Saturday, August 27, 2016

music festivals: Isle of Wight 1970

The Doors

The Who

The Moody Blues


In 69-70, I was still under a certain amount of somewhat liberal parental guidance: liberal, in that I was free to trek to a local Blind Faith concert, but not so  free that I could stake out an event like Woodstock or the Isle of Wight - that would take another 2 or 3 years, by which time I was freely hitchiking up and down the East Coast at risk of life (more than once)

In retrospect I do  wish I had been a year or two older - so that I mgiht have gone to Woodstock. Most of my stars were in line - except my age. Similarly, I think I have always had a back-of-the-mind hankering to "do" the Isle of Wight Festival/Concert. This need probably stems from the 1970 festival rather than the more recently revived but similarly ostentatious iteration.

For about 2 years, the Isle of Wight festival (back in 68 or so) was a work in progress. The Isle isnt highly conducive to the likes of "flea-haired" hippies : the indigenous are  mostly folks with yachts and large yards, rather sedate and preferential to their 5 o'clock tea types. So much so that they ended up putting a kibitz to the whole thing after the over-board '70 program.

But it's the 1970  program that earned its reputation., Granted, since the chow came back on line in the early 2000s, there have been many many bug time acts: the Stones etc, etc. But again, it was and is the 1970 program that remains the name of legends.

It is probably instructive to look at Jimi Hendrix's too short frestival sojourm: Monterey Pop, 69 Woodstock and then 70 Isle of Wight as indicagtive of the times and of his trajectory
Not the best of venues or circumstances (the operators lost big-time money/ the sound system and stage setup were apparently pathetic), I would have to assume that it was a combination of the alignemtn of the stars (hippie speak for just plain good karma) and a pretty damn good selection of artists.


Music Festivals: Lollapalooza, 1991

My first great music festival was Lollapalooza, in 1991. I imagine most people my age would count one of the early iterations of Lollapalooza as their first real experience with the joyous carnival experience of multiple stages and a host of musical acts.  Lollapalooza wasn’t the first, but it was a pretty epic experience and helped touch off the alternative music revolution.

It was a pretty cool day, under the hot July sun in a giant empty field in Fairfax, Virginia. Jane’s Addiction, led by the festival’s founder Perry Farrel, caped the day with what remains one of the most epic sets I’ve ever seen, complete with semi-nude dancers in suspended cages. Coming Down the Mountain sounded a little like what I figured the Second Coming will: thunderous, earth-shattering and transformative.

The next summer’s festival and line up was even better—it was the first time I saw Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, sparking a life-long love affair with not only the Seattle Sound, but with Pearl Jam in particular. Eddie Vedder started off the set hidden in the crowd while the rest of the band got on the mic and play-acted at wondering where he was. “Hey, where’s Ed?” “Anybody our singer?” To which Vedder replied by sprinting through the crowd, leaping the barrier and vaulting onto stage. My sister was closer to the stage than I was and Eddie ran right by her, brushing her shoulder. I was jealous, so jealous. But, man, what a set.  They opened with Once, did Hunger Strike with Chris Cornell and added a tag of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion to Alive.

Of course, like most of my festival experiences, I don’t recall all that much too clearly. All day in the sun, youthful exuberance and stupid bravery: who really does remember what happened at festivals? I went and looked their set list up and it was a nice walk back through not only that day, but al lot of my memories of the 90s and all the great festivals I got to see. Lollapalooza lots its edginess within a few years: its uber-commercialization is a well-known criticism of the gathering’s history.  But for the first few years, it was amazing: a truly diverse gathering of multiple genres and fans. Crossover defined, to be sure.

