Tag Archives: festivals

Watch This Bro Get His Funk On

It’s the summer festival season, which is my favorite time of year. For someone who has an arbitrary limit of both ticket price and venue capacity, I have an enduring love of festivals. Mostly because an outdoor festival is devoid of most of the shit I hate at music shows: I can avoid the crowds if I want to by skirting the edges and sitting in the trees, I get lots of variety in the acts for the price, I fucking LOVE falafel and cheap beer, and there’s the fresh air.

One thing I don’t like about festivals is the preening and pretense you sometimes encounter, just like at an indoor show. You know the dudes who walk around shirtless and waxed and the gals wearing high-waisted cutoffs cut so high you can see their ears? Yeah…that.

And so I was genuinely delighted to stumble across this clip of a bro getting down to some Uptown Funk. It’s a display of pure, uninhibited joy. And he doesn’t even seem wasted!

Seeing this kid get down in the middle of T in the Park lets me know everything is going to be just fine. And I hope to see some of this unbridled funk at Wildwood Music Festival this weekend.

Related: Wildwood Music Fest 2015 Recap

Wildwood MusicFest 2015 – The Best Fest in the West

I’m going to tell you something most Oregonians don’t want you to know for fear that it will remove the final barrier that keeps even more people from moving out here: It doesn’t rain out here nearly as much as you probably think it does. In fact, the summers can sometimes be long, dry affairs that leave you praying for rain come September. The temperature will inch up to the triple-digits some days and the western sun feels more intense, but that may be my imagination.

It was over a three-day stretch like this that my family and I again made our way to the West Valley to the small town of Willamina, Oregon. We were in the middle of a welcomed break from a stifling summer when the weather report showed a slight return to the upper 90s. You guessed it: during the three days that covered the Wildwood MusicFest.

Continue reading Wildwood MusicFest 2015 – The Best Fest in the West

I’m Down With Alan Thicke

I’ve mostly avoided the hullabaloo around Robin Thicke because I thought I didn’t care, but the truth is that it bugs the shit out of me. Not because I feel a need to defend him (but I will) or that I think he’s some amazing artist (who cares?) but because the hypocrisy of the whole thing is just obnoxious. I mean, really…are we really ready to surrender to the squares?

The basic argument against Thicke breaks down along two lines:

  1. He “stole” Marvin Gaye’s mojo for his song of the summer, “Blurred Lines”
  2. He’s a lout for carrying on with Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards and calling women bitches

The first is so preposterous I am amazed I even have to address it, but here it goes: Popular music always has and always will feed on itself.

Traditional folk music and bluegrass structure is built around a handful of simple patterns. Same with the blues. Same with most rock and roll, including so much of the rock canon we all adore.

Continue reading I’m Down With Alan Thicke

All Good Music Festival 2012: Highlights

All Good Music Festival 2012

On our way back from All Good this year, we agreed it was – hands down – the best music festival we’ve been to. This is for a whole host of reasons, but must importantly, the music was outstanding. As I noted in our All Good preview, there were a number of bands we were excited to see. One of the great things about the All Good Music Festival is that they set up two stages right next to each other. While one band plays, they are setting up the next band on the adjacent stage. So there’s basically no gap to the music all day, once it starts, and you get to hang out in the same general area – not so much walking from stage to stage.

Add to that generally good weather, non-cramped camping accommodations, and extremely friendly staff, and you’ve got yourself a music festival to remember. Onto the musical highlights.

Thursday, July 19, 2012: The Music Never Stopped

The music didn’t start until 7 on Thursday, but I could have gone home happy after the first night alone. Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, and Branford Marsalis, followed by Phil Lesh and Friends. Both sets were outstanding. I had earlier speculated that we might just see Weir, Hornsby, and Marsalis, without accompaniment. Or maybe just the addition of a drummer and bass player. What we got was Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, with special guests Bob Weir and Branford Marsalis, playing a whole lotta Grateful Dead tunes. Plus two Hornsby tracks. The set started a bit rough, but it only got better as they gelled on stage. You can give their set a listen over at the Live Music Archive.

I also speculated a bit about who was going to be playing with Phil Lesh and Friends. I wrote that I hoped he would have Jackie Greene with him, and he was. Plus Joe Russo on drums, two of Phil’s sons, Grahame and Brian, and – a very pleasant surprise – Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams from Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. The set was like Phil Lesh meets the Midnight Ramble. Some Grateful Dead tunes were in the set and some songs that you might have heard at a Levon Helm show – “Chest Fever”, “Long Black Veil”, and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”, for example. It was my first time seeing Phil Lesh and Friends live, and this line up was a treat. You can listen to their set here.

Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, and Branford Marsalis (with Hornsby’s Noisemakers)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0CcLpbyQNE&w=560&h=315]

Friday, July 20, 2012: The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips were amazing! The first track they played, “Race for the Prize”, ended up being a top 5 rock and roll moment for me. I was standing stage left, in the photo pit, tucked in a corner by a big ass speaker, trying to take decent pictures of the insanity. Confetti and smoke all over the stage… I could have died happily in that moment.
They also played Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” – the psychedelic electronic experimental freakout from Darkside of the Moon – while Coyne climbed into the bubble and walked out over the crowd. He didn’t stay out as long as I’d expected to but it was a thing to behold nonetheless. If you haven’t ever seen the Flaming Lips, you should really try to work them into your live music schedule sometime. They will not disappoint. Q Magazine was spot on when they put the Flaming Lips in their top 50 list of bands you must see before you die. In the meantime, check out the video below of their whole show.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkt_y5F88-g&w=560&h=315]

Sunday, July 22, 2012: Non Stop Rock Block

Sunday was the hottest day of the festival, and I was feeling a bit physically run down by then. The good news was that the day’s lineup was a must see for me, the strongest afternoon of music the entire weekend. I think the organizers did a tremendous job lining up a solid block of great music to keep us going on Sunday afternoon.

Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience

Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience

Corey Harris was the first artist of the day. He and his band, The Rasta Blues Experience, brought a rich mix of reggae, blues, rock, and funk to the stage. Harris plays guitar and lap steel. I really enjoyed his slide playing. Great songs that cut across genres, one to the next. Conscious music that’s only occasionally preachy. I would have liked to see him in an evening time slot, but I’m glad All Good introduced me to his music.

Devil Makes Three

Devil Makes Three

Devil Makes Three was also new to me. They play folk music that bounces with a punk rock sensibility. There’s some rockabilly in their sound, too. They are a three piece – guitar, banjo, and bass. All acoustic. The guitar player seemed to be the “lead” singer, with the other two hopping in on harmony pretty frequently. A particular treat form their set was their cover of Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues. Definitely want to see these guys again.

Mickey Hart Band

Mickey Hart Band

Well, I am now a big fan of the Mickey Hart Band. They had an hour and fifteen minutes to impress the crowd, and they did. Mickey has been able to move the furthest out from the “standard” Grateful Dead sound with his new band. He and his band have created something part Dead, part world music, and part the collective identity of the band members themselves. The lead guitar player is able to play in a completely non Jerry Garcia style of guitar playing – more Santana-ish to me – but will also weave some Jerry-ness into his playing when appropriate. Their version of “Fire on the Moutain” was a case in point. He broke out the familiar MXR pedal, or at least a reproduction of its sound – what my buddies and I called a “fart pedal” when we were kids. I love that sound almost more than life itself. I was dancing around like an idiot for the whole song.

So there you have it. Lots of great music at All Good this year, and I’ve only covered some of it here. I’m already looking forward to next year’s All Good. Hope to see you there.

 

All Good Music Festival: 2012 Preview

This will be our second time covering the All Good Music Festival (the first time was in 2010 – see our coverage here, here, and here). And it’s our second festival of the season (see our recent Summer Camp coverage). The festival is just a few short weeks away now – July 19 – 22. The lineup is really exciting this year, and we’re going to highlight some of the bands here. This year’s lineup is a bit Grateful Dead-centric, at least among the headliners. Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Mickey Hart are all appearing, each with their own band. If only Bill Kreutzmann‘s 7 Walkers was playing, all the remaining members of the Grateful Dead would be making an appearance (the good news is that we’ll be able to see them at Hoxeyville Music Festival this year). Plus, Dark Star Orchestra – one of my favorite bands to see live – will be bringing their brand of Grateful Dead fun to the stage. Here’s a bit about each of the above bands, plus a few more (Hint: The Flaming Lips!!).

Phil Lesh & Friends

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQg2mY7xMLk&w=560&h=315]

Phil Lesh & Friends – “Passenger”

Phil Lesh & Friends get second billing for the festival, after The Allman Brothers Band, and they are the band I’m most excited to see. For me, the big question with Phil and Friends is… Who will the Friends be? Phil Lesh has been putting together bands under this moniker since 1999. Many famous and respected players have with Phil Lesh & Friends – Trey Anastasio, Steve Kimock, Warren Haynes, Ryan Adams, Chris Robinson, and more.

