August 31st, 2014 at 9:55 am
Go on, try and define “Americana” music. Or “roots” music of the type that played on several stages in Fayetteville during the Fayetteville Roots Festival, which logged another great day Saturday (Aug. 30).
The best descriptions you’ll find probably say something about it containing elements of folk, bluegrass or a band that features a particular interest in songcraft. Roots bands often use acoustic instruments to accomplish their aims, so that’s something you can look for during a rootsy show.
Unless the participants plug in electric instruments and crank up the volume, like more than one did on Saturday.
And who is to say that’s not a better option, or that the finished, full-volumed result still isn’t “roots” music?
I won’t make that argument.
I watched several sets on Saturday, and my thoughts on each follow.
Anais Mitchell, 4 p.m., Main Stage
The word I kept writing down in my notebook about Anais Mitchell‘s early afternoon set was “adorable.” You probably could have just as easily substituted “charming” instead. I only watched about half of her set, but wished I’d caught more after I started hearing it. She had the audience laughing each time she chatted between songs. That’s not always a correlation to stage presence, or skill as a musician. But they crossed over here — her way with language and phrasing arrive often in her music.
Smokey & The Mirror, 5 p.m., Main Stage
Maybe Smokey and The Mirror co-songwriter/co-vocalist/co-Roots Festival organizer Bryan Hembree played the acoustic guitar that was sitting near him for a song or two. If I watched it, I don’t remember, and I certainly don’t remember hearing a softer song. The Fayetteville-based duo that also includes Bernice Hembree jettisoned recently from 3 Penny Acre, but the hiatus is an amicable one — third 3PA member Bayard Blain was an active participant in the festival, just not on stage with the Hembrees. So the Hembrees added electric guitar and an actual drum kit to supplement their sound, and they are as much rock ‘n’ roll as they are any other genre, though they certainly borrow from a few. The Hembrees talked about their live album and a studio recording that will come out later this year. I’m curious to hear those products.
Jay Farrar, 7 p.m., Main Stage
In a night that found many rootsy acts going loud, Jay Farrar was the exception. He stripped down versions of several songs from his rock projects over the years and turned them into acoustic guitar-driven pieces played by himself and guitar/mandolin/pedal steel/fiddle player Gary Hunt. Farrar has an amazing catalog to draw from, and he pulled from several places, including the Son Volt songs “Methamphetamine,” “Windfall” and “Tear Stained Eye.” He also played a song by the New Multitudes, a supergroup including Farrar, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson. They created new songs by adding music to Woody Guthrie lyrics. But Farrar’s rough-hewn baritone and no-frills stage demeanor quieted the night some. I’ve followed Jay Farrar for years, and I love his music, but he may just be too depressing to watch live.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, 8 p.m., Main Stage
From her first note to her last, Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff had command of the room. If you’ve yet to hear that band’s newest album, “Small Town Heroes,” go listen as soon as you can. But also know the songs shine when fully realized on stage, too. I think the acoustics of the festival got better as the event rolled on — as they should — and I thought her band sounded as good as any we heard. She named checked an Arkansas legend in the song “Levon’s Dream,” which she played on a day that was declared “Levon Helm Day” by city officials. Segarra was a bit soulful, a bit sassy and all entertaining.
Lucinda Williams, 9:45 p.m., Main Stage
When I think of Lucinda Williams, I think of a lyrical songwriter, acoustic guitar in hand, playing country-esque songs. Maybe that’s because in this town we’re fond of her father, the poet and former University of Arkansas professor Miller Williams, and the idea of a daughter emulating her father but adding music creates a nice narrative. And certainly, that influence is there — her lyrics do in fact have a poetic quality.
But Williams’ Saturday night show flew in the face of my previous convictions about her, even though I’ve watched her live several times before. Or maybe because I’ve watched her live several times. With ace guitarist Marc Ford — formerly of The Black Crowes — at her side, Williams and company jammed, especially in the second half of a more than 75-minute show.
Her uptempo movement midway through the set started with a batch of new songs that will make their official debut in late September on a new album. Williams got feisty, and so did the crowd in response. Several of her recent albums have been on the gentler side of things, but the new recording “Where The Spirit Meets the Bone” contains a return of her snarl. Or maybe that interpretation comes from how I saw them performed — loud, and with a wonderful band behind her.