I haven’t been to Lollapalooza since 1995. I’m glad I got to see Sonic Youth. I regret seeing Courtney Love and Hole…It’s funny: in 1991, at 19 years old, I felt like I was in the only place I needed to be at a festival (I’ve written about the amazing experiences I had at the ‘HFS Festival—a uniquely DC rite of passage). Festivals were not just music, but a kind of tribal gathering, fueled by music and a million other beautiful distractions and vices. But, one of the saddest realizations I came to as I got older and left college was this: When I went to a festival, I started to feel old. I felt out of place and uncomfortable and I started skipping big shows that only a few years before I would have been totally at home. I think the last big festival I went to was the Tibetan Freedom Festival at RFK Stadium in 1998.

I suppose I belonged—the bands were still mine, so to speak. Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Pearl Jam—all the music I’d grown up to. But, I just didn’t belong. Not anymore. I wasn’t that young, I wasn’t in college, I didn’t have my gang of hoodlums I was used to making merry with for hours on end, desperately joyous with the flush and promise of youth, young blood flowing free like some kind of miracle wine, moved by music, solid and sure as a rock…No, sadly, I’d passed some unseen, unknowable, certainly unrecognizable line from youth into adulthood and rather than surrender to the kind of careless and wild abandon I’d known, I was busy thinking of the things that I felt adults had to think about: rent, or quitting smoking, or waking up with a hangover and going to work…cliché as it gets, and about as maudlin, but true nonetheless. Like I said, the Tibetan Freedom Festival was my last big show. But, I’d prefer not to look at it as an end to my youth but   a start to a more refined era. I still go see Pearl Jam, I still rock, I’d like to think. I just do it in better places, with a more select crowd…

So, no specific song to talk about here, so I will share this track, a live recording of Pearl Jam doing Even Flow at the Colorado stop on the Lolla tour, Summer 1992.

Rock on, be you young or old…

Friday, August 26, 2016

Music Festivals: Newport Folk Festival 2012-Dawes

Dawes: A Little Bit of Everything (Live from Newport 2012)
[purchase the album that this song is on]

I have written about the trip that my wife and I took to the Newport Folk Festival back in 2012 a few times. It was our first time there, and it was a great experience, despite the fact that we got rained on both days. At a festival often identified with Bob Dylan, it was fitting that a hard rain did fall, and we unsuccessfully sought shelter from the storm, as we waited for our ship to come in and take us back to our hotel.

But I haven’t written about the moment at the festival that I remember most strongly. It was not a pleasant moment, and I’m willing to bet that my wife will be surprised when she reads this.

I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, and for a while before our Newport trip, I had not been happy at my job. Despite that, I stuck through it, because the pay wasn’t bad, and I had settled into somewhat of a rut—sort of like the one that Nick Lowe wrote about in “Rocky Road” (“The rut I was in had once been a groove”). By the time we went to Newport, the end was in sight, and I was looking for a new gig. I actually spent a good portion of my post-festival Newport vacation reviewing deposition transcripts using the Panera Bread’s free wi-fi (which was better than the hotel’s) for a summary judgment motion to try to stay in the senior partner’s good graces, to keep the paychecks coming in. I did a good job, I think, and I ended up creating a 45 page statement of undisputed facts from my Newport work. We lost the motion, and the trial (which I helped prepare for, but which took place as I was basically out the door.) So, as we were enjoying our time in Newport, I was very uneasy, because I didn’t know how long I would be staying at the firm, and had no alternatives, other than the risk of starting my own law practice.

One of the bands that I was excited to see at the festival was Dawes, a band that seems to have recently evolved into essentially the Newport Festival house band—supporting other musicians who don’t always travel with backup musicians, and often having other performers sit in with them. In fact, that is one big way that Newport differs from the other festival that we have gone to (and which I have written about), the hopefully-returning-in-2017 Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival. Although it does happen at Clearwater (seeing Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood sit in during each other’s solo set was a highlight, and there are other examples), it seems like more of a regular thing at Newport for people to play with each other. This adds a feeling of camaraderie and friendship to the music, and you get to hear interesting, often unique, combinations (like this great version of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” by My Morning Jacket, with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, from the 2012 festival, that I missed waiting for a ferry to get us out of the rain).