Lesh has played with two different lineups this year. In February, Phil Lesh & Friends played a three night run with a lineup I’d love to see at All Good: Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), Jackie Greene (guitar, keyboards, vocals), John Scofield (guitar), Joe Russo (drums), and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards). All the shows are available on the Live Music Archive. Lesh also did some shows in April at his new venue Terrapin Crossroads with what he terms as the classic Phil Lesh Quintet: Lesh, Haynes (guitar), Rob Barraco (keyboardist), Jimmy Herring (guitar), and John Molo (drums). Haynes and Barraco will both be at All Good as it is – Haynes with The Allman Brothers Band and Barraco with Dark Star Orchestra. So I think there’s a good chance those two will be among the Friends. Maybe Jackie Greene, too? A man can hope…

Here’s the February 2012 incarnation of Phil and Friends playing “Passenger”, a tune Lesh wrote back in the late 70s when he thought the Grateful Dead needed a few more rockers in their repertoire. They retired the song in 1981, but Lesh has brought it back, and it’s getting a lot of play now. And, indeed, it does rock.

Bob Weir & Bruce Hornsby with special guest Branford Marsalis

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KYMiZpIYfI&w=560&h=315]

Bob Weir & Bruce Hornsby – “Hell In A Bucket”

Prepare to break out your jazz hands, people. Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby have done a few shows together already this year (see the video above) This time, they’re bringing another heavy hitter with them: Branford Marsalis, the legendary jazz saxophonist and brother of famed trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. Both Marsalis and Hornsby have played with the Grateful Dead in the past (Marsalis as a featured guest, Hornsby as a temporary member of the band after Brent Mydland died), and both bring significant bodies of their own work to the table as well.

I imagine the show will be something like this video of “Hell In A Bucket”, but with Marsalis adding his voice to the mix. But who knows? It’s unclear from their listing what the band’s make up will be. But there could be a drummer and a bass player, too. Crosby, Stills, and Nash had a drummer and a bass player. They just didn’t get a name check. It could be the same with Weir, Hornsby, and Marsalis (which I believe I just coined, btw). In the meantime, check out the Weir & Hornsby video.

Mickey Hart Band

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoPmx6eXOMQ&w=560&h=315]

The Mickey Hart Band Winter Tour 2011/2012

“So we’re going to go out there… enjoy the ride.” That’s how Mickey Hart starts off this video highlighting his band’s Winter 2011/2012 tour. And it looks like they do a good amount of space exploration, but in a way the kids can keep bouncing to (different, in my opinion, than the Drums/Space sequence Deadheads came to know and love/hate). They are also doing some of their own songs, plus a half dozen or so Grateful Dead tunes every show. Here’s hoping we get a “Fire On The Mountain” (Hart co-wrote it) and a “Not Fade Away” at All Good…

The Flaming Lips

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej9T3KrwYW0&w=560&h=315]

The Flaming Lips – Hangout Music Festival 2012 (Including Dark Side of The Moon)

My personal obsession with all things Grateful Dead aside, The Flaming Lips alone are reason enough to go to All Good this year. What if they play Dark Side of the Moon? Do you want to risk missing it? Then there’s the giant ball Wayne Coyne rolls around in, walking/crawling on top of the audience. Do you want to miss that? Because that’s what they did at Hangout Music Festival, which you can see for yourself above. They did Dark Side, and Coyne rolled across the audience in his giant transparent bubble boy ball (be sure to watch them inflate the ball, too).

The video above captures their entire Hangout Music Festival set. They do a few great Flaming Lips songs before they get to the Pink Floyd record. First was a joyous “Race for the Prize”, the first track off Soft Bulletin. They also did “She Don’t Use Jelly”, “The Yeah Yeah Song”, and “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”.

Fair warning: There’s a lot of swearing in the banter with the audience. Which I enjoyed, and you probably will, too, but I just wanted you to know in advance.

The Pimps of Joytime

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h91q-xUGdY&w=560&h=315]

The Pimps of Joytime – “Janxta Funk”

While we’re off the Grateful Dead path for a moment, I thought I’d also mention The Pimps of Joytime. The first time I saw them was at All Good in 2010, and I’ve managed to catch them at a few other festivals as well. They are an engaging live funk band, and just plain fun. Truth be told, many Deadheads have an affinity for classic 70s funk, so I’m not really treading too far off the Grateful Dead path here. The Pimps have sprung from that fertile 70s ground. You can hear George Clinton and James Brown in what they do. Above is the video for the title track off their 2011 album, Janxta Funk!.

