Local Rhythms – Don’t Steal From Musicians

I need to vent this week, mainly because of a recent email. A friend wrote asking me to send  any pictures I might have taken of Eilen Jewell and her band.  She’s my favorite throwback chanteuse, and I’ve had a couple of occasions to photograph her over the years (resisting the urge to shoot in black and white).

The reason for this request is at the source of my crankiness.

After playing a great set in Vermont last weekend, Eilen and the boys drove out to California.  While they were playing a gig in San Francisco, some cretin broke into their van and took drummer/manager Jason Beek’s laptop.

With all the talk about not stealing music, you’d think people would know enough not to actually, you know, steal from musicians.

The laptop had all the band’s photos, and there’s no backup, so the call went out to friends to replenish their history.  If you’re a Eilen fan and have anything, shoot me an email.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so in addition to ticking me off, this makes me ashamed for my former home.

At least these creeps didn’t get Eilen’s autographed guitar, or Jason’s custom tom tom head.  In 1970, Pink Floyd had to cancel their third American tour when all their equipment was stolen in New Orleans.

These days, it happens more frequently than I care to admit.

Matt Costa (“Mr. Pitiful”) lost $25,000 worth of gear during a tour stop in Winnipeg last January, and country rockers the Pullman Strike were shut down earlier this year when some jerk drove away with a trailer containing all of their equipment.

There’s even a web site devoted to ripped-off musicians. Called stolengear.org, it has links to reported thefts from all over the world.  The latest victim reported a lap steel guitar and fiddle taken from a parked car in West Philadelpia.

This is outrageous.

It’s bad enough that most of the profits in the music business go to guys in suits who can’t play a note, and that an entire generation of fans thinks that songs are free because they can find them on the Internet.

But stealing a guitar from a musician is like taking a toolbox from a carpenter.  In these techno-centric times, a laptop isn’t much different.  It’s how a lot of struggling musicians manage their livelihood.

Until some criminal comes along and grabs it.

Oh, there’s some music happening in the next few days:

Thursday: Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers, Newbury Gazebo – There’s a new drummer, but the focus of this working class band remains the same.  They play the blues, everything from Ruth Brown to Stevie Ray Vaughn, with sass and flair. Outdoor shows around Sunapee Harbor are a summer highlight for me.  I just hope the sun’s out when Roxanne counts the band down.  The Voodoo Rockers will be at indoors next month (Anchorage, July 12).

Friday: Wherehouse, Salt hill Pub – Tonight marks five years in business for one of the local music scene’s best friends.  Helping them celebrate is a band with a good ear for covers, and a healthy collection of tasty originals, the latter courtesy of front man Jason Cann.  Jason, as regular readers of this column know, has a big following as a solo artist.  With a band, he rocks, so it should be a fun night.  Happy Birthday!

Saturday: Vestal, A Taste of Claremont – The annual downtown gathering features many surprises this year – a first look at the Common Man restaurant in the food court, an art show in the old Latchis Theatre lobby (what a great idea!), and a special unplugged performance by Claremont’s own Hexerei, performing as Vestal.  There’s plenty more, including an indoor Harpoon beer garden at Hullabaloo, oldies music from Flashback, and a DJ spinning records.

Sunday: Phil Lesh & Friends w/ Levon Helm, Meadowbrook – In what can be taken either as a nice gesture or the bellwether of a struggling business, the Gilford shed is offering a free gallon of gas with each ticket purchased.  The whole region is holding its collective breath during Motorcycle Week, worried that high fuel costs will keep bikers away.  Here’s an ironic fact – this summer’s Meadowbrook calendar is co-sponsored by a propane company.

Tuesday: Orchestra Baobab, Hanover Green – A free show from the Hopkins Center showcases one of the originators of the Afro-pop sound.  Ochestra Baobab, hailing from Senegal, feature “shimmering Ghanaian-style guitar riffs, rich African and Caribbean percussion, and tangy vocals,” says one critic.

Wednesday: Juke Joynt, Canoe Club –
The Hanover restaurant’s schedule lists this as Dave Clark, but Clark’s own web site reports that this band is playing. Juke Joynt, one of Dave’s 10 or so groups, plays original music inspired by blues masters and classic rockers.  That’s pretty lively for a mid-week CC gig.

Roots Wrap

Plentiful sun, widely varied music, good food and good vibes prevailed at this year’s Roots on the River Festival in Rockingham. Saturday’s day-long concert was capped by a Fred Eaglesmith performance that fans called his “best in years”. Local musician Ezra Veitch helped out when regular Flying Squirrels drummer, Kori Heppner, left unexpectedly on Friday. Ezra earned high marks as a quick study.

Robbie Fulks played solo, mixing humorous songs, such as a cover of Cher’s “Do You Believe?” and the creepy story of “Godfrey, the Amateur Children’s Magician,” with beautiful and poignant performances. “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” an early alt-country hit, got a stripped-down treatment, and the unreleased “That’s Where I’m From,” which hushed the crowd, sounded like George Strait’s next hit single.

