the previous show. My favorite song they played during this set was their cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It is always fun to see Dylan’s amazing songwriting reinterpreted by a band that is ready to jam the song out a bit. Casal did a great job of preserving the composition’s unique energy with his solo, while still making it his own.

CRB is an interesting group because they are all older musicians, but the group itself is still young. Their history attracts a large portion of their fanbase, but this newer project frees them from many of the expectations. They have a safe place to experiment with new songs and styles of music, while still remaining true to their roots in a Grateful Dead-oriented Americana style. It is wonderful to see such new exploration from veteran musicians, because they are still pushing themselves and their boundaries onstage every night, and it keeps the experience novel for the fans.

Before moe. came onstage, Al’s double-neck Gibson SG was attracting lots of interest from audience members. Someone asked me if he would actually use it, I assured them he would. Surely enough, he came out and picked it up for the first song of the night, as the band opened with “Plane Crash.” This Rob-penned number is one of the group’s biggest crowd-pleasers because of its catchy chorus and the death-defying solo from Al. This was the perfect way for them to open the show because it captured the audience’s full attention from the first moment. They followed with an abrupt, jerky number that is aptly titled “Spaz Medicine.” This one did a great job of keeping up the energy, and it was clear that the band intended to close out this tour in style.

The next chunk served as the meat of a delicious first set, a 37-minute span including four tunes. First, they grooved through the Latin-infused sounds of the instrumental “Mar-De-Ma,” finding their way into “Bring It Back Home,” which dropped the tempo a bit but still kept the crowd moving and singing along. The improv on this track got into spacey, Grateful Dead-influenced territory, with Jim adding in some tasty vibraphone licks over the top of the mix. This flowed nicely into “California,” an up-and-down song that the band used to toy with the crowd a bit. The jam went towards uptempo jazzy elevator music behind a driving bassline, with Jim getting a chance to lead on vibraphone. The elevator groove continued as they worked their way into “Don’t Fuck with Flo,” with Rob getting in some wacky spoken-word vocals, until he shouted the song’s title and the instrumentals turned towards rock stylings. The jazz groove quickly reappeared, and the band enjoyed switching back and forth between jazz and rock modes a couple of times before starting to jam in earnest. The improv went in a funkier direction for a few minutes, before the return of the familiar jazz vibraphone to cap off a brilliant segment.

To close out the first set, the band invited Chris Robinson to join in on the fun with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Chris capably handled the lead vocal on this track, and the crowd roared in appreciation. Seattle crowds tend to respond very well to Dead covers, and this occasion only served to reinforce that point. This was my first time seeing moe. do a Dead cover, and they delivered just as well as I knew they could! The band seemed to have a lot of fun having Chris onstage, and the room was all smiles as the set reached its conclusion.

One thing that was very different about the Showbox performance from the Wonder Ballroom show was that the band had a far cooler light rig in Seattle, likely due to cramped conditions onstage at the Wonder. They were using some powerful LEDs that I had not seen a band use previously, and it made me wonder (pun intended) just how much more epic the previous evening’s show could have been if they were accommodated.

The second set was a jammed-out, five song affair. They started off with “Awesome Gary,” and ripped through a nice funk jam before a patient segue into “32 Things,” which sent the crowd over the edge. Rob’s slap bass intro had people screaming, whistling and preparing to get down. As the song’s chaotic vocals made their entrance, the vibe inside of the venue was jubilant. Vinnie’s frenetic drumming initiated a great dance party that persisted throughout the jam and into the vocal/slap bass reprise.

Everyone enjoyed a well-deserved breather before the set continued. The next track started off with some heavy power chords before the reggae-tinged, slow groove of “Seat of My Pants” made itself apparent. Among moe. songs, I think this song is one of the most complete pieces of music. It showcases their trademark rapidfire vocals and harmonies, while giving each member several nice chances to show off their instrumental prowess. Chuck’s lead part is infectious, and gives the entire song a sound like the listener is flying uncontrollably through space. The improv reached a chaotic peak before the song descended back into Chuck’s beautiful tension-releasing lines, then the band thrashed briefly before moving onto the next verse. The next jam was much slower, and pointedly directed towards a deft segue into “Opium.” At this point, our photographer Scott (normally a very relaxed guy) seized the evening’s award for ‘most enthusiastic concert patron,’ by pretending to kick over a trash can at the rear of the venue. It just goes to show how hearing a favorite song can awaken your inner beast mode!

