Arizona · Entertainment in AZ · Music

Bluegrass Makes It All Okay

I didn’t think people in Arizona cared about bluegrass music—not like we cared about it in Charleston, South Carolina, at least. The McDowell Mountain Music Festival this past weekend proved me wrong. Way wrong.

According to the website, the Festival took off in April of 2004 to bring real music back to Arizona while getting the Phoenix community together for a great cause: children. All proceeds, yes ALL PROCEEDS, raised from the festival are donated to two charities: the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Ear Candy, an organization whose mission is to provide local youth access to music education. The festival is not billed as bluegrass-specific. All sorts of performers from all over the world show up to the McDowell Mountain Music Fest, but Jake and I attended for one reason and one reason alone: the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The venue itself is somewhat confusing if you’ve never been. It’s hosted at The Compound, which is a grassy knoll to the side of a parking lot. Wacky, huh? Especially to a Midwesterner, who’s accustomed to festivals like Bonnaroo and All Good, where there isn’t a parking lot for miles. Once inside, though, you kind of forget you’re next to a parking lot, thanks to the vendors, beer, and tunes.

Most attendees bring their own chairs or blankets, and you set up camp in the middle of the field, as close to the stage as possible—or in the shade, of which there was very little. No matter, though; it was a pleasant dry heat! Just remember to wear sunscreen. Once our camp was set, Jake and I grabbed a couple brews and hit the vendor tents, which included some excellent glass jewelry, Mojo Yogurt, and Scentsy. Everyone we came across was talkative and cheerful, and I chalk it up to bluegrass and good old country sound.

Did I mention the Carolina Chocolate Drops? Jake and I saw them play twice back in Charleston, and we love—I mean love—their music. They are well-trained masters of old-time fiddle and banjo-based music, and they won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album last year. When I saw them sitting around behind the security area, I did what any star-struck fan would do. I waved them down and begged for their autographs. We shared a couple laughs over the memory of a heavily over-crowded show at The Pour House back in South Carolina, and I almost exploded with glee.

Their set was inspired, of course, filled with clogging, kick-ass vocals, and general awesomeness. But what almost (almost) excited me more was the realization that Phoenix folk love bluegrass music! As a big ole group, we danced, stomped our feet, and sang along. It was like a scene from the Deep South, and I was proud to be part of it and to call myself Phoenician. Let’s face it: you can’t frown when bluegrass is playing. You can’t be sad when someone is singing about “corn bread and butter-beans and you across the table.” I smile just thinking about it …

I will definitely take part in the McDowell Mountain Music Festival again next year. It reminded me of being back in Charleston, where the world moves slower and people spend afternoons on front porches, doing nothing but playin’ banjo and drinkin’ cold beer. The festival also made Phoenix feel even more like home, now that I know I’m not the only bluegrass fan in the county.

Music

The Punch Brothers Album You Need to Own

So you’ve never heard of the Punch Brothers? I’m not too surprised. I stumbled upon them, luckily, at a concert in Charleston, South Carolina, one beautiful night at the Cistern Yard. They’re referred to as “progressive bluegrass” or “newgrass.”

Chris Thile formed the group. You might recognize his name if you remember the acoustic trio Nickel Creek. He’s a mandolin virtuoso, singer, and front man for the Punch Brothers. He’s been playing mandolin since the age of five; he was touring by the age of eight; he released his first solo album at twelve. Finally, in 2006, the Punch Brothers were born, consisting of Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass).

They first got together on the album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground. They continued with Punch in 2008, featuring Thile’s forty minute suite in four movements called “The Blind Leading the Blind” (which I saw them play live in Charleston). In 2010, they released another album, Antifogmatic. And finally, on February 14, 2012, Who’s Feeling Young Now? arrived on my front porch.

As a listener for the past couple years, I have seen the Punch Brothers transform. How to Grow a Woman from the Ground featured traditional bluegrass. Punch moved to something more classical. Antifogmatic was off the beaten path and sometimes too discordant even for me. Who’s Feeling Young Now? might be their masterpiece to date, because it’s a perfect mixture of all their previous styles with a ballsy modern twist.