Promoter Ray Massucco was pleased with the turnout for all four days. The Lori McKenna/Mark Erelli opener was well attended, and the Fred & the Flying Squirrels/Bottle Rockets double bill was, he said, “the best Friday ever.”

Sunday’s Meeting House show was also sold out, with Fred Eaglesmith and Mary Gauthier, and included a special guest appearance by Diana Jones (“My Remembrance of You”), who joined Fred for one song.

Sarah Borges and her band The Broken Singles whipped through a set of high-energy country rock that won the crowd over in a big way. After Borges played, her merchandise sold out and had to be replenished. If Avril Lavigne went twangy, she might sound like Sarah, who had amazing chemistry with her band (based in Boston, they’ve played together six years).

Laid-back Steve Forbert acted like he was in a living room, not a concert stage, as he loped though songs that touched on the political (“Baghdad Dream”, “Good Planets Are Hard to Find”) and the romantic (most notably his biggest hit, “Romeo’s Tune”). Fans shouted out requests, most of which he good-naturedly honored, though one caused him to pause thoughtfully. “That’s a good idea,” he said, “but I’m going to play this one instead.”

After playing a refreshing set of old time country music, members of the Starline Rhythm Boys relaxed in the guitar tent and tried a few instruments. The band kept things early twentieth century for their performance, playing songs like “One Dime at a Time” and touting their latest record, “Drunk Tank,” which they plan to release as a 45 – their new album is also on vinyl.

Wearing pearls and a wry smile, and playing a guitar signed by Loretta Lynn, Eilen Jewell time-traveled to Depression-era musical times. She played several songs from last year’s “Letters From Sinners & Strangers,” as well as selections from her upcoming gospel album. Like Steve Forbert before her, she jokingly asked that no one take pictures – “I’m way too sweaty”.

Eilen Jewell Coming To Roots on the River

eilenjewellsmall.jpgEilen Jewell’s songs seem preserved in amber and channeled from a distant time, her voice wise and weary. When Jewell, who performs next Saturday at the Roots on the River Festival, sings “So Long Blues,” it sounds like Memphis Minnie in 1941, not a 26-year old from Idaho.

Few records generated the kind of buzz Jewell’s debut CD “Boundary County” did when it came out last year. The Boston media fell over itself to anoint her as a new Americana queen, and Signature Sounds picked up the independently-released disc for distribution.

That’s the kind of attention the Northampton, Massachusetts label has only lavished on one other artist – Josh Ritter. Like Ritter, Signature’s Jim Olsen signed Jewell soon thereafter; her new disc, “Letters From Sinners and Strangers” is due for summer release.

All the attention, says Jewell, “surprised me, because in such a short amount of time it took us a lot of places. It was kind of a magic record for us.”

Eilen (rhymes with feelin’) Jewell’s musical career almost didn’t happen. She’s written songs since her teenage years, busked in college and even went to Venice, California to play in the streets. But she gave it up, went back home to Idaho, then moved to Massachusetts when a friend promised to help her find a job.

“I stayed in the Berkshires for about nine months before I started to feel it was too small,” she said. “I wanted to start performing music. I’d stopped busking since I’d left LA and it was making me feel a little aimless. I decided to move to Boston because everyrone said that was the great music town.”

There, she met drummer (and current manager) Jason Beek, who helped her put together a studio band that includes some of the region’s best roots musicians – guitarist Jerry Miller, along with violin player Daniel Kellar and upright bassist Johnny Sciasica of the Tarbox Ramblers.

“I wasn’t sure for awhile if I really wanted to have a band,” Jewell says. “I didn’t want to be a band leader – I’m not good at telling people what to do.”

Once “Boundary Country” was completed, the band did a few shows and immediately discovered an obvious onstage chemistry. “I feel really lucky for that,” says Jewell. “You can’t make that happen. You can find the best musicians in the world but you can’t really know if you click as a group. Luckily I didn’t have to go through much trial and error.”

Asked how she came to write songs that sound, in the words of Peter Mulvey, “like they’re being sung by a 65-year old woman,” Jewell says with a laugh, “that’s a really good question. I’m not sure how it happened.”

She cites Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Lucinda Williams (whom many have compared her to), but adds, “It’s not like I consciously go out and say I want to write a song in the style of this or that musician. I hold them up as a standard to aim for, and the themes they try to write about.”

When she was 15, she discovered her father’s old record collection in a box in the attic. “I saw Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and thought I’ve heard of this guy,” she says. She had to find a turntable at a yard sale so she could listen to them, as there wasn’t one at her house. Her mother and father preferred the television.

“We weren’t a very musical family,” she explains.

Her father, however, did provide young Eilen with an experience that forever shaped her.music. For a long family driving trip, he brought along Dylan’s three disc “Bootleg Series” – and nothing else.

“That was the only soundtrack on this road trip, and it sunk in,” says Jewell. “I found myself reading all the liner notes and wondering who is Woody Guthrie? Once you start doing that you begin to realize that there’s this whole family tree – Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson…”

Despite all the recent attention, she’s keeping things in perspective. She’s excited about summer shows in Chicago and her hometown of Boise, both firsts. XM Radio invited her to play live in the studio later this year and, says Jewell, “we just found out that we’re gonna be opening for Loretta Lynn at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton this fall. She’s a hero of mine.”.

