Friday, May 05, 2006
I just guaranteed myself an evening of soul-crushing defeats. I know.
But anyway, when we left our hero he was trying not to tumble down the side of a mountain after the Platypus/Pete Seeger Jam at the Walker Center. Let me tell you, 937 steps is hard to navigate when your feet are barely touching the ground.
So I get to our base camp, where Bonnie and Steph (remember them, the sister and neice I abandoned 4 hours ago?) were waiting, basking in the glow of The Waybacks and Bob Weir. Yeah, that Bob Weir, the one that used to hang with Jerry. According the sis, their set Friday night was absolutely smokin', featuring jams and covers of everyone from Dylan to the Dead (duh). They would feature prominently into Steph's Saturday (see, foreshadowing! I really am a writer!)
But for us at least, it was time for the Main Event - Sam Bush. My sister is an admitted and avowed Sam Bush Stalker, and as her wheelman, I'm an honorary stalker. We very seldom miss a Sammy show if it's within 3 hours of home, but we had never seen the new lineup. See, Sammy picked up Scott Vestal from John Cowan's band, adding the banjo to his lineup for the first time in about 5 years. We were excited. I was excited because more banjo means more Hartford covers, and I loves me some Hartford. As a matter of fact, hold on.
Ok, that's better. Got a little Aero-Plane on the iPod, let's gear up for an uber-report (apologies to the midget Pocahontas).
So Sammy is now touring with his fellow Kentuckian Byron House, one of the absolute finest bass players in bluegrass, Scott Vestal (simply smokin' banjo boy), Chris Brown (and his drums of renown) and a new guitar player whose name I didn't catch (sorry, dude, you were good, tho).
Update - dug around a little on sambush.com and found that Stephen Mougin is the new guitar player. Nobody will ever replace Jon Randall for my sister, but she still has a crush on JRS, so what can I say. Stephen has some serious chops and is a great addition to the Sam Bush Band.
They played mostly stuff off their upcoming album, Laps in Seven (in stores June 13th, I'll be buying that bitch on iTunes as soon as humanly possible), with a few old songs and one particularly poignant moment. Sam has long covered at least one number of John Hartford's Steam Powered Aereo-Plane album in his live shows, and last year at Merlefest he dedicated Vamp in the Middle to Vassar Clements, who played fiddle on that album and was ailing at the time. Well, Vassar passed last year, so this year, Sam dedicated Back in the Goodle Days to Vassar's memory. It was a nice moment to think about all of friends that "have done gone on."
All the stuff on the new album was cool, one tune in particular was very reminiscent of the Jeff Black smoker from King of My World (Sam's last album, geez, keep up!) called They're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone. Yeah, that album will kick much ass.
Every Merlefest is a little different, and one of the changes I most approve of from this year is the addition (return) of the dance trail down by the side of the stage. They cordoned off a standing room only area off to the side of the stage, meaning if you wanted to get your groove on, you didn't have to be a football field away from the stage, you could get right down close and jam. So we did. We ran down front and got our groove well and truly on.
In true Merlefest style, guests were a-plenty, including dobro master Jerry Douglas (photo below) and the voice of the angels herself, Emmylou Harris. Once upon a time after New Grass Revival folded, Sam's main gig was playing mando for Emmylou in the Nash Ramblers, and they frequently show up on each other's albums and live sets. At 59 years old, she exudes class and beauty like very few women 30 years her junior. and that voice! If heaven doesn't sound like Emmylou, it ain't worth hearing.
So it kinda goes without saying that I liked Sam's set. By this time we were absolutely STARVING, but the good news was that the dance trail was right beside the food tents, so during the set changes we grooved over to nosh a little. I snagged a couple of overpriced hot dogs for charity, and sat down to munch. Looked over, and there was jamgrass festival campsite legend Dancing Dave, chatting with Ali, a guy I'd met a couple of times in Charlotte. I said hi, then it was time for Robert Earl Keen.
We buzzed back to the chairs to put on some socks, then headed back to boogie with Bob. Bonnie and I had seen Robert Earl a couple weeks ago in a full set at the Neighborhood Theatre (one of the two best places to see music in Charlotte - The Evening Muse is the other, and they sit catty-corner across the street from each other), and we've seen him 4-5 other times, but this was a first for Steph.
It was a first for me too, since I was sober, and that just don't happen to me at a Robert Earl Keen show. Killer set from Bob, but an hour is simply not enough. He put on a great version of Dreadful Selfish Crime, which might be my favorite song of his, then into Gringo Honeymoon, another fantastic story-song.
He's done a couple of really hallucinogenic songs in the past couple of years that I really can't get into - something about wolf and bear and I haven't done nearly enough drugs to undrstand it, but still a fun song.
He's worked Corpus Christi Bay into the set for the last year or so, and I love that song, since I have a brother, and have been to Texas, and I've been drunk. I've never been drunk in Texas with my brother, but I've got 2 outta 3 in most cases.
He seems to have taken Amarillo Highway out of the set list right now, which is a shame, since that song leads so well in to The Road Goes on Forever, his perennial closer. Great set by Robert Earl, but feel free to send Porter Wagoner his shirts back any day, the sequins really don't work with the songs, babe.
Steph totally enjoyed her first Robert Earl Keen experience, then it was back to pack up the camp, check the chairs into overnight storage (isn't that a brilliant idea?) and tote our backpacks and cooler to the buses. Then it's onto the Boy Scout buses back to the parking lots for our 45-minute drive back to the hotel.
We stay in Lenoir, about 45 minutes away, because everything in Wilkesboro books up fast and jacks the rates, so we sacrifice convenience for fiscal responsibility. It's not bad, really, but just once I'd like to stay close. Maybe next year.
Next up - Saturday - the wife joins the festivities, more of Laura Love's Booty, more Mammals, a hint of Guy Clark and dinner with Bob Weir. No really.
Posted by John G. Hartness at 10:35 AM