Monday, August 30, 2010

Music and Misery #2 and #1

Finally! The last in my series on miserable cities and the music that comes from those cities. According to Forbes magazine the two most miserable cities in the US are...

2. Stockton, California
Population of around 300,000 with a metro area of around 700,000. Roughly 60 miles east of the San Francisco Bay area. Unemployment rate is a staggering 16.5% as of June 2010 (US national average is 9.5%). Violent crime is the 6th worst in the country, and second worst in California, behind Oakland, but well in front of the crime rates for Sacramento and Los Angeles. Drug cartels like to use Stockton as a hub between Mexico and Seattle and Vancouver due to Stockton's proximity to Interstate 5. The nearest major sports teams are in San Francisco, but Stockton does have several minor league teams to cheer for, such as the Stockton Ports Class A baseball team, which is a funny name to me since Stockton is in the middle of California and has no shipping industry. Stockton residents on average commute 46 miles each way, second worst in the country. They also have extremely high income taxes (as does the rest of California). What really sets Stockton apart in its misery is that fact that Stockton has the highest home foreclosure rate in the country. Up to two-thirds of homeowners owe more on their properties than the houses are now worth. At the peak of the foreclosure crisis in 2009, one in ten homes in the city were foreclosed on, decimating the tax base and subsequently, city government services.

I could only find two musicians from the Stockton area. The first being my secret boyfriend Stephen Malkmus and his seminal indie rock band Pavement.

Pavement - Fight This Generation.mp3
Buy: Wowee Zowee (1999, deluxe reissue 2006)

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor Chris Isaak was also born and raised in Stockton.

Chris Isaak - I Wonder.mp3
Buy: Baja Sessions (1996)

1. Cleveland, Ohio
Population of about 430,000, with a metro area of 2.2 million. The net migration out of the metro area was 71,000 over the last five years. The unemployment rate for the Cleveland area was 9.3% in June of 2010, way down from its peak of 12.7% at the end of 2009. Cleveland is 8th worst in the nation for violent crime, which includes being the worst in the nation for sexual assaults and robbery, runner-up to Memphis in burglary, and second to its neighbor Toldeo in arson. For professional sports teams, Cleveland is extra miserable now that NBA superstar Lebron James has departed for Miami. The Cleveland Indians are one of the worst teams in the American League, and the Cleveland Browns had a pretty miserable football season last year, finishing 5-11. Forbes notes: "Cleveland ranked near the bottom when looking at corruption. Northern Ohio has seen 309 public officials convicted of crimes over the past 10 years according to the Justice Department. A current FBI investigation of public officials in Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located) has ensnared more than two dozen government employees and businessmen on charges including bribery, fraud and tax evasion." In 2007, Cleveland's home foreclosure rate was the highest in the country, but it has recovered some since then. Cleveland was recently awarded a $41 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for demolition of old homes, foreclosure prevention, and home rehabilitation. And the weather? The don't call it the "Mistake by the Lake" for nothing. My one and only trip to Cleveland involved freezing my ass off at the now demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium while it rained and snowed at the same time.

Why can't Detroit and Memphis be the most miserable cities? It was a lot easier to find musicians from those cities. Despite the fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in headquartered in Cleveland, I can't find many artists from that city. (For what it's worth, I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and I was extremely underwhelmed. Maybe it's better now?) Here's what I got for Cleveland:

I thought Joe Walsh was from Cleveland, but he is actually from Kansas. He got his musical start playing in bands in and around the Cleveland area while he was a student at Kent State.

Joe Walsh - Rivers (of the Hidden Funk).mp3
Buy: There Goes the Neighborhood (1981)

Who doesn't love a good polka? If any of you are like me, and your relatives are of a northern/eastern European lineage, then you have had to dance polka at just about every family wedding you have ever attended. In fact, all of my parent's friends had sons so I had to polka with all of the boys at their various parties and camping trips. When I was of legal drinking age, I would dance the polka with random dudes at Brave Combo shows. The "Cleveland Style" or "Slovenian Style" of polka was invented and perfected in the upper Midwestern United States. Polka King Frankie Yankovic was born in West Virginia, but grew up in suburban Cleveland and popularized the Cleveland Style. He has recorded over 200 different polkas, and has won several Grammy's for best Polka album

Frankie Yankovic - In Heaven There is No Beer.mp3
Buy: Songs of the Polka King (1996)

Bonus! Neither this song nor this band have anything to do with Cleveland directly, but I love this lyric:

Pulling into Cleveland
In a seven-seater tour van.
There's 8 of us, I'm sleeping on the floor.

The guy that plays the banjo
Keeps on handing me the Old Crow,
Which multiplies my sorrow, I can't take it anymore.

