Dubbed as a "21st century Emmy Lou Harris" by Grammy nominated songwriter, Skip Ewing, Montana's own award winning songwriter, Jessica Kilroy, lives and breathes the life of a troubadour. Capturing each moment with heartfelt lyrics and a voice that Bluesman Guy Davis once described as "beautiful and pure, it takes me somewhere deep and way back" her songs have the depth of the land she is from.
Raised in a modest home spending much of her youth in leg braces, Jessica learned at an early age that there is no short cut to the top of any mountain. She has fought hard to overcome many obstacles, and through compassion and music strives to help others climb mountains of their own. During Kilroy's former careers as a hotshot firefighter, rock climbing guide and wilderness therapy instructor, she was able to spend the off-seasons making up for lost time, traveling and giving back to society. From aiding abandoned/orphaned children in Mexico, climbing the big walls of Zion and Yosemite, trekking across South East Asia to scale beautiful limestone cliffs, to learning the legends and stories of her ancestors while playing Celtic folk with local fishermen on the Irish shoreline, her guitar has been her companion.
After watching Jessica perform live, Grammy nominated songwriter Skip Ewing expressed, "Jessica's voice is honest and pure, it's nothing like I've ever heard before. She's a 21st century Emmy Lou Harris." In 2005, Skip invited Jessica to sing at the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee where she performed "in the round" with Ewing, Viktor Krauss, Pat Flynn, Barry Walsh and Tommy Harden.
Kilroy has traveled the country performing and co-billing with diverse acts such as Tony Trischka, Darrell Scott, Guy Davis, Walt Michaels, The Wilders, Trampled by Turtles, The Drew Emmitt Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Bill Nershi, Po Girl, Ben Sollee, Califone, The McCoury Brothers and many others. In 2008 Kilroy won the NW String Summit Band Competition with her bluegrass trio (fiddle player Jack Ausick and mandolin player Nate Biehl) and was invited to perform on the main stage in 2009. Also in 2008, Kilroy was selected for the Horse & Writer Invitational Scholarship Award including a week of one-on-one mentorship from five of Nashville's top hit songwriters. In 2009 she was selected as a finalist for the Telluride Troubadour Competition and performed a solo set on the main stage as well as performing with Sam Bush and the Troubadour finalists.
Kilroy's first album "Before Dawn", comprised of all original folk music and recorded in a small Montana cabin in 2003 (each song recorded with just guitar and vocals in one take) was recently re-released in 2009. "Montana native Jessica Kilroy doesn't hide behind a posse of guests and bandmates. Her voice is quietly compelling, and she doesn't distract from the songs with vocal gymnastics that I suspect she is more than capable of pulling off. Her guitar playing is subtle and understated. The focus, then, becomes the songs themselves, and there isn't a dud among the nine tracks of her recently re-released debut, Before Dawn." -The Missoulian
Kilroy's sophomore album "Big Dreams" comprised of original Americana and bluegrass, released in 2007, features guest vocalist Anne Sibley, and bluegrass musicians Eric Thorin, Ben Winship, Brian Wicklund and John Lowell. "Kilroy's new album "Big Dreams" showcases her light, angelic voice and highly melodic songwriting. Fans of Allison Krauss may feel like they're witnessing a second coming when Kilroy sings." -The Missoulian
Kilroy is currently recording an Americana album scheduled for release in 2010 and will be releasing her debut indie-folktronic album entitled "Raven" February 18th 2010 with her side project "Pterodactyl Plains".
"To invite comparison of Jessica Kilroy's voice and music to another singer/songwriter would sell it short. Comparing it to someone familiar would not be enough, because her voice is her own. Clear, accurate and wonderfully soothing, her voice draws the listener in. Stop, then listen. You'll be a fan too." -John Lowell (Critically Acclaimed Guitarist and Songwriter)
Jessica Kilroy: guitar/ukele/bottle neck slide/vocals
I have three albums released comprised of all original music:
Before Dawn -2003
Big Dreams -2007
Raven -2010 (Released through my indie-experimental folk side project "Pterodactyl Plains")
I am releasing two new albums (a solo Americana album and collaborative Newgrass album with Head for the Hills) in 2010.
I have played live on many radio shows in the West including Musician's Spotlight on NPR, KRZA, KGNU and KOTO in Colorado, KBGA and KGLT in Montana and have received airplay on both national and internaional radio.
Creativity with a conscience: Civic-minded songwriters turn heads
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In addition to being recognized by their peers as great singer/songwriters, the local music listener...In addition to being recognized by their peers as great singer/songwriters, the local music listeners are also taking notice of Jessica Kilroy and Michael Batdorf, both of Victor, who have joined the fast-growing artistic community here in Teton Valley.
Batdorf was born in Ohio but was raised in Western Pennsylvania where he bought a guitar and a four-track at age 12 because he wanted to learn to do everything himself.
“I wanted complete control of what I was doing,” Batdorf explained.
He attended college at West Virginia University and also attended recording school at Middle Tennessee State University. In January of 2004 he decided to move out west to hone his musical skills. He ended up in Idaho Falls until he discovered Teton Valley. He fell in love with this area and moved here six months ago.
Although Batdorf played music in Idaho Falls, he felt that it was hard finding his niche there. He played many gigs, but said that the only places he really liked playing at were BJ’s Bayou in Roberts and the Purple Gecko in Idaho Falls.
“It was tough exposing myself in Idaho Falls. I naturally gravitated here,” Batdorf said of the valley.
Batdorf feels that Teton Valley is much more accepting to his blues, folk and jazz styles than was Idaho Falls.
“I feel like people appreciate it here,” Batdorf added.
Jessica Kilroy’s roots were planted here when she was born in Rexburg and spent the first two months of her life in Victor before moving to Montana, and later, to California. Eventually, Kilroy and her family moved back to the Teton Range where she attended high school until her junior year.
Kilroy started playing guitar at age 13 with her younger brother, Jason, on a broken guitar. In high school she bought an old Stella guitar from a thrift store. She played and wrote songs with her friends, and remembers playing at open mic night at Tony’s Pizza when she was young.
As a senior in Montana, Kilroy began getting serious about her musical future. Her choir teacher, Michael Atherton, believed that she could go places with her talent and encouraged her to, telling her that she owed it to society to pursue music.
“He’s the coolest guy ever, my largest inspiration,” Kilroy Said. “ I always knew that I’d be involved in music, but it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I got serious about it.”
After high school Kilroy went to college in Missoula for a while and then decided she wanted to be with her family here in the mountains so she recently moved back to her hometown.
Poetry is very important for both Batdorf and Kilroy, and both believe writing poetry has helped them with songwriting. Kilroy started out writing poetry and turned her interest to songwriting while Batdorf felt that writing poetry helped him develop as a songwriter.
“I wrote to express myself and to change the world,” Kilroy said of her early experiences with lyrics.
Both Batdorf and Kilroy’s passions for songwriting comes out in their songs and those lyrics have turned the heads of many a listener. They write about personal experiences and about local issues facing their generation. Batdorf, a natural storyteller, has written a song about Teton County that sends out a message to take care of what we have in the beautiful place he has come to call home.
Batdorf feels that writing songs is his way of getting his ideas and thoughts out to the public. He has a strong desire to put out his message any way he can.
“I feel obligated to say something,” Batdorf said.
Recently, Big Hole Music in Driggs has been hosting evenings of music by local entertainers and this is where Kilroy and Batdorf first met and decided to play music together.
“I heard people talking about Jessica so I went to her second show at Big Hole. I definitely found an echo with what I was doing.” Batdorf recalled.
Kilroy also saw Batdorf at a show at Big Hole Music where she was impressed with is musical skill.
“He’s out of my league.” Kilroy remembered thinking, but after speaking with Batdorf she felt extremely respected and a musical friendship grew.
“Michael encourages me to do things I am not used to doing,” Kilroy said.
Kilroy and Batdorf also play music with other musicians around the valley and they want to encourage artists to build a community in order to raise awareness of what is going on around us.
“Just hearing another voice that echoes what I’m trying to say is very important,” Batdorf explained, emphasizing that the people who he comes in contact with are very inspirational to him.