The opening number, “Movement and Location,” has a fast beat and ghoulish vocals. Thile almost sounds like he’s singing in a cave, and the band intentionally goes off beat in certain segments. The album’s namesake feels angry—the chords, the vocals, and the lyrics—but it is one of the more approachable songs for a Punch Brothers newbie. “Flippen” harkens back to their first album, while “Patchwork Girlfriend” feels reminiscent of Squirrel Nut Zippers.

My favorite tune is “Soon or Never”—the quiet, sad song, featuring the dancing melody of Witcher’s violin. The bonus is a cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” (which I also saw them play in concert), and it’s even better than the original.

A word of warning, however: the Punch Brothers are no longer a bluegrass band, so don’t expect them to be. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I love the way they’ve evolved over the years, and this album in particular shows their development as musicians and as a band. Thile’s voice has never sounded better, and guitarist Eldrige and bassist Kowert have created ingenious ways to make their instruments play percussion. I was most impressed by the violin/fiddle-playing of Witcher. True, I’m partial to violin, but honestly, anyone can admire the guy’s skill on this album, where he seems to be the featured performer.

Maybe that’s what makes this album feel slightly different than the others. In the beginning, it was the name “Chris Thile” that made me want to see the Punch Brothers in Charleston. Now, the band has become a complete entity, with no single performer running the show. They have created a cohesive, unique sound. Will they get radio play this time around? Doubtful. Their music is too interesting for the mass populace. They’ll get plenty of airtime around my house, though, since this might be my new favorite album.

Music · Writing

Wedding Music: Good, Bad, Ugly

There is bad wedding music out there. “Celebration.” “We Are Family.” Anything by Nickelback. I could go on, but I won’t. Because we’ve all been there. We all recognize bad wedding music, and yet, it happens again and again. So the question remains: how do you avoid bad wedding music at your reception?

There is only one Freddie.
This is a question I’ve mulled over a lot lately as Jake and I build our music list. You heard right: Jake and I are building our own list. We’re not having a DJ. I can’t stand them. They’re too exuberant—yes, even for a wedding. We’re not having a band, because let’s face it: no matter how good you are, you can’t cover “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Jake and I opted for an iPod and a best pal to run the show. It remains to be seen if this is a good idea or not, but I feel good knowing a stranger in a cheap suit with a microphone will not be announcing our first dance as man and wife.

Music is important to me. I’m not a music snob (eh hem … Matt Dobie), but hey, I like what I like. I’m wildly eclectic in my taste. Favorite bands range from the alternative-bluegrass Punch Brothers to now defunct heavy bass masterminds Audioslave. I adore Fiona Apple, Cuban and French music, as well as jazz (Billie Holiday), funk (Matt’s band Gangrene Machine), and timeless classics (Tom Petty, James Taylor, and Sinatra). There are the weirdoes like Bjork, Tom Waits, and Ryan Adams; there are classical artists like Puccini, Debussy, and Chopin. So what the hell kind of music are we going to play at our wedding?!  

It remains to be seen.
What, you didn’t think we already had the list together, did you?

Christina. Gettin' dirrrrrrty.
I’m heading back home tomorrow morning for my bachelorette party. My Maid of Honor (Aunt Susie) wanted to know what kind of music to play. This list is easier. For instance, “Dirty” by Christina Aguilera is an obvious first choice. “Your Love” by The Outfield, because we used to scream every word at The Junction in Athens. “Honky Tonk Woman,” because Janine and I used to play it on the jukebox at Fat Jack’s and dance when no one else was dancing.

The songs that really matter, that mean something to me now and will mean something to me on the day of my wedding, are songs that carry a memory.

I already told Jake we will be playing “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show at the reception. No, not because I think Tim Curry looks good in tights (he does), but because I’ve been singing this song with different groups of friends since eighth grade. “In Tha Club” by 50 Cent will probably show up because 50 Cent sang it at the MTV Movie Awards on my twenty-first birthday, and at the beginning when he says, “Go shorty, it’s your birthday,” everyone at my house started singing along.

