Thoughts on the Yonder Harvest Fest schedule

September 8th, 2014 at 1:41 pm

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Railroad Earth’s song “Bird in the House” talks about a trapped bird wanting to get out. Want to get away from it all? Harvest Fest is a good option, and Railroad Earth and more than 50 other bands will perform there.

When I’m waiting on a festival’s stage schedule to be released, I always worry two of my favorite bands will play at exactly the same time at other ends of the festival grounds. Which of course means I have to chose one.

It happens from time to time, and no stage schedule is perfect.

But I will say that for the upcoming Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival, which takes place from Oct. 16-18 on Mulberry Mountain near Ozark, I got pretty lucky.

There are choices I wish I didn’t have to make, but none that leave me weeping over the injustice. My glance over the stage schedule, which was announced on Thursday (Sept. 4), provides me with the following thoughts:

• Thursday (Oct. 16) is good. I mean, Thursday is REALLY GOOD. A lot of the repeat customers of the festival, beloved as they remain, perform later in the event. Thursday kicks off the festival with some fresh blood, and some of the biggest names on the roster, too — The Jayhawks, Trampled by Turtles, Nora Jane Struthers and Willie Watson, to name a few.

• Wednesday (Oct. 15) continues to grow. Music kicks off at 7 p.m. for those with Wednesday early arrival passes and continues solid until 2 a.m. It’ll cost you an extra $29, but it looks worth it.

• Last year, Yonder Mountain String Band moved to a secondary stage later in the festival to allow some other headliners a shot. That trend reversed itself this year. Yonder gets the prime spot on both Friday (Oct. 17) and Saturday (Oct. 18).

Andy Frasco has earned himself a promotion. He played at the festival two years ago at the festival’s smallest official stage. Last year, he got a late-night gig to close the festival. This year? The late-night gig plus a main stage slot, too. P.S. — You might remember Frasco will attempt to break a world record at the event.

• If you like a side of rock ‘n’ roll with your Americana music, afternoons might be your best bet. Both The Bottlerockets (4:30 p.m. Friday) and Ha Ha Tonka (3 p.m. Saturday) go early in the day.

• The Roost Stage will once again be populated by local bands. I think those visiting the area will like what they hear.

Tickets are on sale and are currently $145, a rate that includes camping.

George’s books a few new shows

September 8th, 2014 at 10:59 am

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Here’s Bear Hands performing a song called “Giants,” and the accompanying video has … images? I’m not sure what I just saw. It looks like a party. They play in Fayetteville in a few weeks.

The Hogs — both academic and athletic — are back in session, which means if fall isn’t here yet, it’s certainly on the way soon.

Another way to tell — aside from temperatures and leaves and pumpkin-flavored everything — is that a few new shows arrive at George’s Majestic Lounge. I’ve watched a few come across the radar recently.

Previously unannounced shows coming to the Dickson Street staple include:

Bear Hands, Sept. 22

Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Oct. 16

Here Come the Mummies, Oct. 25

Savoy, Nov. 11

and

The Dirty Guv’Nahs, Nov. 14

Tickets for most are on sale now via stubs.net.

Mandolins and mountain bikes – This weekend in Bentonville

September 5th, 2014 at 10:51 am

Mandolin Orange

Mandolin Orange

Mountain bikes and music sound like a strange combination.

But you don’t know for sure until you try it.

You can sample both this weekend at the Slaughter Pen Jam, which melds bluegrass music on the Bentonville square with mountain bike races at the nearby Slaughter Pen Hollow trail system.

I spoke with one of those on the musical side of things, multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz of the band Mandolin Orange. The group, from North Carolina, takes the stage at 5:55 p.m. today (Sept. 5).

Frantz talked to me about the band’s newest record, “This Side of Jordan,” and life on the road as a duo. You can read my story in today’s What’s Up! section, which is available on newsstands via the Northwest Arkansas Media daily papers or online [Note: Subscriber content].

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the music performers:

Today

11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. — Foley’s Van

5-5:40 p.m. — Lonesome Road

5:55–6:40 p.m. —Mandolin Orange

6:55– 8:10 p.m. — Mountain Heart

Saturday (Sept. 6)

10–11 a.m. — Cutty Rye

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Son Caribe

As for the mountain bike side of things, check out the festival’s website.

 

The weekend in live music, with Tomten and more

September 5th, 2014 at 5:03 am

Tomten

Tomten

I don’t make it to every show I write about here, you know. It’s a lot of music, and people have to sleep sometimes.

But I at least try to make it to something every week, and I usually do.

This week’s a little different. It’s someone special’s birthday weekend, and we’re celebrating by watching a few bands out of town.

So what you find below is a list of the things I would see (or try to see), if only I were around.

Seattle band Tomten just released a new album, “The Farewell Party,” last week. But it’s a greeting they’ll provide to music fans in Fayetteville on Saturday (Sept. 6). Venerable alternative radio station KEXP called the band’s second album “an impressive set of well-crafted indie-pop steeped in the music of ’60s girl groups and British bands.” The quartet’s show with High Lonesome and Doctor Nod takes place at 9 p.m. at The Lightbulb Club. Admission is $5.

Reggae artist Joseph Israel’s first show in some time will be a hometown, acoustic affair. The artist, who has released several albums in the past decade, will perform Sunday night (Sept. 7) at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Admission to the 8 p.m. show is $10, and tickets are available via stubs.net.

Elsewhere this weekend, the folk meets funny Austin Lounge Lizards perform at the Fayetteville Underground today. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $20.