“Opium” is a slow-building moe. classic, and this version contained a jam that made me feel like I was wandering the desert in the heat of day with an empty canteen. This was caused by the heavy guitar delay as Chuck and Al bounced riffs back and forth. To close out the set, the band erputed into “Moth,” an interesting lyrical tune. The chorus astutely points out that moths “know everything about life,” but “nothing at all about living,” a fascinating quandary. After this one, the band had raged nearly up to the curfew. The crowd brought them back for a quick “Captain America” encore, and just like that the night had come to an end.

After seeing four sets of moe., I am extremely impressed with the way they are currently playing. When they are on, as they were this weekend, they remain one of the strongest bands in the jam scene, both vocally and instrumentally. It is great to see them still performing at this level as they push on towards their 30th year as a band. I may be guilty of counting them out previously, but this run showed me that the band is unquestionably still deserving of the respect heaped onto them by their diehard fans. Whenever they return to the Northwest, you can bet I will be hitting as many shows as I can!

Set One: Plane Crash, Spaz Medicine, Mar-De-Ma > Bring It Back Home > California > Don't Fuck with Flo, Deal*

Set Two: Awesome Gary > 32 Things, Seat of My Pants > Opium, Moth

Encore: Captain America

* with Chris Robinson

www.moe.org

www.chrisrobinsonbrotherhood.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ultraviolet Hippopotamus 4.8 & 4.9.16


Quixote’s True Blue
Denver, CO


Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J Mimna Photography


Friday April 8, 2016:

Ultraviolet Hippopotamus (UV Hippo for short) is a band that has had a formative influence on my music tastes. I can still remember the first time I saw them, in Raleigh, NC in 2013. Watching Dave Sanders play the synthesizer, I understood for the first time just how much this instrument can add to a band. At the time, I had definitely been exposed to the synthesizer in other capacities, but this was the first time that I was ever completely riveted by a synthesizer performance. Life since that day has always been a little different in the best way possible, as the synthesizer has become one of my favorite instruments to hear played.

I was lucky enough to see the band a few more times in the summer of 2013, before I moved to the west coast. The next year, the band announced they would be taking a hiatus. After playing nearly 200 shows per year out of a small van, it seemed only natural that the band members might want to spend time at home. Last year, they did a short Michigan run as their only shows. This year, they decided they were ready to hit the road again for a couple of multi-night runs. I decided to pounce on my opportunity to catch them in Denver, figuring a west coast tour seemed highly unlikely. As I counted down the days, I could hardly believe I would be getting a chance to see the band again. It seemed like they had gone away right as I was getting the chance to really dive into their music.

This run was at one of Denver’s beloved Grateful Dead bars, Quixote’s True Blue. This is a relaxed spot in Capitol Hill, with tie-dye and music memorabilia taking up every inch of wall space. The band somehow squeezed all five members onto the tiny stage, and they came out hot for the first night of the run. They took the stage with Dave talking to the crowd about baseball and warming up his synth. I knew this was an excellent sign. My suspicions were confirmed, as they began the show with “Verlander,” off their epic jamtronica odyssey from 2013’s Translate, which was named for Detroit Tigers ace, Justin Verlander. This song is one of my very favorites, and the best way I could imagine the run starting off. They jammed it straight into “Run Rabbit Run,” from 2011’s Square Pegs, Round Holes. This one has a contagious energy associated with Russell Olmstead’s snappy guitar riff. The jam flowed outstandingly into a more relaxing tune, the older “Kindred Spirits.” This was a great chance for us to catch our breath, but it didn’t last too long as they brought it back around to conclude the composed section of “Verlander.” After reeling off that impressive segment to begin the show, the band had erased any concerns the audience might have had about the band being a bit rusty or off their game due to the hiatus.

The second set was highlighted by another amazing sandwich. It began with “Welcome Welcome,” the opening track to 2008’s Songs for the Reaper. This song is centered around Russ’s vocals, and has a bit of a country twang present. The band worked this one into “Yin Yang,” which is compositionally among their very best tunes. After a brief “Enter Sandman” jam, the song’s transcendent ending section made its first appearance. I had forgotten just how amazing this part was, and as it washed over me it caused all of the hairs on my neck to rise to attention. After teasing us with it, they jammed away into “The Bully,” leaving me flabbergasted. This song has some nice lyrics about music saving us from the darkness, but I needed to hear that last section concluded soon or else my head would explode. The band seemed to understand this, as they turned on a dime and jammed right back into “Yin Yang,” allowing Dave to finally play out one of his most amazing riffs to its cathartic conclusion.