Dr. Frank-N-Furter. RHPS forever.
This is what music is about. It’s about making memories and sharing new ones. This weekend will be epic. Friends from elementary school, high school, college, and beyond will meet for the first time. We will sing songs together and make new memories. Then, on November 12th, songs will play, and for the rest of our lives, Jake and I will attach new meaning to old tunes, because those old tunes were the songs we heard on the night we became man and wife.

Go listen to your favorite song and sing as loud as you can. Unless you’re my neighbor. Then, sing quietly. And have a nice two weeks. I’m on vacation.

Arizona · Entertainment in AZ · Music

Deftones: My First Hard Rock Show

Jake loves the Deftones. He heard they were playing at the Mesa Amphitheatre June 9th, so he bought tickets. I didn’t get nervous until yesterday, when I realized I would be attending my first hard rock show that very night. Nervous might not be the word. Curious is better, because as a girl who went to Lilith Fair every year, hard rock isn’t exactly the norm.

What do I like about the Deftones? I adore the lead singer’s voice. I jive with the heavy bass and pounding drums. Their songs make me want to run on a treadmill—fast. I first heard one of their songs on The Matrix soundtrack: “My Own Summer (Shove It).” I first fell in love with one of their songs when I heard “Change (In the House of Flies).” Whenever this song plays, I feel like head-banging in a dark, dark room.

Deftones are described as “one of the first groups to alternate heavy riffs and screamed vocals with more ethereal music and hushed singing.” The guys hail from Sacramento, California: Chino Moreno (lead vocals and guitar), Stephen Carpenter (guitar), Chi Cheng (bass), Frank Delgado (keyboards and turntables), and Abe Cunningham (drums and percussion). Bassist Chi Cheng was in a car accident in 2008; he’s been in a “minimally conscious state” ever since. Fan out-pouring of funding and support has been astronomical. Read more about Chi at http://oneloveforchi.com/. For the time being, his place is being filled by Sergio Vega.

First of all, I love the Mesa Amphitheatre. I love any outdoor amphitheater where I can drink warm beer and scream without making a scene. The crowd was as you’d expect, adorned mostly in black. The guys had piercings and tattoos. The girls wore ill-advised skanky dresses and smoked cigarettes. I did my best to fit in; I wore black eyeliner and tried not to stare.

When the music started, I regretted not bringing earplugs. As the music continued, I really didn’t care. I was too busy pumping my fists in the air. I was amazed at the constant velocity of front man Chino Moreno. The guy never missed a beat and yet never stopped moving. And I loved the bassist. It’s always a good sign when you can actually feel the music in your chest.

For me, the show had three high points:

1. The Mosh Pit. I’m too old to actually be in a mosh pit, but I love watching the mosh pit. I don’t understand it—why a bunch of sweaty dudes would want to ram into each other and pogo-stick through the grass. There’s something tribal about it. I half expected them to chew on mutton chops and wipe blood from the hunt down their bare chests. Unfortunately, they did neither.

Chino=hero.
2. Chino, Knight in Shining Armor. In the middle of another heavy-bass, screaming anthem, Chino got close to the crowd. (That’s not saying much. He actually jumped into the crowd a couple times last night, too.) The crowd went crazy, and all of a sudden, Chino said, “Stop the music! Stop the music!” The band stopped the music, and looking down into the crowd, Chino said, “Somebody help her up. Are you okay?” This heavy-metal head-man stopped the entire show because some girl fell over in the crowd, and he wanted to make sure she was okay. Now, that is rock star.

3. Change (In the House of Flies). Yes, they played my favorite song. Yes, I went crazy. I went even crazier because they played Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain” on the big screen behind the band during the song. What a PERFECT image for this sexy rock epic.

So was my hard-rock-show curiosity subdued? Yes. I have been to my first hard rock concert. My ears are still ringing, and I woke up with Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” in my head. I may never look like the skinny girls with black hair and tattoos, but dang it, when the Deftones played last night, I lifted my fists in the air and growled like a wild beast. Consider my face melted.

Music

Music Will Move You

Every congregant at Christ Presbyterian Church in Goodyear is blessed to have a piano player like Paul Tipei. Jake and I knew this our first Sunday there, directly following the doxology. Paul was born in 1987; he’s from Romania, but he currently attends Arizona State. I’ve asked him to play in our wedding, and this past Sunday, he played a concert at our church, featuring Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21.