Dawes’ sound is often compared to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1970s—CSNY, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, etc., with a bit of Band thrown it. And I also have to believe that they also were influenced by the Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt/Jayhawks alt-country sound and artists like Ryan Adams. In keeping with their debt to the great confessional singer-songwriters, their lyrics often plumb emotional topics, which is certainly true about one of my favorite Dawes songs, “A Little Bit of Everything.” The song has three vignettes: the first, focusing on a man planning to jump from a bridge, not for any one reason, but for an accumulation of things, the second about an older man in a buffet line, musing over his life’s disappointments while deciding what to eat, and the third features a woman writing invitations to her wedding, and explaining to her fiancé why she was working so apparently humorlessly on the wedding planning. As the song’s writer, Taylor Goldsmith, explained in an interview, “each verse would provide the phrase with new meaning. In the first verse, it’s used to describe why life’s unlivable, in the second, what it takes to forget, and finally, what matters most about love.”

So, I’m sitting there, watching Dawes, getting toward the end of a great first Newport day, very much enjoying their set, when they launch into “A Little Bit of Everything,” in the version you can hear above. And the next thing I know, tears are streaming down my face. Was I identifying with the suicidal guy who was feeling overwhelmed? With the old guy at the buffet thinking about “when his bright future had left him”? Or the woman who reassured her fiancé about the power of finding the person you truly love? Clearly, it was a little bit of everything, but it affected me so profoundly.

I recovered, though, both at the festival, where we went on to see Amy Helm, Patty Griffin and the beginning of My Morning Jacket before we evacuated, but also professionally. I played out the string at my old job, and in March of 2013, I opened up my own practice. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been struggles, but I’ve learned an enormous amount and have never enjoyed being a lawyer as much.

That all being said, I still get emotional when I hear this song, which, I guess, shows that Mr. Goldsmith knows what he is doing.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Everybody needs a break,
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.
Sean Doherty goes to the Rose of Tralee,
Oliver J. Flanagan goes swimming in the Holy Sea.
But I like the music and the open air,
So every Summer I go to Clare.
Coz Woodstock, Knock nor the Feast of Cana,
Can hold a match to Lisdoonvarna.

Well this couldn't be timed any the better, being that time of year when I bundle my kit into the car and head off into the sunshine, hopefully the sunshine, in search of the outdoor muse. I commented here, just a couple of years ago about my intent to revisit my youth and to start attending music festivals once more, after a decade or so of good behaviour. It was Cambridge Folk Festival that broke my fast, a venerable warhorse of such events, now in its 52nd  consecutive year. Folk is a multi-faceted definition these days: this year featured such finger in the ear trad. arr. stalwarts as Wilko Johnson and Charles Bradley! But amongst the Satchmo all-inclusiveness was the fellow I praise today, Mr Christy Moore. The featured song is one he wrote about an Irish festival, sadly no longer in existence, but, judging by the lyric, would have been right up my street.

Lisdoonvarna is a small town in the west of Ireland. The video above gives a good grasp of the place. Small as in very small, less than 1000 inhabitants. But between 1978 and 1983 it was home to the festival that bore its name, described here as:"Lisdoon, of course, was the Irish Woodstock. First held in 1978, it was conceptualised as the Irish equivalent of the Glastonbury Festival in England: part-scout jamboree, part-Bacchanal frenzy, part-hippy-dippy roots-embracing finger-in-the-ear jig-'n'-reel extravaganza...If all those who now claim to have been at Lisdoon 1978 were actually there, Co Clare would have tipped up and slipped off the Cliffs of Moher."--Irish Independent

 Does that not sound wonderful? Sadly the combination of several "revellers" drowning off the coast, and the unhelpful presence of the ubiquitous Hell's Angels finished it off, the local council vetoing any further such endeavour. (Why do the media always refer to festival attendees as revellers, a seemingly compulsory journalistic term I abhor, even writing to the august British Medical Journal in 1994 to lambast them for this lazy verbiage. Sorry, no link, they didn't publish!) However, should you need still to get to Lisdoonvarna and happen to be single, there is still this, the worlds largest dating festival.......