Old 97's - Doreen.mp3
Buy: Hitchhike To Rhome (1999)

Friday, August 27, 2010

SRV 20 Years Later

In August of 1990 I was 17, getting ready to start my senior year in high school. That summer I attended my first huge concert at Alpine Valley, a rite of passage for kids growing up in Wisconsin. No, I did not attend Stevie Ray Vaughan's final concert on August 26/27, 1990. I was not a cool kid. I went to a Mötley Crüe-headlined Stars and Guitars tour, which included the likes of Joe Satriani, Tesla, and a few others smaller acts that I don't remember.

But I do vividly remember hearing about the death of Vaughan. He died in the early morning hours of August 27, due to a helicopter crashing in dense fog just after the Alpine Valley show. Vaughan's music was all over FM radio, and everyone seemed infected by it, even my boring parents. And how many times since then have I danced with some random dude to "Pride and Joy?" Especially when I lived in St. Louis and we would hang out at the Soulard blues clubs.

What got to me today after reading over several memorial blog posts is that fact that Vaughan was only 35 when he died. And now I am 37. Vaughan will always be this larger-than-life musician that I remember from my youth, and now that I am an adult, Vaughan's music still sounds as relevant, if not more so, than it did in 1990.

I was going to post some SRV MP3s, but Sony music holds the copyrights on SRV's catalog, and I am sure they would make google yank my post. So instead, here is video montage of SRV set to one of my favorite Vaughan songs, "Life by the Drop," off of The Sky Is Crying,an album of outtakes released posthumously in 1991. While Vaughan was mostly know for his killer electric blues riffs, this song also demonstrates Vaughan's prowess on acoustic guitar.

I'm going to go strum my guitar and remember SRV.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August Feel Bad For You

The monthly comp from the forum users at
Download the zipped comp for one week only.

1. Dave Gleason's Wasted Days - Rusty Ol' Halo.mp3
Buy: Just Fall To Pieces (2007)
Would love to see this band live. Great at rootsy Americana, straight ahead country, Stones-y rock n roll, they can do it all and do it good.

2. Delbert McClinton - "I Had A Real Good Time"
Cost Of Living (2005)
Another artist who can sing and play every kind of roots, and has been doing it for 50 years.

3. Doug Sahm - "Can't Fake It"
Hell of a Spell (1980)
Like McClinton does, Doug Sahm had country and blues in his soul. Nothing he couldn't do, he was Texas. Hell he was everything south of the line. Love the doo-wop backing on this cover. A master.

4. Paul Thorn - "Love Scar"
Pimps & Preachers (2010)
Haven't seen this new release mentioned on the board, so thought I'd throw out one of the prettier songs for the August FBFY.

5. Jetset Motel - Settle Up, Settle Down.mp3
Buy (CD Baby): Jetset Motel (2010)
Country-rockers from Toronto (although they're all Newfoundlanders). Pretty nice debut from them here, and they put one a great live show. And the bassist is a heck of a nice guy.

6. Sherman Downey - "Church Mouse"
Honey for Bees (2009)
West-cost Newfoundland folkie. Most of his songs are fairly upbeat, but with some introspective and thoughtful lyrics hiding under the danceable sound. Again, crazy good live show when he's with the full band.

7. Red Star Belgrade - "Under My Wheels"
Where The Sun Doesn't Shine (1996)

8. John Moreland - "Mississippi Moonlight"
First Demo (2006)

9. The Sadies - Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy.mp3
Buy: Precious Moments (1998)
Old school Sadies covering older school Porter Wagoner.

10. Good Lovelies - "Sleepwalkin’"
Good Lovelies (2009)
My new favorite band. From the Toronto area, they won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) this year for best Roots or Traditional Group.

11. Del McCoury, Doc Watson & Mac Wiseman - "The Old Account"
Mac, Doc & Del (1998)

12. Howe Gelb & A Band Of Gypsies - "Blood Orange"
Alegrías (2010)

13. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - "September (alternate version)"
Jacksonville City Nights Rarities (2005)
Not sure where this is from but found this track on a rarities compilation and since I'd never heard it, I figured a few others probably haven't either. Far superior country rock version of this track.

14. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - When The Wild Wind Blows.mp3
From: Elizabethtown Sessions (2005)
The best track off the otherwise middling Elizabethtown sessions bootleg.

15. Tim Easton - "Taken"
Unreleased (2006)
Tim, at one point, had a myspace page concealed under the moniker Dark Watson. It was there that I discovered this gem!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Music and Misery #4 - 3

Don't say that I never finish anything! I started this series on Forbes 20 most miserable US cities and the music that spawns from these cities back in March. Then life got into the way of my blogging, other things came up, and I didn't finish the list. And now that we are 3/4 of the way through 2010, the list may be irrelevant. But anyway, to refresh your memory, here are the first 16 of Forbes 20 most miserable US cities:

20. Philadelphia, PA
19. Gary, IN
18. Youngstown, OH

17. Sacramento, CA
16. New York, NY
15. Toledo, OH

14. Rockford, IL
13. Kansas City, MO
12. Akron, OH

11. Modesto, CA
10. Chicago, IL
9. Canton, OH

8. Buffalo, NY
7. St. Louis, MO

6. Miami, FL
5. Flint, MI

Numbers 4 and 3 on the Forbes list are epic, not only in their misery, but also in their music!

