I began my second night of the music fair in better spirits, as the snow that occurred the first day of the fest was bothersome.
I made my nightly walk from the Sheraton over to the Westin Hotel and ran into Dan Navarro, whose set I enjoyed last night. He was really a cool guy to talk to. I also got to speak to the wonderful Diana Lin from KKFI, the ubiquitous Beatle Bob, and Joey Ryan, who is McCartney to Kenneth Pattengale’s Lennon in the acclaimed Folk duo, The Milk Carton Kids.
I then took in a couple of songs in the Westin Lobby by a Toronto-based quartet called The Bombadils. It was a deja vu moment, as I enjoyed watching in them the same lobby, nearly in the same spot, at last year’s fest. I also got to speak to Gisele, the band’s “solicitor,” who couldn’t have been nicer. Her title on the band’s website is “band mom” and she definitely supports this group because as anyone with ears can attest, the two male/two female quartet has a wealth of talent. I loved hearing them again.
I then spoke to a hotel employee I remembered from last year and she commented on the “wonderful insanity” of all of these musicians wandering around the hotel. Couldn’t have phrased it better.
As I walked back to the Sheraton, I heard that Ray Wylie Hubbard had canceled his appearance, which I confirmed when his name was crossed of the lineup for the ballroom he was going to play. I heard something about a knee injury. This would change my whole plan for tonight, as I really wanted to catch his set.
I started off the night in the film room. I saw a 30 minute film called, “The Grahams: Rattle The Hocks.” The Grahams, are a wonderful husband & wife duo from Nashville by way of New York City. The film depicts the band travelling by train to recording sessions in Memphis, New Orleans, and Mississippi. The film was directed by Cody Dickenson of The North Mississippi All Stars. The band recorded the album live in studio with many wonderful musicians, including members of The North Mississippi All Stars and Lucero.
After the film, The Grahams played three songs for the crowd and we got an advanced five song ep from the record they made, which will be released May, 18th. It will likely be a contender for Americana album of the year, and if that weren’t enough, they also release a studio album that same day, recorded in Oklahoma and influenced by Woody Guthrie. It will be a busy year for The Grahams, who were a pleasure to speak to before the film.
After the film, I saw two songs from Austin’s Jimmy Lafave. I should have stuck around, as I heard the Conference’s keynote speaker this year, Rita Coolidge, got up and did a song with Jimmy. From there, I saw two songs by a group from Toronto called New Country Rehab. Then onto local music, taking in three songs from Sara Morgan, with the wonderful Carl Butler accompanying her on guitar. Her cover of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” was good fun. I ended that hour wandering through the Folk Alliance Art Gallery which was located in the Sheraton’s mezzanine. There was also a small stage set up there and I heard about 15 minutes from Kris & Hayilah Bruders from local band, Cadillac Flambe.
I then caught the first three songs from Bill Kirchen and Redd Volkaert. Bill sang two, while Red showed off some fine skills on his Telecaster, and then Redd sang a spirited cover of Lefty Frizell’s “Always Late With Your Kisses.” Very cool. Then onto a song from locals Howard Iceberg and The Titantics before wandering to the last seven songs by a beautiful bunch from Dublin, Ireland, called I Draw Slow. Loved their music and they made me laugh when they stated they were staying in Westport and were concerned with all of the Hookah establishments. “I felt like I was in Istanbul” stated one member.
From there, it was on to The Stray Birds, a trio from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was torn between seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard and these guys, so Ray’s cancellation made this a no-brainer. The Stray Birds sound check went long, but they still squeezed out nine songs during their 40-minute set. They played a few I recognized from their terrific album from last year, “Bad Medicine.” They closed their set with the title track and I was enchanted by their authentic Folk music, and yeah, a bit mesmerized by multi-instrumentalist Maya de Vitry’s earthy beauty.
I said hello to the Maria The Mexican contingent out in the mezzanine before hitting The Hillbenders Bluegrass rendition of The Who’s ‘Tommy’ at Midnight, I also managed to take in three songs by one of my favorite local bands, The Grisly Hand, and then 20 minutes of The Steel Wheels, from Harrisonburg, Virginia. I ended up in the packed room early to get a seat for the TOMMY finale and when The Steel Wheels set ended, I snabbed one of maybe two dozen seats that opened up.
After another lengthy soundcheck, The Hillbenders proceeded to present the world priemere of “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry” to a room that was also way over-stuffed. By the sets end an hour later, every seat was still full, but about half the crowd who were standing took off, which is a shame, as The Hillbenders, as anyone who was there will attest, gave the performance of the fest! Five talented guys from Springfield, MO, The Hillbenders made us hear TOMMY, an album I loved when I bought the movie soundtrack in my early teens, in a whole new light. I loved “Amazing Journey” which is probably my favorite TOMMY tune and “Acid Queen,” done hoedown-style put a smile on my face. The Hillbender who sang “Acid Queen” stated that he would be singing the Tina Turner part, and then found out he was a song early, which prompted a Ike Turner joke that was a funny as it was tasteless.
The Hillbenders are all talented, but their secret weapon is award-winning Dobro player Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves. Dude is like Hendrix with a Dobro. The Hillbenders nailed this performance and the applause when they finished seemed to last forever and rightfully so. They release a recorded version of TOMMY on May 10th on Compass records and there is a video they made for “Pinball Wizard” out on Youtube. The World Premeire of TOMMY: A BLUEGRASS OPRY, was worth the price of admisson for the whole fest alone. They are going to tour the show this summer and I suggest you check it out. The Hillbenders stated that they are going to flesh the show out with some lighting effects, props, and even some “interpretive dance.” It’s likely they were joking, but their promo card says they will play a 75-minute presentation on tour. They nailed the whole thing in exactly an hour at the music fair, and it will likely be one of the coolest things I will see musically this year.
I walked out of the Sheraton just before 1:30 AM with the TOMMY instrumental “Sparks” playing in my head. Not the Who’s version, but The Hillbenders’ version! I can just hope that Pete Townsend will somehow obtain a copy of The Hillbenders CD when it comes out. I may have to make that happen. Anyway, onto…
Be sure to catch coverage of the final night, and Keith’s final thoughts, in his next post!