So what about Christy Moore? A bastion of probably more folk festivals than nearly anyone, he has been a fixture on the circuit for an astonishing 4 decades, retiring more than once. A founder member of both Planxty and Moving Hearts, each of whom propelled traditional irish music out of pub back rooms and  into global recognition, first of all acoustically and then with the full electric band dynamic. Each, in my humble, never bettered. Thereafter he retreated to his roots and his battered guitar, often alone, or with longterm trusty sidekick, Declan Sinnot, mesmerising audiences with his combination of political commentary, eirocentric whimsy and unexpected covers. His voice a gentle fire, with an unusual power and a soft beauty, often as much a sound as a medium for the lyrical content, though you would be foolish to miss that aspect. And, having been forced off the road in the 80s through alcoholism and heart disease, both now seemingly in abeyance, his schedule as busy as ever. Here he is, playing at Cambridge barely a month ago. And here is an example of his latest and recommended release:

I must rush; next weekend sees me in Shrewsbury for another 4 days of, um, revelling....... (Indeed, the curious interested in seeing this scribe in action at last years event might stop the promo video at 1.13, catching the handsome fella with a goatee, enraptured by whomsoever was playing at that time. I appreciate it would be even more curious if you did.)

Buy the song, but do yourself a favour, check out the back catalogue, including his Planxty and Moving Hearts releases.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

STE* - Steve Jones, Give It Up

Purchase Steve Jones, Give It Up

Steve Jones is best known as the guitar player for the Sex Pistols, thus, he’s kind of the godfather of punk guitar. There’s really no debate: that’s his sound.  We’ve all been imitating it since 1977. But, Jones has led an interesting career, aside from the guitar. He’s played with myriad acts that span multiple genres. He’s acted. He’s written. He’s currently a DJ on the radio in LA.  I mention this because, one: he kicks ass, always had. He’s one of the major reasons I picked up the guitar in the first place. But, two, and more importantly: I like the fact that Jones has traversed so many sounds and styles for the simple fact that his talent belies the notion that punk in general and the Sex Pistols in particular was dumb music made by a bunch of one-syllable speaking knuckleheads. I mean, it often was, but I’ve always loved the fact that Jones went on to such a varied and interesting career.

Because of the magnitude of the impact it had and the musical revolution he helped to spark, nothing will ever quite live up to Jones’ work in the Pistols, but the man is a testament to being a multi-versed renaissance player and the essential nature of reinvention.

Check out his 1987 MCA release, Mercy. It’s decidedly of the era, with some heavy, floating keys on the power ballads, but tracks like That’s Enough and Give it Up pack a serious, decidedly un-80s pop guitar drive that sets these songs apart from the standard fare of the decade of silly hair and way too many effects.  Plus, the album showcases Jones’ serious Elvis-inspired croon, which somehow works, even over the more radio, Miami Vice-ready tracks. His 1989 release, Fire and Gasoline, is even better. It mainly eschews the pop stuff and goes for full throttle guitars. It’s a little metal, I suppose, but hearing it again today, it’s pretty much just rock n roll: big beat, rip saw guitar rhythms and big courses. Again, decidedly not what was popular at the time (I’m looking at you, Hair Metal), and really, a little ahead of its time.

There are a number of good tracks from both albums, but lets go with Give It Up, from Mercy. If for no other reason than it was the first song I remember hearing off the album, and one that I could easily pick out and play along to in my bedroom on my Stratocaster. Learn from the best. For fun, also, check out his cover of Bowie’s Suffragette City. It’s fun, loud and raw, like good covers should be.