Both Batdorf and Kilroy enjoy what they do, performing their own original songs. They think that it’s important to get their messages out.
Kilroy currently has one album recorded called “Before Dawn.” She recorded the album in 2003 with the help of her mentor, Michael Atherton. Batdorf plans on having a self-recorded album out soon called “When the Mountain Calls.”
Be sure to look out for the posters featuring these two talented musicians. They are sure to inspire and awe any listener in any venue.
Story by Alta Olesen
Owls Singer-Songwriter Showcase II Winners
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Friday, November 8th, The Owl Lounge's Singer/Songwriter Showcase II concluded with an amazing displ...Friday, November 8th, The Owl Lounge's Singer/Songwriter Showcase II concluded with an amazing display of local and regional talent. Acoustic singer/songwriters competed for a grand prize package sponsored by Peak Recording & Sound and the Owl Lounge, consisting of a $600 gift certificate to Peak. The first runner-up won a $200 gift certificate to Music Villa. Grand prize winner Jessica Kilroy captivated the audience with her doe-eyed, innocent look and soulful sound.
When Deb Stober of Peak Recording & Sound announced Kilroy as the winner, Jessica immediately recognized all the talent in the room, including first runner-up Jess Atkins and finalist Sean Devine. Atkins will perform at the Owl on Saturday, November 18th at 10 pm.
The Owl would like to thank all the performers who participated in this event. We would also like to thank emcee Scott J. Evje who, in addition to running the show, entertained the audience with his own original acoustic works. Sheamus Conley (of Top Shelf) was a judge throughout the event and assisted with the sound. Thanks to the Livingston Weekly and the Bozone, along with KPRK for their advertising sponsorship.
Kilroy will be here for Hoot Set
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Jessica Kilroy experienced her first Jackson Hole Hootenanny as a high school student and quickly fe...Jessica Kilroy experienced her first Jackson Hole Hootenanny as a high school student and quickly fell in love with the homespun, all-acoustic weekly mini music fest. The singer-songwriter-guitarist started performing there in the winter of 2004, and before long had an invitation to appear at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Café.
A few years later – with a bunch of gigs with the region’s finest bluegrass artists, festival appearances as far away as Maryland and Ohio, two CDs and a backpack full of adventure in the Rockies, Southeast Asia and Ireland under her belt – she finds herself back in Jackson Hole for her first featured set at the Hoot.
Kilroy will celebrate the release of her second CD tentatively titled “Big Dreams,” at this Monday’s Hootenanny before embarking on a tour of Colorado to promote the new disc. On Sept. 2, she will kick off a Montana tour with a set at the Yellowstone Music Festival and Art Show in Gardiner, Montana.
While she cut most of her new disc in her current hometown of Bozeman, Montana, she recorded four songs at Ben Winship’s Henhouse Studio in Victor, Idaho. Winship joins on a few tracks as do Brian Wicklund, Eric Thorin, Anne Sibley, and John Lowell, who praises Kilroy’s singing as “clear, accurate and wonderfully soothing.”
The Jackson Hole Hootenanny opens the doors to the Lodge Room in Snow King Center at 5:30 PM every Monday, when local and visiting musicians can sign up to perform two-song sets. The music starts at 7 PM and Kilroy takes the stage for a set of her originals at 8 PM. Children are welcome with a responsible adult. Full bar service available and patrons may bring their own food.
Admission is $3. To learn more about Kilroy, visit her MySpace page at www.myspace.com/jessicakilroy. For other details, call Snow King Resort at 733-5200.
Article by Vijay Thorkildsdottir
Kilroy is Here (Big Dreams CD Review)
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KILROY IS HERE Bluegrass act Trampled By Turtles returns to Missoula this week, for the first tim...KILROY IS HERE
Bluegrass act Trampled By Turtles returns to Missoula this week, for the first time since a knock-out show last October at the Other Side. For their Friday concert at the Loft Above Higgins Alley, the band is joined by a fresh voice in the local music scene, Jessica Kilroy.
Though born and raised in Montana, Kilroy has only done a couple of shows 'round these parts so far. Take note of her name; presuming she sticks around, she may end up being your new fave local folkie pretty soon.
Kilroy's latest album, "Big Dreams," showcases her light, angelic voice and highly melodic songwriting. Fans of Allison Krauss may feel like they're witnessing a second coming when Kilroy sings. She has quite a spate of shows coming up in Missoula (including appearances at Dauphine's on April 19 and 20); she's worth seeking out.
Review of NW String Summit 2008
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Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Bill Ball Northwest String Summit :: 07.18.08 – 07.20.08 ::...Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Bill Ball
Northwest String Summit :: 07.18.08 – 07.20.08 :: Horning's Hideout :: North Plains, OR
Northwest String Summit 2008
Nestled in the towering pines, this nexus of shaking strings and squawking peacocks kicks the door off the hinges in anything-goes moments of musical majesty and near madness. Blink and you might miss something in the mass pick-a-rama (not to mention the late night campground sessions and impromptu acoustic jams that seem to occupy every hidden corner). "We really wanted to have all of our dearest friends here this year," Jeff Austin said on Friday night from the stage at Horning's Hideout. Now in its seventh year, there is a tangible feeling of kinship at Yonder Mountain String Band's Northwest String Summit that extends beyond the stage, and this writer found herself lost and found in its joyous yee-haw.
Friday, July 18
I had that clean-slate, pre-festival excitement, the teasing electrical current of anticipation at the bottom of my stomach, as we pulled into Horning's just in time to set up and catch the band competition. A String Summit tradition, the winner gets to play a slot during the weekend and then return to Horning's the following year. There's a well of acoustic talent that flows underground in this country, and I welcome any chance to dip toes in that pool. Judged by the Yonder boys, plus a member of their management, they had a difficult task - I am not sure whom I would have picked as the winner. Urban Monroes had that high lonesome sound down to a science with a silken-throated lead singer, while Moon Mountain Ramblers' rich country-tinged twang got toes tapping, especially with a rollicking "Stuck In the Middle With You" cover. I was perhaps personally most impressed by the grassfire energy and abandon of Loose Digits, but it was the sultry earthiness and songwriting chops of Jessica Kilroy and the Herl Brothers that won in the end. As the sunlight skipped across the lake and families spread picnic blankets, a sense of serenity was sinking into my bones.
Keller Williams & the WMDs :: NWSS 2008
That was quickly broken by Strings for Industry. Made up of Darol Anger (fiddle), Scott Law (guitar, mando, vocals), Tye North (bass, vocals) and Carlton Jackson (drums), their kinetic soul by way of rural crossroads sounded like James Brown doing whiskey shots with Levon Helm. Anger alternatively flitted and stomped across the front of the stage with his fiddle. Nate Biehl (mando) from the Herl Brothers would point out to me later in the weekend that Anger plays with his whole body, and it's true – watching him draws you into a dance. Jackson was raucous behind the kit, shouting out to the crowd to get-on-up. Pounding feet quickly softened up that earth in front of the stage in response. Law and North stoked the flame, with Law burning deep jazzy grooves and resounding echoes on his guitar. Seriously rocking.
A few folks were muttering about the presence of Keller Williams. I may have said I'm on the fence about him when asked, but after this weekend I am openly admitting every time I see him live he thoroughly breaks down my resistance. Just try and avoid catching at least a bit of that essential sunshine when he's onstage. Many focus on the cover songs, and its hip to ironically appreciate popular music, but Williams understands why those pieces of culture work – they hit those guilty pleasure nerves, the same ones that make you secretly belt out radio songs when you are alone in your car. From "Basketcase" (Green Day) with Dave Johnston to "You May Be Right" (Billy Joel) with Ben Kaufmann, they were apt choices. Kaufmann confessed his love of Joel before, and you love you some Joel, too, don't deny it.