Have you ever heard Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21? If you haven’t, you should hear it—right now, by heading to YouTube. Go on, head over. You can play it in the background while you read. Granted, these things are always better live, and Paul did a stellar job on Sunday (even better than the YouTube version). But the concert Sunday did so much more than make me pray for Paul’s availability on November 12. It made me remember classical music.

How could I ever forget? ME! I used to listen to Chopin constantly in high school. Some nerds in the science community said it made studying more effective. That’s how it started—I wanted to be better at school. Soon, the random Chopin CD (I think it was his etudes) served as a distraction. I stopped studying, closed my eyes, and listened to the music. Switch gears, right now, and stop listening to Beethoven. Listen to Chopin and my personal favorite, Etude Op. 10, No. 3. I tried taking piano lessons as a child, and I hated them. Yet, I loved the sound of someone else playing piano. I still do—always will—but I’ll get back to that in a moment …

The Rent classic song, "La Vie Boheme."
Also when I was in high school, my crazy Uncle Barney used to take me estate sale shopping all over Toledo. We discovered some wonderful finds, but more importantly, we connected. Barney and I were very much alike, artistically and musically. He introduced me to Giacomo Puccini—Italian composer of Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, and Tosca. Think you’ve never heard his music? When you’re done sobbing over Chopin, listen to O Soave Fanciulla! Not only was this the song obsessed over in 1987’s Moonstruck, but Jonathan Larson used Puccini’s chords in his late-nineties iconic musical, Rent. I literally rock out to this whenever I’m upset. I crank it up, because you can’t be sad when music is so lovely.

Back to piano … I didn’t fall in love with jazz piano until I lived in Charleston, SC. At Charleston Grill, I used to go see this drummer, Quentin Baxter. Quentin was an impeccable jazz drummer. You couldn’t help but stare at the guy, and he often had an entourage of equally talented musicians to surround him—namely, several jazz piano players. (You can hear a sample of the music when you click on the Charleston Grill website.)

Quentin Baxter on drums at Charleston Grill.
I spent many a late evening sipping cocktails and ignoring friends at the Grill. It’s what really good live music does; I go away to my own little place, where only the music can touch me. This is why I still sing the blues. When I sing Billie Holiday, I go to that quiet place, too, and nothing reaches me there—no worry, no stress, and no anxiety. It’s just me and the music.

Have you heard enough music for one day? Do you feel highbrow, with all this classical music, opera, and jazz? Well beautiful music ain’t always classy. An epic song (that I’ve written about before) comes from Band of Horses. It’s called “The Funeral,” and most recently, you saw it in the trailer for Oscar-nominated film, 127 Hours.

My little bro’s music kills me every time, too. He’s writing a song for the wedding, and I know it’s going to break me. Seriously, I can barely hear his music without getting teary. Here he is singing his song “Desert Breeze.” (See, I’m almost crying again. DAMN IT.)

Music doesn’t have to be classical to be respectable. It doesn’t have to be Italian opera to lift you up and carry you away. It doesn’t even have to be live (although it helps). It just has to reach you, where you are, right now, and make you move—inside or out. What have you been listening to lately? What should I know about?

Entertainment in AZ · Music

Bless the Little Ones of Uganda

My church hosted the Mwamba Children’s Choir this past weekend. I know what you’re thinking: Children’s choir? Sounds like a bunch of off-key little brats, picking their noses and waving at Mom in the front row. Not so with the Mwamba Children’s Choir. It’s composed of 7–11 year old Ugandan boys and girls. They tour the world to share inspiring, original, and action-packed African music with ringing harmonies and raging drum beats. All of the choir’s children are multi-talented, speaking several languages, singing, dancing, acting, and playing traditional music instruments. This ain’t your regular “children’s choir,” folks.

I took my mom and friend, Vanessa, to see the kids perform on Sunday afternoon. It was surreal at first and not in the least odd. You see, I live in Litchfield Park, where the average demographic is white, 55 and up retirees. My church fits this demographic to the letter. (Jake and I have even considered joining the children’s ministry, because at least there will be a couple people closer to our own age …) Seeing a troupe of African kids running up the aisle was quite an image, decked out as they were in traditional African clothing, haircuts, and jewelry.

