I am not fully recovered from the nine shows I saw over my brief summer vacation, but if I wait until I'm recovered, I risk losing the seven people that regularly check this blog. So, here goes.
Tuesday, July 17
As mentioned previously, last Tuesday night was spent at the Drive By Truckers' Dirt Underneath show at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live. It was my first time seeing this kind of Truckers show, which featured mostly acoustic versions of selections from the DBT catalog. I wasn't sure what to expect, as DBT shows are usually ear-shattering celebrations of the loudness of good rock and roll, but it worked out just fine. The steel guitar of John Neff, usually buried somewhere deep in the mix at a Truckers show, found a home in this setting, weaving in and out of the guitar interplay of Patterson Hood and Mike "Stroker Ace" Cooley. Plus, though he was a little hard to find in the mix, bona fide music legend Spooner Oldham was on the Wurlitzer, adding a little old-school cachet to the proceedings. As the Truckers swigged liberally from the communal Jack Daniel's bottle, they showed that they were just as good seated as they are standing and, in the process, were able to let the lyrics of such gems as "Zip City" and "Sink Hole" shine a little bit brighter than they do when they have to fight the guitars for attention.
And the night at World Cafe Live came to an appropriate end when the guy in front of me on the stairs projectile vomited about five times, the last time in his hands on the way to the bathroom. Rock and roll.
Wednesday, July 18
The lowest-key day of the vacation. After getting in at about 4 in the morning from the DBT show, I slept a good long time until I finally made my way out of the house to see James Hunter at Madison Square Park for another free outdoor show. It seemed doubtful that the show would go on because of the storms earlier in the day, but everything cleared up by 7, thus enabling me to check out Hunter for the first time. I was still a little groggy from doing nothing all day (very exhausting), but I thought the show was pretty good. I'll definitely check him out again. Maybe you should, too. He's constant;y compared to Sam Cooke, which, I guess, is kinda close. But there's only one Sam Cooke. Still, he's not with us anymore, so you could do worse than checking out Hunter, who's also a damn fine guitarist.
After that show and a quick bite to eat, I hopped on the L train to dreaded Williamsburg to see Hoots and Hellmouth at Pete's Candy Store. When I got there, the Quiz-Off was still going on and dozens of nerdy hipsters were waiting to hear if their not-very-cleverly-named team had won (I suppose this would be a good place to list some team names, but they're long gone from my brain at this point...I suppose I could have taken notes, but until you start paying me to write this blog, I don't see the point of taking notes). Anyway, Quiz-Off eventually wrapped up, and Hoots and Hellmouth took the tiny stage to a pretty decent crowd for a Thursday night in Williamsburg. I had picked up the Hoots and Hellmouth CD a few weeks ago and wasn't knocked out by it, but their live show made me a little more of a fan. They're a folksy, rootsy kind of band from Philly that, like O' Death, compensate for so-so songs with lots of energy.
Too tired to take pictures on Thursday. Sorry.
Thursday, July 19
After a decent night's sleep, it was off to wait in line in Battery Park for the free Drive By Truckers show at Castle Clinton. I got there early enough to be first in line, or at least I think I was. Some people may have been there before me, but, by virtue of my seat on the first bench, I declared myself first in line. Apologies if I hopped in front of anyone who wanted to get their ears blown off in the second row.
The weather forecast for the day was ominous, but, again, things cleared up as the day went on, with only a brief downpour dampening things around 4 p.m. Smooth sailing from there on out, with the full rocking DBT glory on display in a raucous set that culminated with a seven-song assault ("18 Wheels of Love," "Shut Up and Get on the Plane," "Lookout Mountain," "Let There Be Rock," "Buttholeville," Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper," and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died") that finally got the reluctant crowd off their asses and declared that not only will the Truckers be just fine without Jason Isbell, but that they may be the greatest rock band in the land.
And, speaking of Isbell, he was next up at the Mercury Lounge, with Justin Townes Earle opening up. I got there a little before Earle's pretty impressive opening set, which gave me enough time to catch my breath for another aural assault courtesy of the former Trucker and his band, the 400 Unit. Isbell sprinkled a few Truckers songs in between songs from his new album, "Sirens of the Ditch," closing the night with a version of "Decoration Day" that was just as strong as any I saw him do with the Truckers. Isbell's own songs held their own though, especially "Chicago Promenade" and "Dress Blues," my two favorites off the new disc. The latter still gives me chills every time I hear it. If you aint gona buy the whole album (and if you aint, shame on you), you can at least redeem yourself slightly by legally downloading "Dress Blues."
And then it was time for sleep again.