4. Detroit, Michigan
The Motor City. Population 900,000, with a metro area of roughly 5 million. City population has declined every census since 1950. In 2008, thousands of homes were available for less than $10,000. 14.4% unemployment as of July 28, 2010, largely due to the downturn of the automotive industry. According to a 2008 Forbes study, Detroit has the second worst commute time in the US, and only 11% of the commutes walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit, the worst of any city in the US. My brother lives in the Detroit area and he has a two hour commute round-trip every day. According to a 2008 FBI study (which was released in Sept. '09, the 2009 data will be release in fall of '10. Why is the government so freaking slow?), Detroit ranked fourth nationally in total violet crime, third in murder, second in aggravated assault, second in motor vehicle theft, and fourth in arson. The sports team? Exhibit A: The Detroit Lions, who in 2008 were the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. In 2009 they were 2-14. Although the Red Wings usually make the playoffs and give Detroit its second nickname of "Hockeytown." Both the MLB Tigers and NBA Pistons can be hit or miss. In terms of corruption of public officials, just look up Kwame Kilpatrick and the Kilpatrick and Beatty text-messaging scandal. And the weather in Detroit? Similar to Chicago or Toledo: cold and crappy in the winter, with humid as hell summers.

All of this misery notwithstanding, I have family in the Detroit area, and I have met many friendly, upstanding people in and around the Detroit area. And I have partied my ass of in that city. Great times!

Jeez, where do I start with Detroit music? There's this little thing called Motown (combination of Motor and Town), launching the careers of dozens of artists, while having a pivotal role in integrating popular music. From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 Top 10 hits, before relocating to Los Angeles. Aretha Franklin, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Ted Nugget, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Glen Frey, Madonna, The White Stripes, Kid Rock, Eminem, tons of jazz musicians, and a bunch of others that I am leaving out.

Although Parliament is originally from New Jersey, they got their break via George Clinton's job as a staff songwriter for Motown records.

Parliament - Do That Stuff.mp3
Buy: Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (orig. 1976)

I have to add a White Stripes track, since the White Stripes that we know and love may never be together again.

The White Stripes - Jumble, Jumble.mp3
Buy: De Stijl (2002)

3. Memphis, Tennessee
Named for the ancient capitol of Egypt. Population of around 670,000 with a metro area of 1.3 million. Unemployment rate of 10.4% as of June (US national rate is 9.5%). Memphis ranks just below Detroit in having the third worst violent crime rate in the country (the first being St. Louis, #7 on the Forbes misery list, and second is Oakland, CA, which didn't make the Forbes list. WTF?). Memphis also ranks fifth worst in rape and robbery, third in aggregated assault, second in total property crime, first in burglary, and third in larceny. About 17.2% of families and 20.6% of the population lives below the poverty line, including 30.1% of those under age 18 and 15.4% of those age 65 or over. Memphis only has one professional sports team, the NBA Grizzlies, who are consistently mediocre. And recently the University of Memphis mens basketball team had to default its entire 2007-2008 season, after placing second in the national tournament, due to invalid SAT scores from its star player. In terms of political corruption, just read up on Operation Tennessee Waltz, a sting operation where five Memphis politicians gut busted for bribery. You know its bad when someone made up commemorative t-shirts and mugs.

And where to start with Memphis music? How about Sun records which gave Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Roy Orbison their first recording contacts. Satellite/Stax records was a major player in early soul gospel, funk, jazz, and blues recordings, promoting artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG's, Wilson Pickett, and many, many others. Alex Chilton and his band Big Star are from Memphis, as is pop star Justin Timberlake. Tina Turner is from tiny Nutbush, TN, about 50 miles outside of Memphis.

Here are two examples of Memphis music, one classic, and one soon to be classic. First we have soul and gospel legends Sam and Dave, follow by one of my favorite alt country bands Lucero.

Sam and Dave - I Thank You.mp3 (composed by Isaac Hayes)
Buy: Very Best of Sam & Dave (2009, song orig. 1968)

Lucero - Slow Dancing.mp3
Buy: Tennessee (2002)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Weight

This video was floating around twitter this past week. It features the Levon Helm Band performing The Band's classic "The Weight" with Joe Pug and Elvis Costello in Vancouver on August 10, 2010. Pug is so adorable in this video, so obviously excited to be along these legends. As one commenter on You Tube said, "(Pug) looks like a kid on Christmas morning." Pug (age 23) could easily be Helm's (age 70) grandson. So cool! I also love the tuba solo. If the Levon Helm Band ever needs a backup tuba player, please give me a call!

Here's another sweet version of "The Weight" by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings backed by Old Crow Medicine Show.