As the little ones began to sing and dance (and I mean, DANCE), I wondered … As much fun as it appeared these children were having, were they really having fun? Or were their “trainers” using them as meal tickets? I mean, were the Ugandan kids on stage happy being away from home and stared at by a bunch of rich white folks who have never known poverty, starvation, or cholera epidemics? There was a creeping guilt within my bones as I considered these questions. Then, thankfully, we were made aware of the real story behind the Mwamba Children’s Choir.

The choir is definitely not a meal ticket. It’s not an evil form of child labor. Quite the contrary, a majority of the kids are orphans; others come from severely underprivileged homes, where the parents can barely afford to feed them. They refer to themselves as “Ambassadors for children in Africa orphaned by AIDS,” because most of them have lost one parent (or both) to the disease. These are broken, starving kids, and the Mwamba Children’s Choir is their joyous ticket out of the country—a ticket that also includes education, housing, and food. In other words, the choir is a miracle.

The choir was formed in 2007 by Ugandan pastor Stephen Sekitende. Stephen saw the poverty and starvation in his backyard. He saw parentless children wandering the streets of his home country, so he created the children’s choir as a fundraising tool. The Mwamba choir is international. They travel, perform, and entertain, all in the name of raising donations for back home. They call it “mobilizing support” for the I AM Children’s Family charity. I AM supports over 200 children orphaned by AIDS and other diseases, with a ministry based on a strong Christian background. The major objective of the choir’s 2010 tour is to raise funds to build primary and secondary schools, a hospital, and sports facility for the children.

The performance of the Mwamba Children’s Choir was better than most performances you will see from trained adults. These kids have passion, enthusiasm, talent, and most importantly, adoration for the Lord. I was impressed by their vocals, harmonies, traditional dance, and even their tumbling. I was impressed by their beautiful, little smiling faces. At the end of the show, the little ones wandered around the lobby. My mom (who was a bit teary-eyed) kept hugging them. Literally, she walked down the line and just kept hugging these little kids—these little survivors—who were alone in the world and then, saved by a ministry that is doing great things in Africa.

You can help. Go to the Mwamba Children’s Choir website. Check out their You Tube channel to hear them sing. There are ways to donate, buy their albums, or even sponsor a Ugandan child. At the least, pray for them. Pray for the country of Uganda and pray for the little kids in the choir. I was touched Sunday; I suppose that is God’s purpose for the Mwamba Children’s Choir—raising awareness for poor, lonely kids far, far away.

Arizona · Entertainment in AZ · Music · Restaurants in AZ

Best Little Coffee-Beer-Wine House in West Valley

In our quest to find homey, happy places with a good booze selection in the West Valley, Jake and I stumbled upon Ground Control Coffee. It’s only about a block from our house, and a friend suggested it. I had trouble not singing the David Bowie song, and I was a little concerned at its location in Litchfield Park—next to Burger King in a shopping center at Litchfield and Indian School—but don’t let that detract you. Ground Control is a cool, cool place, and I’m very lucky to have it so close!

Ground Control Coffee. Go around Burger King to find it!
Ground Control Coffee is home to four of my favorite things: live music, coffee, specialty beer, and scotch, scotch, scotch, I love scotch, get in my tummy. Well, you get the idea. It’s snazzy inside! Nice, dim mood lighting. Local art on the walls. Pleasant live jazz tunes, played on acoustic guitar and piano. And the staff is absolutely excellent. They are helpful, knowledgeable, and funny.  At Ground Control, I am free to use my offbeat, occasionally inappropriate humor, and no one looks at me like I’m nuts! They even reciprocate. Like I said, though, it’s their knowledge that matters. They know the beer, wine, liquor, and food. Oh, yes, didn’t I mention? They serve food, too!