Ben Kweller, 11:30 p.m., George’s Majestic Lounge
At one point in his interesting career, Ben Kweller was a piano pop musician. He later released a countryish album, inspired by his new life in Texas. Now, it has changed again, and it’s more straightforward rock. He didn’t have a keyboard onstage with him on Saturday night at George’s Majestic Lounge, the home of the festival’s late-night shows.
Instead, Kweller jammed with his two-piece backing band, playing songs old and new. The only thing I’m disappointed in is how few people showed up. I didn’t see many with festival badges on, and I saw fewer still of Fayetteville’s general music-going public. How Kweller drew so few, short of a post-Razorback football hangover, I’ll never understand.
The festival continues both today (Aug. 31) and Monday (Sept. 1) with shows at George’s and Crystal Bridges, respectfully. Today’s events are a VIP and volunteer thank you party. The Monday afternoon gigs are free for the public.
August 30th, 2014 at 3:43 pm
Here’s how the first official day of the Fayetteville Roots Festival kicked off — with a line out the door for a free concert.
I’ve written before that I could never understand why the (free!) live taping of KUAF’s “Ozarks at Large” was never packed to the brim. It was this year, so much so that overflow seating which provided only a televised view of the activities happening next door also overflowed.
The people who showed up at noon Friday (Aug. 29) blindly hoping for something good were rewarded for their faith. The festival’s live radio shows, now in their third year, have a reputation for including some of the biggest names on the bill, and that was the case this year, too. Friday night (Aug. 29) headliners The Wood Brothers showed up, including a supporting a cast that included the Secret Sisters, Willie Watson and more.
Later, with the main stage inside the Fayetteville Town Center for the first time after several years at the Walton Arts Center, the festival kept unspooling great sets, from spellbinding storytelling (Willie Watson) to multidimensional folk/blues/funk/jazz (The Wood Brothers).
Recaps of the shows I watched follow below.
KUAF Live Show, noon, Fayetteville Public Library
The five artists who performed at the Fayetteville Public Library exclusively followed this format — an unveiling, a song, a question-and-answer session and a second song. Having a moment to hear from the artists helped in many contexts. Three times this weekend I watched Willie Watson sing the traditional tune “Keep It Clean.” I wondered what it meant until he offered his analysis during the radio show — even he doesn’t know what the song means. He just liked it, and encouraged people to do the same. Each of the radio segments were a precursor to the events to follow, and you got a good feeling that the rest of the night would go well, too.
4 p.m., The Apache Relay, Main Stage
Nashville’s The Apache Relay are the most indie rock of the acts on the Roots Festival lineup, and I think I’d rather have watched them the evening before during a club show at George’s Majestic Lounge. Still, they played a couple catchy songs during their set, particularly “Katie Queen of Tennessee,” a single from their self-titled album from April. They only played for about 30 minutes. I’m told that’s because a previous band’s sound check started late. I wish they had a little bit more time to build momentum.
5 p.m., The Secret Sisters, Main Stage
I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Sisters’ duo performance on the radio. Their sisterly harmonies are simply stunning. I enjoyed them most again when they sent their band offstage and did a pair of songs by themselves — covers of The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” This band too looked rushed in their exit.
6:45 p.m., Willie Watson, Main Stage
Willie Watson’s minimalism is something to behold. He gets on stage with a guitar (or a banjo) and a microphone. His latest album, simply enough, is called “Folk Singer, Vol. 1.” Now outside of Old Crow Medicine Show, Watson has fully adopted the itinerant folk singer role, right down to his outfit of denim shirt, denim pants, sweat-stained round-billed hat and cowboy boots. He wore it at Thursday’s VIP part, and he wore it again during the live radio performance and during his Friday night gig on the main stage. Minimalism doesn’t always work, and lesser performers can pretty easily lose a crowd at a coffee shop open mic. With a mostly full room in front of him, Watson captivated. His voice is a singular creature that fits his personna beautifully. It’s a high, warbling, lonesome thing, and it set such a beautiful tone. His traditional folk ballads with a touch of old blues — think Robert Johnson — show us the confluence of music styles present in Americana music.
Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott, 8 p.m., Main Stage
Here’s how in-sync Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are onstage — when mandolin/fiddle player O’Brien noticed his guitar-playing friend and stage partner had dropped a pick, he reached down and grabbed it for him. The duo traded spots in the lead role, both vocally and musically. Highlights included the uptempo “Hopkinsville” and the harmony-fueled “Keep Your Dirty Lights On.” The pair have released both a live album and a studio recording as duo, and their ease onstage together makes them a great pairing.