Dark Star Orchestra

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWtC9_9vXC4&w=560&h=315]

Dark Star Orchestra – “Looks Like Rain”

Dark Star Orchestra is an All Good regular, and are always a crowd favorite at the festival.  The video above is from Gratefulfest 12 (in 2011 – it’s a little bit confusing. All because they started that particular festival in 2000).

So that’s only a small sampling of the artists that will be playing at All Good this year. Michael Franti, Greensky Bluegrass, and Galactic, for example, are also playing. The festival is also at a new site this year – Legend Valley in Thornville, OH – which makes it a bit more of an adventure this, since it will completely new to us. And it’s a much shorter drive for us now. Hopefully we’ll see you there. Tickets are still available. Get one while you still can!

Summer Camp Music Festival 2012: Musical Highlights

Summer Camp 2012

This was our first year at Summer Camp, and there were a bunch of bands I was excited to see. So my expectations were high. I got to see most of the bands on my list, and all that I did see were as good or better than I was expecting. But, Christ… the heat? Almost unbearable. It practically drained the life from me. But, once again, I was saved by rock n roll… plus some new strategies for staying cool when you’re spending entire days out in unshaded, 90+ degree heat. Here are some of the bands and artists that made Summer Camp a special musical experience for me.

Keller Williams, Friday, May 25, Moonshine Stage, 2:45 – 3:45
Keller Williams Summer Camp 2012

Keller Williams is a one man show, like no other. He plays guitar, bass, and brings digital programming and loops into the mix, including layers of harmony vocals he’s built in advance. I’ve enjoyed every show I’ve seen him play. He’s incredibly interesting to watch – especially considering it’s just one dude, and he doesn’t even bite a bat’s head off or anything to keep the crowd entertained.

You can listen to the whole set over at the Live Music Archive by clicking the link above. My two personal favorites were “Freaker By The Speaker” and “Doobie In My Pocket”, both of which I’ve seen him play before. They both brought smiles to my face.

It was during Keller’s set that our strategy for staying cool and properly enjoying the festival came together. Which is odd, because we’ve done this before. My theory is that the sheer number of stages threw us off. There were just so many fuckin’ stages at this festival. In fact, it’s one of the things Summer Camp promotes – how many bands and how many stages they have. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest. Way too much movement required.

In any event, our strategy became: Whenever we decamped and headed for a stage, we brought our lawn chairs, a small cooler, our camera gear, and set up camp at every stage, before the show we were there to see. Then I would head up to the photo pit, take a few shots, while Sab kept the new base camp under control. So we didn’t exactly do this for Keller, but we found the shadiest spot to kick it, far back from the stage, but still with good sight lines and audio coverage. [More photos of Keller Williams at Summer Camp]

Weir, Robinson, Greene Acoustic Trio, Friday, May 25, Sunshine Stage, 5:00 – 6:15
Weir, Robinson, Greene Trio at Summer Camp 2012

Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. And the should-be-more-famous Jackie Greene. Now touring together as an acoustic trio. I hadn’t seen them together before, so they were high on my list of bands to see. They started things off with “Truckin'”, a common and loved show starter for the Grateful Dead and the bands that have come after – Furthur, RatDog, Phil and Friends, etc.

The rest of the set – all hour and a half – was a mix of songs that I would have killed to see at a Ratdog or Furthur. “West LA Fadeaway” was one of the highlights for me. They creep into the song. On “When I Paint My Masterpiece”,  Greene plays mandolin. Outstanding.

The idea for the trio likely grew out of the Furthur and Friends show for Phil’s 70th birthday, which saw Greene and Robinson joining Furthur to amp up the celebration. In fact, I saw them do New Speedway Boogie at both shows. An acoustic Boogie was a treat. Jackie Greene is the multi instrumentalist in the band. In addition to rhythm and lead guitar, he plays mandolin and the occasional harmonica. Weir and Robinson stick to acoustic guitar. And, obviously, they all do vocals – harmonies on the choruses, and they mostly take turns on singing the verses. This one is also available on the Live Music Archive (link above). [More photos of Weir, Robinson, Greene Acoustic Trio at Summer Camp]

MathGames, Saturday, May 26, Starshine Stage, 12:00 – 1:00
MathGames at Summer Camp 2012

I’d seen MathGames once before. The first time was at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. They had Ray White with them then, and they covered Frank Zappa’s “City of Tiny Lights”. They had the same uniforms on – some sort of white coveralls that couldn’t have been comfortable to be playing in the Chillicothe heat. My son had his tonsils out the other day, and now I’m pretty sure they’re wearing the same thing my son’s mom wore to observe the beginning of the surgery – at least until the boy was sedated. Anyway, maybe one of them is a surgeon in his day job?

