Would You Stop and Hear What I Would Say? (Part 1, BGS)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to attend The Bluegrass Situation Festival at the Greek Theater on October 3, 2015 (follow the link for a thorough summary of the event on their web site, with gorgeous professional photos). My main goal for attending was to see the Punch Brothers, those incredible musicians and innovators of progressive bluegrass, and secondarily to see Dawes, an L.A.-based band that all my concert-going friends seems to know about, but I just discovered this year. The concert was really one of two halves — the first, which this blog entry covers, was held on a stage on the plaza outside of the theater and the second held in the theater itself — offering two different atmospheres and attendee experiences.

The bands scheduled for the first half included: The Wild Reeds, The Dustbowl Revival, Spirit Family Reunion, and Sam Outlaw. I arrived at the festival with a friend  toward the end of The Wild Reeds set and wasn’t able to spend much time listening before they finished up. I was glad to see a band on stage led by three ladies as I have been recently feeling bothered by the lack of predominately female bands. I recommend viewing this concert for KPSU if you are interested in hearing more from this group.

Vocalists Liz Beebe and Z. Lupetin of The Dustbowl Revival Performing at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Vocalists Liz Beebe and Z. Lupetin of The Dustbowl Revival Performing at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

We found a place near the front of the stage to watch The Dustbowl Revival. With their infectious enthusiasm ever present, one can’t help but have a good time when this band is playing. They energized the crowd by playing a great set of songs from their new album With a Lampshade On, including: “Lampshade On;” “Hey Baby” (love that one); “Old Joe Clark;” “Never Had to Go” (their official video of this one features Dick Van Dyke — just follow that link — also borrowed a line from this song for the blog post title); “Cherokee Shuffle;” and “Whiskey in the Well.” They also played a few old favorites and traditional numbers, including  “John the Revelator” and “Riverboat Queen” (Liz Beebe on fire on lead vocals on that number) from their album Carry Me Home; a cover of the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Down By the Riverside.” They finished off their set by taking their instruments into the crowd and encouraging all to join in singing the traditional tune “Midnight Special.” That was truly a special moment.

Spirit Family Reunion Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Spirit Family Reunion Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Following The Dustbowl Revival, Spirit Family Reunion carried on the festive festival atmosphere. The band hails from New York, but their sound feels straight outta Appalachia — combining traditional bluegrass and Americana styles with a let-loose gospel fervor.  Their spirited music is sure to make you want to dance, stomp your feet, call back, and clap along.  Their set included the songs: “I Want to Be Relieved;” “It Does Not Bother Me” from their album Hands Together; a song with the lyric, “One thing for sure, I hate the law…” which had some clever lyrics and was sung by their fiddler, but which I cannot find a title for;  “To All My Friends and Relations” from the No Separation album; “Alright Prayer” from their self-titled album, and the vibrant “Wake Up, Rounder!” also from Hands Together. Had so much fun during this band’s energetic set.

Sam Outlaw Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Sam Outlaw Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Next Sam Outlaw took over the stage with his smooth, classic country-flavored music. He opened with the song “It Might Kill Me” from his recent album Angeleno. I also caught another one from Angeleno, a straightforward love song called “Love Her For a While,” which was evocative of the style of 1970’s country songs.  We only listened to a few songs before deciding it was time to purchase some merchandise and dinner prior to the main stage event (and we were glad we did, because there wasn’t much time between the outer stage finishing and the main stage beginning).

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Reality Calls and I Just Let It Ring

On Friday, October 2, I attended the latest monthly installment of the Watkins Family Hour at Largo at the Coronet.   Special guest for the evening was Paul F. Tompkins, who has his own regular show at Largo titled “Spontaneation.” Sean and Sara Watkins were soon on stage and the three warmed up the crowd with a discussion of bug boxes, as Sara recalled a time she had a bug box when they played at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri when she was about 10 years old. This eventually morphed into the idea that the audience should identify the spirit insect of each member of the Family Hour band, which became a running gag for the evening.

The first song the siblings played was an instrumental possibly called “Appalachian Break” or “Appalachian Breakdown.” Sara sang a pretty song I am not familiar with including lyrics, “Made up my mind to go so far away, I’d head west…”.

Then their regular drummer, Don Heffington, and bass player, Sebastian Steinberg, joined the Watkinses on stage, along with David Garza, who has been occasionally sitting in on the piano during the recent Watkins Family Hour tour in place of usual piano man, Benmont Tench. With the full band, Sean sang his tune, “Since the Day I Was Born” from his album All I Do is Lie.  Sara answered with one of her original songs, “You and Me“, which is on her album Sun Midnight Sun.