The Wood Brothers, 9:30 p.m., Main Stage
And then came The Wood Brothers, a force of nature. And a force of various degrees of bluegrass, blues, free-form jazz and old-time stomp. Not many bands take their lead musical cues from the bass (in this case, upright bass) player, but not many bands have Chris Wood as the bassist. He was the best pure musician of the many I watched on the stage yesterday. Bandmates Oliver Wood and Jano Rix are no slouches, but Chris Wood is a revelation.
The Town Center is set up with many rows of chairs all facing a stage. Some people got to the venue early enough to snag front-row seats, which could be reserved via a card system. But you had to get their early to claim one nonetheless. None of it mattered by the end of the night, because a group of boisterous fans flooded to the front of the stage (and in front of the seats) to dance.
The group offered this tidbit during their song “Sing About It”: “If You Get Worried, What You Ought to do is Sing.” They offered a musical balm for anything that ailed anyone in the audience — turns out listening to music and dancing is a pretty good complement to singing, too.
Shows continue today (Aug. 30). See you at a few?
August 29th, 2014 at 2:33 pm
Robert Cray does not hesitate to admit his love for soul music.
His originals always leaned in that direction. But with his newest release, “In My Soul,” he fully embraces it. On the record, he and his band take on a pair of soul classics and a few originals, too.
He may be embracing his soulful side right now, but Cray’s heart (and playing style) are firmly rooted in the blues, too. Cray has won many awards, including five Grammys. He’s also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame.
Cray, chatting on a recent day off, told me about his love of soul music, his ace backing band and and the live album the quartet is preparing to cut. You can read my story in today’s What’s Up! section. It’s also online, available if you’re a subscriber to the NWA Media group or its digital products.
Cray performs Saturday (Aug. 30) at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs. The Steve Pryor Band from Oklahoma kicks off the show, which begins at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $55-$75 and are available through the venue’s website.
August 29th, 2014 at 11:32 am
The Fayetteville Roots Festival has always billed itself as a blend of music and food.
And at no time is that better proved than the Thursday night (Aug. 28) preview party at the Garner Farm in east Fayetteville. An entire hog — one of two that were cooked, I’m told — was placed at the end long, lined table that served as a buffet for hundreds. The other hog was already shredded into chunks near the one being carved. Neither lasted very long.
The music didn’t last long enough, either.
Music at the VIP preview is somewhat ancillary to the food and fellowship of the event’s first day. People came and went, snagging local beers or carefully crafted cocktails — anyone else enjoy the chipotle-infused Manhattan?
Music was devoured in snippets, or about as long as it took to scarf down some shiitake-loaded pate, a grilled okra and carrot mini-kabob or some goat milk and honey ice cream.
The three artists who performed on Thursday night all did so to crowds on the move, but all impressed in their role.
Cindy Woolf and Mark Bilyeu have an easy charm and camaraderie. Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show but now a solo artist, had the tough act of entertaining a crowd with only an instrument and voice at his disposal. He did so aptly, and he got those gathered around him stomping and clapping along to his telling of the traditional tune “Midnight Special.”
Similarly, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott got some attention and clapping and singing along, especially with Scott’s tune “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” later made popular by country artist Travis Tritt.
It was indeed a great day, and I suspect we’ll have much more to cheer about by the end of this day, which starts with a live preview at noon at the Fayetteville Public Library and kicks off in earnest at 4 p.m. on the main stage at the Fayetteville Town Center.
See you at some shows?
August 29th, 2014 at 10:23 am
Oliver Wood has his own thing going, too. He earned a reputation as a guitarist and vocalist in he bluesy band King Johnson.
So why didn’t the two brothers play together? Chris Wood tells me timing, mostly. But then a series of jam sessions turned into a proper band, The Wood Brothers. And that turned into a critically acclaimed thing of its own — and the primary project for the two members. Chris Wood recently moved to Nashville, Tenn., to be nearer to his brother and ease the collaborative process.
Chris Wood talked to me about the band’s songwriting process, The Wood Brothers’ forthcoming album and the band’s future. You can read my story in today’s What’s Up! section, published today in the five Northwest Arkansas Media group daily newspapers or online [Note: Subscriber content].
The Wood Brothers performed at George’s Majestic Lounge last night (Aug. 28). They will also perform on the Main Stage tonight (Aug. 29) at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. I also have a hunch — a really strong hunch — they’ll also be a surprise guest on the live taping of KUAF‘s “Ozarks at Large,” which starts at noon today at the Fayetteville Public Library.