STE* - STEve Miller

purchase [ Brave New World]

Seattle almost matches the STE* requirement - at least it has all the letters. And more. It's my legal home when I'm back in the US of A, but more important to you since you are currently reading this at SMM, is the strength of the city's musical output. I was sure that Steve Miller was from Seattle, but he isn't listed in the Wikipedia link to famous musicians from Seattle. However, the Wikipedia list hasn't got it quite right (your teacher always told you that you shouldn't use Wikipedia as a reliable source). Miller has in fact been associated with/lived in the Seattle area.

The Steve Miller Band was one of my favorites - for some reason up until about the time just after the band turned more commercial (after The Joker/Fly Like an Eagle, both of which I consider decent if not quite like the earlier output)

We have here a cut from 1969's Brave New World, shortly after Boz Scaggs had left. Apparently recorded in a single session in London, the album includes a musician billed as Paul Ramon - doing backing vocals on the track, but also drums and guitar on other tracks on the album. You probably know him better by another name.

Celebration Song

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

STE* : Steve Howe/Yes

 purchase [ Yessongs ]

A Newsweek article from about a year ago noted Steve Howe's resemblance to a wizard: long white locks, an angular face, and spectacles to match. A wizard not only in looks, but at the guitar as well. 

 Classically trained and multi-instrumental, Howe brought a jazz infused guitar style, combining with Rick Wakeman's keyboard and Chris Squire's bass to create a unique sound that is easily identifiable as the sound of Yes. He was then and still is today a man who flies under the radar. In a Guitar World interview, he suggests that rather than aiming to be a guitar player, he would advise aspring players to be musicians. Quite true - at least for him and his style.

More often than not, Yes songs ran to much longer than the default AM radio 3 minute limit - FM radio was only just beginning to take  over the air waves, and Yes songs didnt fit the formula.  But, for the first half of the 1970s, Yes alums regularly sold well. Yessongs  - a live set that shows how close they could bring their style to the stage -not one of those bands that can do it in the studio but come up short in live shows.

The cover art work of many Yes albums by Roger Dean added to the band's appeal: out of this world - but plausibly realistic landscapes floating in space - which is where many listeners saw themselves at that time. Howe and drummer Alan White, both members of the 70s era lineup are still in the still-touring band: Wakeman currently plays with other Yes alumni including John Anderson, Squire passed away last year. Original member Peter Banks, who Howe replaced in 1970 also passed away a few years back.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

STE*: E.S.T.

I seem to have hundreds of Steves and Stephens on my i-pod, so who said anything about not jumbling it up a bit, which is an apt metaphor, because that is exactly what E.S.T., or the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, did. Nominally a post-modern piano jazz trio, signed to the notoriously serious ECM label, one could be forgiven for suspecting their music to be far too sombre and far too difficult for you, and, at times, you would be right. But at others it can be amongst the most life-affirming use of this most traditional of formats, especially when a scintilla of electronica is added to the blend.

I would be first to admit that I don't know a whole lot about either the band or Esbjorn himself, much above he is no longer with us, having been drowned in a scuba diving accident 8 years ago. So rather than making this a retread of his life and works: you can get that here, I thought I'd just tweak your ears with a snippet or two of his work.
So is it jazz or is it not? Clearly, I guess, yes, but the question merely epitomises the problem with pigeonholing. By applying the label as many potential listeners will be repelled as will be attracted, perhaps many more, jazz often still having a stuffy reputation. So if you recontextualise it as within the classical/electronica interface it still fits. Indeed, with the expansion of this well nigh impossible to truly describe music genre, your Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahms and their ilk, I am struck how prescient of their current output were this trio a decade or more ago. (Here is an excellent article from the Royal Opera House, of all places, which ties to explain this paradigm.) Anyway I'm listening to them as I write and the drumming alone smacks way more of the dance floor than it is supposed to or that you expect. Uncertain if I'm selling this, so have some more music.

