Signature Sounds, a label that launched Josh Ritter, Lori McKenna, Crooked Still, Tha Mammals and other great roots acts, is equally astute at presenting live music. This talent was on display over the four day Back Porch Festival, at multiple venues in and around Northampton.
Friday’s show at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke was a Mardi Gras themed party led by Zydeco royalty – CJ Chenier, son of Clifton Chenier, the first Zydeco artist to win a Grammy. The “Crown Prince of Zydeco” fronted his Red Hot Louisiana Band, playing familiar favorites like “My Toot Toot” and “Jambalaya” along with his own great material.
Chenier’s band spoon player Tony “Gumbo” Brown, whose kinetic energy kept the crowd jumping when Chenier wasn’t whipping it up (which didn’t happen often), rounded out by fiery guitar playing and a solid rhythm section.
A high point came when Chenier and his mates moved into the crowd for a song. Who knew a wireless squeezebox even existed? The Red Hot Louisiana Band lived up to its name, and kept the crowd dancing through its 90-minute set.
Vermont-based Green Mountain Playboys played a well-received opening set.
Signature label honcho Jim Olsen held forth throughout the night, serving up traditional New Orleans King Cake and awarding prizes for the costume contest. Grand prize was three-day passes to this year’s Green River Festival, which kicks off July 12.
Royalty of the bluegrass variety was on display the following night, as the Earls of Leicester performed at the Academy of Music in downtown Northampton, playing only songs by legendary duo Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys. Dobro player without compare Jerry Douglas is the most famous name in the six-man band, but all are the best of the best.
The show was marked by humor and hot licks – more than a few metal bands could benefit if this bunch offered speed lessons. Douglas, Shawn Camp, Barry Bales, Johnny Warren, Charlie Cushman, and Jeff White roared through classics like “Salty Dog Blues,” “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and the hilarious “My Mother Prays So Loud In Her Sleep” while seamlessly trading leads. It was a master class in the genre.
Preceding the headliners were rising stars Twisted Pine, a Signature Sounds artist, and Asheville based Town Mountain, along with banjo player Danny Barnes. All were superb.
According to Olsen’s Facebook page, the festival – named for his weekly Back Porch radio show – included 22 sets of music and sold over 1,900 tickets. Pretty fine for a small town shindig. Can’t wait for next year, also the official 25thanniversary of Signature Sounds’ first release.