I’ll have a review of their main stage set later this weekend.
August 29th, 2014 at 5:03 am
A friend of mine recently told me she had to work on Labor Day. I’m aghast.
I hope you don’t have to work this weekend. Or if you do, I hope it’s like me, and it involves covering live music — I’ll be at the Fayetteville Roots Festival all weekend. I started my coverage last night, actually, and I’ll have a brief update in a bit.
There’s plenty of other live music events taking place this weekend, and I hope you can use a little bit of extra time away from the office to enjoy some.
North Texas quintet Boxcar Bandits is one option. They label their sound “skunkgrass” and will visit the area this weekend for a free show at Smoke & Barrel Tavern. The band formed in Denton in 2006 and has toured and recorded since then. The group is currently at work on its third release, a tribute to Doc Watson. The Friday-night (Aug. 29) set begins about 10 p.m.
Classic rockers Foreigner, who have recorded dozens of hits in their career, will return to Northwest Arkansas for a show tonight. The band responsible for the classic rock earworms “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” will perform at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. Local classic rock cover band Uncrowned Kings opens the show, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $39.50 to $49.50 and are available by calling 443-5600 or via arkansasmusicpavilion.com.
Arkansas-raised blues guitarist JP Soars will perform near his hometown of Cedarville to celebrate the release of his newest album, “Full Moon Night in Memphis.” Backed by The Red Hots, Soars and company will perform from 6:30-9 p.m. today at Warren’s Rec Room in Alma. Admission is $15.
Monday (Sept. 1) you can also catch some free music from Roots Festival bands at Crystal Bridges.
What does the weekend have in store for you?
August 28th, 2014 at 9:39 am
The Fayetteville Roots Festival is great on many levels, not the least of which is how little competition is present. What do I mean by that? Aside from after about 11 p.m. each evening, there isn’t much in the way of simultaneous music. The choices aren’t as difficult in this case.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick artists — there’s a lot to choose from.
Now complete with the process of creating my own personal list, I thought I’d share my must-see acts as a primer for what to expect from this year’s festival, which begins tonight (Aug. 28) with a VIP-tickets-only event at the Garner Farm in Fayetteville and continues through Monday (Sept. 1) at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville.
You can find more information, including scheduling and ticketing details, on the festival’s website.
Tickets for many of these events are sold out, so tickets may be hard to come by. But some of the events are free and open to the non-ticket-holding members of the general public, too.
Here are my Top 7 shows to see at the Fayetteville Roots Festival 2014.
What’s on your list?
7) Jay Farrar, 7 p.m. Saturday, Main Stage
Jay Farrar performing the Uncle Tupelo song “Still Be Around”
I have no idea what Jay Farrar will play. And that’s some of my intrigue with this show. Farrar certainly has plenty of music to choose from — he’s a founding member of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt and the New Multitudes, the latter a star-studded tribute to Woody Guthrie. Farrar has also recorded a great album with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard that’s based on the Jack Kerouac novel “Big Sur.” Farrar has written some tremendous songs over the years, and he has the world-weary voice to make you a believer.
6) The Apache Relay, 9 p.m. Thursday at George’s Majestic Lounge or 7 p.m. Friday, Main Stage
The Apache Relay perform “Katie Queen of Tennessee” in a subway station
The Apache Relay is a relatively new find for me. I remember listening to an old album of the Nashville-based band a few years ago. But I’d not listened to their self-titled April 2014 album until seeing their name on this year’s Roots lineup. It’s a great collection of soul-infused folk rock. I’m expecting a fun show.
Don’t be surprised when a Roots Festival headliner steps out for a free (if too short) set at the library. KUAF is one of the festival’s supporters, and they host a two-hour live show from the library every year. Every year, they snag a few festival bands for a free live performance. Last year, they pulled in headliners Iris Dement and The Del McCoury Band. This year? Stay tuned.
4) The Wood Brothers, 10:30 p.m. today at George’s or 9 p.m. Friday at the Main Stage
The Wood Brothers cover Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” on acoustic instruments in a small room
The Wood Brothers hold an interesting place in the world of Americana music. The two namesake brothers blend individual loves of jazz music and the blues into something more than the sum of the parts. This band comes with high praise for its live shows, and I expect we’ll get a series of good ones here, too.