The Weight.mp3
From: Live at St. Luke's in London (2009 bootleg)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hillside 2010: Day 3

Review of the 2010 Hillside Festival, Guelph Conservation Area, Ontario
Part three of three. Part one posted on August 16. Part two posted on August 17.

Perfect day in Guelph, despite the previous day's deluge.

Day 3

The weather on the third day of Hillside, Sunday, July 25, could not have been better. The traffic volunteers were directing everyone to a different field on this day, and you could still see a few stuck cars in giant mud puddles in the adjacent lot. It looked the beginnings of Hillside's own Carhenge. More importantly though, I had my act together and got to the island by 1pm.

The first act I caught on Sunday was Zeus. I am nominating Zeus as the "hardest working band of Hillside 2010." They played an 11 a.m. show on Saturday, backed up Jason Collett in the Colossal Jam at 4pm on Saturday, backed up Collett solo 7pm on Saturday, and finally had their own show on Sunday at the Island Stage.

Zeus plays to a very crowded Island Stage.

Their Island Stage show was electric! It was packed with people of all ages. I couldn't see a thing (above photo), but they sounded fantastic. In addition to playing a number of songs from their 2010 album Say Us, they also played a few killer covers including "That's All" by Genesis, presumably for the old people (and by old people, I mean me). Check out below how talented these dudes are. In the below video they first play a new song that they had never played live before, followed by "How Does It Feel?" Notice how three of the musicians switch instruments between songs. Amazing. Mark my words people, Zeus will be huge some day. Can someone please tell me the name of the dude in the blue shirt who starts out on guitar and switches to keyboards? I feel like a real jackass blogger for not being able to figure out who is who.

Fever of the Time.mp3
Buy: Say Us (2010)

My next musical selection was one of the main reasons I attended Hillside this year. Corb Lund and his band, The Hurtin' Albertans, are my second favorite Canadian act (the first being The Sadies). Every time Lund and his boys have been through Toronto in like the last five years I have been somewhere else, so even this 45 minute set on the main stage was a treat for me.

Corb Lund (center) and guitarist Grant Siemens (left) play the main stage.

Lund and his superb band played a fantastic greatest hits-style of show, drawing on many songs from his excellent 2009 release Losing Lately Gambler. The crowd was really great. Sometimes Ontarians can be a little standoffish when it comes to country(ish) music, but people at Hillside were even two-steppin' with their toddlers. Lund also introduced a new song, an old-style country tune called "R-E-G-R-E-T" which reminded me a little of the Old 97's "W-I-F-E." And check out Grant Siemens, Lund's extraordinarily talented guitarist (left above). Not only does he rule the strings, but in his plaid shirt, frayed jeans, crazy hair, and cool shades, he looks like he is auditioning for a 1992 Nirvana video, only with country music. Bad ass!

Chinook Wind.mp3
Buy: Losin' Lately Gambler (2009)

Check out the below video where Lund tells AUX TV about flying in from Calgary at 5:30 a.m. (Mountain Time) and barely getting to Hillside in time for the show.

Click the square thing on the left of the volume for full screen.

Andy White and his tiny 12-string.
I meant to head over to the Sun Stage to check out Reid Jamieson, Royal Wood and Alex Cuba, but I was starting to get sunburned and I really wanted to cool off with a beer. I headed over to the Lake Stage to get some shade and some suds. One of my favorite things about Hillside is when you discover someone who you had never heard of before, and you really like him/her. In this case, I discovered Andy White. His folk songs remind me a bit Paul Kelly meets Billy Bragg, only not as surly as Bragg. Although I feel like an idiot now as White has only been doing the singer/songwriter thing for over 25 years! White is originally from Belfast, Ireland, and now makes his home in Melbourne, Australia. He plays this tiny 12-string acoustic (right), which I asked him about later as this guitar is smaller than the girly guitar that I "play." He told me that he had it custom made in Australia, and for the purposes of touring, it sounds very similar to a full size 12-string. Plus, the smaller one is much easier to travel with, especially when you are traveling half way around the world. White played the following week in Toronto and I missed his set due to my crappy job, but I was sure glad that I stumbled upon him at Hillside.

Looking for James Joyce's Grave.mp3
Buy: Andywhite.Compilation (2000)

Nothing else on the schedule was looking interesting to me, and I wanted more beers, so I decided to chill out some more at the Lake Stage. The announcer introduced Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long and said something about "spoken word." I mumbled, "Aw cripes." Needless to say I am not a huge spoken word fan, but heck, I stuck it out for Beardyman, I can handle this too. It took me a while to figure out why Koyczan looked familiar (I'm slow): he was the dude that did the "We Are More" poem at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. For this set, Koyazan spoke his poetry while a band backed him up with appropriate music to set the tone of the poem. Damned if he didn't have every person in the tent, including me, in the palm of his hand. Maybe it was the beer, or the fact that I am a giant suck, but I got choked up during one song! He made a terrific impression on me, and I would go see him again.