I guess I better talk about Ground Control in the daytime first. They serve coffee, custom-blended by the Ground Control staff and sold in-house and available on their website to take home with you. Some highlights for me, since I do love my dark roasts: “Afterburner” (smoky, smoky, smoky), “Eureka” (ideal for espresso), and “Sumatra Mandheling” (spice!). A perfect side to your steaming cup of yum? They serve gelato. Mmmmmmmmm …

So I’ve mentioned the setting, people, and daytime goodness. What about the BEER and WINE? The beer selection is glorious. Whatever you want, they have it. I’m partial to an IPA they have on draft, but they also carry variations of porter, pilsner, and even framboise. Their extensive wine collection includes—but is certainly not limited to—sparkling (they carry one of my favorite Proseccos), Gewurtzraminer and Viognier (the best white wines on the market), tons of Bordeaux blends (try one with the chocolate gelato), and a Guigal Chateauneuf de Pape that’ll rock your weekend. They also have a full liquor selection, including a wide variety of my favorite sippers: scotch and tequila. For more info, visit the Ground Control Coffee, Litchfield Park, website at http://www.groundxcontrol.com/.

So there. You see? There are cool things to do in the Phoenix West Valley. Hey, Scottsdale, Tempe, and CenPho—head my way. Let’s go to Ground Control Coffee. I’ll meet you there!

Entertainment in SC · Music

The Best Concerts I’ve Ever Seen

Because Jake is the BEST BOYFRIEND EVER, he was sneaky and bought me and his mom tickets to see Norah Jones this past weekend at the Dodge Theater. A couple interesting items about this show: 1) Norah’s opener and backup singer, Sasha Dobson, may have outshined the headliner. 2) Norah’s new album, sadly, feels very pop princess. I don’t know if I’m even going to buy it, which makes Sara sad. 3) Norah did wear yellow pumps with her bright green dress. That, my friends, is awesome. You can read the full write up about the show on the Phoenix New Times website.

This blog entry isn’t about Norah, because Norah didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped. The lack of impression got me to thinking about the concerts that have impressed me in my life. So, in celebration, this blog post is about those concerts—the ones that really stood out. The ones I will remember until I’m old and senile, and even then, I’ll be saying, “Remember how Neil Young looked like he was having a seizure in the middle of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ back in 1999? Well, I do!”

BEST OLD GUY WHO STILL KICKS ASS
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC
Everybody loves The Boss. It’s the American way, I don’t care who you are. And who knew a guy so dang old could still do running knee slides on stage? I think the best part of this concert was when Springsteen reached out into the crowd, plucked a sign from some little girl’s hands, and said in front of the whole audience, “Well, it’s Jenny’s first concert and birthday today. Boys, let’s sing ‘Jenny Take a Ride’ for this young lady.” And he did! It was the way he accomplished a personal touch, even when playing in front of a sports arena, that stuck with me. (And well, playing hits like “Born to Run” and “Streets of Philadelphia” didn’t hurt his cause.)

BEST GUITAR PLAYER
John Mayer
North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC
Yeah, he’s a jerk. I would hate to actually hang out with the guy, and my brother says most of his early acoustic stuff is so easy, a toddler could play it. However, John Mayer has come a long way. Talking about sexual relationships with the media notwithstanding, Mayer wails on that electric guitar. Through songs like “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” (my favorite) and the slow, sensual “Gravity,” this guy-you-should-never-date rocked my world. I think I listened to the majority of his concert with my eyes closed; I wanted to focus on every riff, every chord, every moment of silence between every riff and every chord. A helluva show. If you can see him in concert, see him in concert. (Here’s my write up from the Charleston City Paper.)

BEST SHOW IN THE BLACK OF NIGHT
Les Claypool and The Frog Brigade
All Good Festival, Marvin’s Mountaintop, West Virginia