Also, electronica duo The Floozies have a two-night run of shows at George’s. They play there today and Saturday. Tickets to either show are $15.

What’s on your weekend agenda?

Soon in tunes: Ariana Gillis, AAC Live, Fort Smith

September 3rd, 2014 at 11:21 am

Ariana Gillis

Ariana Gillis

A Canadian songwriter making a name for herself despite her relative youth will on Thursday (Sept. 4) open up the new season at Artist Audience Community Live, the former Second Street Live, in Fort Smith. Ariana Gillis released her debut album “Forget Me Not” two years ago when she was just 21. Season tickets, which cost $250, are also available through the venue’s website at artistaudiencecommunitylive.com.

Also, take a look at my colleague Becca Martin-Brown’s take on the new season at Artist Audience Community Live [Note: Subscriber content]. The season continues through early next year. Confirmed acts include Chuck Mead (Oct. 28) and Darlingside (Nov. 6).

A final Roots Festival recap

September 2nd, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Smokey and the Mirror

Fayetteville Roots Festival co-founders Bernice Hembree and Bryan Hembree onstage during the festival during their performance as Smokey and the Mirror. Photo by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Changes were aplenty at this year’s Fayetteville Roots Festival. The main stage activities originally scheduled for the Walton Arts Center were moved at nearly the last minute to the Fayetteville Town Center because the first venue needed emergency roof repairs. The festival also picked up a new venue (and new city) in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

But at its heart, the new never distracted from the essence of the festival. The festival remains a showcase for its namesake city, and it offers up much of what our region does well — music, food and kindness.

Like I have at previous festivals, I met an out-of-town couple in the the region for the first time. Some 45 percent of Roots attendees came from outside Washington and Benton counties, so this makes sense.

This particular couple that I would guess were in their late 20s came from Memphis, Tennessee after looking for something to do over the long Labor Day weekend. Searching for a concert to attend, they instead found the festival and booked tickets. They walked around the downtown square, watched some main stage shows and spent the weekend. I don’t know everything they experienced over the weekend, but I can guess — they ate some of the locally sourced food available at the food stands and maybe slipped away and sampled some West Mountain Brewing Company beer from the brewery next to the main stage at the Town Center. They likely hit Dickson Street, too, as one of the festival’s late-night sets at George’s Majestic Lounge had caught their interest.

We sometimes forget this, but Fayetteville looks good to outsiders, and that’s the reason this area keeps finding itself on online listicles proclaiming the 20 quirkiest cities or whatever the topic du jour might be.

It’s up to the Roots Festival to hold the attention of the attendees, however, because as nice as those ancillary benefits of good food and good beverage and hospitable people might be, the guests came to see music first and foremost.

If you didn’t know the festival from a previous year, I don’t think you’d register many complaints about the Town Center as a venue. Having been to several Roots Fests, the Town Center wasn’t bad, just different. My biggest complaint is as much on the patrons as any festival organizer. The bar ended up being in the same room as the main stage performers, and the activity in the bar area often buzzed at a higher volume level than the performers on the stage. I noted once that you when equidistant from the stage and the bar, you could hear the bartenders shaking a drink as well as you could hear the performer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the crowd who preferred standing (often near the bar) that was the first to turn the seated events into a full-venue dance party. The festival had a pretty smart seat reservation method in having placeholders that could be left when someone got up for food, drink or other tasks outside the main stage. I know some reserved their seats 6 or 7 hours before headlining acts such as Lucinda Williams took the stage on Saturday (Aug. 31) night. If I had done the same, and then someone moved in front of me while I was seated and started dancing in my line of sight, I can’t imagine I would have been happy about it. Of course, there’s something to be said about the fine line between whether people should sit or stand at shows, but that’s a debate best reserved for an additional post altogether.

I wasn’t able to attend all of the late-night shows, but I did make it out to Saturday’s event at George’s featuring Water Liars and Ben Kweller. I was disappointed in that, too, but not because of the set I watched Kweller deliver. I don’t know if three days of nonstop music had worn everyone down, but this was a pretty sparse crowd for a Saturday night show featuring national touring talent. Why this town couldn’t properly support an indie act (even if he is several years past his piano pop prime) with a reasonably priced ticket, I don’t understand.

But maybe that’s the heart of what I’m saying, too. Living in Fayetteville, we take our town for granted. We should thank for the Fayetteville Roots Festival for showcasing our fair town, and for reminding me how good we have it here.

A recap of the third day at the Fayetteville Roots Festival

August 31st, 2014 at 9:55 am

Lucinda Williams and her band. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Lucinda Williams and her band. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

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

Smokey and the Mirror

Smokey and the Mirror

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

Jay Farrar

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

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff

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.

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams

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.

A recap of the Fayetteville Roots Festival’s second day

August 30th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

The Wood Brothers live at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

The Wood Brothers live at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

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 Wood Brothers at the Fayetteville Public Library.

The Wood Brothers at the 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.

The Apache Relay

The Apache Relay

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 WatsonWEB

Willie Watson

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

Tim O'Brien, left, and Darrell Scott

Tim O’Brien, left, and Darrell Scott

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

Chris Wood of The Wood Brothers

Chris Wood of The Wood Brothers

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?

Robert Cray, a man with soul (and the blues)

August 29th, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Robert Cray

Robert Cray

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.

Concert review: Fayetteville Roots Festival’s opening day

August 29th, 2014 at 11:32 am

Not a live photo of Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, but a reasonable approximation of what the crowds watched last night.

Not a live photo of Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, but a reasonable approximation of what the crowds watched last night.

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?