Austin & Aijala - YMSB :: NWSS 2008
But Williams can also slip into classic acoustic tones, playing moving renditions of Neil Young's "Comes A Time" with Adam Aijala and the Dead's "Candyman" with Austin. At heart, he's an astutely versatile guitarist, able to slip and slide in and out of genres with an easy wink. But that ease belies his thoughtfully fashioned musical puzzle, as he drags his fingers in the source material and throws pieces on the frame with his one man band toolkit. There's a steadiness to his atmospheric sonic clarity when he hits a level and runs with it that's easy to ride on, as evidenced by the hypnotically dancing audience I witnessed spreading below me from the beer garden. He got me moving and nicely stretched out for Yonder, and as night enveloped us, I wasn't the only one working those calves and hip muscles.
"We're going to play a bunch of old stuff and get warmed up," Austin declared early in YMSB's opening set, which started off with can't-argue-with-'em classics such as "At the End of the Day," "Rambler's Anthem" and "Loved You Enough," reflecting the tight, classic bluegrass sound that marks the band's early work. They execute it with such zeal that you can't help but dance with reckless inhibition (there's a reason everyone cheers at the mention of "We're going to play some bluegrass" from that stage). Anger joined them throughout the weekend, his fiddle stirring and simmering throughout.
Johnston, Barnes, Aijala, Austin :: NWSS 2008
When Danny Barnes strolled onto the stage for "Kentucky Mandolin," the atmosphere turned evil-grass. With his banjo brewing, he began his weekend long quiet revolution. Yonder understands darkness as well as light, and with Barnes' alchemy added to the mix the result was explosive. "KY Mando" was a deliciously dangerous journey through shadowy jazz and strange spaces, barreling straight on towards midnight with its foot tied to the gas pedal. But just as quickly, YMSB can turn the vehicle around, throw it down a gear and carry you back towards salvation, as they did with a soul-feeding "Keep on Going" segue.
There was palpable excitement on stage at Barnes' presence, and the setlist choices reflected that mutual appreciation. The second set featured a blistering version of the Bad Livers' "Going Where They Do Not Know My Name," as well as Barnes and Austin switching up the vocals on a down-n-dirty "Crow Black Chicken." It's a traditional each have come to own in their respective ways, as both have that uncanny knack to drill into their Jungian shadow onstage, excavating whatever weird borderline inclinations come from its recesses.
The campsites contain journeys of their own. There couldn't have been a more appropriate sentiment than the encore choice of "Holding" as we journeyed forth towards new adventures and mishaps. "After playing Bonnaroo and Rothbury, you appreciate this place even more," Kaufmann mused earlier in the evening, looking out over the pines reaching towards the full moon. Already Horning's was proving to be a gracious neighborhood.
Saturday, July 19
Head for the Hills :: NWSS 2008
Saturday at Horning's started off chilly and grey, as I awoke to peacock calls and the smell of greasy campsite breakfasts cooking. After some refueling it was on to the Pete Kartsounes Band, who played an amiable set of wandering tales. Kartsounes (of Wayword Sons) sings with conviction and set the day up right with the chorus, "Festival, festival, good to know there's the rest to go." It's worth noting, at the end of the month Kartsounes will hike from Denver to Durango to raise money for kids with cancer. Find out more here.
The sun gradually peaked through during Head for the Hills, the winners of last year's band competition. This young four-piece took the stage running with a fierce set that went down like a shot of espresso. There was considerable tension in their tightly wound instrumentals, including some hard licks on an electric mandolin. They let the yarn unwind now and again with some slow breathers, including a cover of Merle Haggard's "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," a song that always makes me want to seek out the storied folks who hang nervously around exit signs.
Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist had given us a taste on Friday with some brief tweener sets and were absolutely note-perfect on Saturday afternoon. Davies' bass recalled smoky coffeehouses as much as dusty fields, and Gilcrest's soaring mandolin could make her lips both grin and quiver with equal measure. Both have played in Uncle Earl, and that old time vibe shone from "Tell Me Baby Why You Been Gone So Long" to "Blues Stay Away from Me."
Vince Herman :: NWSS 2008
Throwing the nuts and bolts of bluegrass out on the stage, Greensky Bluegrass hit timeless targets with deadly accuracy while simultaneously veering off the tired and true highway. Skilled original songwriters as well as scorching pickers (I'm always happy to hear dobro flashes and sighs), I lost myself dancing to their tunes so well I forgot to take notes. All I have to show for this set is some crumpled, dusty pages with undecipherable scratching that I attempted to put down while getting down, although I can clearly read, "This is killer!" in the huge, weird letters that are my dancing font.
This Summit lineup stretched back to the roots of Yonder and the support they originally found within the Leftover and String Cheese Incident scenes in Colorado ten years ago. Beginning with Great American Taxi's set, Saturday evening reflected this history on the stage. GAT opened with one of my favorite Bad Livers songs, "Lumpy, Beanpole and Dirt," featuring Barnes on mandolin. Vince Herman and company proceeded to take us all to honky-tonk heaven, stopping off in spacey, cool limbo and hard-rocking "hell-yes" along the way. "This is the sound of summer," Herman said as he popped a beer next to the mic, letting a great fizz wash over the crowd. Several of us toasted in agreement.
Following GAT, Drew Emmitt and Billy Nershi decided to "make up a band on the spot," as they put it, featuring a grab bag of musicians from the weekend that included Anger, Barnes, Anders Beck (Greensky), Law, Keith Moseley (bass) and Jeff Sipe (drums). It really spoke to how much musical richness surrounded us this weekend. You could have easily walked backstage, pointed a finger in any direction and be graced with a fantastic lineup of individuals who all speak a common musical language. The set drew heavily on re-imagining the tried-and-true bluegrass fabric with "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" and "Two Dollar Bill," but Nershi resurrected the ghosts of Incidents past at Horning's with a roller coaster trippy "Jellyfish" and a reeling "Black Clouds," eliciting vigorous cheers.
Bill Nershi with YMSB :: NWSS 2008
Come Saturday night and a lot of folks didn't seem to know where their children were. Thankfully most of us were just lost in the spell. Pastor Tim even re-worked Madness' famous "One Step Beyond" intro before the band came onstage, getting us rowdy and ready to go "One Step Be-yonder." Once again joined by Anger and Barnes, Yonder's first set was gloriously untamed. I was admittedly ecstatic at the "Casualty" opener, which contains some of my favorite Kaufmann lyrics ("Good times don't seem to last/ And the bad ones fade as fast/ Either way it seems the time is flying"). Equal parts vicious and sprawling, "New Horizons," with some nasty, growly bass work by Kaufmann, was spiked with "Winds on Fire." For me, "Winds" evokes driving across an open expanse towards snow-capped peaks in the distance, contentedly alone, but this night it drew me in close. This is my favorite of Johnston's country slow burners and live it enveloped the crowd in waves of banjo rolls and distorted guitars.
During "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown," the stage was gradually filled with guest after guest. As a brain-slicing mando and fiddle-laden "Raleigh and Spencer" rode on out, a gravelly voice that could only be Herman took over the mic on a riotous "Fixin' to Die," complete with some off kilter cackling. Yonder was no longer onstage and it was now only Herman, Sipe, Emmitt, North and Barnes – in other words, Leftover Salmon (or more accurately, Leftover Livers), who busted our ankles for the remainder of the first set, including a driving "Reuben's Train" that featured Herman giving props to Barnes and the Livers in the lyrics. The second set was slightly shortened due to Salmon, but was still sweet, as we got taken on a wicked "Deathtrip" (with Davies switching up the bass with Kaufmann, to the obvious amusement of both) and then an unruly "Ramblin' in the Rambler" sandwich featuring a Barnes original, "Caveman Times," a song to remind us that "it ain't much different than the caveman times/ where a man in a suit made you walk the line."
Keller and the WMDs' late night slot channeled the psychedelic guitar charge of the Dead into a dance party that electrified Williams staples such as "Breathe" and "Freeker," taking them out of the acoustic loops and into the electric stratosphere. Everyone's consensus the next day was, "How fun was that?!?" It was a criminally infectious, grin-plastered groove as the WMDs took us spiraling forward into the dark depths past midnight.