Les Claypool
All Good Festival is a three-day music festival in the middle of nowhere. It features famous and up-and-coming bluegrass, folk, and rock musicians, and I attended two years in a row. The first year, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in a tent with two of my favorite dudes on earth—my buddy, Nate, and my brother, Matt. Every morning, we would make our coffee and Maker’s Mark and wander down to the music area. Past Shakedown Alley. Past the dread-locked hippies selling grilled cheese and oatmeal cookies. To the green hill overlooking the raging crowd and the wide stage, set at the base of West Virginia half-mountains. The one night, me and the boys were … um … we had a sugar high … from the brownies … yeah … and so Les Claypool (best known as vocalist and bassist for Primus) was playing at All Good with a side project of his, The Frog Brigade. Well, I was transfixed by this fluorescent, glowing object, floating in the sky above me, carried through the air by balloons, when the Brigade started jamming. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went out. There was a moment of silence as a cloak of black covered the crowd. Then, Les Claypool’s grainy, low, and kinda creepy voice echoed over our heads. “Well, we’re gonna keep on playing,” he said. “But for now, why don’t we all just space out on that glowing thing in the sky?” And we did. And he did! Claypool kept playing, in the dark, with only his fingers and a microphone to guide him. It was like an extended trippy dream, but even better, it really happened.

BEST SHOW FOR MAKING MY DAD GREEN WITH ENVY
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Sports Arena, Toledo, OH
I was raised listening to Neil Young. Neil Young is my father’s favorite artist, and he has passed this trait onto my little brother. So when I had the chance to see CSNY and my father didn’t, well, he wasn’t too happy. I know their voices aren’t quite like they used to be. Steven Stills can barely hold a note anymore. But there was nothing better—nothing—than when Crosby and Nash stepped forward from the rest of the band. Crosby shushed the crowd. He shushed us! And these two musical moguls sang “Guinevere,” a cappella, on perfect pitch, until tears were rolling down my face.  Why was I crying? I dunno. It’s what music does to me sometimes, so I cried. And then, I cheered, because when Neil Young plays guitar, you have to cheer.

AND FINALLY … (drum roll, please) …
THE BEST SHOW EVER!!!!!!!
The Punch Brothers, featuring Chris Thile
Spoleto Festival, Charleston, SC
No show will ever rise beyond the beauty, skill, or setting of The Punch Brothers show at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I already knew Chris Thile from his days as the mandolin player for Nickel Creek. I also knew him from his solo career, but his new group—The Punch Brothers—was new to me. Until Spoleto. Until the man came on stage and announced that he wasn’t used to playing beneath Angel Oaks and Spanish moss. (Who is?) I fell in love immediately—with the music, the lyrics, and with Chris Thile. When he played his four-part “symphony,” I couldn’t speak. In fact, I think the audience was afraid to make a sound. It was all too beautiful. Too hard to believe that we were all THERE under the Angel Oaks with this MUSIC! And a song I can never get enough of: “How to Grow a Woman from the Ground.” I could go on forever about The Punch Brothers, but for the full write up, hit up an earlier blog entry of mine. And if you ever hear about The Punch Brothers or Chris Thile coming to your town, buy tickets. Immediately. You’ll never see anything like it.

Chris Thile.
Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona · Music

Exodus V: I’ll Never Be as Good as Matt Dobie

My little brother plays Neil Young the way Neil Young wishes he could play Neil Young, and I taught him everything he knows. Ha. Kidding. I attempted to become a guitar player when I was in junior high. I lasted a couple months. Then, Matt picked up my discarded acoustic guitar, and well, at the age of 23, he’s been playing for about fifteen years. On and off, we play together. He rocks out on guitar; I do some wailing on vocals. It’s a semi-Partridge Family situation, without the bar haircuts and bell-bottoms.

The Exodus Series is about me leaving Charleston and moving to Phoenix. So what does my brother have to do with any of this, you ask? Matt moved to Charleston back in October. He did not specifically move here to be near me; he moved here because he likes Charleston and he likes my friends. (Luckily, Matt also likes Jake, but that’s a whole other story…) Anyway, he moved here, and it was a great comfort to me, because Matt and I have always been close—more like best buds than siblings. He moved here. He met my friends. He became accustomed to my haunts (Griffon Pub on Vendue, in particular), and then, he became accustomed to the music scene.

And he decided to walk in and take over the entire operation.