Next I headed over to the Sun stage to check out the workshop called "Don't Break My Freakin' Heart" hosted by Corb Lund. This country/folk workshop also included Andy White, The Good Lovelies, who I wrote about yesterday, and a youngster named Sam Doores and his band The Tumbleweeds. As you undoubtedly read yesterday, my favorite parts of Hillside are when they cram a bunch of musicians together and say, "go!"

Left to right: The Good Lovelies (Kerri, Sue, and Caroline), Sam Doores, and Andy White.

Lund started the set with a sad cowboy song called "The Horse I Rode in On." It's too bad that there wasn't beer being served at the Sun Stage, because that song made me want to cry into one. White followed with a folk song who's name I forget about the first time he was asked about his religion in Northern Ireland. Doores, an American from New Orleans who, thanks to our friends at Canadian Customs and Immigration, was held at the border for 20 hours before they let him into the country, played another country crier called "Wrong Time to Be Right." (Listen on Myspace.) Doores's band The Tumbleweeds is equally excellent, rounded out by an upright base, and a bad-ass lap steel player. Doores has an excellent country voice, but I can't find any info on albums or anything. Kid, you need to update your website or Myspace or Facebook of SOMETHING! And Sammy if you are reading this, your Myspace layout is terrible.

Corb Lund hides behind the speakers.
Anyway, my new favorite band, the Good Lovelies, an all woman trio from the Toronto area, played their "Catholic school guilt" song called "Down, Down, Down." Even Lund commented on how ridiculously talented they are. The musicians took turns playing three songs each, with Lund doing "Long Gone to Saskatchewan," much to the crowd's delight, Doores covering a Townes Van Zandt song, and the other musicians backing each other up as needed. The Good Lovelies closed out the session by getting everyone, including the audience, to sing along to "You Are My Sunshine." Fantastic!

Good Lovelies - Down, Down, Down.mp3
Buy: Good Lovelies (2009)

The two big headliners for the night were Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles followed by Stars. The main stage area was packed! I was standing way in the back. When Downie got on stage he started being weird, and saying strange things into the microphone that made absolutely no sense. I know that Downie has his odd moments (don't we all?), but after spending eight hours at Hillside, I was wishing he would get down to business and rock. Also, I suspect people wanted to hear Downie throw out some Tragically Hip songs. I've seen the Hip a number of times, most memorably in the ghetto in St. Louis, which I will leave to another blog post, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out if Downie broke out any of the classics. I still had a long trek back to Toronto that night, and work Monday morning. But on my way out of the festival grounds, I turned around and saw one of the most beautiful full moon rises that I have ever seen.  The moonlight guided me back to the big city, already pining for Hillside 2011.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hillside 2010: Day 2

Review of the 2010 Hillside Festival, Guelph Conservation Area, Ontario
Part two of three. Part one posted August 16.

Mediocre photography by me.

Day 2

There was a huge thunderstorm on Saturday, June 24, so I decided to wait out the weather over a breakfast/lunch of bacon sandwiches and onion rings before heading back to Hillside. Needless to say I arrived at Day 2 of Hillside much later than I wanted to, and I missed Royal Wood and The Wooden Sky. After sitting in my Jeep for a while, waiting for the damn rain to stop, I finally sucked it up and headed in, my bright yellow raincoat keeping me dry.

I attended Hillside once before in 2008, and that year I was totally blow away by two different workshops. The first one was called "Guitar Dreams." This workshop featured Danny Michel, Liz Powell, Sue Foley, and  David Woodhead. All four of them blew me away. Michel started out with electric guitar doing a very stripped-down version of Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and got the crowd to whistle along. He followed that with a slow version of "I Will Love You For Miles," off of his 2007 release Valhalla. Liz Powell did two lovely originals on acoustic guitar. Sue Foley, an accomplished blues guitarist, gave a demonstration on the Piedmont style of blues, then showed some of her recent interest in Flamenco-style guitar. Finally, David Woodhead amazed everyone with his fretless electric bass. The other musicians on stage had the "wow!" look on their faces too. Truly a magical session of music!

The second workshop that blew my mind was the last event of the 2008 festival, and featured The Sadies and Po Girl, plus any other of their musician friends that happened to be around. This is basically how it went down: Dallas Good of The Sadies would yell the key of the tune ("The key of G, as in Jesus" for damn near every song), and the rest of the musicians would play, take turns playing solos, and take turns being generally awesome. Even Hayden's trumpet player took a turn at improv soloing. I've never seen such a show of musicianship. I was so wound up after that jam session, that I didn't sleep that night, and was a complete zombie at work the following day. So needless to say, I was really looking forward to the workshops/jams sessions for Hillside 2010.