Sunday, July 20
Danny Barnes & Bill Frisell :: NWSS 2008
With everyone still talking about the Leftover Livers, Sunday started off with band competition winners Jessica Kilroy and the Herl Brothers. Her deeply expressive voice is flanked by a striking mando and fiddle duo, Nate Biehl and Jack Ausick, and she has an impressive repertoire of original material that mines some lovely veins. I will be sure to see what develops when she returns with this outfit to next year's String Summit.
Benny "Burle" Galloway (The Wayword Sons) still mysteriously remains a well kept secret to many, and Hickster, his trio featuring Davies (bass) and Robin Davis (guitar), just furthered the fact he is one of the most underrated songwriters in acoustic music. Galloway channels the coarse marrow of experience and survival. I suspect if you encountered him in a bar and bought him a drink, lord would he have stories to tell. His lyrics offer whiskey soaked wit, and his wisdom imbibes choice covers such as the Robin Davis-penned "40% Solution." The chilling cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" with Anders Beck's moaning dobro got me where it hurts AND heals. Perhaps because that was one of the first songs I remember dancing to in my living room as a child with my folk-lovin' parents, and during Hickster's set I was renewed with a sense of timelessness and the great arch of storytelling.
Next up was the mind-bending duo of, once again, Danny Barnes and Bill Frisell. The hypnotic, discordant build-up with Barnes' audio samples was swept away into iridescent guitar notes, waves hitting the shore and pulling back towards an expansive ocean. Someone would describe it to me later that day as sounding like "notes falling from the sky." They pulled together seemingly disparate audio molecules, channeling them through a free form microscopic lens. Thelonious Monk intermingled with classic Americana on "Will the Circle be Unbroken" and Mel Street's "Borrowed Angel" as they danced beyond boundaries, gravity long gone.
Clusterpluck Super Jam :: NWSS 2008
Barnes also hosted the Super Jam or "clusterpluck," as Pastor Tim called it. "We should have a camera taking shots every five minutes to keep track," he declared in his introduction. And its true – Frisell, Williams, Barnes, all the members of Yonder, Bryn, Gilchrist, Nershi – this list goes on in a manner that made it nearly impossible to keep track. You just had to throw up your hands and give in to the magnificent chaos. Folks stepped on and off, introducing and thanking each other in equal measure while playing traditionals like the rousing "This Train Is Bound for Glory" or just feeding off the unique talents each person brought to the table in extended improvisations.
Sunday festival closeouts are always bittersweet, and this one came with its highs and lows. I felt a bit sunk during the second Sunday night Yonder set when Barnes stepped off into the sunset after a wild Austin scat-driven "King Eb" and a reprise of the delightfully freaky "Funtime." He smiled and waved farewell to the crowd, leaving as unassumingly as he came. He left a long, tall mark on this weekend. But the ride quickly climbed back to an apex as "Traffic Jam" packed the stage with a host of musical friends, and Austin ran out into the audience, caught up in the spirit of the celebratory ruckus.
"I may not be learning anything/ but it's too late to stop me now."
Jeff Austin in the crowd :: NWSS 2008
When I find myself flung far afield, with thoughts of home a couple tomorrows away, those lines from YMSB's "Ten" sink in deep. The gorgeously pensive fiddle that gave way to Monroe's "Stoney Lonesome" led to Aijala and Barnes' fingers of fury during this marathon "Ten," and I found myself drawn into rumination.
Over the course of the weekend, I noticed that from the front to the back, there was a collective feeling that most folks were riding the same wave, feeding off the musicians' obvious excitement. And as the encore notes of John Hartford's "Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry" wafted over the crowd in moving harmony and the is-it-really-over weight fell down upon me, I could sense the belly-full satisfaction and calendar-marking anticipation for next year as we set off to enjoy our last night at Horning's.
I had chosen a card at random from Jennifer's crafty deck in the campsite that said, "Take something happy back." It is now stuck to my fridge. My clearest memory of Summit is indeed an image of joy and inspiration, or rather several individual images. It is the faces of the crowd from the side of the stage during that first Yonder set on Sunday, singing along to Aijala's heartbreaking "Amanda Rose," bouncing to "Boatman" and kicking up turf during "Ten." I finally stopped blowing the black Horning's dust out of my nostrils a few days ago, got over the cold that the temperature variations of Oregon and airplanes gave me and did my long-procrastinated upon post-festival laundry. But, these images will stay with me for a good long while. The card was certainly right.
Sarah would like to thank PT, BB, LB for trekking out to Oregon and putting up with her all weekend, and the folks up at Camp Turtle, especially Molly for the pancakes on Sunday morning, and of course, Matt.
Review of NW String Summit 2009
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Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Bill Ball Northwest String Summit :: 07.16.09 – 07.19.09 ::...Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Bill Ball
Northwest String Summit :: 07.16.09 – 07.19.09 :: Horning's Hideout :: North Plains, OR
As German poet Christian Morgenstern said, "Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood." The search for that elusive place runs heavily through bluegrass music. If that music is the language we all understand, then Yonder Mountain String Band's Northwest String Summit, now in its eighth year, offers conversation aplenty. But this weekend is about so much more than the musical moments taking place on stage; it's about the family that gathers to its hearth and like any family, everyone plays certain roles.
A lot of work goes into this beautiful beast, and we are lucky to revel in the labor of folks busting ass simply because they believe in it. Like any family, we have people we know will be there for us, to pick us off the ground when we need lifting, steal us to the dance floor, or simply listen to us chatter away our mental load. And like any family, the joys and sorrows are shared ones. This weekend was dedicated to Sandy Alexander, whose passing hung heavy in many hearts. A much-loved man who truly embodied the Kinfolk soul, his tapes were instrumental in spreading word of the band in their early days. A great spirit moves us in times where it's needed most, and suffice it to say that a tremendous one was present at this Summit.
Now, I sit and sift through my notebook. I have a truckload of moments and snapshots captured in messy scrawl (maybe someday I will perfect the fine art of taking notes while dancing). Many are too much for words. Welcome to the clusterpluck. Welcome to the family reunion. Welcome to the way we tear it up on the weekend. Most of all, welcome home.
Thursday, July 16
From the moment I set my tattered Birkenstocks down on that dusty Horning's Hideout ground, the excitement jitterbugged my bones. As a local peacock strutted in front of the car, twisting its head with perplexion, I saw the festival's pieces coming together, volunteers meeting and running down the schedule and crews running equipment in on golf carts. Wandering to the amphitheater area, with the bowl virtually empty, the tech crews hoisted dazzling eye-catching banners on both sides of the stage, courtesy of Kelly Thomas and Rob Bruce, bearing a tumbling cascade of sequined peacock tail feathers. Watching the sound check, familiar faces bound down the hill for happy embraces. The Yonder boys warmed up one by and one, and then threw down on a few songs together, including John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aereoplain" and the fist-pumping new tune "Complicated," turning up the juice, and welcoming us to the Summit. I felt like a live-wire sparking for the weekend ahead.
Montana Slim :: NWSS 2009
This year, for the first time, those who camped early were treated to music. Pete Kartsounes, joined by Benny Galloway for most of his set, played on a small stage set up at the bottom of the beer garden (referred to affectionately by some as "the beer jail"). I dig this spot, with its sweet vantage over the bowl coupled with tasty Rogue drafts served by a friendly staff. As I eased into my first Triple Jump Pale Ale of the weekend, I watched little festivarians stumbling in the dirt, their parents darting close behind, as a few hula-hoopers began warming up their hip muscles. Kartsounes is a songwriter whose work I'm still getting to know, but man, he was all over this fest, playing tweener sets, picking in the campgrounds every night (even stopping by our camp for a few tunes later the same evening) and jumping on stage at every opportunity. He plays a mean guitar, too, busting out Tim O'Brien's "Hold On," his own, appropriately titled for this moment "Take Me Home" and The Dead's "Eyes of the World," nicely employing looping effects to intertwine guitar lines. Galloway rattled his taped-up bass, his weathered growl cutting a contrast through Kartsounes' emotive soul, and when he took over the lead for some tunes, including the haunting "My Sally," you could taste his grit. Their encore of "And We Bid You Goodnight" was drawn out over beat boxing and harmonic vocal layers by Kartsounes, and as the intimate crowd in the beer garden clapped and sang along, Galloway began waving his hands in the air, swaying in time with his hat pushed to the side. Give it up for the original gangsta!