Sean talked a little bit about going to his parents’ house regularly lately for songwriting sessions and sang one he penned recently, which began, “Come closer, right beside me, my love…” and is currently titled “I Am What You Want.” Then they launched into their cover of Stuart Hamblen‘s song “Remember Me,” which they had also played when they were the guests at Jon Brion‘s show the previous week. There followed another song I am not familiar with sung by Sara, lyrics included, “You needed me…I was gone for too long…I couldn’t be found…and you’re tired now…we can still win this.” After that they played their cover of Bob Dylan‘s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

David Garza then moved to front and center and sang a quirky, spooky, nearly tongue-twisting song, “The Scariest Halloween Song Ever” (follow the link for this one if you want a treat), with Paul returning to add a few extra “Halloweens” to the song. Next, Sara sang “Too Much,” a song written by David, which can be found on her self-titled album.  This stretch of music finished with a cover of the Everly Brothers song, “Poor Jenny,” which they had also played at Jon Brion’s show.

The musicians then left the stage as Paul returned to regale us with amusing stories inspired by his wife’s hometown of Sullivan’s Island, SC. When he finished, Sara and Paul sang a duet of The Mountain Goat‘s song, “No Children,” which I think actually works better as a couples’ duet.

David returned to the microphone to sing his version of Jimi Hendrix’s song “May This Be Love.” Sean then took up the lead, singing one of his songs from Nickel Creek, “Somebody More Like You.” They closed out the set with a recent WFH favorite, a cover of the Grateful Dead‘s “Brokedown Palace.”

For the encore, Largo-regular Jackson shouted out a request for “Reality Calls” (Sean’s song from his band Fiction Family) and had his wish granted, but not before Sara dropped his name from the stage as she quipped, “Oh yes, we know ALL of your names.” I’ve titled this post after the refrain for the song.

Following the main stage show, there was a set played in The Little Room by David Garza and Sean Watkins. David started playing on his own, singing a couple of his original songs. He is quite the wordsmith and fills his lyrics with a smattering of clever phrases and the story often twists and turns in ways the listener does not quite expect. I am not familiar enough with David’s music (and he has a vast back catalog, as you can see from his listings on iTunes and Bandcamp) to be able to know all of his song titles, but I’ll write what I know. The first song had lyrics of “Little Hurricane/Baby, Don’t Cry.” The second song started with “All the gardens died in the early freeze…”.

Sean joined David on The Little Room stage and they sang Bob Dylan’s “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” Then Sean led a traditional bluegrass number, though had trouble remembering all of the words to “The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.”

David then sang another one of his songs, “Smoochie Samba,” a song from David’s group Twang Twang Shock a Boom. David then took a quick minute to teach some chord changes to Sean before launching into the reggae-styled “Last Skank,” also from TTSB.

Sean asked for requests and was assigned “21st of May,” one of his songs off the latest Nickel Creek album A Dotted Line. David then rocked out with a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s song “Pride and Joy,” which concluded Sean’s stint on stage.

David looked like he would have kept going all night, though he played three more songs. He sat down at the piano, playing mainly with his right hand, perhaps an improvised number. He referred to it as a “tone poem” when he finished. It included the lines “there’s a song trapped down in my heart…well you lost me at hello, but we found each other at goodbye…”. He began playing with his left hand as he stopped singing and finished with a flurry of notes. He switched back to his guitar, playing his song “Flower,” from his album This Euphoria.  He finished his set with a request, “Nashville Co-Write” which is an amusing number; why oh why, can’t I find it on the Internet!

I Still Want a Little More

On Thursday, October 1, 2015 I had the joy of attending my first full concert by The Milk Carton Kids. I had previously seen them at an interview session and three song performance at The Grammy Museum in May upon the release of their album Monterey. There was a brief meet and greet afterward, where I was able to get my album signed by Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale and share my appreciation for their music with them.  After that little teaser of a show, I was extremely excited for a full performance at The Theatre at Ace Hotel (formerly United Artists Theatre).

The show began with Joey Ryan appearing on stage to introduce the opening artist, singer/songwriter Joe Pug.  Joey gave a lot of praise to Joe as a lyricist, remarking that if he were to ever have tattoos of song lyrics, then they would be those of Joe Pug. Joe certainly delivered on that statement as he performed a set of seven songs that were thoughtful, poetic, and introspective.

Joe Pug at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. Photo by Bob Seegan

Joe Pug at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. Photo by Bob Seegan

The set contained the songs: “Burn and Shine;” “I Do My Father’s Drugs;” “Stay and Dance,” which he said he wrote after seeing the Milk Carton Kids in Austin, TX; “If It Still Cannot Be Found;” “Bright Beginnings;” “Pair of Shadows,” which he introduced as a love song; and “Hymn #101.”