Friday, July 20
A little bit of bad luck finally finds its way into the vacation, as I see upon arriving at Celebrate Brooklyn that Bobby "Blue" Bland is sick and will be replaced by Odetta. I stuck around though, checking out Catherine Russell's slightly-too-long set of jazz and blues numbers, including a fine rendition of my new favorite song, "I'm Lazy, That's All," popularized by Pearl Bailey. I had to get to Southpaw for the Will Hoge/Deadstring Brothers show at Southpaw, so I only had time to catch a few Odetta songs, which, all things considered, might not have been that bad. I like Odetta enough, but I was in the mood for something a little peppier for my Friday night. Still, it seemed like things were picking up as I left, as Odetta growled through a version of Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues." But I had a schedule to keep.
I got to Southpaw right on schedule, just as the opening band was packing up and Detroit's Deadstring Brothers were getting ready to hit the stage. The first time I saw the Deadstring Brothers was at the Bloodshot BBQ a few years ago, and I was only kind of vaguely interested. But they've gotten better each time I've seen them, and now, as they get ready to release their new album in October, they're one of my favorite live bands. Touring seems to have made them more confident as a band, and that confidence comes across in the interplay between lead singers Kurt Maschke and Masha Marijieh. Marijieh in particular has developed into a belter that just knocks you out with every lyric that comes out of her mouth. It seemed too short of a set by far, but they'll be back around when the new CD comes out.
According to his generally truthful blog, Will Hoge had a great night in Brooklyn. Glad it was great for him. Me...not so much. It was fine, I suppose, but it just didn't come together as well as other Hoge shows I've seen. There didn't seem to be a real connection with the audience, which, all things considered, might have been understandable, since the bulk of the audience was made up of screaming women of various ages who seemed only vaguely interested in the songs being played. Lot of chatter before, during, and after songs, including a few quieter new ones. And then there was the woman next to me who, to her credit, was completely into the music, but was also into something else, as heard in her pre-encore declaration of love, "You hot piece of ass you." I don't think she was talking about me.
Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22
My cold piece of ass got out of bed at 7 in the morning to get on a bus bound for Binghamton, where world-class journalist Bryan Chambala picked me up and we headed to the hippie haven that is the GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance in Trumansburg, New York. It's a yearly, four-day festival just outside of Ithaca at which thousands of less-than-clean, kind of funky smelling people congregate to see what is usually a pretty varied lineup of roots and world music (headlining acts this year included Hugh Masekela, the Cat Empire, Vieux Farka Toure, and Arrested Development). And since both the mighty Slo Mo and the Avett Brothers (whom you may have heard that I like), it seemed like a good year for my first GrassRoots festival.
After a harrowing, foul-smelling bus ride from the free parking lot to the festival site, Bryan and I made our way into the festival. Within about ten minutes, this conversation took place:
Slightly Spaced-Out Looking Guy: Hey, man, do you know where the shuttle is?
Bryan: Yeah, it's right back there by the entrance.
James: One just left, but there should be another one around soon.
SS-OLG: Cooool. Do you know where the guy with the goodies is?
Me and Bryan: Uh, no.
Immediately after that conversation, I wished I had come up with a better answer, like maybe "Go fuck yourself." For those who might be interested, just because I have a beard doesn't mean I (a) have a lighter or (b) know where "the goodies" are. I have a beard because I'm lazy, that's all.
I kid the hippies, but they're a good, peaceful people. So peaceful, in fact, that later on, as I watched Eilen Jewell in the Dance Tent, I wondered just what one would have to do at GrassRoots to really get someone to take a swing at you. I came up with some ideas. Some of the ones I'm more comfortable sharing in a public forum include:
*Setting up a tent next to the antiwar tent at which we could pass out leaflets detailing the highlights of the Bush presidency and hand out stickers that read "Yes to War!"
*Renting out a flatbed, gas-guzzling truck and driving it around the infield while blasting Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith songs from a boombox.
*Serving food only in styrofoam containers and, then, as each person disposed of his/her styrofoam in the trash can, throwing a match into the can, thus creating a pretty sweet burn barrel.
Maybe next year we'll test it all out. I'm still not sure we'd incite violence, though. And that's a testament to the fine, upstanding people that head to GrassRoots. Sure, a few of them looked a little rough by Sunday evening, but they're good folks who come to a festival not just for the scene but actually to listen to the music.
Oh yeah, the music. I caught snippets of a few different bands and most of the Duhks' set, but I focused all of my attention on Slo Mo and the Avett Brothers. I put together something for Popcorn Youth, the arts blog for the Ithaca Times, so head over there if you wanna read all about it, as well as other GrassRoots reviews and lots of other stuff.
It looked something like this (though occasionally not quite as blurry):
Monday, July 22
After breakfast at Hal's Deli and another record-buying run at Autumn Leaves, it was time for my vacation to end and to head on the Shortline bus back home. It was a pretty good music run. I'll start another run tomorrow with Riders in the Sky and the Carolina Chocolate Drops at Rockefeller Park, followed by Billy Joe Shaver at Joe's Pub, and perhaps Sometymes Why at the Living Room.
But now it is once again time for rest.