Despite the rain, a "Colossal Jam" scheduled for the main stage took off Saturday evening and featured Calexico, Sarah Harmer, Jason Collett backed by Zeus, Emma Bortolon-Vettor, and Stephen Berlin the baritone sax player from Los Lobos. Other members of Los Lobos were supposed to attend, but had some travel/gear issues with their airline.

Colossal Jam: (left to right) Joey Burns of Calexico, Sarah Harmer, Jason Collett, and dude from Zeus who's name I don't know, but his guitar playing is spectacular.

The jam session was lead by Calexico front man Joey Burns, who incidentally, was born in Montreal (dual citizenship, yo). Calexico/Burns, Harmer, and Collett took turns leading songs while the rest of the people on the stage backed them up. Calexico played two originals, including one in Spanish sung by trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela. They closed with a killer version of The Minutemen's "Jesus and Tequila." Harmer started with "Silverado" from her new album Oh Little Fire, then played "Oleander" from 2005's I'm a Mountain, and finished with one of my favorites "Luthers Got the Blues," a Luther Wright cover also from I'm a Mountain. Collett started with "My Daddy Was a Rock and Roller," and finished with "Blue Sky." But Collett's second choice of tracks was his most intriguing. He got the whole gang to cover Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody," and fortunately, someone captured it on video and posted it on youtube.

WOW! The soloists include Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet, Los Lobos's bari saxophonist Stephen Berlin, Emma Bortolon-Vettor, the tiny girl with the huge guitar sound, and the amazing guitarist form Zeus, who's name I don't know.

The other half of the Colossal Jam: (left to right): Martin Wenk and Jacob Venezuela of Calexico, Stephen Berlin of Los Lobos, John Convertino of Calexico, and Emma Bortolon-Vettor of The Folk.

Up next on the main stage was Basia Bulat. She and her band played a high energy, enthusiastic set, covering tracks from both of her albums. It looks like she is touring the states right now, but will be back in Canada in October and November, opening for Josh Ritter. That will be a great show. I'm buying my tickets right now.

Basia Bulat - Gold Rush.mp3
Buy: Heart of My Own 2010

I've already written about Jason Collett and Sarah Harmer a bit, so I will summarize their respective main stage shows here. Collett rocked extra hard, especially since he had Zeus as his backing band (more on Zeus tomorrow). Harmer played several songs off of her new album, plus several crowd favorites including "Basement Apartment." Julie Fader provided keyboards and backing vocals for her set. One of the problems with these 45 min. Hillside sets by musicians like Bulat, Collett, and Harmer is that they can only cram so much into a short period of time, and these mini sets frequently leave you asking for more.

Jason Collett - Rave on Sad Songs.mp3
Buy: Rat a Tat Tat (2010)

Sarah Harmer - Silverado.mp3
Buy: Oh Little Fire (2010)

Another problem with Hillside is that I frequently want to be in two places at once. For my next performance I had to decide between The Beauties and The Good Lovelies. I've seen The Beauties before, and they frequently play in Toronto, so I headed over to the Lake Stage to see The Good Lovelies. Little did I know that The Good Lovelies had received a 2010 Juno award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Group, beating out the likes of Great Lake Swimmers and Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle (who I would have voted for). And I thought the Junos were all about Nickleback and Michael Buble. That'll learn me. Anyway, the Good Lovelies are an all-women trio from the Toronto area. All three of them rotate between their various instruments: acoustic guitar, banjo, acoustic bass, and mandolin. Their style is a mixture of bluegrass, folk, and western swing, expressed through strong vocal three part harmonies. These ladies are ridiculously talented, not to mention hysterical. Their goofy stage banter makes their show that much more fun, especially when you are in a beer tent. They played many songs for their self titled 2009 Juno award winning release. Then they covered Gram Parson's "Juanita." Note to bands: if you pull out a Gram Parsons cover, especially in three part harmony, I will be a fan for life. The Good Lovelies closed with a singalong to their song "Lie Down." What a great performance.

Lie Down.mp3
Buy (Maple Music): Good Lovelies (2009)

Hillside Festival mud on Saturday, July 24
The headliner for Saturday was Los Lobos. By this time all of The Wolves' gear and personnel had arrived, and the main stage area was packed. At the same time, Japandroids and Grand Analog were also playing their respective stages. Also at the same time, I was friggin' exhausted and covered in mud from the afternoon downpours. I decided to call it a night, but I regretted it later when I heard that the Japandroids absolutely killed. I'll have to catch them the next time they are in T.O.

But more adventures loomed in the parking lot (i.e. a big field). The afternoon rain had caused the formation of huge mud puddles, and people with small cars were getting stuck everywhere. Cue Corb Lund's "The Truck Got Stuck." It was pitch black outside, and no one could see what they were doing while they were trying to get their cars out of the muck. Tow trucks from Guelph were lined up waiting to stiff people $45 for a tow (which happened to my girl DJTK). Fortunately, I had a Jeep, so I popped it into four wheel drive and laughed at all of the suckers getting towed away. It was actually really fun plowing my Jeep through the muck. I got to my friend's place relatively early, and got a good hot shower to end my rockstar day.

