Nashville, The AMAs, Austin City Limits and San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Thursday 18 September - AMA Wednesday
I'm back in the US for a three week tour of music festivals - The Americana Music Conference in Nashville, Austin City Limits and finally, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. So I hope you stick around to read my daily(ish) blogs on what I'm doing...
I arrived in Nashville late Monday evening. It was a long but painless journey. Immigration took almost no time which was great, although it didn't really matter as I had 6 hours until my connecting flight. (I heartily recommend the Continental President's Lounges though to kill time in comfort - free drink and wifi).
Tuesday was a relatively quiet day. I collected my hire car, navigated to where I was staying caught up with my hosts Rod and Amanda and their other house guest Brenda, and then went to Portland Brew to meet up with my good friend Jim Reilley. Great to be back! We spent some time catching up and he also procured for me CDs from various customers and staff in the cafe - everybody has a CD!
Tuesday night we all sat in the house, drank wine and shared music. Brenda told me about a young guy called Anthony Da Costa who sounds great (and is only 17) and a band, Red Molly - also good. So I'll try and get hold of their CDs when I have a second.
Wednesday was AMA registration day, but I never feel as though I'm back in Nashville until I've had a burrito at Fido. Brenda had never been, so I suggested we head there for lunch. She liked it, I love it. I now felt complete (and very full)!
I'd arranged to interview The Belleville Outfit at 3. If you read my SXSW blog entries from March you'd have heard me speaking of them. They played Threadgills one afternoon. I'd gone to see Bruce Robison and Eliza Gilkyson, but the sun was shining and I had a little time to kill before the next show on my schedule so stuck around. I loved their set. They are a young band of 6 whose music is a mixture of country, western-swing, jazz, pop and much more. I've been playing their CD a lot over the past 6 months both on my radio shows and for pleasure. Anyway, I met Pheobe Hunt and Rob Teter from the band at the Convention Centre and we recorded a half hour interview which I'll package together and put out on TMTHT and CMR Nashville on my return. They are interesting, enthusiastic, intelligent people who clearly love what they do and know a lot about the music they play. Check them out if you haven't had a listen.
The main event on Wednesday was the Levon Helm Ramble on the Road show at the Ryman Auditorium. Although this was billed as part of the AMAs it wasn't a free event, but I had decided it was worth the money as he is one of the surviving members of The Band. It took an age for the show to start as it was being filmed for a DVD, so the audience were all asked to clap and give standing ovations to provide footage to edit into the concert. Eventually Levon and his band took to the stage introduced by Billy Bob Thornton. Levon on drums. I have no idea who much of the core band were (there were 9 of them), but the band leader was Larry Campbell. There was also keyboards/piano/accordion and 4 part brass section, 2 female singers/guitarists and double bass. Levon didn't look great, he's very skinny and looks older than his 68 or so years. His singing voice, as a result of cancer of the vocal chords, wasn't great but it didn't really matter. He sang a couple then Larry began inviting various guests onto the stage. First up to perform 2 songs was Little Sammy Davis (not the rat pack Sammy Davis but a blues harpist). Then we had Buddy Miller who sang Wide River To Cross, a song Levon covers on his Dirt Farmer CD, and Sam Bush. The two of them remained on the stage for much of the concert. Surprise guests Alison Krauss and Robert Plant were next - Alison is so skinny, but looked great. Over the next hour or so Levon was also joined by Sheryl Crow, Delbert McClinton, Billy Bob Thornton and John Hiatt. For the encore - The Weight - Levon invited Steve Earle and Allison Moorer to join in. Allison looked stunning, dressed in black with her blond hair shoulder-length and straightened. Steve on the other hand...
It was an excellent night's entertainment. I suppose you could compare it in style to The Last Waltz, but with different contributors and fewer Band songs. Levon smiled throughout, switching between drums and mandolin. There were a few Band songs and some from Dirt Farmer, which definitely sounded better live than on the album. There were numerous standing ovations, but that may have been as much a reaction to the hard Ryman seating as anything else.
They were being really strict about photos, so I only managed a couple before I was told off and they're not very good. But I'd definitely recommend watching the DVD when it's finally released.
The show finished at 10ish and I bumped into some Irish friends. We all went to The Station Inn where the Steeldrivers were playing at Midnight. The Randy Kohrs band performed in the 11pm slot and were great, not what I had expected. My only knowledge of Randy is that he produced and performed dobro on Jim Lauderdale's two bluegrass albums, so I was expecting something more in line with that. However his set was much more edgy than that, tougher I suppose would be a good word. 6 piece band - double bass, banjo, fiddle, dobro, fiddle and drums (the latter aren't very bluegrass), and it worked very well.
The Steeldrivers took to the stage at midnight. It wasn't the most auspicious of starts because they didn't bother to sound-check. They do the performing around one mic thing, but the mic didn't work properly and they gave up after a short burst of the first song. Once a new mic had been sourced they began again and it was a very enjoyable set. The band is comprised of a bunch of long-time Nashville session players including Mike Henderson, Tammy Rogers and Chris Stapleton who takes lead vocal duties. I can't quite describe their music, it's country, it's bluegrass, it's bluesy in places, but it's great to listen to. They did all my favourites from the CD so it was a nice way to end the day.
So... things have started well. Today I plan to go listen to some of the panels, hear some music at the Convention Centre and go to the Compass Records party to see The Bittersweets. Then it's back to the unforgiving seats at The Ryman for the Awards show and finally a Jerry Garcia Tribute show at the Cannery. I'm exhausted just thinking about it!
Friday 19 September - AMA Thursday
I'm currently sitting at Audio Productions on Music Row listening to Kathy Mattea and Bill Cooley sound-check for a live insert into the Ricky Ross Another Country show on Radio Scotland - I'm the other guest on the show, but I'm not singing! Next door Bob Harris has just interviewed Chris Knight and Suzy Bogguss - Suzy and I stood looking at each other trying to remember when we'd met (it was Celtic Connections in January).
But that's today... lots to get through from yesterday yet. I had an early start because I wanted to get to the seminar on radio promotion hosted by Jenni Finlay who is an Austin based promoter who works with artists like Sam Baker and Rachel Harrington. Really interesting panel and I definitely learned some things. I'm planning to do some radio promotion so it was useful.
Next I went down to the Listening Lounge for Freedom Songs. This is a multimedia presentation hosted by the First Amendment Centre and featured Bill Lloyd, Don Henry, Jonell Mosser, Jackie Patterson, Jason White and Craig Kampf. They performed songs that had at one time been banned, censored or served as social anthems in America to tell the story of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. It was really good. The artists had all toured with Freedom Songs so were familiar with the songs. We heard them do all kinds of songs including a poem written about 4 girls killed at Sunday School put to music which was very moving. Jason White did Red Ragtop which caused a fuss when covered by Tim McGraw for mentioning abortion. Good show - entertaining but informative.