On my way back to camp, I caught some of Montana Slim raging at the bottom of the hill that led to Camp Turtle. A band competition entry, they held down this spot every night of the festival and threw a hell of a party. Serious props for keeping us moving across that gravel, and making those late night trips to the Honey Buckets less painful. Tenacious troubadours from San Francisco with snappy rhythms that inspired some delightfully dirty dancing, they won over several new fans before the weekend was over. Their ripping take on ""I Know You Rider" left me ready to recharge, looking forward to a leisurely day before Friday night's madness.
Friday, July 17
Crunchy Western Boys :: NWSS 2009
Temps hit the mid-90s, and when we ventured from Camp Turtle to get ice it was almost pure liquid before we got back, the cold water leaking on our arms providing blessed relief. But 4:45 p.m. crept up, and it was time for the band competition with four very strong contenders: Montana Slim, Bucky Walters, the Irish edge of Ockham's Razor and the warmly infectious, everyman songwriting well of New Hampshire's Crunchy Western Boys. CWB would emerge the winners, and were very humbled and even graciously surprised. These cats are refreshingly unassuming talents, and I was looking forward to a second helping on Sunday morning. I've also got to give some love to Bucky Walters with their hard-stomping stage presence, running on speakeasy fumes, and the most finely cultivated 'stache of the weekend award going to banjo player Joey Goforth. Tight, fast picking, harmonica wailing (courtesy of Kat Fountain) and old timey vocal styles (fiddle player Kaleb Duncan's rapid fire delivery on "Come up to the cabin and smoke a big ole doobie with me gal" being a personal highlight), they served it straight up vintage.
"Back by popular demand," the program read about Greensky Bluegrass and even our lovable and spirited MC Pastor Tim exclaimed, "This band is the shit!" Genuine bluegrass souls with rock & roll hearts, they've put in serious elbow grease and get better with every show. This set was smoking in a way that made you want to grab your family photos and bolt from the house. A lot of their tunes feel like future classics, such as "200 Miles from Montana" or "Old Barns," and Paul Hoffman (mando) and Dave Bruzza (guitar) both possess appropriately old soul voices. Maybe some of these toddling, aspiring pickers in the crowd will play their songs someday. The band's deviations and sly pop culture pieces are executed seamlessly. A riotous "Broke Mountain Breakdown," (with a little "Smoke on the Water" tease courtesy of Bruzza) was a nasty beast that snapped at your ankles - with Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) racing on smooth blacktop, Hoffman bringing out the mando's silver tongue and Anders Beck viciously shredding dobro (Metal-bro! Raise those horns!) - that wandered in a blotter sheet swirl before raging full force into a timely "Beat It" with Mike Devol driving deep bass spikes through the core of the depth charge, as each musician passed off the lead with fury. At this point I was pogoing like crazy, taking in the beaming grins and the wild screaming.
Bad Livers :: NWSS 2009
Sinfully under-appreciated in their time, the rare set by the legendary Bad Livers demonstrated what a fine job Yonder has done educating us Kinfolk. Groundbreakers who loved Americana music to pieces, they took to their mission and ran with it on fearlessly freaky ground. Only recently reuniting for occasional gigs, this show was highly anticipated, and banjo player Danny Barnes, bassist Mark Rubin and guitarist Bob Grant took the stage to a rapt, ravenous audience. When he's got a banjo in his hands, Barnes is wired into the great wide unknown, and with Rubin's unabashedly badass bass kicking and Grant's fingers bolting across that guitar this whole set just oozed with their righteous weirdness, stuffed with dynamite, maniac cackles, chain rattles and pulverized corn liquor bottles. After a gas pedal "Ghost Train," Rubin's tuba came out for "National Blues" and then an even stickier, ickier "Turpentine Willy." With the tuba blasting, you gotta hunker down close to the ground and twist out those jitters. "Honey I've Found a Brand New Way" > "It's All the Same" took us from serious speed to lift us upwards towards fading sunlight, while "Country Blues" and "Horses in the Mines" exhaled chilling vapor, the ghosts in the songs beating their bones.
Jeff Austin, who came on stage to join the Livers for a good portion of their set, stood wide-eyed with enthusiasm, leaning in and watching intensely as the other three tossed around leads. "Crow Black Chicken" broke down into delicious anarchy, and "Deathtrip" swam through some serious murk, emerging with Rubin visibly amused. Spying two little girls in the front row singing every word, Rubin laughed, "I don't think you were even born when we recorded that record. But that was very cute. Nothing like little girls singing along to 'Death Trip.'" Gotta give the parents some props for that!
When the Livers left the stage early, Pastor Tim wandered out, confused as to their truncated set time, only to be accosted by three musicians in wrestling masks. The mad trio launched into "Bluegrass Suicide" > "Saludamas a Tejas" before exiting the stage again, to wild cheering. It made me incredibly happy to see them with the receptive, enthusiastic crowd they deserve. Rubin's hilariously sardonic stage banter peppered the set, but his joy and appreciation couldn't be contained, and he was in absolute amazement at the scene unfolding before his eyes. Looking up at the painters above the sound booth at one point, he said, "That's the coolest damn thing I've ever seen!" He mused how at Livers shows in the past they would purposely change the tempo when they spied dancers. Contrast it to String Summit, where the crowd hung on every turn for dear life, fingernails clutching at the rearview mirror. Before their second encore of "Dallas, TX," Rubin said, "Hey man, seriously... thanks. That's all there is to say." And for the record, he rolls on Shabbos.
With barely enough time to sit down and eat dinner (the quality more than makes up for quantity in the vendor department at String Summit, so supper becomes a heart wrenching decision), I preciously made my way towards the bowl. As the opening notes of "Midwest Gospel Radio" swelled, I navigated through the audience, eyes transfixed on the stage, and almost ran into a little kid in a cape. You got to look out for those kids at Summit. Their presence makes us all be a little more respectful and caring, and their excitement can't help but rub off on you. I watched him bound away, scooped up by his mother, who put him on her shoulders. He pushed out his arms in a Superman pose, his little cape flapping while they bounced away, as Austin stepped up to the mic and said, "Welcome back... welcome home... I can't tell you the overwhelming joy that comes over you at Horning's." Relishing that emotion, he sang, "This is just the way it feels when you come home." The embrace drew us close and then – bam! – sent us somersaulting with "New Horizons," limbs flying, feet pounding dirt, the rug pulled out in a free fall, a rubber band drawn back to the penultimate breaking point and then snapped free, flying breakneck across the room.
Barnes & Johnston - YMSB - Friday :: NWSS 2009
As is the String Summit ethos, Yonder were soon joined by musical buddies. Before "Kentucky Mandolin," Barnes took the stage, with that head down, tongue sticking out grin that means you're in for some serious business as he brandishes his weapon of choice. Taking his place on stage next to Dave Johnston (banjo), his presence is always a reason for big excitement. Bryn Davies and Rubin came out, to do the old bass switch-off, with Davies rocking the show with her funk before Rubin laid waste to the whole operation. All three then played Ben Kaufmann's bass at once, laughing hysterically. Here, I was drawn to the eye of the storm, to catch wide-eyed rail riders' grins during the "oh-here-we-go" moments, trying not to step on anyone's toes while dancing and taking in the on stage antics up close. Before the break in "Ramblin' in the Rambler," I noticed hard-working front-of-house man Kevin Gregory was gathering not only shots but also party hats and noisemakers. It was guitarist Adam Aijala's birthday, and the calm center of gravity cracked up grinning while the crowd sang to him. "Rambler" was sandwiched with "Pockets," a newer Aijala tune that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites with its sidewalk shuffle groove, and featured an added bonus of Austin making crafty use of his noisemaker.