My truck did not get stuck.

Tomorrow: Zeus, Corb Lund, Andy White, Shane Koyczan, and others!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hillside 2010: Day 1

Review of the 2010 Hillside Festival, Guelph Conservation Area, Ontario
Part one of three
Mediocre photography by me.

Background and Day 1

The 27th annual Hillside Festival took place July 23-25 at the Guelph Conservation Area, slightly northeast of the city of Guelph in southern Ontario. I like to refer to Hillside as "hippie fest," not just because I didn't shower for three days, but because the vibe at this festival is all peace, love, and harmony. Babies and older timers, hipsters and geeks, singles and families, dancers and shoe gazers: as along as you like music, you are welcome at Hillside. And the music ranges all over the place: electronic, country, classic rock, hip-hop, bluegrass, indie rock, spoken work, folk, afrobeat, gospel, blues, and so on. There is something for everyone at Hillside.

Free drinking water: BYOWB (Bring Your Own Water Bottle).

Hillside has a strict environmental mandate. People are encouraged to take a free shuttle bus from downtown Guelph, or to ride their bike and park it securely for free. Drinking water is free if you bring your own container (no plastic bottle litter). Food vendors serve tasty meals on plates that volunteers hand wash for reuse (no wasteful paper plates). Trash is separated and recycled or composted as needed. You even have to buy or bring your own beer mug/wine glass.

Dish washing area where volunteers clean the plates and cups.

Hillside is on an island in the Guelph Conservation Area. This year, due to local road construction and other logistical problems, performers were literally shipped in on a ferry boat over Guelph Lake. Since the island is limited in size to roughly 5000 people, tickets for this festival go on sale mid-winter, and they sell out before the performers are even announced.

I decided last minute to go to the festival, and my main woman TK set me up with a spare weekend pass that her friend couldn't use. I busted out of work early and hauled ass to Guelph, and was only momentarily delayed by the disaster that is GTA traffic. TK (aka DJTK in the London, ON, area) is a huge fan of electronic music, and she insisted that I get there in time to hear festival opener Beardyman, a beat box performer from the UK. I'm not much for electronic music, but I am open minded, so I got there in time to get meet TK, get my bracelet, and settle in for Beardyman. Holy cow! I was completely blown away by Beardyman (aka Darren Foreman) who is very famous in the UK and Europe for his beat box skills, live looping, and general free-styling. He had people up and dancing at 6:30pm and could have easily kept the rave-like atmosphere going all night. He was one hell of an opener.

DJTK and Rockstar Aimz (me) enjoying Beardyman.

After Beardyman I really needed a beer, so I headed over to the Lake Stage to catch the Toronto-based Warped 45s. Although I did enjoy Beardyman, alt country music is more my thing, and The Warped 45s delivered a great set playing tracks from their debut album 10 Day Poem for Saskatchewan. Their country/rock style is reminiscent of Neil Young circa Comes a Time. Very enjoyable.

The Warped 45s on the Lake Stage.

Leader of the Lost Expedition.mp3
Buy (Maple Music): 10 Day Poem for Saskatchewan (2009)

Next I headed over to the Island Stage to check out Lee Harvey Osmond, Tom Wilson's latest project which he referred to as a "middle-aged song writing collective." I would like to point out that it was hot and humid as all get-out that night. I was sweating in shorts and a T-shirt. Wilson and his band were decked out in suits with jackets and ties. I have no idea how they didn't pass out due to heat, but hey, they're professionals. On this night his band included guitar virtuoso Stephen Fearing, singer/songwriter/guitarist Colin Linden, as well as Brent Titcomb, who is 70-years-young, on various instruments. This set wasn't so much Lee Harvey Osmond as it was Tom Wilson's greatest hits. After "Queen Bee" from the Lee Harvey Osmond 2010 Polaris Prize long list album A Quiet Evil, they played "Freedom" co-written by Wilson and Colin James. They got the audience to sing along to Junkhouse classic "Shine," and played songs from the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings catalog. Towards the end of the set Titcomb took center stage and sang and played mouth harp at the same time. WOW! But the encore truly blew me away. Wilson brought Astrid Young (Neil's little sister) up onto the stage, and sang Neil's "Get Back to the Country." After I scraped my jaw off of the ground, I decided that even if the rest of the festival was a complete disaster, this performance alone made the weekend worth it.

Lee Harvey Osmond: (left to right) Brent Titcomb, Stephen Fearing, drummer dude (?), Tom Wilson, and Colin Linden (behind Wilson). I think there is also a bassist hiding behind Titcomb.