I met a friend for lunch - went to Jacks barbeque on Broadway, Buddy Miller was in the queue ahead of us. I had pulled pork with 2 sides. Good. You don't get that at home.
Next it was back to the Listening Room for an in the round hosted by Peter Cooper and also featuring Tift Merritt, Julie Lee and Casey Driessen. I really like these in-the-round shows, they are so relaxed and all the artists seem to enjoy themselves and are quite chatty and open with the audience and each other. Tift did some songs from Another Country including Broken, Peter did one I wasn't familiar with, but also performed 715 (For Hank Aaron). Casey accompanied Julie Lee on her songs, and he did a beautiful very sad sounding fiddle instrumental. Again - great show.
I took a little time out after that before going to the Compass Record Party where The Bittersweets and The Waybacks performed on the 4th Floor patio of a high-rise bank. I've played songs from The Bittersweet's first album on TMTHT, and from what I've heard from the new one it's going to be great - their songs are rootsy but very accessible. I was talking to the keyboard/song-writer in the band after their set and again, we looked at each other and tried to figure out where we'd met before - it was at The Basement here in Nashville at the AMAs last year when we sat with mutual friends and had a couple of beers - I'd completely forgotten about that!
I've mentioned The Waybacks before, I saw them at SXSW last year and loved their set - it was during the St Patrick's Day festivities at Mother Egans. They now have Warren Hood - singer, Song-writer, fiddle and mandolin player in the band and he, combined with the guitar and singing skills of James Nash are a killer combination. Doesn't quite translate onto CD, although the most recent is pretty good. They played here too for about half an hour, and it was another impressive set from them.
You're going to have to wait for the next installment to hear about the Awards as I'm due back on Radio Scotland in a minute. Kathy Mattea is currently on doing Red-Winged Blackbird which sounds stunning. How do I follow that???
Saturday 20 September - AMA Awards
I'm back in Fido for dinner - pulled smoked turkey with corncakes (which were small pancakes with sweetcorn in them), nice, filled a gap. I've also added photos to the two earlier blogs. I have about an hour's battery life left so I'll press on with the rewards...
I was a little late arriving as I met various folk in the Lobby, including a nice american couple I'd met last year who are huge Greencards fans. I was delighted to find that my seat was in row 4, so right down the front, and entered as the original line-up of Jason and The Scorchers performed Lost Highway and Harvest Moon. They were given the lifetime achievement award for Performance (but I missed that).
John Hiatt was presented with the Lifetime Achievement for Song-writing by Joe Ely. He said he never knew what to say and preferred performing to receiving awards, however he managed to talk for a good few minutes and thanked pretty much everyone he's ever met and/or worked with. (very dull)
Ryan Bingham, as one of the Emerging Artist Nominees performed next and was (as always) joined by Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale wandered on stage with his banjo too.
Sam Bush, an instrumentalist nominee performed with a band including Byron House on bass and Kane Welch Kaplin did Monkey Jump.
I'm still not sure I like Kevin's facial hair, and noticed that Fats is also sporting a beard these days... music was good though.
The Steeldrivers were up next, such a good band. They were not plagued by the technical problems of the nigh before.
I'd have liked them to win the Duo/Group of the Year but when the winners were announced after they'd played it was no surprise to hear the names Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.
[at this point I was asked not to take photos, so had to stop for a while]
The audience were up and down like yoyos for the first half of the awards - probably to stop their bums getting sore! So obviously Robert and Alison had a standing ovation. They were quite sweet together. Alison looks lovely, Robert is a little like a lion, lots of hair! Robert joked that he'd never been in a band with another singer, but that he liked it. Alison didn't really have anything to say.
More music followed from Tift Merritt (Broken, nominated for song of the year) and Chris Thile (nominated for instrumentalist) with Edgar Meyer. Darrell Scott and Kathy Mattea announced the song of the year (Darrell won last year). The winner wasn't Robert and Alison which was good, but the somewhat controversial song by Hayes Carll and Brian Keane "She Left Me For Jesus". Good choice but I was a little surprised.
John Hiatt gave us a solo acoustic performance at the piano of Have A Little Faith in Me which lasted less time than his acceptance speech earlier, then Steve Earle presented Joan Baez with the Free Speech Award, he'd won it a few years ago and also produced her last CD. You could tell that he held her in high esteem and she mentioned that she'd only just found out that two of the three Steve Earle covers on her new album were actually written about her. She didn't sing either of those though, but did the Tom Waits track The Day After Tomorrow.
Tony Brown presented a surprised Nanci Griffith with the Trailblazer Award. She was the second recipient of this, last year it was Lyle Lovett. She was totally taken aback and said she thought she was only there to give Tony Brown an Award - which he had known nothing about (for Achievement in Production). It was a nice moment.
Justin Townes Earle, looking more like Hank Williams than his father performed next followed by Jim Lauderdale who did Hittin' It Hard from the Honey Songs album, he dedicated it to the memory of Chris Gaffney.
Cross Canadian Ragweed, one of the most talked about bands here in Nashville right now gave out the Emerging Artist Award. Given that only one nominee hadn't yet performed I was unsurprised when Mike Farris won. He deserved it though, his performance at the Porter Tribute last year of Green Green Grass was amazing and I woud imagine every AMA member who was at that would have given him the vote - I did. He looked quite different though, dressed in a suit.
James McMurtry sang next then Buddy did a duet with Robert Plant which they recorded backstage one day inbetween sound-check and show. It'll be on Buddy's next CD due out in March. Sounded great.
Alison Krauss and Robert then presented Buddy with the Instrumentalist of the Year Award which I think he also won last year.
Steve Earle and Allison Moorer performed Days Aren't Long Enough. Again, Allison looked stunning, Steve less so...
Levon Helm presented multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell (once a member of Buddy's band apparently) with the Lifetime Achievement as Instrumentalist. Then Mike Farris returned to do a powerful version of Mary Don't You Weep.
Billy Bob Thornton who had introduced Levon Helm on stage the night before and Nanci Griffith, gave him the award for Artist of the Year. Levon then performed and then, about half an hour behind schedule we had the finale - a version of Tennesse Jed with Levon on drums joined by a few of the artists who had stuck around.
Good show, really enjoyed it. No real surprises and the award winners were somewhat predicatable. I was surprised that Alison and Robert didn't do a song. Buddy was great as band leader and Jim was a star as always as host.
Saturday 20 September cont. - AMA /ThursdayFriday
There's a fuel crisis in Nashville. I haven't quite figured out why, but apparently the last hurricane damaged an oil refinery in Texas, however, quite why this has only affected Nashville I just don't know! I think there was a rumour on Friday that fuel was running low so everyone who heard it immediately filled their cars and anything else that would hold fuel, until there was none left. Most "gas stations" still have no fuel at all, and there are cars running out of petrol all over town. I had 1/4 tank left, and it's a tiny tank so I was worried that for my last few days here I'd be stuck out at Rod's house. Fortunately, after a 30 minute wait today I managed to part-fill the tank (only part-fill because I had to pay in advance and had no idea how much a tank would cost).