During this part of the performance, I was also extremely impressed with the band’s light show. They didn’t have a very large rig with them, but Lighting Designer Ryan DeWitt did a great job of maximizing his results. Their music lends itself well to psychedelic visuals, and this aspect was greatly aided by Quixote’s in-house LED bars, which flash random colors onto the tie-dye tapestries behind the stage. Between this and Ryan’s lights, I was visually satisfied at all times.

“Dune Climber” saw perhaps the night’s best improvisation, with Brian Samuels taking the reins with his powerful bass groove. Dave and Russ dueled with each other atop the mix, while Joe Phillion and Casey Butts went absolutely bonkers on drums and percussion, respectively. Casey’s extensive percussion kit really fills out the band’s sound, plugging any holes that remained with fiery rhythms. “Square Pegs Round Holes” and “Tugboat” finished out the set with the band utterly crushing it. They encored with “Hey Tommy,” the last two songs with organ riffs that sound like they belong in a circus. One thing I love about this band is how unafraid they are to be goofy and fun onstage, and it really shows during tracks like these.

Set One: Verlander > Run Rabbit Run > Kindred Spirits > Verlander, Greater Good, B'Guzzler, Georgie

Set Two: 7 Hour Mile, Welcome Welcome > Yin Yang* > Bully > Yin Yang, Dune Climber, Square Pegs Round Holes, Tugboat

Encore: Hey Tommy

*Contained Enter Sandman (Metallica) Jam


Saturday April 9, 2016:

With a stellar first night in the books, and the band fully warmed up and acclimated to the venue, I knew the second night had the potential to be a world-class show. My expectations only grew as the day went on and our editor, J., mentioned to me that Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass) and Fareed Haque (Garaj Mahal) were planning to sit-in. My mind was racing through different songs that they could choose to feature these brilliant musicians, but the only one I felt relatively sure about was that Hoffman ought to play “Move Your Ass” with them, as it is their only song with a composed mandolin part.

The first set again began with a ridiculously intense track, this time “The Marine.” This song’s ending contains one of the most ludicrous funk breakdowns I’ve ever heard, with both Dave and Casey going the extra mile to really get the crowd moving. The synth licks during the jam made me feel as if I were being chased through the desert at night, and it just kept peaking harder and harder until they reprised the funky breakdown to finish things off. Next, I got my first chance to hear a new Russ song, “Vultures and Theives.” This one was heavy and guitar-driven, and I can’t wait to get another chance to hear it.

The boys next turned to a more visceral tune, “Medicine,” from Square Pegs, Round Holes. This song is based around an awesome, simple xylophone riff from Casey. This riff sounds so familiar, I have often wondered if it was a sample of another song, but never found one to match it with. The song’s intro is both subtle and moving, giving way to a jazzy dance section with great keys. Dave moves to synth for the song’s fuzzy ending, and a reprise of what at this point has to be among my favorite parts ever played on the xylophone. Although it’s not very complicated, it is just so tasteful and perfectly suited to the rest of the song.

A hard-charging “Metaphorical Pipe” came next, featuring some crazy vocal work from Dave. While I love this song’s lyrics, I wasn’t as wild about his delivery, which was very gruff and spoken-word style. This song transitioned into “Dusty’s Trumpet,” which wasted no time in initiating one of the run’s weirdest synth jams. Dave easily redeemed himself, as he absolutely wailed atop the mix. They paused briefly before launching into “Songs for the Reaper.” This is one of their best written songs, and Brian and Russ sang a great duet. It tells the story of a young man who wants to sell his soul to the devil, in order to learn the blues. This is one of relatively few singalong numbers in their catalog, and I took full advantage, along with some other diehards near the front. After another pause, they delivered the goods by playing “The Scar.” This reggae-tinged original is among my very favorite Hippo songs because of how much ground they cover. Starting off as a relaxed reggae track, it flourishes into a bluegrass-inspired live-electronica breakdown that you couldn’t help but dance to.

This had been such a ridiculous set, there was only one way to close it out. The band invited fellow Michigander Paul Hoffman to sit-in on the electric mandolin. For the first track, the band attempted to lead him through a complex song, called “EMD.” This one didn’t go off so well, and it seemed like they may not have had as much time as intended to rehearse. Paul seemed fairly lost during most of the composed section, but then once they got to the funk jam his instincts took over no problem. He ripped up a nice solo and infused some additional twang into the group’s sound. The newly-formed sextet closed out the set with “North Coast,” a wonderful song about how great it is to be from the state of Michigan. This song is very bluegrassy, and Paul clearly felt right at home as he picked along. It was a lot of fun watching him and Russ trade solos and seeing all of the Michigan love flowing so freely. I grew up in Georgia, and I live in Washington, but even I could understand that this was a really special Michigan moment.

