A Month of Festivals: Hot August Blues (With Bonus Eastern European Content)
Let's start with this fact: any set that begins with "Walk the Dinosaur" is almost certain to be great.
So, when Lyle Lovett's Large Band kicked off with that song before Lovett took the stage, I immediately shook off the torpor of constant weekend traveling, an ambitious walk up the giant hill at Oregon Ridge Park, and an afternoon spent in a sloping field in the muggy August heat and settled in for what was probably the most enjoyable set of A Month of Festivals.
But I'll get back to that later. Let's go with a chronological recap of my first visit to the Hot August Blues festival in Cockeysville, MD.
After wandering around the grounds for a bit, dropping our chairs, and taking in a little of the side-stage action, my friend and I headed back to our chairs for The Bridge's set. And when we returned we were greeted by a woman and her two children, who had decided to take the space in front of us and set up a big umbrella that blocked my view of the stage. Awesome. And the umbrella was set up in a way that provided almost no shade, thus rendering it particularly annoying. I was able to bob and weave around it for a bit (and my friend closed it when she left to go play with the kids in an open area of the field), and it didn't really hinder much of my enjoyment of the show, because I wasn't digging the band anyway. They seem like hardworking chaps, though, so good for them.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were next, and I was psyched to see them. I liked their "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is" CD a lot and had heard good things about their live show. They put on a good set but seemed to be feeling the heat a little bit (and perhaps the effects of a late-night, early-morning drive from Hoboken the night before). The show wasn't as high-energy as I expected based on the CD, but, then again, my energy wasn't at the top of the charts during their set, either. On a positive note, though, the umbrella family packed up their things and left, so that was a small victory.
Then it was time to sample some of the festival food. I'd had a mini coconut chess pie from Dangerously Delicious Pies soon after we arrived, but now it was time for something a little more substantial. Just about everything had a long line at this point, but the fare at the Mike's Hot Dogs Truck seemed promising. Well, for the most part. The mere thought of both The Cameron (with cream cheese and scallions) and the Skylar (with mayonnaise) made my stomach turn a bit, but I'm always up for a good Chicago Dog. Mike's delivered on that front, with a Chicago every bit as good as Shake Shack's. Based on the lines, I figured I might as well order a plain New Yorker, too, because I wasn't sure I wanted to stand in line for a half-hour for food again.
We went back to the main stage to see Keb' Mo', or, as we know him here on Tinsel and Rot, the man whose CD was graciously put back in my bag by the two gentlemen who mugged me in Manhattan. ("Tell us, that story," you beg. Certainly. Go buy my book and you'll get that story and a bunch more. Cheap!) I'd never officially seen Keb' Mo' in concert, though I did see a taping of the late, lamented "Sessions at West 54th" in which he was featured. In fact, that might've been the first "Sessions" taping I went to (it was either his or Billy Bragg's). I still have the setlist.
Anyway, back to 2010. It had been a while since I played any of my Keb' Mo' CDs (and, truth be told, time has established that if the muggers had decided to take the CD--his second--I'd've been OK with that), so I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy him as much as I did on "Sessions." But with the exception of a few numbers that were a little too much adult contemporary and not enough blues (my general problem with him as his career has progressed), I dug him a lot, especially when he played songs off his first CD. The set-closing "City Boy" (seen below from the "Sessions" taping) still hits me pretty hard, especially in a field in rural Maryland after a long night of bus and train travel.
Since there was an hour-plus break scheduled between the end of Keb' Mo's set and the beginning of Lyle Lovett's, we went for another walk around for dessert. I was intrigued by the guy selling what seemed to be a lemon with a candy cane shoved in it, so I took the $2 plunge (after discovering it was, in fact, a lemon with a peppermint stick shoved in it) and was told by the vendor to "have fun with it." I'm not sure what he meant by that, but I was pleased to discover the lemon and peppermint combo was quite refreshing.