Again, I'm getting ahead of myself. Now I have fuel I've been able to come home for a couple of hours before tonight's musical entertainment and I'm sitting with a cold beer whilst Amanda cooks pasta and there's a wonderful smell of garlic pervading the house. So time to write about yesterday if I can remember that far back!
Actually, I didn't quite finish Thursday. After the Award show I went to the Cannery where there was a tribute to Jerry Garcia. Sounded like it would be great but they took so long to set-up that it was after Midnight before the show actually began. By this time I was bored and tired, so, even although the contributors included Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale I called it a night after 15 minutes.
Friday began very nicely with an in-the-round at the Convention Centre hosted by Jim Lauderdale with Grace Potter, Robert Earl Keen and surprise contributor Buddy Miller. Great way to start the day. I missed the beginning but there was much banter from Jim about how Robert Earl Keen had promised to cover one of his songs on his next CD. Buddy and Jim did Hole in my Head together and Cry Baby Cry which is apparently a song they used to do together many years earlier. Neither were 100% sure of the words but it all worked out. Grace Potter was good, never come across her before.
I then went to the Second Fiddle for lunch where the entertainment was Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Luke Doucet, Melissa McLelland and Justin Rutledge. They shared the stage and took turns at performing songs. Amazing to think in the space of 2 hours I'd seen 4 of my absolute favourite singer/songwriters (Jim/Buddy/Jim/Justin).
As you'll have read in my first entry yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon at Audio Productions contributing to BBC Radio Scotland's Another Country show where I was interviewed twice about the AMAs. I think it all went well and Kathy Mattea, the live guest I'd sourced was brilliant - great songs and lovely, funny person. Everyone was happy.
Then I had a tough choice to make - both Kevin Welch and Jim Lauderdale (my idea of a dream gig) in-the-round or Carlene Carter at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Given that Kevin and Jim's show had started at 3.30 and I couldn't be there until after 4, I chose Carlene and I'm so pleased I did. It wasn't the best location for a live show - the shop in the CMHoF, but once Carlene started it didn't really matter. She was joined by a guitarist and a pedal steel player (John McFee - the producer of her recent CD Stronger). She played acoustic. It was a wonderful performance, one of my favourites of the week being both funny and moving all at the same time. She talked a lot about "Big John" and her sister Rosie, as well as the Carter Family, with some great stories. She made a joke about all her divorces and the hard times she'd been through, and had a smokey laugh which was really infectious. She did some songs from Stronger, closing with the title track, she also did Wildwood Flower. I am so pleased that I chose this show over Kevin and Jim, much as I'd have loved that too.
I headed home for a bit and had numerous arguments with myself about my evening's schedule. The Station Inn had a great line-up: Chatham County Line, Bruce Robison, Kathy Mattea, Dave Peterson and Jim Lauderdale, but, with the exception of Dave Pederson (with whom I was unfamiliar) I had seen them all before. Alternatively the Mercy Lounge and Cannery had Girls, Guns and Glory (sounded good on myspace), Paul Thorn, The Boxsters, Cross Canadian Ragweed, James McMurtry and The Gougers. So I went there instead.
I enjoyed Girls Guns and Glory and bought their album. They are a relatively young band from Boston, the vocalist, at times, sounds a little like Chris Isaak although their sound is different from that. They did a great version of Folsom Prison. Paul Thorn was pretty good too, although a little too much in love with himself. Still very enjoyable set, but I wouldn't necessarily buy the album. He reminded me a little of James Hunter.
Oh, forgot to say that I'd initially popped into the Cannery to check out The Boxsters which is Billy Bob Thornton's band. Horrible. 3 guitarists, loud rocky sound reminiscent of Drive By Truckers. Billy Bob looks like a cross between Dale Watson, Billy Idol and Laura Palmer's father from Twin Peaks.
I lasted about 5 minutes. I didn't last much longer for Cross Canadian Ragweed. This is a band that there's a buzz about right now even although they've been playing the Texas circuit for years. I can't really tell you if they were any good as it was so loud I just couldn't bear it. The sound at the Cannery is never great but at least they could have turned the volume down a little bit. (That makes me sound really old, but others said the same thing!)
I checked out James McMurtry for a minute or two whilst trying to decide what to do next - hang in there until the Gougers at Midnight, go home, or try the Station Inn which apparently had been completely full earlier. I drove passed it and there was no queue so I parked and went in. What a relief - The Dave Pederson Country Band were doing Miss The Mississippi and You, sounded lovely, and just a nice volume. There were seats too! Things were obviously behind schedule as I saw about 5 or 6 songs which was probably enough much as I enjoyed it.
Jim with his band were up next. Still prefer the country band, but it was good.
Nice to catch-up with John Fraser who had also played Mandolin for Jim in Scotland in January. Saw a few other folk too, and it was so much nicer than the Cannery/Mercy. Got home at 2.30.
Time to go out and do it all again, and it means going back to the Cannery/Mercy. The Glen Campbell Tribute will have just started and Buddy Miller is upstairs and it all ends with the Chicken and Waffle party which was great last year.
Sunday 21 September - AMA Saturday
Late start yesterday. Met Leslie Rouffe for lunch (burger), talked about UK radio promotion and she gave me a tonne of CDs to listen to including the new Bruce Robison, Peter Bradley Adams and Kate Campbell albums (Bruce & Peter are great, yet to get to Kate).
I then headed to The Basement for the Americanarama II afternoon. Sadly I missed Mando Saenz which is exactly what happened last year too. Did see Korby Lenker with a rocking set, Amanda Shires (really enjoyed this), Seth Walker a white blues guy, again a little reminiscent of James Hunter and Paul Thorn and lots more, the names of whom I can't remember. I thought I was going to have to stay out for the duration of the day/evening but as I started to drive to Portland Brew for a coffee I noticed a gas station with a queue of cars - they had fuel, so I joined the line. Took half an hour and when I got to the front I couldn't figure out how to open the petrol cap on the car - had to go ask someone. Then the machine didn't accept my card as it wasn't american so I had to go inside to pay in advance of filling the tank. I had no idea what it would cost to fill so estimated and asked for $15, unfortunately this only got me up to 3/4 full but it was much better than it had been. As I drove off, I realised I couldn't see out the back window - I'd accidentally opened the trunk as I was figuring out the petrol cap! Noticed before the interstate fortunately otherwise my laptop might have been in pieces on the I65! Having gas meant I could revise my plans and go back to Rod and Amanda's for a bit. Amanda was cooking dinner so it was nice to spend a little time with them before they flew to Italy in the morning.
