Monday, August 17, 2009

Route 29 Revue

The promoters at Merriweather Post Pavilion organized a great day of music through their inaugural Route 29 Revue, bringing several high profile acts to Columbia Maryland. We are talking about The Felice Brothers, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Iron & Wine, Levon Helm, and
Old Crow Medicine Show. What a lineup.

The day started with Justin Jones & The Driving Rain, a regional band that we have heard of, but never heard live. They really set the tome for the day - providing a nice sound and great vocals. I particularly liked "California". We plan to catch a set next weekend at IOTA Club.

The Felice Brothers followed and how can anyone not like this band. From the lyrics ("I put some whiskey into my whiskey") to crazy stage antics, they are just a fun band to watch. It makes you realize that New York State is much more than New York City - there is a strong farming - rural presence in the state where a blend of bluegrass, zydeco, and alt-country flourishes. And here, to see it in one family. Today they played a few songs from their self titled The Felice Brothers and their latest, Yonder Is The Clock. "Run Chicken Run" continues their line of chicken songs - if you count "Chicken Wire". Onstage, this band is a train wreck - jumping on speakers, bass drum, playing symbols with a washboard. Increasing the commotion, members of Old Crow Medicine Show joined in, what a sight. Go see this band.

The energy continued, albeit at a reduce rate, when Grace Potter & The Nocturnals appeared next. Although the play original music - they bring back memories of late 1960s-1970s classic rock - not only the music but appearance. But they can play and Grace Potter can sing - what a voice. I was extremely impressed with the band - guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco, drummer Matt Burr, and new bassist Catherine Popper. No wonder This Is Somewhere is such a great CD. They finished their set with an incredibly long encore performance - including a solo by Potter and White Rabbit.

We felt sorry for any act that had to follow Grace Potter, but the one man acoustic set by Iron & Wine was the perfect continuation of the day. Sam Beam just strolled onstage and started playing. This was the first we've heard him, but the pavilion filled quickly for this set, so Beam definitely has a strong fan base. We were most impressed with his guitar picking - his fingers fly. I don't know how we could have missed not hearing one of his half dozen CDs.

After about 5 hours of music, it was time for the band we most wanted to hear to take stage: The Levon Helm Band. We had been looking forward to hearing songs from Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, but quickly learned that would not happen. For Helm was instructed by his doctor to take a few weeks off singing since he had overtaxed his voice earlier in the summer. Considering he survived throat cancer - we had no objections. Instead of singing, Helm jammed on the drums or the mandolin and allowed his others to front the band. This included his daughter Amy Helm, who along with bassist Byron Isaacs, took a break from Ollabelle to perform today. Famed guitarist, producer, you name it, Larry Campbell fronted for most of the evening, along with his wife Teresa Williams, and keyboardist Brian Mitchell. The lineup even included a horn section which really enhanced the New Orleans style of Mitchell's songs - part Allen Toussaint, part Dr. John, and part brass band. Needless to say, this band covered an array of musical styles, from early songs from the Band, to the Dead, to alt-country, to New Orleans style jazz and blues. Their version of Long Black Veil was awesome - with the entire pavilion singing along. Even without singing, Levon Helm is the man - the crowd adored him. If ever in upstate New York - a trend developing - travel to the Levon Helm Studios and catch The Midnight Ramble.

The Old Crow Medicine Show was the final act of the day - and played before a packed pavilion. Throughout the day we wondered if anyone else would care to come - but it appeared that many chose to arrive for the last two acts. This band provided the most bluegrass feel for the day - particularly when they took a page from Tony Trischka and played with two banjos. No wonder Doc Watson invited them to Merlefest. However, they are not your traditional new grass band - they blended gospel, roots, blues, surf, and even some punk into the few songs we heard. We will have to revisit their CD collection....

Unfortunately the long day and an hour drive home forced us to leave before their set ended - and we missed reciprocal appearances from members of the Felice Brothers. But what a day of music - I hope the Route 29 Revue becomes an annual event - we won't miss it. Additional photos are available at the MyJoog Gallery.

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