3) Water Liars, 11:45 a.m. Saturday at the Town Center Plaza or 10:30 p.m. Saturday at George’s
Water Liars perform “Swannanoa”
I am forbidden to repeat my praise for Water Liars any more, but if you know my writing or my Top 10 albums list you know I love this band. It took me about five listens before realizing their self-titled album from earlier this year is as good as their earlier recordings, but I now am thoroughly convinced.
2) Ben Kweller, 11:30 p.m. Saturday at George’s
Ben Kweller performs “Falling”
You may remember Ben Kweller from his more youthful days, when as a 21-year-old songwriter he released the piano pop radio hit “Wasted & Ready.” Twelve years later, he’s evolved into much more of a complete musician, and his songs have taken a more country flavor (but don’t confuse him with country music). He’s a unique artist compared to many of the Roots bands, but I also think he’s a great fit.
1) Lucinda Williams, 9 p.m. Saturday at Main Stage
Lucinda Williams sings “Pineola,” a song she wrote about the late Frank Stanford, a poet who spent many years in Fayetteville
This is far from Lucinda Williams first appearance in Fayetteville. She lived here briefly in the early 1970s, and her father, noted poet Miller Williams, still does. Lucinda’s poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve mentality have made her a favorite among critics and fans for many years.
August 27th, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Moving it to a smaller venue with just a month’s notice is an even bigger ordeal. But that was the deck handed to the organizers of the annual event. Walton Arts Center officials announced in late June that roof repairs would temporarily close the downtown Fayetteville venue. Roots festival organizers announced a move to the Fayetteville Town Center a few weeks later.
I’ve chatted with Roots Festival planners, who tell me the venue is ready. There were changes, sure — the WAC seats about 1,200 per night, and the Town Center will accommodate about 1,000. And with a slate of headliners that includes The Wood Brothers on Friday (Aug. 29) and Lucinda Williams on Saturday (Aug. 30), this seemed certain to be the year the festival sold out the larger home.
But there is plenty of good to come from the move, too. The festival is now more compact — events take place around the Fayetteville Square during the day and on Dickson Street during the evening hours.
And all the associated festival events take place as scheduled, from Thursday (Aug. 28)’s VIP-ticket-only introductory culinary and music combination to the late-night stages at George’s Majestic Lounge.
In addition to the late-night events, which will include acts such as Ben Kweller, Water Liars and Hurray for the Riff Raff, there’s also a new free show taking place on Monday (Sept. 1). Several acts will take the show to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which will host concerts that afternoon.
My preview story on the festival, which examines the new venues, the food elements and many of the artists performing at the festival, appeared in our What’s Up! section last Friday. You can still check out the online version [Note: Subscriber content].
Come back tomorrow, when I’ll offer a Top 5 (or Top 7?) list of bands you should check out. Come back later in the week for reviews and photos of all the shows. And check out the festival’s website for a full schedule of events and ticket information. As of this writing, the only tickets available were to the late-night shows at George’s — everything else was sold out.
See you there?
August 26th, 2014 at 11:17 am
Chucky Waggs performs the song “The Bottom” from a previous recording.
Chucky Waggs, a.k.a. Charles Adam Wagner, has been playing Americana on the road for about a decade as part of Mountain Sprout and other bands. Waggs also records music on his own, playing a mixture of guitar, banjo, harmonica and kazoo. The Eureka Springs-based musician will release his third solo album, “Low Road Ramble,” on Thursday (Aug. 29) at Chelsea’s Corner Cafe in Eureka Springs.
August 25th, 2014 at 11:47 am
‘Do You’ like local live music? You’ve come to the right place. Thanks for finding us. Also, why music from the band Spoon? Why not? They’re great.
If you’re new to town (hello new U of A students!) welcome to Fayetteville. Or Rogers, or Bentonville, or wherever else you may call home.
Here’s what you’ll find on this site going forward: lots of information about the local live music scene. That includes gig updates, concert announcements and reviews. Every once in a while, I recommend a bit of music (like the video above), but mostly I stick to writing about things you can experience in Northwest Arkansas, both in the clubs or at the new amphitheater.
There’s a current live music calendar on the homepage, and I’ll break out items of interest throughout the week.
Enough about the blog. Here’s how you can play a part.
If you’ve got a band and you want to get listed, send me an email. If you’re a venue owner and want to get listed, send me an email. And if you’re a promoter and you have something headed this way, yep, you guessed it, send me an email.
It’s free, and all you have to do is give me enough lead time (usually a week in advance) to make sure it lands in the paper on time.
Thanks for stopping by, and hope to see you around.
Have a great first day of classes, by the way.