I was having such a nice time that I managed to miss the first half of the Glen Campbell tribute at the Cannery. I drove up and found one of the only remaining spaces in the parking lot, passing poor Buddy Miller struggling with his many guitars - obviously musicians don't get priority parking! I would have helped but I hadn't parked yet.
I've never seen The Cannery so busy, and fortunately the volume was lower than the previous night. I'd missed Jason Ringenberg and Jim Lauderdale, but caught a large and shaven-headed Raul Malo doing Wichita Lineman.
Glen himself was up next, he started with a couple of songs from his new covers CD, the Travis song "Sing" and one from Green Day apologising that he'd never performed these songs live before and wasn't so good at remembering lyrics anymore (not that he forgot any). Then he did Rhinestone Cowboy which had the audience really excited. All the contributors returned to the stage for a rendition of Southern Nights. They all looked so thrilled to be on the stage with him which was nice to see. I'm not what you'd call a Glen Campbell fan, and I have seen him before at the Midlands Festival in Ireland, but I loved what I saw and wished I'd left home a little bit earlier.
The rumour had been that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant were to be the special guests at 9.45 - but the band setting up definitely wasn't theirs, so I had my doubts. It was infact James Inveldt - not quite so exciting... He was ok, but I'm sure in a town like Nashville they could have found someone a little better for the last night in the biggest venue.
Buddy was on upstairs at The Mercy Lounge at 10pm, his show there last year was one of the highlights for me, but Peter Cooper was also playing, at The Station Inn. So friends and I decided to see him too. I'd got my times mixed up and thought he was on at 11 and suggested we walk (it's not far). En route we stopped at the Listening Room and saw a couple of songs from an ensemble including Colleen McFarland. Nice comfortable room and on any other night I'd love to have stayed and heard more. Sitting in those seats sipping some red wine and listening to the music sounded like a great idea, but too much to do!
Peter was playing when we arrived, although we must have caught about half his set. He had an impressive band with him including Jen Gunnerman (Jayhawks), Pete Finney on pedal steel (busy man as he was also the steel player at the Glen show and later at the Chicken and Waffles party) and Bill Lloyd was on bass. Peter was joined on harmony vocals by Eric Brace (Last Train Home) on a couple of songs including a lovely version of the title track from his CD "Mission Door". Peter and Eric have just recorded a CD together which I'm really looking forward to hearing.
Much as I would have quite liked to have returned to the Mercy Lounge for Gary Louris and Mark Olson, I chose to stay at The Station Inn for the duration. It's such a pleasant room to listen to music in, especially when it's not full. There were a number of musicians in the room, many of whom I knew - Nels Andrews, Eric Brace, Stephen Simmons and Rachel Harrington. All seemed to enjoy Justin Rutledge who played next. His CD Man Descending is one of my current favourites - I love it. He was accompanied by a guitarist, and as he joked all his songs are slow or slower. It worked though. We heard Too Sober To Sleep, St Peter, Is This War, Penny for the Band and a few more (they are all long so there weren't too many of them).
The Inn was freezing cold by this point - I almost went outside to warm up. Kept me awake though! Last up were The Wrights. They are a married couple - celebrating their 6th anniversary that day. I've played songs from their most recent CD, In The Summertime, an album of cover versions (reinterpreted by them), so great to see them live.
I'd left my car at The Cannery, so said goodbye to everyone and jumped on the Americana bus which was conveniently waiting at the door. I was knackered but forced myself into the Cannery to check out the Chicken and Waffles Party. I had had a great time there last year, but on this occasion just didn't have the stamina. When I arrived most folk were queueing for food. I wasn't hungry so had a look to see who was playing. David Macias introduced a girl band, didn't catch their name. Not bad but I didn't know them so slipped away after 15 minutes. Had Jim and Buddy been on stage I'm sure I'd have lasted a little longer.
Again, enjoyable night. Wish I had more energy! Today I'm doing laundry, writing this blog, putting my new TMTHT show live and posting photos on Flickr whilst listening to some of the many CDs I've been given (or bought) this week. And I'm having a great day! Will sort out the rest of the week in a little bit. Only plan right now is Rodney Crowell with Will Kimbrough at The Bluebird on Tuesday night - so I need to conserve fuel to get there!
Monday 22 September - AMA Thoughts
Yet another hot sunny day in Nashville - the temperature gauge in m car reached 99 Degrees yesterday - that's way too hot for a fair -skinned Scottish girl like me, but I won't complain & it's good practice for Austin at the weekend. (note to self - buy sunblock)
I've had an enjoyable couple of days since the AMAs ended. Sunday I did laundry and loaded all the CDs I've received onto my laptop then met my friend Colleen for dinner. Went to the Alley Cat (tried and enjoyed their hot fried avocado starter) and then moved to the Cheesecake Factory at Green Hills - what a selection, I felt quite sick just looking at them all. Took a while to decide which to have, went for a snickers one eventually (I love the Dairy Queen snicker's blizzard). Suzy Bogguss passed and said hello.
Yesterday I went grocery shopping - I now have a Kroger card (thanks to a nice cashier called David from the Bahamas) - I feel like I belong now! I then introduced a visiting musician (from Louisiana) to Fido, not sure he was as impressed by it and Hillsboro as I am though. I'd arranged to meet friends Lou and Tiffany at a Mexican (La Paz) in Green Hills at 6, so thought this an ideal opportunity to go to the mall. Unfortunately I'm an idiot. Even although I'd looked up how to get there from Nolensville Pike on Google Earth, and had therefore visualised the route, I went the wrong way twice, and didn't realise for ages. So I had a nice tour of a residential area off Harding and also the affluent neighbourhood of Brentwood. Of course I did know how to get there "my" way (I65 to Wedgewood) and had I done that rather than going for the more direct route it would have taken a lot less than the 90 minutes (and 1/4 tank of gas) to arrive at my destination. And I was doing so well finding my way around town! At least that happened yesterday not tonight when I'm going to the Bluebird to see Rodney Crowell. I only ever really drive 4 streets in Nashville - 8th Ave Sth, 12th Ave South, Demonbreun and Wedgewood - they generally can get me where I'm going.
Anyway, I digress. Managed a brief look round the shops then met Lou and Tiffany. Good food, nice beer. As we were leaving I bumped into Lucas Kane (the uncredited 4th member of Kane Welch Kaplin) he works there when not touring. It's such a small world... Tiffany also told me when I had mentioned I was staying with Rod and Amanda that she'd met Amanda in Houston airport whilst waiting for a flight to Nashville. After the Mexican we drove downtown, I spotted a gas station with gas and no queue, so replenished my tank, and then met Lou and Tiffany in Robert's where John English and His Western Swingers were playing their regular monday night slot. The bar was mobbed with elderly people from Kansas (or Kansas City - which I was informed isn't actually in Kansas - I didn't know that). I love listening to the old-time western swing music and this band do it really well. As do the Time Jumpers who also have a regular Monday night slot, at The Station Inn. We went there next. Didn't stay for too long but, again, brilliant musicians - all 10 of them - playing classic country and taking turns on vocals. Good crowd there too. We were some of the youngest again though! It's great that there are still bands championing classic country and an audience who enjoys it.