Queen Bee.mp3
Buy: A Quiet Evil (2009)

I needed to decompress and have another beer, so I headed back over to the Lake Stage to check out Yukon Blonde. This Vancouver-based quartet took the stage wearing party masks, but since it was so effing hot outside, they ditched the masks pretty quickly. They played an enjoyable, energized set of rock. One of their songs called "Wind Blows" contains the lyric "Listen to the raindrops outside of your window," and it occurred to me that BC-based bands frequently sing about rain. Write what you know, I guess. Midway through their set they pulled a random guy from the audience onto the stage to play tambourine. The random dude nailed it! So fun. I like these guys.

Wind Blows.mp3
Buy: Yukon Blonde (2010)

Tuscon, Arizona, based Calexico headlined the first night of Hillside. They are a really great alt country band with a unique tejano sound. They are currently offering a free live-show download here. Their more recent music is a little too jazzy for my tastes. Plus, I was really tired from working all day, then driving to Guelph, then rocking all night. I headed out about half way through their set. Please note that Calexico is scheduled to tour Western Canada supporting the Arcade Fire in late September. Yay!

Calexico is the master of giving cover songs their own twist. They probably didn't do this song that night, but this is my favorite Calexico cover.

Tulsa Telephone Book.mp3
Buy: Real: Tom T Hall Project (1998)

Note: this blog post was turning into a novella, so I broke it up into three parts. Part two will be posted tomorrow, August 16.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Concert Review: The Hold Steady with The Whigs, July 16, Toronto

Moved form Kool Haus to The Phoenix (Thank God)
You know you are a ridiculous fan-girl of The Hold Steady when you notice that lead singer Craig Finn has a new guitar. If memory serves, this was my fifth Hold Steady show (I think, I was drunk as hell at all of those shows), so I knew what to expect. Rock, jumping around, singalongs, Finn being geeky, Tad Kubler being a guitar god, spilled beer, and more rock. And in short, I got exactly what I expected.

However, this was the first time that I had seen THS since the departure of Franz Nicolay, the multi-talented instrumentalist who played with THS for the previous five years. I'm a big fan of rock piano, and I really loved Nicolay's keyboards in previous shows and records. For this show, THS had a touring keyboardist, but he was way in the back and I couldn't get a good look at him. After scouring the THS web forum, no one else seems to know who he was either. Regardless, I missed Nicolay, and I felt that the live keyboard parts were weak without him.

But the guitar parts were killer! THS added guitarist Steve Selvidge, formerly of Lucero (another of my favorite bands), on backing electric guitar, which was a brilliant move on the band's part because, let's face it, Craig Finn is too busy singing and flailing around the stage to properly add a rhythm background.

THS focused most of their set on their latest release, Heaven Is Whenever, and scattered the rest of their set with songs from all four of their other studio albums. My verdict on Heaven is Whenever is still out. It's not as good as my favorite, Boys and Girls in America, or their previous release Constructive Summer. But at the same time, you can't expect Finn to write songs about drugs, parties, Charlemagne, and bad Catholics forever. Is this album a departure, or growth as a band? I don't know. Anyway, for this show THS also played the three personal favorites that I really wanted to hear: "Massive Nights, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and "Stuck Between Stations." Awesome!

Kubler sounded like he was auditioning for Winger circa 1987 with his power ballad guitar solo on "We Can Get Together." During "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," Kubler and Selvidge exchanged dueling guitar riffs. But Kubler really blew my mind when he pulled out the 12-string/6-string double electric in "A Slight Discomfort." Eat your heart out Jimmy Page.

At the beginning of the show someone handed Finn a cardboard poster, and towards the end of the show he held it up and it read something like, "There is so much joy in what you do." And it's true. There is no happier dude on the planet than when Finn is on stage, grinning like an idiot, and entertaining the masses. There is nothing in my life that makes me even one-half as happy as Finn is when he is performing. Except for maybe a good beer buzz while Finn is entertaining me.

Set List
1. The Sweet Part of the City
2. Rock Problems
3. Constructive Summer
4. Multitude of Casualties
5. Magazines
6. Hurricane J
7. Soft In The Center
8. Banging Camp
9. Chips Ahoy!
10. Barfruit Blues
11. Cheyenne Sunrise
12. Barely Breathing
13. Sequestered in Memphis
14. Girls Like Status.mp3
From: Boys and Girls in America (Australian release Bonus Track) (2006)
15. We Can Get Together
16. Stuck Between Stations
17. Your Little Hoodrat Friend.mp3
Buy: A Positive Rage (2009)
18. The Weekenders
19. Massive Nights
20. A Slight Discomfort

21. You Can Make Him Like You
22. Southtown Girls
23. Slapped Actress

The Athens, Georgia, based trio The Whigs opened the show with a rocking mini set. Despite some technical problems, which The Hold Steady stage crew helped them out with, they place loud, tight rock. I loved watching the head-banging, hair-flailing, stage-jumping boys jaunting around like rock stars. Indie rock needs more of these types of stage antics. A lot more.

In the Dark.mp3
Buy: In the Dark (2010)