Did I say classical? But this is heavy metal, or could be, already defeating my risible attempts to classify. Which is my point. But never is the eclecticism a distraction, nor the purpose. This is no tailcoat riding exercise in hipster posing, as the more orthodox piece below shows.

The 3 songs showcased are, in order, 'Dolores in a Shoestand', 'Leucocyte' and 'Elevation of Love', perhaps demonstrating that his titles are arguably the only impenetrable within his oevre. I hope this briefest of introductions may entice some further exploring. (Hell, if you come to this site, your ears are probably already open, but, if not?) You could do a lot worse than a lazy start with 'Retrospective: the Very Best of E.S.T.'

Buy it here!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

STE*: Steve Tibbetts

Steve Tibbetts: Ur

If you love music enough to read blogs like this, I can almost guarantee that there are a number of times that you first heard a song or an album and had your mind immediately blown. A feeling that you have heard something that was so wonderful, so unlike anything else that you were familiar with, that it stays with you forever. I’ve written about other times this has happened to me, but today I want to write about Steve Tibbetts, whose second album, Yr was a revelation.

Tibbetts is not exactly a household name—he exists somewhere in the never particularly commercial intersection of jazz fusion, world music and ambient music. He is a virtuoso guitarist who painstakingly crafts his albums by overdubbing layers upon layers of instruments, sort of like Mike Oldfield used to do. I remember seeing the album at WPRB—I’m pretty sure someone directed me to it, and from the first listen, I was totally hooked. Our featured song, “Ur,” is the first one on the album, and thus the first one I heard, but they are all great. Beautiful guitar based instrumentals with Indian percussion that moved between soft and lyrical and fast and furious. Each side of the record flowed together as a piece, although there were separate tracks. I really lack the vocabulary to describe the music, so I’m going to steal a quote from a review of Yr from DownBeat Magazine:

Tibbetts overdubs acoustic and electric instruments in a Hendrixian mindscape of production wizardry, often combining up to 20 guitars on one track. He layers the sound into breathtaking guitar choirs and intricate superstructures. His solos are twisting, singing journeys that evolve with the sense of spiritual awakening you’d hear in a Coltrane soprano run. After building to an exuberant climax that nears the breaking point, he supplants it with a plaintive acoustic guitar passage that initiates the next trip. 

If that doesn’t make you want to listen to his music, then you cannot be my friend.

Tibbetts was born in Madison, Wisconsin, but is based in St. Paul, Minnesota. His first two albums were created and self-released. Yr was the second, but the first one I had heard. We had a copy at WPRB that had Tibbetts’ original pen and ink drawing (see above) as the cover—and I vaguely recall that it might have been personalized for the station (although in retrospect, maybe not by Tibbetts).

Later, Yr was re-released, with a different cover, by ECM records, a legendary jazz label known for a particular sound, and for recording its albums quickly. Tibbetts’ first album for the label was done in this manner, and was not a critical success. His later works, done more in his painstaking, time consuming way, were more successful.

I have to admit that I basically lost track of Tibbetts after I left college. I don’t remember hearing that first ECM release, and it wasn’t like there was a place to hear his style of music on the radio, even in New York in the 1980s and 1990s. His output slowed significantly after the 80s, and even more so in the 2000s, with his last album, Natural Causes released in 2010. He has also released two albums with Chöying Drolma, a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

A few years ago, an Australian music site, Guvera, briefly was allowing free, legal, downloads of certain music using a system that allowed the amassing of a huge number of credits for essentially clicking on advertisements. I downloaded hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs during this brief period, which ultimately ended when Guvera decided that it would become a streaming service (probably, because giving away thousands of downloads wasn't a viable business model). It did allow me to download a bunch of Tibbetts’ later music, which all sounds pretty good, although I admittedly haven’t given it a huge amount of attention. And it never again blew my head up the same way it did when I first heard Yr.