Everyone I've met over the past few days has asked for my AMA highlights - obvious question I suppose. For the most part I enjoyed almost everything I saw with few stand-out performances. The Levon Helm Ramble on the Road, was definitely one show that I'll remember for a long time, and everyone I've spoken to who went are in agreement. Levon is a living legend and talented musician. You could see the love and respect all the other contributors to the show had for him and his enjoyment to be performing. He doesn't look well, he's skinny and very pale, so who knows how long he's going to be with us. Still, ill or not, he puts on a great show.
The other show that moved me was Carlene Carter. She played London recently (too far for me to go), and they had to change the venue because of poor ticket sales. Incredible. Not only is she a member of the country "royal" family, but she's a great performer. I wish she'd been given a venue more appropriate than the shop at the Country Music Hall of Fame - playing surrounded by t-shirts seemed a little insulting. However, her performance had real emotion, even if I hadn't known of everything she's been through, I'd still have been moved. Her stories about her family were filled with love and sadness and her self-deprecating humour when talking about her own problems was endearing. Not only that but she's a great singer and not a bad guitar player. She's performing at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, so I'll definitely see her again - and shame on all those Londoners who didn't go buy a ticket to see her! I wish we'd had her on Brand New Country.
The other topic of conversation post AMAs has been about the AMAs themselves. Apparently only 10% of those who apply for showcases are successful, and most of those are established bands in the AMA world - for me at least, there was very little opportunity to discover new music, I'd heard most of these bands live, or on CD before. Girls, Guns and Glory were new to me, and I liked them a lot, there were a couple on at the Basement I didn't know (didn't see them so can't comment on how good they were), but that's pretty much it. As far as I am aware the AMA was set up to help promote "Americana" as a genre and to aid the musicians, most of them independent. I think my problem with the Conference is that, although the panels are there to assist the musicians, the music is all about those who have made it. And yes, it makes for good evening entertainment, but it almost gives the wrong message - especially to those struggling musicians who feel that they are being side-lined. I know why the AMA do it, and can understand their motives - obviously they want people talking about Americana Music, they want it covered in the press, and there's no better way of doing that than by bringing in the big shooters, although I draw the line at Billy Bob Thornton's band The Boxsters - there was nothing Americana about them and, yes, they have a fan base, and BBT will bring in an audience, but that was a cop-out. When we interviewed Marty Stuart for Brand New Country in March Bryan asked him if he now considered himself to be Americana. His reply was "Americana is the place country musicians now go if they want to be credible" - so true. Country music as a genre has been taken over by pop/rock singers wearing cowboy hats to such an extent that real country has been pushed out and those people need somewhere to go. But again, this is, to some extent then having an effect on those that the Americana Music Association was set up to champion - the independent artists are now finding themselves competing with names such as Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, the big winners at the awards this year. I suppose it's the same with any organisation or label, once it is recognised and respected everyone wants to join the club. This isn't to say that I think the AMA is doing a bad job, I do believe it is an organisation made up of people who really do care about the music. They have to do what ever it takes to survive but just so long as they don't end up alienating those they are supposedly out to support. One thing I love about the americana music community, and this was evident this week, is that people be they musicians, promoters, labels etc are in it because they are passionate about the music. Few are actually doing this for the money - there isn't a lot to be made. Therefore there's an enthusiasm and passion that permeates the AMAs and it's great. Regardless of my slight concerns, this is an event that I will continue to support and will do my utmost to return next year.
Saturday 27 September - Goodbye Nashville & Hello Austin City Limits
<>I said a tearful goodbye to Nashville yesterday and flew to Austin for the City Limits festival. My last couple of days in Nashville were fairly relaxed. Went to the Bluebird on Tuesday night to see the Rodney Crowell Trio which featured Rodney, Will Kimbrough (acoustic guitar and banjo) and Jenny Scheinman (fiddle and mandolin). I had a seat at the bar which was a pretty good place to be sitting, the band were set up at one side of the room rather than in the middle as is the norm. It was a relaxed affair, Rodney would do a few then invite "Brother" Will and Jenny to perform a song apiece. Rodney began with a selection from his new album Sex and Gasoline (good title given the lack of gas in Nashville) before moving on to songs from the previous three including Fate's Right Hand, The Houston Kid, I Wish It Would Rain and many more. The trio worked well as a unit although Jenny had only met Rodney and Will a few days earlier - she did some lovely fidde solos. Rodney completely forgot the words to one song and had to take the lyric sheet from Jenny's music stand and ask a member of the audience to hold it up in front of him. Very enjoyable show, my only problem with it was the length - two and a half hours without a break, which was about half an hour too much.
Oh yes, when Rodney first introduced Will he observed that Will had copied the picture of John Hartford that was on the wall behind him - very true, both had the same hairstyle and outfit - at one point Will even played the banjo. Excuse the quality of the photo - I forgot my camera so this was taken with my camera phone...
Other than that I went for a short hike round Radnor Lake with my friend Colleen and met my English/Irish friend Eamon for a drink on Wednesday evening. I was sad to say goodbye to Nashville, I'd made myself so at home at Rod and Amanda's I almost decided to move in!
I arrived in Austin early evening yesterday, good to see my Aunt, Nora, and cousin, Maggie. Nora and I went for cocktails (I had a couple of Mango Coconut Mojitos) and I then watched the first episode of the new series of Grey's Anatomy, which reminded me why I don't watch TV over here (I still can never get over quite how many commercial breaks there are).
Today was the first day of the three day Austin City Limits Festival. Now in its Seventh Year it is attended by approx 60,000 people! Just as well Zilker Park is huge. I was a little concerned about the temperature and sun, but it was a mere 90 degrees, and I stayed in the shade between shows so escaped virtually unburnt. Festivals like this one aren't my ideal way of seeing music, there is little intimacy, the crowds are huge and not everyone is listening. That said, I saw some good music especially early on in the day.
The first band on the AMD stage were Asleep At The Wheel who apparently open that stage every year. I'd never seen them live before and it was an enjoyable set featuring everything you'd expect to hear including Route 66 and Miles and Miles of Texas. There were twin fiddles, one of which was played by a very young girl, pedal steel and keyboards. A very pregnant and almost unrecognisable Elizabeth McQueen was on acoustic and harmony / some lead vocals.
I then walked to the AT&T stage which was a long long way away, to see Rodney Crowell again. Rodney sporting a hat, grinned throughout the set and was again joined by Will and Jenny. They did a great version of Fate's Right Hand, and even with an acoustic guitar Will rocked. Rodney almost forgot the words to a song again. Not such an intimate performance as the Bluebird obviously, but enjoyable none the less and considerably shorter!