I don’t know quite how to classify MathGames’ music. There’s jazz in there, a hefty dose of progressive rock, minus the choruses and verses.  Space age jazz rock? No, four words is too many… Space jazz? Not quite right, either. I give up. For now, I’ll just describe the band. Fareed Haque is the driving force behind the band. He’s a unique and respected jazz guitar player, steeped in the 80s jazz fusion, and now a music professor in Illinois. Two younger Chicago musicians making up the rhythm section – Alex Austin on bass, and Greg Fundis on drums. And a new, permanent (?) addition to the band, Jesse Clayton on keyboards, coming to the band from Ann Arbor’s own Macpodz.

The good news is that I found a video of MathGames at Summer Camp. Prepare yourself for some, um, space prog…? Yeah, that doesn’t work either. Just watch the video!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJdFnAQPlX8&w=560&h=315]

[More photos of MathGames at Summer Camp]

JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Saturday, May 26, Starshine Stage, 1:30 – 2:30
JC Brooks at Summer Camp 2012

For both MathGames and JC Brooks, we managed to score the best seats in the house. A gracious beer vendor had set up a sun shelter, and since no one was using it, we set up camp there for a couple of hours. The chairs, the beer cooler, etc. Plus shade in the noonday sun. Which was brutal! Brutal, I say!

But it was all worth it. Brooks is a charismatic frontman, and The Uptown Sound is a tight, accomplished band. Brooks has some stories to tell, and he weaves them through the songs in their set list. “I Got High”, for example.

Their Wilco cover – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is outstanding. They turn the song in a completely different direction.  And it was the song I was really looking forward to hearing (we highlighted a version in our Summer Camp Music Sampler, you might recall). JC and the band funk it up a bit, and JC pulls the heartache in the song fully to the surface (the Wilco version hides it behind a lot of thrashing guitar riffs and noise).

Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording of their set, which is very frustrating. They have a liberal taping policy, so I kind of expected it out there. No YouTube videos, either! They are a band you’ll want to see if they come to your neck of the woods. [More photos of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound at Summer Camp]

Common, Saturday, May 26, Sunshine Stage, 4:15 – 5:15
Common at Summer Camp 2012

Common was at the top of my list of bands to see. I don’t get to see enough live hip hop, and I thought a festival would be the perfect environment for it. And I’ve been a huge fan of Common’s since I saw him with Kanye West on the Dave Chappelle show. His new record, The Believer/The Dreamer, is great. He played a few songs from that, but otherwise wove through catalogue highlights from the last 10 years or so of his work. He had a drummer, a keyboard player, and a DJ on stage with him.

Common used the length of the stage to engage the audience and drive his verses home. And the crowd loved him! There were enough hardcore Common fans to pack the stage area, from the soundboard forward. I was amazed at all the people spitting out the verses with Common, too. I mean, I know parts of verses from the Common records I have. But even if I knew them by heart, I don’t think I could get my mouth to move that fast, and if I did, I’d run out of breath before I got through a single verse. But it was really cool to see the crowd rocking with Common like that. I vote for more hip hop artists at festivals.

PS: Towards the end of the set, he said “lookout for the new album, coming soon” and he rattles off some of the people involved, starting off with Kanye West. Which could be good.

Another bonus from the YouTubes. Here’s Common doing a freestyle over a slice of the beat for “Otis” from Watch The Throne.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egRXPUbl9Ok&w=560&h=315]

[More photos of Common at Summer Camp]

Anders Osborne, Saturday, May 26, Campfire Stage, 5:00 – 6:00
Anders Osborne at Summer Camp 2012

I’d only heard of Anders Osborne recently, via Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and their work together recreating The Rolling Stones‘ Sticky Fingers. So I didn’t know any of his solo work going in, but the Sticky Fingers work impressed me enough that I circled him on my festival schedule. I’m glad I did, because he was the best discovery of the festival for me.

Osborne played right after Common over at the Campfire Stage, so we had to decamp and move quickly to catch his set. What we heard was just great rock n roll. Well crafted songs writ large by a three piece band, with extended soloing over a rugged rock n roll terrain. Neil Young through the filter of New Orleans. Sort of. What was interesting is that he just released a new album at the beginning of May – Black Eye Galaxy – and he didn’t play a single song from it. Just one song from his album before that, American Patchwork. The song was “I Got Your Heart”, my personal favorite from that album (which I bought, along with the new one, when I got back from Summer Camp). He introduced it this way:

“Alright. Here’s a little song I wrote for my wife when I was in rehab last.”