Then, after surviving my solo jaunt up the giant hill and back for kicks, I settled into my chair for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band and was soon greeted by the aforementioned "Walk the Dinosaur." Two members of the Large Band--Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens--are also in Was (Not Was), so it wasn't as bizarre a choice as you might think. And it sounded phenomenal as played by the Large Band, a 14-member group in which just about everybody is unbelievably good at what they do. This is my third time seeing Lovett and His Large Band, and each time I leave stunned by just how good the band is. And, as a bonus, on this tour, the bass spot was held down by Leland Sklar (a/k/a that dude with the long beard whose name you don't know), who has played on, oh, everything.
The band can play any number of styles of music without seeming like they're stretching. And Lovett gives everybody a chance to shine throughout the show, highlighting the fiddle of Luke Bulla one moment and then letting the backup singers--Atkinson, Bowens, Willie Greene Jr., and Arnold McCuller--have their turn the next. The show started to sag in places, but never for long, and the smiles brought by songs like "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" (with its repetition of the phrase "choke my chicken" and barnyard shouts from the backup singers), "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," and "Pantry" lasted long after the songs themselves ended. And, as for Lovett himself, well, he aint too shabby of a singer and songwriter. He remains an inspiration to journalism majors everywhere.
Of course, it's a bit of a stretch to call this group a blues band, so having them headline Hot August Blues was a bit odd. But in the end, who cares? Good music is good music. Though I'm pretty sure it wasn't blues, hot damn, it was good.
Then, of course, because sitting in an open field for 8 hours isn't enough for a weekend, I convinced my friend to bring his wife and younger daughter (the older daughter was away for the weekend, which I'm reasonably certain wasn't due to the fact that I was coming) to Blob's Park in Jessup, MD. Blob's is a beer hall offering the best in polka music several days a week, mixed in with the occasional non-polka act. I had made my initial visit with another friend several years ago and had been hoping to get back ever since. It looked like my dream would die, as Blob's seemingly rolled out its last barrel in 2007, shutting its doors after a New Year's Eve blowout. But Blob's rose from the dead and reopened last year.
The countdown to My Triumphant Return to Blob's Park began soon after I'd read about their reopening and figured this'd be a good weekend for an excursion. My friend was surprisingly easy to convince (he's the only non-family member I've lived with that still speaks to me, so clearly there's something amiss with him ... plus one of his first jobs was scaring people during the Haunted Hayride at Blob's, so nostalgia may have helped), so there we were, after a bit of traffic, pulling into the Blob's parking lot with a child who was getting a little cranky in the late afternoon.
But after a short period of adjustment and some time on the dance floor, she was enjoying Blob's as much as I was. Well, maybe not as much, but close. She, after all, didn't buy a hat and a t-shirt in the gift shop (which I don't think existed in the previous Blob's incarnation) and wasn't seriously considering buying a $30 beer stein with Max Blob's face on it. But she was having fun dancing with Mom and Dad to the Rheinlanders, a three-piece band that started off with some decidedly non-polka songs but gradually eased their way into Polkatown (they later covered Blake Shelton's "Some Beach" as a cha-cha, which resulted in a line dance). Eventually it was my turn on the dance floor, where I mainly followed the young tyke's lead and, because of that, got very dizzy after a lot of spinning for two songs. I did, however, draw the line at doing a split.
And for all you whiners who say I never dance, here's proof you're a liar.
Now the countdown begins to My Triumphant Return to Blob's Park After My Initial Triumphant Return to Blob's Park.
After four weekends of travel, I decided to spend the last weekend of August at home. Luckily, there was a festival nearby, though, so I made it five weekends of festivals in a row by popping into the Jersey City Polish Festival just long enough to grab some pierogies, hear a woman with a high soprano sing Polish songs, and watch some dudes in ye olde Polish garb slice Poland Spring bottles in half with swords.
That's how we do it in Jersey City, punks.
So, I think we can go ahead and call A Month of Festivals a success (and I even left out the Holy Rosary Italian Festival a block from my apartment, where I had some strong bundt cake and my first zeppoles of the summer). If you're scoring at home (and, really, you oughta be), I stopped in eight states (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, plus a brief stop in the District of Columbia), went to six festivals, saw lots of bands I love, spent time with family members and friends I love even more, and, generally, had more fun than any 33-year-old copy editor has the right to have.
And now, I will rest for a bit.
But not too long.