There was an hour until the next band that interested me, so I sat in the shade of a tree and read some of Levon Helm's autobiography which a number of folk suggested I read after I'd said how good his show at the Ryman had been. Very interesting and easy to read. I then went and watched Jakob Dylan, Bob's son and former singer with the Wallflowers. He is the spitting image of his father and sounds a little like him. I wasn't familiar with his solo material but it was good, and I'll probably buy the CD.
Oh yes, they had something at the AT&T stage that I've never seen before - someone signing to the music.
It was only when I turned to leave this stage that I realised just how many people were now in the park, and it was to get much busier a bit later. I spent a bit more time camped under a tree in the shade and then went to see Patty Griffin. There was a big crowd here, but I got down to the left hand side of the stage and had an ok view. Patty is very skinny, almost too skinny, but what an amazing voice. This definitely wasn't the best setting in which to see her, but it was good to hear songs such as Heavenly Day, Up High on That Mountain and Chief. She had a 4 piece band including Doug Lancio on guitar.
I then met up with my friend Ted, who is playing on Sunday with Shooter Jennings. He managed to sneak me backstage for a bit, and we were therefore able to travel around the perimeter on little carts - much more civilised than trying to make my way through all the chairs, blankets and people in the main area! We watched a bit of Jenny Lewis, which I enjoyed a lot. I only know the single from the new CD, but it all sounded good.
We also watched a little of Ryan Bingham before someone noticed I only had a general entry wristband and was thrown out of the backstage area. So we had to watch David Byrne from the park - the crowd was huge by this point and we were really far back. Fortunately they do have very clear screens at each side of the major stages. David and his band were all dressed in white - there were dancers and singers galore - quite a show.
Once he'd finished, I called it a day. It might have been a lot cooller than last year but it had still been too hot for me. So I went home (only a 20 minute walk fortunately) and watched the Presidential Debate - I was impressed by Obama and got a little sick of John McCain talking about himself.
Tomorrow's ACL lineup isn't very exciting, although it ends with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Plus Fleet Foxes play.
Sunday 28 September - Austin City Limits
I'm not sure ACL is really for me, there are just too many people and it's too hot for me - not that that came as a surprise!
I got there early because I wanted to see Bonnie Bishop whom I had met in Nashville at the Basement on Saturday, she gave me her new CD which is produced by Will Kimbrough. She played the BMI stage which is one of the smaller ones, and there was a manageable crowd at this time of the day (11.15). Bonnie has a strong voice, her music is part country, part blues, part soul. I'd say she has a good chance of being very successful and could be embraced by the commercial country market. Enjoyable.
I then wandered over to the Dell Stage and caught a little of Langhorne Slim. Having listened to a little of his music on myspace earlier that day I expected something a little more singer-songwriterish, but he's actually quite a high-energy showman on stage, jumping about and entertaining the audience. Not bad.
Fleet Foxes were on at 1.30 at the AMD stage so I headed in that direct at about 1.10 and caught a little of Mugison who is an icelandic singer. One song was great, but no idea what it's called. He has an album with the great title of Mugaboogie.
Fleet Foxes were definitely the highlight of the day for me. I've seen them before (ABC, Glasgow) so knew what to expect. They wandered onto the stage on time and rather than go straight into a song started joking with each other about the american economy, the drummer said he'd like to be a bank and how it was good to know that banks weren't any better at managing money than people. They then burst into a 3-part harmon a-cappella song which was just stunning. I stood close to the stage for the first couple of songs, but then moved to the back, put down my rug and lay just listening and letting the music wash over me (probably the reason my nose is burnt!). Sounded wonderful. Aside from their amazing harmonies what endears me most to this band is their attitude, they are just a bunch of ordinary young guys with no pretensions. Their joking with each other and the audience feels really genuine. They are definitely a band for whom the hype is justified.
The Fratellis, with the stage draped in Scottish flags were on the neighbouring stage next. There was a large crowd gathered for that one, but I heard the beginning of the first song and decided Scottish or not, they weren't for me so I had some lunch (pulled pork sandwich from the Stubbs stall). I'm very impressed by how cheap the food and drink is at ACL. Little costs more that $7 or $8, the burrito I had on Friday was only $4, and beers are $4 for 12oz and $8 for 24oz - in the UK we pay at least the same in pounds. It's all very well organised too.
I checked out Jose Gonzalez but he was too lo-fi for the crowd and I couldn't hear much - definitely more suited to an intimate listening space. I sat in the shade until the Band of Heathens, one of Austins most talked about bands. I'd seen them at SXSW a couple of times in 2007 and know Colin Brookes one of the singer/guitarists. There are in fact three vocalists/song-writers/guitarists and they may not have the killer harmonies of Fleet Foxes but they put on a good show.
It was only mid-afternoon when they finished, but I was finished too. The park was mobbed, there was nothing that interested me for the next 3 hours and I couldn't face hanging around. I decided to go home for a couple of hours and once I managed to negotiate my way to the exit (a challenge in itself) I was amazed at how many people were still arriving. I never made it back, Alison and Robert play Hardly Strictly Bluegrass so I'll see them there, and there wasn't anything else I was desperate to see. Caught up with my 13 year old niece Maggie instead.
I'm heading back there now though as the Belleville Outfit play at 12.30 and I think they're great. Plan on staying until 6.30.
Will write more this evening or once I'm settled in in San Francisco where I go tomorrow.
Monday 29 September - Austin City Limits
ACL wasn't quite so busy today. When I've been to festivals in the UK & Ireland the main problem has always been mud. I have never been to a festival where it hasn't rained heavily for the majority of the event, until ACL that is. Here the problem was the exact opposite - dust caused by lack of rain. There were people with all kinds of solutions to this problem from what almost looked like a gas mask, to surgical masks and bandanas tied over their mouths. I had none of those things and will probably be coughing up dust for some time to come! Still, better than rain and mud. Hopefully HSB will have neither of those problems. It definitely won't be so hot.
There weren't very many bands I had an interest in seeing today. First was the Belleville Outfit. Readers of this blog or listeners to my radio shows will know I'm a huge fan of this young band. It was early, they were on the smallest stage, the BMI Stage, and the audience was manageable. Great set. They are all good musicians who play off each other well, and are obviously enjoying themselves - as you can see from the photos most of them have huge grins on their faces whilst performing - I like that. The set was comprised of some songs from their debut album "Wanderin'" as well as a number of others. Warren Hood came on for the last couple.
I remained by the BMI stage when they'd finished as a found a tree to lean on in the shade. I settled down to read a little more of Levon Helm's autobiography which I'm really enjoying. A guy passed and commented on the fact I was at a music festival and reading a book - "did I play guitar in the library?", I responded that at least it was a book about music. My peace and quiet was rudely interrupted by a horrible noise coming from the Dell Stage - a band called the Octopus Project. Not sure how to describe their sound except that I hated it. So I bought an Amy's ice cream and went to the WaMu Tent (it's the only stage that is in a tent so it's out of the sun which is great). There were seats there so I settled down and waiting for Mike Farris.