Lucky for us, someone captured a few songs from their set on video, and posted it to YouTube. Here’s one, for the song “Burning On The Inside”. About 4:20 into the clip, Osborne starts playing this riff that builds into a nice solo, with good support from Eric Bolivar (drums) and Carl Dufrene (bass).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI2AqRQ7W20&w=560&h=315]

[More photos of Anders Osborne at Summer Camp]

2012 Water Hill Music Fest

Brennan Andes Family Band
The Brennan Andes Family Band performs at the 2012 Water Hill Music Fest

Water Hill Music Fest
Ann Arbor, MI
May 6, 2012

When I was growing up, there was this 3-on-3 basketball tournament held in the streets of Lowell, Michigan, called Gus Macker. The weekend of the tournament was like Christmas for those of us who loved basketball. It didn’t matter whether you got a team together and entered or you just went to spectate, it was a weekend of pure basketball, played and watched for the love of the game. While there is still a great basketball tournament with that name – it’s actually a whole bunch of tournaments in over a dozen different cities now – anyone who ever dribbled one of those signature red, white and blue balls on a neighborhood street in Mackerville can tell you it hasn’t really been the same since it got too big for its birthplace.

But for a brief moment in the mid-1980’s, Gus Macker was basketball, the spirit of the sport stripped down to its essence. The entry fee wasn’t so steep that a four-man team of middle schoolers couldn’t scrape together the cash, and since the tournament was run mostly by volunteers, it was free to watch. Neighbors would sell lemonade and not worry too much about all the grass in their yard getting trampled. Everyone was courteous about where they set up their lawn chairs, and despite the fierce rivalries and competition that existed on the courts, the people at Gus Macker – men, women and children, young and old, alike – seemed to recognize that they were part of a community, no matter how brief and ad hoc.

Now I hadn’t thought about playing in Gus Macker in over 15 years, until I spent the afternoon at Ann Arbor’s second annual Water Hill Music Fest. This is unlike any other music festival I’ve experienced, not because it takes place in myriad locations about the west-side neighborhood all at the same time, but because the performance spaces are people’s porches, backyards, stoops, and living rooms, usually belonging to the musicians themselves. The event is free, parking is free, and while there’s a schedule and some rules about who can play (at least one member of each performance group must live in the neighborhood), the rest is joyously unorganized. The streets are not shut down, cars are parked here and there and everywhere, and though there are signs in yards indicating who is playing when, that’s about the extent of it.

But this is not unprofessional music – far from it. The highlight of my day was the Brennan Andes Family Band, made up of members of local jam band The Macpodz with some special guests, including a music teacher at my daughter’s school. They played in bass player Andes’ parents backyard, which gave the performance the feeling of a summer barbecue. I also saw Ann Arbor legend George Bedard rocking with Khalid Hanifi on the grand front porch of a historic and beautiful brick home and heard another local favorite, Chris Buhalis, sing a set of Woody Guthrie tunes from his own front yard, celebrating what would have been Guthrie’s 100th birthday this year. Several other well known musicians also played, including guitarist Dick Siegel, and Ron Brooks, the jazz bassist and former owner of the Bird of Paradise nightclub.

Part of the charm of Water Hill, however, is that it’s open to performers of all sorts. I watched a trio of elementary school kids play Bach on two violins and a classical guitar, sat through a set of funny children’s songs with scads of other parents while the kids who should have been listening went down the zip line in the guitar player’s back yard, and stood in the street blocking traffic to hear a middle-aged couple sing 100-year-old show tunes. The community spirit at the event was amazing. I went into one house to use the bathroom, as facilities were provided by generous neighbors at well-spaced locations around the festival. My daughter bought refreshments from one of her schoolmates who had set up a stand in her front yard and we stopped by at another of her classmates later to wash up. While we were there, we caught a few songs by a group playing legitimate swing-era big band music on their back patio, complete with a bombshell singer dressed in period getup.

While I attended the festival with my family, Water Hill didn’t bear any resemblance to the sort of canned entertainment that’s passed off in our society as “family friendly.” This was legitimate music, played in earnest by people who had invited the city into their homes to entertain them. The crowds included plenty of hipsters, old hippies, dogs, teenagers, old people, and just about every other demographic you could dream up. That they were all wandering the streets of Water Hill was fitting, as it’s a neighborhood that’s perhaps more economically and socially diverse than any other in our city.

