Local Rhythms – Calendar Conundrum

A reader, upset that I’d failed to mention a bluegrass festival near his hometown, recently took me to task for what he perceived as a southern bias in my reporting.

Well, to call Chris Jones “a reader” is bit misleading.  Until last May, when he closed the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford, he was a force of nature in the regional music scene.  What he said deserves to be quoted in detail.

He called my coverage north of the 89/91 junction “spotty at best,” and he felt his club deserved more attention than this column had given over the years.

“I do hope that what we did here will inspire some others to carry on,” he concluded. “I would also hope that when you see or hear of a venue starting up that relies on admission revenues rather than alcohol sales, give them all the help you can. They can’t make it without you.”

Well, if I stopped writing tomorrow, the musicians I cover probably wouldn’t miss a beat.  I’m touched, however, that Chris considers my small contribution, mostly born from an inability to master the guitar, important in any way.

But his words raised another problem.  Plenty of people read this column to find out about events, but how do I discover them?  Sadly, the “Wallow in Clay Hollow” Mr. Jones wrote me about had flown right under my radar.

What else have I missed?

So I’ve come up with a solution.  I’ve asked people to email me in the past, but that hasn’t always worked out.  So I figure a little anarchy might shake things up a bit.

A while ago, I created a “Local Rhythms” Google calendar for area musical happenings. I’ve been, shall we say, spotty in keeping it up to date.  I intend to change that – hopefully, with your help.

I’ve modified it so that anyone – and I do mean anyone – can post an event.  The login account is localrhythms@gmail.com and the password is “localrhythms1”.

If there’s a musical event as   far south as Brattleboro, or as far north as Montpelier, plug it in.

This could lead to complete chaos, but it’s worth a try.

I’m not guaranteeing you’ll see every event in the paper, but many things could find their way into our recently revamped web site.

Chris Jones flatters me – I am so not indispensable.  But you, dear reader, are.  I can’t make it without you.

Here are this week’s humble suggestions:

Thursday: Bruce Marshall Group, Newbury Gazebo – Marshall is a versatile guitarist with an amazingly fast touch on the fretboard.  His band gives off a Skynyrd/Outlaws vibe when second guitarist Dave Cournoyer joins in, producing some serious rock and roll energy.  Marshall also plays a steel necked dobro with authority.  It’s the whole package – blues, rock and country

Friday: Starline Rhythm Boys, Barre Old Home Days – There’s neo-traditional, then there’s these guys, who still release 45 RPM records.  Wearing pegged pants and sporting pomade slicked-back hair, they play the kind or rockabilly that never gets old.  Today, as part of the weekend long Old Home celebration, they’re starting a bit early – 5 PM, to be exact.  If you like honest picking with an upright bass, this is your band.

Saturday: Out of Order, Broad Street Park – Three years ago, two Claremont teenagers were killed when the motorcycle they were riding was hit by a car. Robin Flaig and Justin Aiken had great hopes for the future; today’s memorial ride will raise money to help other young people with similar goals.  Out of Order provides the musical entertainment; they also appear frequently at the Imperial Buffet, playing new and classic rock

Sunday: Championship of New England Barbecue, Harpoon Brewery – This 2-day event is mostly about eating, but there’s a full slate of music both days, including the Nobby Reed Project, Bow Thayer and Antennas Up (also at Salt Hill on Friday), who play power pop with a funky backbeat – think Weezer meets Earth, Wind and Fire.  Did I mention food and beer?  It’s a vegan’s nightmare, with ribs, chicken and pork in abundance.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill Pub – The Upper Valley’s musical melting pot, with blues on Thursdays and rock of every stripe on Fridays and Saturdays.  But it’s Tuesday’s early start (6:30 PM) musical circle of Celtic inspiration that’s closest to my heart – always surprising, always a pleasure, particularly with a nice pint of Guinness.

Wednesday: Cowboy Junkies, Higher Ground – The soundtrack for Prozac Nation, these guys will relax you to the point of catatonia.  It’s as if Patsy Cline disappeared like Amelia Earhart and turned up years later as Nico’s replacement in the Velvet Underground.  At turns moody, ethereal and transcendent, this family band (two brothers and a sister) has kept its unique blend of pop and pathos interesting for over 20 years.

Green River Wrap-Up

After Lucinda Williams closed out Saturday’s all-day show, Green River Festival organizer Jim Olsen was openly relieved.  “We’ve been ringed with storms all day,” he told the crowd.

But the weather, like the music, went off without a hitch, as fans were treated to one of the most varied bills in the festival’s 22-year history.

Highlights included a spirited set from Forro in the Dark, capped with the chorus, “if you don’t like Bob Marley, you’d better stay away from me.”  The Brazilian band played two sets, one on the main stage and another in the dance floor tent, attracting a large contingent of shaking bodies.

Gokh-Bi System, dressed in the traditional garb of their native Senegal, mixed Afro-pop with funk and soul.  It was quite a different sound for an audience in years past more accustomed to folk and bluegrass, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Eilen Jewell and her band did double duty, performing as the gospel Sacred Shakers early in the day, and ending the night in the dance tent with a set that ended about 40 minutes after Williams.

Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys proved the biggest hit in the dance tent, with a barrio rockabilly sound that recalled Los Lobos and Eddie Cochrane.  Big Sandy was also the busiest performer of the day, fronting a stripped-down “Little Sandy” group and doing guest vocals with gonzo guitarists Los Straitjackets on the main stage, in addition to an hour-long set with his own band.

Los Straitjackets combined Dick Dale-flavored surf music  with tongue-in-cheek theatrics, wearing Mexican wrestling masks (recently popularized in the Jack Black movie, “Nacho Libre”) and using badly mangled Spanish to introduce their instrumental songs.

With Big Sandy, they played a rollicking, multilingual version of the Ernie K-Doe classic, “Mother In Law.”

Lucinda Williams’ set ranged across her last two albums, along with several unreleased songs (she has a new record due in the fall).  She ended with a surprising cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” which she called a “quintessential rock and roll song.”

Williams had the unenviable task of following Mavis Staples, who stole the show with a set that mixed powerful music with a social message underscored by current events and her own experiences living the changes that led to them.

She opened with a soulful cover of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” followed by the movement anthem, “Eyes on the Prize.”

She added her own lyrics to J.B. Lenoir’s “Down in Mississippi,” reminding the crowd of her experience marching with Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights struggles.  Recalling her grandmother directing her to drink from a water fountain marked with a “colored only” sign, she sang, “Dr. King tore every one of those signs down, down in Mississippi.”

She touched on her appearance in the documentary “The Last Waltz,” performing “The Weight,” and name-checking the Band’s “Robertson, Danko, Garth, Manuel and Levon.”

But her set focused on soul and gospel, a church service of sorts in the middle of a sunny day.  She choked with emotion while performing Pops Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad” – a song he wrote after attending one of MLK’s sermons.

“If it weren’t for Dr. King, I wouldn’t be able to say, a black man is running for President of the United States,” said Staples through tears.  The crowd was obviously with her – when Jim Olsen introduced her, he’d pretty much called the election for Obama – but it was nonetheless a stirring moment when she sang the song’s final line:

“I think I hear someone calling my name/saying further up the road things are gonna change.”

The thread of history stretched from the stage across the field, and not a soul there wondered how they’d managed to avoid the rain drenching everyone to the north, south, east and west of them.

It was that kind of day.