The heat of the day catching up with me, I watched the second set cozied up in the beer garden. Looking at the vista below, I spotted two glowing gnomes bouncing above the crowd, as Ted Atwell worked his light show magic. This bearded duo (or was it a trio?) would catch my eye all weekend, one of those random, yet functionally distinguishable ("Just look for the gnomes!") pieces of festival flair that can't help but make you laugh. The second Yonder set traveled tightly, and as the atmospheric wash out of "Sidewalk Stars" gave way to those opening notes of "Dawn's Early Light," I felt it in my toes. A tale of murder and revenge that could be taken straight from a grainy John Ford film, it started in body counts and mire, hurtling through Aijala's zen, picked up by Barnes' gutbucket banjo, which gave way to harmonic splinters. In the bright, stoney sunshine of "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown," the Livers' influence was felt strongly in the outro, with Austin and Aijala both bouncing off weird walls. The "Sharecropper's Son" encore sent us off into the night with an extra shot of springy adrenaline, ready to take on the adventures and misadventures that waited in the darkness of the pines.
Saturday, July 18
Saturday began with Jessica Kilroy, joined by Head for the Hills, both past band competition winners, plus fiddle player Jack Ausick. Kilroy wowed everyone last year and has since become part of the Yonder extended musical family. With a laid back, witty stage presence, she exudes effortless magnetism. Her voice is both earthbound and ethereal, and her songs paint a tangible sense of place, grounded in Montana vistas and notched with asphalt scars. Galloway joined her on stage for a new song they co-wrote called "Ain't No Coming Back," with eerie vocals clawing one with fevered intensity. The brimstone pickers of Head for the Hills provided the perfect frame, full of vivid brushstrokes and burning rail ties, and Ausick's and Joe Lessard's winding fiddles kicked off a day that would become a veritable celebration of the instrument. The skies were blue, and the musical kinship just kept on growing.
Modern musical gypsies Taarka play the kind of music to soundtrack bus window views, when you've absconded, eager to leave the past behind and look to unwritten pages. Ryan Drickey (octave fiddle), Enion Pelta-Tiller (fiddle) and Daniel Plane's (cello) strings combined cast a potent spell, and their music's globalized sound evokes bustling, colorful metropolises and mysterious marketplaces as easily as open spaces. The gorgeous cover of Iris DeMent's "50 Miles of Elbow Room" stretched over the horizon, and when they played the John Hartford tune "In Tall Buildings," a sighing comment on the workaday path many take when they grow up, it was a reminder not to lose that spark that the kids who charmed us this weekend possess. Watching youngsters run back and forth as the dust sifted between my toes, I let the song's lessons sink in.
P. Whipped :: NWSS 2009
P. Whipped definitely win the best footwear of the weekend award, between Davies' cat woman boots and Sharon Gilchrist's snakeskin platforms. Any chance to see the vivacious duo of Davies and Gilchrist throw down is a welcome one. Playing songs to melt your heart and kick your ass, they accompanied Megan McCormick, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter with a DIY vibe that I could certainly dig. McCormick has some serious blues snaking in her soul, wringing the notes out of her electric guitar, then traveling into spaciousness where the melody would just dissolve. Then Darol Anger made his first on stage appearance of the weekend to thunderous applause. It was "bluegrass time" and the foursome threw us face down in the dust. That's some strong stuff.
This was my first time seeing Infamous Stringdusters live, and lord almighty, was I impressed. A rich full sound that's classic, caffeinated and tight, all six Dusters are forces of nature on their own (I even noticed Greensky's dynamic dobroman Beck videotaping Andy Hall), but combined they push it up to a category 5. It's certainly a refreshing gale and a well-oiled machine that isn't afraid to get a little gritty and a little greasy. Their version of Barnes' "Get It While You Can" featured some clutching vocals on the surface and some clammy funk tickling the underbelly. The Dusters were overflowing with joy, falling under Horning's bewitchment as they playfully ribbed each other. At one point, a lizard crawled up on one of the mic stands, just chilling while they played, a sweet little moment. "I don't know how you people do it," bassist Travis Book said, his perma-grin now etched in my memory, "I've been here three hours and I already smell terrible." In response, someone yelled, "Welcome home!" Yup, I have a feeling these cats are going to be part of the family from now on. After the Dusters' set, Pastor Tim led us in the traditional "beer, water" chant, advising us on how to proceed with the festivities (drink a beer, then drink some water before you drink another beer). Listen to that advice. Trust me.
Väsen :: NWSS 2009
One of two bands from Sweden in attendance this year, Väsen's appearance was certainly special. Mike Marshall and Anger, who released an album with the group in 2007, set the stage. Like Barnes, they both have a finely tuned cosmic tap, making everything look so damn easy. Marshall's mando skittered across psychic walls while Anger's fiddle split the cracks open. As they moved, I just stood there, watching with my head tilted like a thunderstruck peacock. Then Väsen joined them. The trio of Olav Johansson (nyckelharpa), Mikeal Marin (viola) and Roger Tallroth (guitar) were about to give us a crash course in the nyckelharpa (aka the key harp), the polska (a Swedish dance) and why you should never piss off a composer with a pen knife. And you got to be in awe of a setlist with music that stretches back to the 14th century - living ancient roots. As they journeyed through their set, I found myself settling in on the hill to watch. The sound painted a landscape in my head of frozen mountains, rushing rivers, purple light. As one musician would come to the front to take over, it wasn't soloing so much as a new piece of the picture coming into focus. Dense and otherworldly, the reverberations and afterimages hung in my imagination long after it was over. Going back to that killer composer, before performing a polska called "Penknife Killer" they introduced it by talking about how the man who wrote it spent ten years in prison for murdering his butcher with a penknife. As it built and built, the fiddles screamed, carving another notch in a cold, stone wall.
That unmistakable voice. Those timeless tunes. That eternally unruffled hair. It must be Del McCoury and The Travelin' McCourys. Flanked by his sons Ronnie (mando) and Rob (banjo), with Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass), their suited and shined presence cut quite a contrast to those of us baptized in dust (no matter how many baby wipe showers I took, by the time I walked from the campsite to the stage, it was pretty much a lost cause). It was noted a couple times that weekend that Ronnie is starting to sound more and more like his dad, and seeing the two of them lean in close to the mic for "Count Me Out" was like Del in stereo. While I love it dirty and messy, you just can't argue with absolute timelessness. Rolling out classic after classic, spiked with cuts from their recent album, Moneyland, like the hilarious "Forty Acres and a Fool" (author Joe New was even in the audience), this set was bluegrass perfection, pure and simple. Bartram lifted our souls with a wonderful "Road is Rocky," and "Cold Rain and Snow" was sublime, while "Beauty of My Dreams" reminded me that even though Yonder ignited that bluegrass spark for me it was Phish that first laid some kindling down. Del dropped the setlist at times and began taking requests, graciously playing "Wheel Hoss" and "Orange Blossom Special" for the eager audience. He's got a great spirit, genially laughing about forgetting the words to songs and friskily flirting with the fillies ("I'll take that request... because you're real pretty"). "Bean Blossom has a lot of chiggers," he noted at one point. "I'd rather be here than Bean Blossom," eliciting laughter from the delighted crowd.
Del McCoury & The Travelin' McCourys :: NWSS 2009
Jumping off the platform Del laid down, YMSB, joined by Anger, kept things grassy, with a ripping new Johnston instrumental and a bust-out of Galloway's "Blue Collar Blues," a working class reflection about waiting on that quitting time whistle. As Del, now dressed casually in neatly pressed jeans and a crisp white shirt, strolled out, Austin rightly said, "He's an American treasure." No matter where Yonder find themselves in their boundless explorations they always deeply appreciate their roots. Del's pipes wailed strong as they rained "High on a Mountain" and "Prisoner's Song" down upon us, and then Barnes cooly snuck on stage, ready to shake up some cerebrums. During a creepy-as-hell "Funtime," he cackled, stirring some evil banjo elixir with Johnston.