Second set started off with “The Moth,” from 2012’s Broomhilda Suite EP. This transitioned into “That 1 Jam,” a synth-based number that is definitely one of the band’s weirdest. The composed section of the track is jaw-droppingly absurd, and the improvisation always takes it even a step further. After a few minutes of Dave taking over on this rollercoaster ride, the jam took on more of a reggae sound, eventually leading them into “Head in the Trees.” This song is amazing on the Songs for the Reaper album, but I have yet to see them deliver it live to that same standard. I’ve noticed that the vocals in the verse are always understated and underemphasized in a live setting, and this time was no exception. I think my opinion of the most important part of that song must differ substantially from the band members’ perspective.

After a pause, they played “Broomhilda,” the title track to the aforementioned EP. This tune saw some truly exceptional improv, beginning with an avant-garde samba groove that worked its way into an intense metal portion. Dave took over with some craziness on the synth, before moving over to his keyboard to conclude the jam with a classical keys segment that reminded me of “Orfeo,” a great classically-inspired inspired composition of Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins.

The band next invited guitarist Fareed Haque and the other two members of his jazz trio, keyboardist Tony Monaco and drummer Greg Fundis, to share the stage, with Greg sharing Casey’s percussion rig. Dave helped Tony get his keys correctly setup before departing the stage for the next song, “The Game.” This one was a lot of fun, but my favorite part had to be watching the look on Russ’s face as he got to play onstage with one of his guitar idols in Fareed. Fareed is one of the nastiest players I have had the chance to watch in person. He is capable of dazzling from anywhere in the mix, whether he is laying down background chords and textures or tearing it up on a solo. His jazz chops are formidable, and you could see this on the faces of the other band members. There were clearly times when he was soloing where they were wondering how they could possibly follow it, but they were always able to work together and come up with something. The jam flowed really well, but it seemed like it was over in a flash.

Tony and Greg left the stage, and Dave returned. Fareed stayed up, and in fact took over the microphone. He began telling some odd story about eating fried chicken, and he had the crowd in stitches! I finally saw what people had been saying about his legendary banter, and it was also plain to see that the band was about to bestow a “Colonel Sanders Breakdown” upon us. This tune sounds about like you might think, with frenzied picking and plenty of twang. It was great to get the chance to see Fareed play with Dave. As great as Tony is in his own way, it is very tough to replace Dave on synth at a Hippo show. The jam featured plenty of guitar duels between Russ and Fareed, with Russ valiantly working through a broken sting. This definitely freaked him out a bit, but he was able to switch guitars in time to finish things out well. The look on his face was one of pure joy and awe, and it was great to see everybody enjoying themselves so much while being onstage.

They finished up the second set with “Cherise,” before encoring with “Chorale.” The jam in “Chorale” featured some inspired palm-muting from Russ as the group worked its way through what I thought might have been a tease of the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.” This was a cool way to conclude an exceptional two nights of music. It was a real treat to get the chance to see an old favorite band come back and crush it that hard. After getting a chance to express my gratitude to the band, J. and I departed the venue, making sure to leave the guys with words of encouragement like “The world is a better place with Hippo!” As much as I pressed them to find out if they had any more touring plans in the works, the best answer they would give was “We’ll see.”

Although they seem to be content not touring extensively, I do really hope that the band will throw us a bone again sometime soon with a few more shows. They are so talented and still can jam so tightly, it would be a waste for these to have been their last shows. Knowing these guys, I’m sure they will get the itch again eventually. Whenever they do, there will certainly be a contingent of fans ready to get down with the Hippo one more time!

Set One: The Marine, Vultures and Thieves (New Russ Song), Medicine, Metaphorical Pipe > Dusty's Trumpet, Song for the Reaper, The Scar, DNT*, North Coast*

Set Two: Moth > That 1 Jam > Head in the Trees, Broomhilda, The Game$, Colonel Sanders Breakdown#, Cherise

Encore: Chorale

* with Paul Hoffman on electric mandolin
$ with Fareed Haque on guitar, Greg Fundis on percussion, and Tony Monaco replacing Dave on keys
# with Fareed Haque on guitar

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