I've talked about Mike on here before. I saw him do Green Green Grass of Home at the Porter Wagoner tribute show at the AMAs last October - a spine-tingling performance. I immediately went to Grimey's and bought his album "Salvation in Lights". I saw a full set at Antone's in March which was great, but this was better, don't know why, maybe it was the heat and the sheer number of people around me, all moved by the performance and music. He had a full horn section, Eric Holt and the McCrary Sisters on vocals (also on Buddy Miller's Universal United House of Prayer") who have the most powerful voices. There's something so intense and riveting about Mike's performance, he really lives the music. Now, I'm not religious, and I'm not really into gospel music, however Mike moved me. Don't know quite why. There is talk of him coming to the UK, but whether anyone will pay enough for him to bring his band, or if it will be solo is yet to be decided - either way, if you get a chance to see him please go, you won't regret it.
So, I'd seen two of my 2008 favourites, what could follow it? Well, nothing quite like that, that's for sure. I spent a little time with Ted from Shooter Jenning's band and then stayed at the WaMu stage to see them perform. They started a bit late and some of the audience were getting a bit restless, but they still did an hour. Shooter has released 3 albums, they each have a mixture of country and rock on them, I like the country stuff, not so keen on the rest. The band looked like a hard rock outfit with long hair (except Ted and the drummer). At one point the guitarist, temporarily sporting a cowboy had played an orange flying v guitar. It all reminded me of the days (many years ago) when I was a Whitesnake fan although it wasn't quite that heavy. It was ok, although not really my thing. There was a lot of posturing about the stage doing rock star poses and head shaking. The audience loved it though, especially when Shooter fell out with his keyboards because they weren't working correctly, so he picked them up and threw them across the stage... what can I say...
I said goodbye to Zilker Park at this point and dragged my weary body home. Now I have to pack for San Francisco. I'm going to be a tourist for a few days which I won't bore you with (probably) and then it's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fri-Sun (then I have to go home :o( )
oh yes, there are plenty more photos from the AMAs and ACL at Flickr if you're interested.
Saturday 4 October - San Francisco & Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
I've now been in San Francisco for a few days, doing the tourist thing. Went on a day trip to Yosemite which consisted primarily of driving there and back with a mere 3 hours in the park, not enough time to really do it justice, but great to get a taster. The scenery is quite spectacular. I must go and stay there sometime for a couple of nights to see it properly.
I rented a bike for 3 days partly because it seemed a good way to get around but primarily because after 2 weeks for the most part eating poorly, I desperately needed the exercise. San Francisco is a perfect size for biking, only slight drawback are the hills – and there are a lot of them! I struggled up quite a few. That said, I went over the Golden Gate Bridge, explored both the Presidio and Golden Gate Parks and the waterfront. I now have legs of steel!
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass began yesterday afternoon. MC Hammer did a kids thing which I didn't attend. I just went along for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant who I had missed in Austin. HSB is a free festival, set in Golden Gate Park (which is huge), there are 5 stages spread over quite a considerable area. Unlike ACL there is no alcohol sold in the grounds, but you can bring it in. I was worried any beer I took might get warm, but, typically, the temperature, which was about 80 has dropped to 60! (one day I'll go to a festival with perfect conditions…) Last night they were only using the Banjo Stage. I caught a bus there which conveniently goes from outside my hotel via the Bridge to the park. I arrived about 15 minutes before A & R were due to play. I couldn't believe how many people there were. ACL had 60,000 but they were spread between different stages, here everyone was at the one stage and there can't have been many less than 50,000. At ACL there were screens to the side of most stages for those at the back, they don't have that here. I got myself close enough so that the band were bigger than ants. I was impressed by the sound quality and the band were excellent. I find it hard to take Robert Plant seriously – with his big hair and at times Led Zeppelin voice. But it was a very enjoyable show. They did a few together, then Robert introduced Alison who sang a couple. They did a few more, T-Bone Burnett did one and then Alison did a couple more. Buddy Miller was there too but I couldn't really see him. (He wasn't wearing his usual uniform of baseball cap and denim shirt though – he had on a brown hat and red jacket). I left after an hour because I was concerned that too many of the audience would want to catch the same bus as me and I had no idea how else to get back.
It's quite cool today, but I'm looking forward to some great music. Initial choice is between Tift Merritt and Carlene Carter. There's also Three Women and Their Buddy [Miller], Nick Lowe, Mark Olson and Gary Louris and so much more.
Sunday 5 October - HSB
Before I tell you who I did see, these are some of the artists I didn't - Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Tift Merritt, Bad Livers, Waco Brothers, Richard Thompson, Mike Farris, Joe Purdy, Desert Rose Band, Laurie Lewis and Peter Rowan. That should give you some idea of what sort of choices I had to make. It's incredible to think that this festival is free. Today cost me the princely sum of $15 (+ flights from Scotland and hotels....). I am also encouraged by how many people, of all ages turn out to watch the music, most of whom surely haven't heard of many of the musicians.
I woke up to rain (well more like drizzle) this morning and the lowest temperature I've experienced since arriving in the US three weeks ago. Typical I thought. It was still raining when I arrived at the Park and settled down to watch Carlene Carter on the Rooster Stage. I had so enjoyed her set in Nashville that I was keen to see her play somewhere more suitable than the Country Music Hall of Fame Shop. She had a full band this time, different musicians from Nashville. Again, I loved her set. As I observed before there is something moving about her performance, but at the same time quite uplifting. When she laughed I couldn't help but laughing with her, and I found myself smiling throughout the 45 minute set. She performed similar songs to last time, primarily from her most recent release Stronger but also Dixie Darlin' and Ring of Fire. Again she mentioned all her many husbands and noted that husband no 3,Nick Lowe, was on the bill later that day. By the time Carlene finished the rain had gone and the sun was shining. The temperature for the rest of the day was much higher than forecast and damn near perfect.
Carlene was swiftly followed by Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson. Guy starts by saying that there's no running order and he has no idea what will happen - he say that every time I see him and then does almost exactly the same sequence of songs... That said it's very good. He's not looking too well though.
The line up on the Rooster Stage was about as good as it gets and I had a great view point close to the front. Up next were former Jayhawks Mark Olson and Gary Louris who are about to release an album together (it's very good if not quite Jayhawks standard). They had no band but it didn't really matter because as soon as they opened their mouths and those famous Jayhawks harmonies came out it just felt right. They are two halves of a whole, and their work apart can never compete. They did a few old Jayhawks songs as well as some from the new album. All sounded great except for Blue where Gary's harmonies just didn't come out right.