Little Dobes. Guitar god.
At present, he runs an open mic night in West Ashley, SC, but it’s more like a Matt Dobie showcase. It’s not like most open mics, where a bunch of talentless yahoos play acoustic covers of Coldplay. No, Matt’s open mic is comprised of a full band—drums, guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, vocals—and anyone can do it. For instance, the first time I went to see him, I ended up singing. That was also the night when an old man walked up to my brother, pointed at him, and said, “I want to play music with YOU, kid.” And they did. Johnny Cash. Neil Young. Blues. Jazz. All the good stuff. And I was reminded that my little brother is truly a fantastic musician.

I’m not the only one who acknowledges this. Other musicians who’ve seen him play often end up saying he’s a “guitar god.” Guys twice his age shake their heads and wonder how a kid so young could be so dang talented. Even I do embarrassing dance moves and toe taps every time he goes into a screaming guitar solo. It’s impossible not to. And I—a vocalist who is intimidated by nothing—often fear being outshined by my younger sibling. This, of course, is an elder sister’s nightmare. That being said, I know there is no hope for me on stage. Matt will always be better than me. He will always be better than a lot of people.

Last week, he covered Tom Waits’ “Train Song.” The lyrics:

I remember when I left
Without bothering to pack
You know I up and left with
Just the clothes I had on my back
Now I’m sorry for what I’ve done
And I’m out here on my own
Well it was a train that took me away from
Here but a train can’t bring me home

I can’t listen to the song anymore, because it makes me cry. First off, I cry because my brother is better than Waits, yet Waits’ version is the only recording I have. Secondly, I cry because perhaps the worst thing about leaving Charleston is leaving my brother. Like trains passing in the night, we keep missing each other. As soon as I graduated from Ohio University, Matt began his freshman year. Now, as soon as we found a city to share, I’m leaving it.

I know Matt and me will play music together many, many more times in the coming years. For now, I just gotta tell him: Sorry I gotta head west, kiddo. Keep playing that Neil Young, and next time we’re together, we’ll rock some “Helpless” by Neil Young, because we know that Mom and Dad love it.

If you’re in Chucktown, here’s the website for the bar where little Dobes kicks some guitar ass every Saturday night: http://www.rpubonline.com/. If you wanna here my meager vocal stylings, check out my MySpace music page: myspace.com/sarasingstheblues.

The Dobies. An anti-Partridge Family.
Entertainment in SC · Music

Dirty Dozen Brass Band celebrates 25 years and the Saints

Mardi Gras came early this year, thanks to a Saints’ NFL playoff victory Saturday afternoon. It’s a good thing, too, because it gave the renowned New Orleans Dirty Dozen Brass Band an excuse to invite young women to dance on stage at the Pour House … as long as they were wearing Saints jerseys.

Saturday night, crowds trickled in from the rain, hiding in the dank corners until the band went onstage. Once the boys hit the mics, it was a rush to the front, as young and old alike boogied and chanted, “Who dat!” over the jubilant sounds of brass, snare, and sax. Several spectators, adorned in Saints black and gold, reveled in team victory and tunes. And there were so many Reggie Bush jerseys, we could have summoned him in spirit.

Led by trumpeter/vocalist Gregory Davis and sax players Roger Lewis and Kevin Harris, the lineup also featured drummer Terence Higgins, guitarist Jake Eckert, trumpeter Efrem Towns, sousaphonist Julius McKee, and trombonist Revert Andrews.

The current DDBB tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of their debut album, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, recently remastered and available for sale. In 1977, the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club in New Orleans inadvertently created a phenomenon when they developed a house brass band. Since this unexpected foundation, the ensemble has continued their brass band traditions, spreading Deep South soul to audiences worldwide.

The soul-stirring music was impeccable, and the enthusiasm was catching. The DDBB was a well-oiled machine, capable of hitting all the right notes. However, it wasn’t just the perfection of their craft that impressed; it was their passion for performance. The boys loved to move and talk with the audience. The DDBB’s strong faith in brass and its jazz roots inspired the rest of us.

I didn’t earn any Mardi Gras beads Saturday night, and I didn’t wear a feathered mask to the show, but for one night, I felt like a Saints fan. I joined in a “Who dat!” or two, and danced to a triumphant rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” For a night, we were all transported to Bourbon Street. So when’s the next bus leave for New Orleans?

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