What I didn’t see is worth noting: No drugs, no drunks, no cops and no self-absorbed idiots making a scene that ruins it for everyone else. Nobody seemed to be trying to cash in on the crowds either, save for a guy selling $1 records in his garage and another who put a “For Sale By Owner” sign in his front yard. (Somebody should buy his house, by the way, as it’s in a great location.) This is surprising, because the crowds were tremendous. Hundreds packed the yards of the performers who had name recognition, and kids and amateurs were pulling in crowds of fifty or more. The music was universally great, and even without huge PA’s and megawatt sound systems, it was easy to hear because people who wanted to chat were polite enough to just move down the street.

I had the best time at Water Hill, and I got a vibe that I hadn’t felt since I was a kid hanging out in Lowell in my high top Nikes. I looked around the neighborhood and saw a whole community of people enjoying themselves, being cool, united in the love of one simple thing. Then it was hoops, today it was music.

As fun as Water Hill was, however, it’s with a bit of concern that I write this article, knowing that publicizing the festival could lead to problems in the years to come.

By the time I played in Gus Macker in 1986, things were already changing. After spectating for a few years and watching the crowds grow, I finally got the nerve to form my own team in eighth grade, and I played in the final tournament that was held in Lowell. Neighbors had started to complain and the tournament was no longer just a small local affair. National exposure in Sports Illustrated had led to huge numbers of entries and lots more spectators, and even more big name players began entering. Gus Macker was still great fun, but it wasn’t the same once it moved to another nearby town and dramatically expanded, including going on the road and traveling to other cities.

Nothing this good, this pure and perfect tends to last.

Original photo copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

Salty in Austin

Once upon a time, certainly back in 1987, the SXSW event was about music.

Sure, there is still music in Austin today.

But SXSW has changed, as essentially every corporation that can somehow find a tie in manages to be on display.  (Arguably this is done because the people who work at said car makers or consumer electronics companies want to attend so they have cleverly convinced their bosses that it is essential to “connect” with the people who are at SXSW, so they get a full-blown ticket to ride.  Sure, they might have to do some crappy scut work along the way, but given the alternative—as in working in an office—going to Austin is a whole lot better.)

SXSW is now, perhaps, about salty snack food.

Austin may have been known for barbeque.  But Stubb’s might as well give up.

Doritos is the thing.  And it is such a thing that the brand that is under PepsiCo created a 56-foot vending machine as part of the launch of Doritos JACKED.

“Before we bring this amped up Doritos snacking experience to consumers nationwide, we wanted to take it right to our fans here at South by Southwest to try it first,” said Ram Krishnan, vp of marketing, Frito-Lay North America.

Which leads me to wonder: is eating a bag of chips—even a chip that “delivers a one-two punch of intense flavors upfront followed by a twist of spice or tanginess that packs the ultimate crunch”—an experience?  Are you experienced?  Sure, just had some Doritos.

Then who in the world is a “fan” of a snack chip?  Are there people who get together and argue about what’s better, Doritos or Cheetos, sort of like the Beatles vs. Stones?

To be fair, it should be noted that the 56-foot vending machine also serves as the “JACKED Stage by Doritos,” so it will be a concert platform as well as an object that will accept “larger-than-life Doritos-branded quarters.”

Of course it is.

Do Not Forget Sha Na Na

Simon Reynold’s article in Slate on grunge nostalgia is a good read. Especially the idea that grunge was “the last blast of rock as a force at once central in popular culture yet also running counter to mainstream show biz values.” I agree. The White Stripes might have come as close to that as anyone since then, but in the end they didn’t change much of anything.

But one thing Reynolds gets totally wrong is the idea that nostalgia is something new: “a pop culture increasingly characterized by a compulsion to revisit and reconsume its own past.” In reaction to the weird news that the Reading Festival in England will screen video of Nirvana’s 1992 Reading performance, Reynolds asks:

whether the promoters of Woodstock, or the first Lollapalooza in 1991, would have lowered a giant screen onstage and projected footage of a gig from two decades earlier? The answer is no: They were too busy confidently making history to bother with referring back to it.

Not quite. Who played the penultimate set at Woodstock in 1969? Sha Na Na. That’s right: Sha Na fucking Na, who dressed in gold lamé and covered 50s songs.

As for the first Lollapalooza, two of the nine bands were Siouxsie and the Banshees (formed in 1976) and the Violent Femmes (formed in 1980). Old.

Granted, none of that is quite as ridiculous as interrupting a festival of live music with an onstage screening of a 19 year old video. But still. Nostalgia in pop culture is as old as pop culture itself.