“I’ll know that I’ve arrived when I can quit the day job and have a little place with a garden and a guest bedroom.”

“I’m not very lofty when it comes to ambition,” she continues. “I’m a lifer. I’m gonna do this music thing no matter what it brings me. I want to be comfortable and only do what I love. I can’t see needing much more outside of that. Whatever it takes to get there is good for me.”

Local Rhythms – Summer Festivals Coming

fredfest.jpgForget the recent burst of warm, sunny weather. To my tune-addled brain, spring fever kicks in when summer music festival announcements begin arriving in my inbox.

Get ready to dust off the low-slung lawn chairs, it’s going to be a great season. .

I was a bit worried when Charlie Hunter suggested the annual FredFest, formally known as Roots on the River, might change signficantly this year. The only apparent difference is a new producer, Ray Massuco.

The caliber of music is unchanged.

I’d daresay it’s better, with past favorites Gandalf Murphy, up and comers Red Molly and the awesomely talented Eilen Jewell, local heroes Josh Maiocco and Scot Ainslie, and of course, the many faces of Fred Eaglesmith highlighting a four-day bash that begins June 7 in downtown Bellows Falls.

The next weekend Moodus, Connecticut hosts an all-Cajun/Zydeco festival that’s worth the trip if you need to channel your innner Boozoo. The three day bash, which starts June 15, features 10 perfomers, including Keith Frank, Brian Jack and Step Rideau.

Out in Weston, Vermont the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival returns, with traditional music from the Gibson Brothers, Leroy Troy, Buddy Merriam and festival hosts the Seth Sawyer Band and the Sawyer Brothers. The long weekend, produced by Candi Sawyer (notice a trend here?), begins June 21.

One of my personal favorites, the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts, kicks off with a free Crooked Still/Eilen Jewell show July 19, then begins in earnest with a Zydeco bash featuring the Subdudes and Terence Simian the next night.

On Saturday, there’s hot air balloons and a flat-out amazing lineup of players. Blues legend Buddy Guy headlines, along with cutting edge alt-country from Southern Culture on the Skids, petite powerhouse Erin McKeown, the Kennedys and a performer I would crawl a mile over broken glass to see, Neko Case.

Acts are still being confirmed for the big daddy of regional shows, Falcon Ridge, which starts July 26th at its new home, Dodds Farm in the Berkshires. FredFest performers Red Molly and Gandalf Murphy are set, along with Marshall Crenshaw, Eddie from Ohio, Terri Hendrix and her legendary musical partner Lloyd Maines, and John Gorka.

A Falcon Ridge “Most Wanted” preview tour featuring Ellis, Pat Wictor and the aforementioned Red Molly (who met over a Falcon Ridge campfire), stops at Middle Earth Music Hall May 9.

The best part is you could buy tickets for all of these feastivals for about the price of one good seat for the Police’s Fenway Park concert.

What else is brewing this weekend?

Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – This jazz ensemble wowed the crowd the first time they stopped by this downtown eatery, so they’ve been asked back. First-rate players all, they step through standards and give modern songs a special touch. There’s much more music ahead at S&Z’s in the coming months, including the return of Pete Merrigan in May.

Friday: Rock Bottom Band, Electra – If you’re ready for the country, this is the place to go Friday Rock Bottom was named Country Music Band of the Year in 2006 by the New Hampshire Country Music Association, so it’s clear they know their stuff. Put on some cowboy boots, put a crease in those jeans, and practice your Electric Slide moves.

Saturday: Pulse Prophets, Salt Hill – Another interesting “get” for my favorite Upper Valley eclectic music spot, this Burlington band calls their sound an “organic and celestial fusion of funk, fegg, hip hop, Latin, and Afro-beat, with a touch of electronica. This musical stew has been known to pack a dance floor – it’s all groove to me.

Sunday: Red Fox Session Band, Boccelli’s – A local band celebrates the one year anniversary of this Bellows Falls restaurant, an afternoon (3-7 PM) buffet dinner featuring a bountiful table of food and all-around good vibrations. Boccelli’s, of course, is BF’s new home of live music; for a town that’s had its fair share of recent hard knocks, this is a welcome renaissance.

Tuesday: Colin McCaffrey, Canoe Club – This fine Vermont folksinger performs solo tonight in downtown Hanover, but look for his high energy band, the Stone Cold Roosters, at area venues in the coming weeks, celebrating the release of their new CD, “Out of the Woods.”. Their lineup regional all-stars includes Ted Mortimer and (occasionally) Linda Boudreault of Dr. Burma, former Breakway players Peter Riley and Scot Hopkins and many other hot pickers.

Wednesday: Brandi Carlile, Higher Ground – She’s the latest industry full-court press, with a “Grey’s Anatomy” video, Paste Magazine essay contest and stops on all the late-night televison shows, including Leno. Is she any good? Perhaps, but all this hype will probably bleed it out of her. Such is the music business.