He had a great conversational manner as he adeptly introduced songs and gave insight into some of the numbers. He joked that though his father is referenced in “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” that in no way did his father endorse or approve the song. The song I liked best that he played was “Stay and Dance.” My attention was immediately piqued by the first verse: “Don’t take everything they say to heart; Don’t pick every unkind word apart; It’s a brave new world, but some things still hold true; The seasons change and people change their tune.”  These lyrics reminded me of part of a book I read recently, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements; the second agreement is to never take anything personally. I also enjoyed the flowing fingerpicking of the guitar on this song.

The Milk Carton Kids opened their set with the song “Hope of a Lifetime,” from their album The Ash & Clay. From the first notes they mesmerized the audience with their beautiful close harmony singing, Joey’s rock steady rhythm guitar playing, and Kenneth’s amazingly fluid cascade of guitar runs. Also, can’t help but love that Joey plays one of my favorite sounding guitars, an early 1950s Gibson J45 (his is 1951). Kenneth plays a 1954 Martin 0-15 (the handkerchief tied on below the capo is there to remove fret buzz).  The next song, “Shooting Shadows,” was the the first one they played from the new album, Monterey. After two ballads, they changed up the tempo for the lively song, “The City of Our Lady.”

The Milk Carton Kids (left, Joey Ryan; right, Kenneth Pattengale) at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. Photo by Bob Seegan

The Milk Carton Kids (left, Joey Ryan; right, Kenneth Pattengale) at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. Photo by Bob Seegan

Then came the first break in the music. One of the fun things about seeing The Milk Carton Kids in concert is the Smothers Brothers-like banter between Joey and Kenneth.  Joey addressed the audience to introduce their song, “Charlie,” which clearly owes a higher percentage of its writing ownership to Kenneth. The song lyrics entail Kenneth’s vision of what his daughter will be like. Joey, in his characteristically dry, deadpan manner, teased Kenneth thoroughly for having written such a song when Charlie does not yet exist or even have a mother assigned to her! It is a sweet song, though the topic is highly idealized — the high hopes for the personality and disposition of the child and the relationship she will someday have with the father. Sorry to say, Kenneth, these dreams can be crushed heartlessly in reality.

The next couple songs played were “The Ash & Clay” and “Heaven,” after which Joey noted that he sometimes feels jealous of Kenneth (alluding to his awesome skills as a guitarist). He appended that statement with “I can do things Kenneth can’t do.” An audience member grabbed the bait and shouted, “Like what?” Cleverly referencing back to his earlier speech regarding “Charlie,” Joey zinged a response, “I have a kid; I make my own people.”

After much laughter and cheers, the concert continued with the absolutely beautiful number, “Asheville Skies,” whose lyrics were pulling hard on my heartstrings that night: “I’d love nothing more than to cover my face, forget who I am and get out of this place, pretend to be someone other than me, and go on living that way.”  They followed it up with another gorgeous song, the title track, “Monterey,” from the latest album.

There was another section of banter, this time involving a story of learning to play the drum (rather than drums), Kenneth suggesting never to read about yourself on the Internet if you are part of a folk duo because people say awful things (I’ll try to be kind), and comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel (Kenneth quipping, “at least we know who Garfunkel is” while not-so-subtly looking toward Joey). Following this break, the duo launched into another set of three songs: “Secrets of the Stars,” “Getaway” and the spirited “Honey, Honey.”

Joey then delivered a monologue about the overlooked role of men in childbirth, touching on the societal denial of the emotions men may experience and the hardship men face when their loved ones are birthing a child (particularly as it related to Joey when his wife gave birth to their son).  It was difficult to tell how much of it was serious and how much was tongue in cheek. Not sure what kicked off that narration, but oddly, it was a predecessor to a “song about death,” “Snake Eyes.”

The first time I ever heard any music by The Milk Carton Kids was when I watched their NPR Tiny Desk Concert; the first song they played was “Michigan.” After the verse and one chorus in, I was hooked for life. . It is also the first song on the first album of theirs that I listened to, Prologue (which, by the way, is free to download from their web site), and was the song I had stuck in my head the most prior to the concert. Very happy that they played this song at the show I attended. It would have been my single request, were requests granted.

They closed the main set out with another of my favorites, “I Still Want a Little More”  (from which a pulled the title for this post). It was a great opportunity to once again showcase how jaw-droppingly amazing Kenneth is on the guitar. I have to give credit to Joey too, as the listening level between these guys must be intense, and he never misses a beat.

The gents briefly left the stage (never even got out of the wings) before returning for their encore. They played “New York,” another fantastic tune from Prologue. Then they closed the show with an unexpected cover of Pink Floyd’s song, “Wish You Were Here.”  What a stunning and wonderful night of beautiful music and much laughter! Special thanks to my friend Bob Seegan for the two snapshots used here (I inadvertently forgot my camera at home).