Video: Sha Na Na – At the Hop

Lollapalooza 2011: Escape from No Future

Lollapalooza 2011 - Perry's Tent

Twenty years ago, when the inaugural Lollapalooza tour made its Detroit stop, I was a 19-year-old goofball with a head full of chemicals wandering around Pine Knob, just having a good time with my friends. I don’t remember seeing any 40-year-old dudes there that year but there might have been some; there’s a lot I don’t remember about that show, like the Violent Femmes playing for example.

I also can’t remember if I was freaked out about turning 20 later that summer, the waning weeks of my teenage years.

Twenty years later, it’s easy to scoff at the kids with their filthy feet and body paint. But set aside your cynicism for a minute and you’ll appreciate the fact that a festival like Lollapalooza gets most of its energy and excitement from the under-30 set. We get older; they stay the same age. Yes they do.

I actually had a young girl ask me to buy her a beer this year. As I waffled, my man AMP shot her down with a shake of his head and a curt “No way.” Smart move. But still, I couldn’t help being flattered. Do I look like a kindly old gentleman now that I’m approaching the big Four-oh? Or just an easy mark? Aw, who cares?

I’ve gone to every Lollapalooza since its resurrection as a destination festival in Chicago. But this was my first time as a visitor after moving back to Michigan last year. It was weird not being able to crash in my own bed afterwards, but AMP took good care of us. There’s a different set of factors when you have to figure out whether or not you actually want to make the effort to travel to a music festival.

When the lineup was released, it was as weak as I’ve ever seen it. I’ve rarely been thrilled by the headliners but that’s usually made up for by an abundance of great afternoon sets. Not this time. There were huge holes in my schedule where I couldn’t care less about anything. I figured that I’d mosey around and hope to bump into something awesome. That’s how I witnessed mindblowing sets by Matt & Kim and Deerhunter in previous years. So I had high hopes despite the lackluster schedule.

Plus there was a bunch of stuff I was really excited about, mostly groups that I should’ve caught a few years ago but missed for one reason or another: Girl Talk, Black Lips, Titus Andronicus, the Cool Kids. Notice that all four of those groups had played the Pitchfork Fest recently. I missed them there, so I was determined not to let that happen again despite being relatively old news (in certain dorky circles).

And they were all great. Titus Andronicus, especially. Man, there is something about that band’s earnestness combined with their ambition that just gets to me. Every time I try to explain The Monitor to people who haven’t heard it, I feel like an idiot. “It’s a concept album about the Civil War…and getting out of New Jersey…and…girls… It’s awesome.” And finally seeing them live, they exceeded any expectations I had. It’s impossible to take your eyes of Amy Klein. She’s awesome and my wife was impressed by her cute dress.

There were other good sets too (Mountain Goats, Bright Eyes, Fitz & the Tantrums) but the undeniable truth of the event was that all the real action was happening underneath Perry’s giant tent. It was just a couple years ago that the Perry’s stage area was so small that I was able to casually stand at the very back and could still tell that DJ Mom Jeans was the guy from “That 70s Show.”

Not anymore.

20,000 shirtless bros bobbed up and down with girls in short shorts and half shirts, pouring in and out of that area throughout the weekend. Perry’s made the rest of Grant Park feel like a tired twentieth-century throwback to a place where bearded old cavemen rubbed pieces of wood together hoping to make fire. It was thrilling to witness but impossible to fully participate in. Which is fine, of course. That’s the way it should be. You can’t trust anybody over 30, not to mention oldsters pushing forty.

It was still the most fun I had, standing at the back of the tent, soaking up the vibe from the crowd. It was mesmerizing, just watching a football-sized mass of people swaying around to the strange, futuristic beats. It’s not necessarily my thing but it’s a cool thing, and it’s important for a generation to have its own thing.

Perry Farrell clearly sees the writing on the wall. He recently told USA Today, “My mission is one day there’ll be live music on one side and electronic music on the other side. It looks like the world is really going in that direction where dance music is the new punk rock.”

A lot of my non-music nerd friends find it amusing that I continue to go to Lollapalooza. “Will you still go when you’re 60?” My stock response has always been, “Depends on the lineup.” Then again, this year I realized that even though I don’t know a Skrillex from a Modeskeletor (and I don’t really care), it can still be fun to hang out and watch the true fans get into it. I am totally comfortable with the idea of being just a casual fan of electronic music. Not sure that I’d drive for hours and crash at a pal’s house to bask in three days of it, but hey. You never know. Twenty years is a long time.

Lollapalooza 2011 - Cee Lo Green

Photos by AMP. See more here.

MP3: Titus Andronicus – “A More Perfect Union” from The Monitor.