I had a dilemma during Gary and Mark's set - did I stay where I was, enjoying the show with Nick Lowe coming next, or did I brave the crowds and go see Three Women and their Buddy (the three women were Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin with Buddy Miller). Given that that was a show I had wanted to see since their US tour was announced the year before, I had to go see it.
(The major bug-bear I have with HSB is chairs and ground sheets. It's a bit like the joke about Germans and beach towels. Even when I arrived relatively early, the area in front of the rooster stage was strewn with chairs and sheets, but very few people - they'd staked their claim then gone somewhere else leaving little room for those who actually wanted to see the show. In Austin there were no chair zones in front of the stages and this worked well.)
Anyway, I digress. In order to get reasonably close to the banjo stage for the show I had to weave and jump over people, dogs, children, bikes, pushchairs, as well as trailers containing food and drink. I made it to the sound desk eventually and was so glad I'd come. They were sitting in a row on the stage - Patty, Emmylou, Buddy then Shawn, and treated it as an in-the-round taking turns at singing. (I'd love to see this show at The Bluebird) They were obviously very comfortable with each other and, as with all the best in-the-rounds there was chat and jokes between them as well as harmonies on each others songs. Having Buddy to play guitar was a big plus too (he sang his songs as well). I heard Buddy do Shelter From The Storm and Wide River To Cross, Emmylou did a song her daughter wrote (she was sitting at the side of the stage and came out to give a bow - looks nothing like her mother) and Boy From Tupelo, Patty did a Lefty Frizzel song and ended the show with Mary. I wasn't familiar with Shawn's two but liked them both. I was slightly distracted for a while when a security guard confiscated someone's video camera and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out with the help of other security people how to delete the contents.
That was quite possibly the best show of the day, but there was much more good music to come. I fought my way back to the Rooster Stage for Nick Lowe. He was playing solo and has to get top marks for fitting as many songs as possible into his time slot. He was dressed in a brown cashmere jumper which he admitted had been a really bad idea and that it reminded him of a Jim Lauderdale joke about George W Bush going to a kd lang show (can't remember the punchline, I'm useless with jokes). Brought back memories of jim doing an overlong joke about Nick Lowe. Nick's a class act, it was the first time I'd ever seen him perform. There were songs from his most recent CD "At My Age" although he forgot the words to one of my favourites, there was also of course "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding".
I did a bit of wandering about after that, saw a little bit of Jerry Jeff Walker (well strictly speaking I heard a bit, I couldn't see anything). I then went to the Star Stage and caught some of the Del McCoury Band, they kicked into Vincent Black Lightning as I arrived. I then returned to the Rooster Stage for the las 20 minutes of Dave Alvin and The Guity Women who were doing one of my favourites as I arrived - Ashgrove. The "Guilty Women" I knew were (unsurprisingly) Cindy Cashdollar on steel, Lisa Pankratz on drums, Susan Brown on Bass plus Amy Farris on fiddle and Laurie Lewis also on fiddle. They played for 15 minutes after their scheduled time so I caught more of their set than anticipated. I was too far away for decent photos though.
Next up on that stage was Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle and His Bluegrass Dukes closed out the main stage. I decided I'd had enough (I'm not a Steve Earle fan) although I did linger at the Porch Stage for a few minutes listening to the quite beautiful sound of the John Jorgenson Quartet - a civilised way to end the day.
So that was Day 2. Very impressive. I'm still not a fan of outdoor festivals, but I can't complain about the quality of the music or the sound. As I said I'm delighted so many people are coming out to hear this music. Looking forward to tomorrow, my last full day in the US (sob)) Have to start a little later as I need to check in to my flights at 11.30 to secure exit row seats.
Monday 6 October - HSB
I'm sitting at Newark airport, doesn't seem like 3 weeks since I spent a good few hours here, I looked at the Departures board and saw "my" flight to Nashville... oh well, it's been a great few weeks and I suppose I have to go home sometime (I am looking forward to seeing friends and family again and Edinburgh). I've paid for an hour's internet, so need to type quick!
Sunday started a little slowly as I had to wait until 11.35 for 24-hour check-in to my flights home. Managed to get exit row on the transatlantic leg, so it was semi-successful. Then headed straight to Golden Gate Park. The sun was shining again.
Missed Kane Welch Kaplin, but I've seen them before, so paused at the Porch stage and caught a little of a band from Scandinavia I think called Red Wine. Then watched Hazel Dickens briefly on the Banjo Stage. I then headed to the Rooster Stage for Bonnie Prince Billy. I've seen him do a one song guest spot at Celtic Connections in the past but that's it. For the most part I find his CDs a little odd and inaccessible (with the exception of the magnificent "Agnes, Queen of Sorrow") so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, this was an accessible set, quite traditional in feel. Will Oldham was quite chatty and although he is quite strange I enjoyed it much more than I had expected. He expressed his amazement at how many quality musicians were taking part in the Festival.
I watched about 30 minutes of his set, then returned to the Banjo stage for Dr Ralph Stanley. I couldn't see very much as I'd gone down to the front and was to the side of the stage - there was an area in front clear but you were only permitted to go there to take some photos (which I did obviously). He sang Man of Constant Sorrow and a number of others as well as letting other band members sing. Laurie Lewis was there too. At one point Ralph talked about how he used to play the banjo and brought it out for 1 song. Good to finally see Dr Ralph play. I'm not a huge fan, but he is a significant figure and held in high regard by so many people.
Again, didn't stay for his whole set, but went to the Star Stage (I think) for Elvis Costello. Almost everyone else had the same idea, but I managed to hop and weave my way down to about 50 feet from the stage and had a pretty good view. Elvis' band included Bill Kirchen on guitar and Fats Kaplin on peddle steel and fiddle. After 3 or so songs Jim Lauderdale joined him on harmony vocals and acoustic which of course pleased me. He sang a Robert Hunter co-write that I wasn't familiar with. I'm not hugely familiar with Elvis' output but this was a fairy rootsy set without too many of his big hits, there was Radio Sweetheart (first song he wrote apparently), What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding, and a nice version of Love Hurts with Emmylou Harris joining him on stage. The Welsh Male Voice Choir came on with him for the encore. His two little sons were hanging around at the side of the stage too.
This was a long set, over an hour but I thought it great. When it was finished I went back to the Banjo Stage for Ricky Skaggs. Pretty much what you'd expect for Ricky.
I'm zooming through this now as my hour is almost up. Closing the Festival on the Banjo Stage, having played at every one of the 8 HSB Festivals was Emmylou Harris. Same band I saw her with in Glasgow a few weeks ago, with the exception that she was joined by Tift Merritt for a song (surprised me a little this).
I again left before the end, and popped to the Rooster Stage for a little of Iris Dement. She was solo, playing the piano, but miles away. So I didn't stick around. Shame, as I'd liked to have seen more.
Will write my thoughts and trip highlights once I've had time to digest everything. Suffice to say though that I've had a brilliant 3 weeks.