Then, Väsen came on stage, joined by Carter (fiddle, Travelin' McCourys), Pelta-Tiller (fiddle, Taarka), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle, Infamous Stringdusters) and Mike Marshall. Consuming the whole amphitheatre in a hydra-headed bow attack, the strings sighed, cried, serenaded. Austin then led us gently through "Years with Rose" as the fiddles brewed, measuring out their meanness, until blowing up the bank with "Raleigh and Spencer." Austin was the mad conductor of the crazy train, incorporating the players into the lyrics as he barreled down the track ("They laid Danny Barnes in his grave!" only to have Barnes jump out with zombie attack vigor!). Player upon player, it was passed back and forth, going down the line at frightening speed. Threatening to veer off the rails, it tottered, tilted, gravity pulled it towards the edge, and then, from the depths, Austin screamed, "FIDDLES! UNLEASH HELL!!!" And, oh my lord, did they ever, ramming it upright, running that engine hotter and hotter, sparks shooting from the wheels, pushing the iron horse to the brink before riding her down into the set break station. Safe for a few moments, I found myself lounging in the grass and listening to sound engineer Ben Hines play Todd Snider's "America's Favorite Pastime" through the speakers.
Set two: time to boogie. A new Kaufmann tune, "Complicated," shows his affection for the poppier side of things, but with a ripping Aijala solo in the middle, this baby runs on rock and/or roll. It was cool seeing people ease into it, taking it in, gathering the beat and then bringing arms up to dance. From the brand new to a fiddle tune so old it has no author, Marshall, Anger, Barnes and Carter strolled back on stage, later joined by Rubin, for "Elzic's Farewell." "We are blessed to know these people," Austin mused, as the gang fled with "Elzic," winding through each musician's weapon, tempestuous as the gale passed through. Shafts of light began to break, moving into "No Expectations." The reflections of impermanence that sweep through the song always hit my ears hard during a time in my life when I need a shift badly. Nothing lasts, we are all water, crashing on the shore - first we're here and then we're gone. Leading into it, I stood transfixed on the hill, watching the glowing jellyfish and dragonflies dancing across my field of vision as I took in the music, and I knew this was a moment I would hold onto. Crystalline, the musicians similarly held the notes, breathing out before breaking into the journey.
Earlier in the evening, Austin said someone told him that the space station, with the shuttle docked to it, would be flying over at 10:57 p.m. The time was approaching, and as the music surged, the crowd lost in their dances, their own stories, Austin shouted to Atwell to kill the lights. We all stared up into the sky as Atwell brought the lights down, the last remaining notes of "No Expectations" filtering into the night, leaving us all in darkness. "Can you see it?!? Can you feel it?!?!" Austin cried. All that was visible was a clear star field framed by the jagged tops of pines, and below, amongst the lustrous festival flair, thousands of hands pointing to the same corner of the sky. I ran from behind the sound booth where I was standing to fix my own gaze skyward. Then, I caught it, like a fast moving plane, as Austin yelled, "This is brought to you by NASA!"
I saw Strings for Industry last year on Friday afternoon and they threw quite a party, but I wasn't quite prepared for what they would unleash late night. After a day of bluegrass goodness, this was the electric trip we needed. Anger's collective draws on a variety of musical pieces, from soul to psychedelic, all heavily steeped in a booty-shaking groove. Ten-minute opener "Burnitarus" dealt out the insanity, especially with Scott Law's bouncing guitar lines and Anger's distorted, slicing fiddle reminding me a little bit of moe., with its lethal combination of poppy side swipes, darkly metallic jams, and eerie noise breakdowns. As drummer Carlton Jackson got the crowd revved to some high RPMs during "Soul Power," everyone's arms were moving, and under the lights it looked like some great flesh anemone squiggling on the seabed. Guest vocalist Beth Quist came out for the final song and the unmistakable introductory guitar notes of "Layla" hit, Anger's wailing fiddle tearing apart the lead, and we were burning rubber. For some reason, I have never been a huge fan of the song (unless I'm watching Goodfellas), but this cover had me rethinking my position as the crowd whistled zealously. Keyboardist Asher Fulero's piano lead, combined with Anger and Law's playing, coalesced into a stadium-worthy cup-raiser to propel us into party liquor and picking circle time.
Sunday, July 19
Hickster & Friends NWSS 2009
Sunday began with my second helping of Crunchy Western Boys, and it was a great chance to soak up their sunshine again. Morris Manning (guitar, dobro), Jim McHugh (mando, guitar), Jacob Stern (fiddle) and Dave Walker (bass) have meaty instrumental chops and breezy, sly pens. As folks rubbed the sleep out of their eyes, they set the stage for the last day of festival with winking grins and a twist of Irish coffee. With tunes like "Bathtub Gin" (no, not the Phish song, this one is straight from the backwoods) and "Natural Blonde," they have a touch of the bawdy barfly in them, coupled with their amiable, folksy charms, that draws you in with a crooked index finger. Readers, take note.
After an early service (hey, 11 a.m. is early for a festival!) with CBW, it was time to be received in the church of Burle. Hickster's lineup this year proved to be somewhat of a Superjam warm-up with Beck (dobro) Book (bass, Infamous Stringdusters) and Law (guitar) rounding out the band, and Kartsounes (guitar) and Hoffman (mando, Greensky) jumping in on a few tunes. Benny "Burle" Galloway's work has found its way into many bands' catalogues over the years but he himself is a perpetual spotlight shunner. He's got a little Townes and Woody in him, as his songs saunter in straight from the oil fields, production lines and bar room floors, unwashed and dressed in simple clothes, rumbling with hunger but with no appetite for bullshit or pretension. But, there's a tenderness in that leather and songs like "Me and You," which he wrote for his daughter, and "Years with Rose" can't help but nestle in your heart. He kept bringing good company to that table, too. Julie Stratton joined the band, an arresting storm with her gutsy guitar and raw, passionate vocals on "Revival." I don't know where she came from, but damn, I got to investigate more. "That's my kind of religion," Burle happily growled at the end.
Abalone Dots :: NWSS 2009
Joining in on backup with Kilroy and Bevin Foley (fiddle) on "Wind in the Willows" and "Three Men on a Hill," Galloway was leading quite the revival of his own. Beck waved his hands, eliciting a "Hallelujah" as Galloway preached us a sermon, er, well a story about the Denver Post calling him. He chatted to the salesman for a while and then, growing tired of the sales pitch, lied and said he couldn't read, asking, "Now can I get back to my beer?" Amen, Brother Burle. Closing the set with a lovely "Gentle on My Mind," Burle's battle-scarred voice in this well-loved tune made me misty.
The second band to represent Sweden this weekend was Abalone Dots. These heart-flutterers posses a divine timbre, with killer four-part harmonies, luscious instrumentation and a darkness that lurks beyond their northern lights, full of tales about shooting husbands and surviving elevator breakdowns. Whether running barefoot and folkie or adding some drums to the mix, their unique view on Americana is absorbing. Absolutely humbled and charmed at the scene unfolding in the dust before them, they mused how they never had "rock rings," the Swedish term for hula-hoops, at their shows before (I have been calling them "rock rings" ever since). Warmly welcomed, they brought down the house with a "Man of Constant Sorrow" encore, closing a set that left a few heads reeling.
Superjam :: NWSS 2009
Trying to keep track of what's happening on stage at every given moment during Superjam is an exercise in futility, for most. There were over 20 musicians on stage at one point, which was apparently a new Summit record. Hosted by Barnes and the McCoury brothers, the core trio held down the center as musicians jumped on and off, caught up in a revolving door spirit of collaboration. The set drew from a deep well of classic bluegrass cuts like "On My Way Back to the Old Home" and "Hit Parade of Love," prompting audience sing-alongs with everyone caught up in the glorious clusterpluck frenzy. And of course, we got some great pick-offs, like Beck and Hall locked in a torrid dobro battle, each musician throwing their aces down. On an ending deal of "Rolling in My Sweet Babies Arms," the McCourys took over the jam, as Barnes skittered around with glee. This was a chance to take in just how stacked the lineup was this year. At one point, as Kilroy and Gilchrist leaned in to sing a soaring "How Mountain Girls Can Love," Barnes just stood at the side, grinning wildly at his handy work.
Before Yonder's last show of the festival, Pastor Tim took a minute to thank Bob Horning and his family. They have taken great care with their home, and the patrons return the favor, keeping the grounds amazingly clean, with our MC even thanking the crowd at one point, saying the volunteer crews were impressed with how little they had to do. There is just an overall sense of consideration here, and when you receive it you want to give it back. It's not lost on the musicians who play this festival, and although Sunday afternoon means the music is almost over, Yonder wasn't through with us yet.
YMSB - Sunday :: NWSS 2009
They barreled out of the gate with turf punters "Bloody Mary Morning" and "Free to Run," that search for freedom and turning your back and bolting for the nearest available exit, maybe knocking back a few to drown the gal or guy you left behind. The best most of us can do is take the dance floor, close our eyes and imagine ourselves asking the stewardess to make our Bloody Mary extra spicy, or perhaps we imagine watching hometown lights fade in our review mirror as night closes in. New Kaufmann tune "Easy Come Easy Gone" was (based on this first pass) about a gal who's very much of that mercurial mind. The Superjam hosts came back to jump in the getaway car, passing around banjo solos between Barnes, Rob McCoury and Johnston on "Red Bird," with a big ole pass off during "On the Run" to close out the set. This set was all about that chase, although we did stop for a toke with Grandma ("Granny Wontcha Smoke Some...") and I thought about how tempting it would be to go back to Austin, TX, pick up my husband and just ride our little Mazda into the sunset.
"Keep On Going" drew me closer into the bowl for set two, carrying me on its reservoir of resilience, telling me, "Hold your head up high, and just keep moving." We got plenty of tread as Rubin nefariously annihilated the rhythmic drive and Barnes and Johnston yucked it up with a "Dueling Banjos" tease. Moving into the spacious daydream of "Winds on Fire," a moment of cooling respite for our feet, the bass groan seemed to reverberate under the topsoil of the bowl. But, that peace wouldn't last long. Our daydreams turned to nightmares as we found ourselves in a hellacious "Follow Me Down to the Riverside." We grabbed our butcher's smocks, as things got bloody. Austin snarled and barked, throwing out tips for the sketchier uses of a pickaxe. Barnes was dialed into that psychosis with him, proffering pure banjer terror. Dangling over an empty grave with an indiscernible, stomach-clenching bottom, gradually the hand pulled us back and "KOG" placed us back on solid ground. "I had the weirdest dream," Austin said. "I took a pickaxe to my lover. But now," he said, lifting his face, shaking off his possession, "the sun is shining!"
YMSB w/ Barnes - Sunday :: NWSS 2009
After "Another Day," Austin asked us to make the biggest noise we could for Sandy Alexander. Hands lifted to the skies, many cheering his memory, while others simply put their arms around each other, coming together in supportive clusters, as the band played a moving "Finally Saw the Light," fitting for a man who brought a lot of light into many lives, particularly on a weekend celebrating the music he loved. As the family in the bowl danced to "Criminal," then "If You're Ever in Oklahoma," brave smiles turned upwards towards the heavens as the family on stage began to grow. The McCourys and Jesse Cobb (mando, Infamous Stringdusters), began the great stage rush during "Oklahoma," inspiring a wicked mando round robin. Every time you blinked an eye someone else was picking up a fiddle or a guitar or a tuba, or simply standing in the back to provide vocal support. During "Way Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie," I counted 23 musicians on stage as Austin ran back and forth across a staggering vision of musical kinship, where even some of the musicians were dancing, caught up in the joyous anarchy. Austin bowed to everyone before they left the stage.
As Yonder returned for an encore of traditional "Darling Alalee," a rare treat, and "Troubled Mind," (with Austin commenting, "At least it's a fast one so it will hurt!"), they expressed their gratitude to us for coming for another year, taking a well deserved bow.
On the plane ride home, I twirled my peacock feather in my seat as I stared out the window at Mount Hood shrinking in the distance. At one point, Kaufmann had discussed cultivating appreciation versus seeking out moments of delight. Spiritually speaking, it seemed a bit heavy while I was raging in the dust, but ruminating over it later it spoke to how I was feeling. We chase down moments of ecstatic sunshine, cathartic punches and jaw drops. As one card aptly said this year, "The upside of the land beyond, the music kicks," and, man, did it kick this year. But overall, what I left with from Summit this time was a sense of deep appreciation, for not only the music but also the conversations by the lake, the laughs in the beer garden, the living room wake-up calls at Camp Turtle, the late night astro jack lessons, and the moments where we just shut up and danced. It's what I'll keep rooted in the solid soil of my heart as I count down the days until I can go back home.
YMSB & Friends - Sunday :: NWSS 2009
Thanks to Pastor Tim and Bill Ball for their diligent fact checking (hope I didn't miss anybody). Thanks to everyone who tore it up with me this weekend (hell yeah!). Thanks to everyone that keeps this festival running. Thanks to Jonathan and Amy-la. And get well soon Kevin G.
Bluegrass Bands Jam on the Comstock
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The sound of bluegrass music filled the air at Miner's Park in Virginia City for the Bluegrass on t... The sound of bluegrass music filled the air at Miner's Park in Virginia City for the Bluegrass on the Comstock festival Saturday.
“It's just awesome, real laid back, the weather's perfect,” said Mark Johnson, a member of the Carson City-based band Hick'ry Switch, as he sat in the shade to enjoy another band after playing his set. “You can't get any better than this.”
The festival started Friday night with impromptu jam sessions at the Red Dog Saloon and other locations. Saturday began with Hick'ry Switch taking the stage, followed by the Gardnerville-based group Country Valley Jug Stompers. Other bands entertaining the afternoon crowd included Contraband, Westwind, Faux Renwah and Nell Robinson & Red Level.
Award-winning singer-songwriter Jessica Kilroy gave an afternoon workshop on songwriting, with help from Jack Ausick, an 18-year-old prodigy on the fiddle, and Nate Biehl on mandolin and tenor guitar.
“This is the first time I've done a workshop,” Kilroy said. “I've been to a lot of them before, and this was a lot of fun. We played a couple of songs, and then talked about how we wrote them. Because I'm a songwriter, I just wanted to do the background of the songs, and the songwriting that goes into it, where it comes from.”
As bands played on the stage, other musicians gathered in groups to play together as well. For festival veterans like Kilroy, the laid-back atmosphere made this a great place to play.
“The thing I like about festivals is it's a community, and it just builds and builds and builds until it becomes a tradition,” Kilroy said. “I haven't had a tradition of my own. I've always moved around a lot, and festivals have become my tradition. I feel at home every time I'm at a festival.”
Kilroy, Ausick and Biehl were scheduled to take the stage Saturday evening, followed by the Del Williams Band. Sunday's schedule features the Del Williams Band, Ponderosa and Smiley Mountain, starting at 1 p.m.
Before Dawn CD Review
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Before Dawn by Chris La Tray The best thing a singer/songwriter brings to the table—the stri...Before Dawn
by Chris La Tray
The best thing a singer/songwriter brings to the table—the stripped-down nature of a single voice paired with an instrument, in this case the acoustic guitar—can also be its biggest hurdle. With a full band, it is much easier to work a little variety into the performance. If an artist doesn't go that route, every aspect of their work needs to be top notch simply by nature of the extra attention focused on it. It's a bold move to make, if you ask me.
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Montana native Jessica Kilroy doesn't hide behind a posse of guests and bandmates. Her voice is quietly compelling, and she doesn't distract from the songs with vocal gymnastics that I suspect she is more than capable of pulling off. Her guitar playing is subtle and understated. The focus, then, becomes the songs themselves, and there isn't a dud among the nine tracks of her recently re-released debut, Before Dawn.
I've always thought to be successful, singers/songwriters need to get out of the coffee shop and travel and take risks in order to make their music interesting. Kilroy has taken that route, and it shows in the haunting melodies of her songs. It is good music for reflective days.
Jessica Kilroy plays the Montana Matters Benefit Concert at the Wilma Friday, Sept. 18, at 7 PM with Shane Clouse and other guests. $15/$10 students.
I usually play between 1-3 sets per show depending on the venue. Each set is about 1 hour in length with all original music except 2-3 covers per set (depending on the venue).
Artists I often cover:
Emmy Lou Harris
There are no upcoming dates at this time.