Saturday, June 16, 2018

Harbert Ave. Porch Show Rides Again, With a New Label in the Making

Posted By on Sat, Jun 16, 2018 at 9:05 AM

Robert Jethro Wyatt and Moke O'Connor introduce Jack O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Sept 2012.
  • Robert Jethro Wyatt and Moke O'Connor introduce Jack O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Sept 2012.
If this city has music coming out its ears, with pop-up shows, festivals, house shows, buskers, and impromptu jam sessions springing up in every corner, none of these is quite as Memphis as the Harbert Avenue Porch Show. Held at least once a year in the normally staid environs of Central Gardens, the porch show has become a tradition that brings together generations and neighbors from all walks of life.

Fans throng to see Snowglobe in 2017
  • Fans throng to see Snowglobe in 2017
The brainchild of Robert Jethro Wyatt, the porch show is a perfect expression of its host's love of music. Indeed, one might not expect such levels of fandom from a Professor of Pediatrics at University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, such a love of garage rock from a Pediatric Nephrologist at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. But Memphis is a city of iconoclasts and mold-breakers. A regular at many of the area's hardest-rocking shows, Wyatt has given back to the rock 'n' roll community every year since 2012, on his very doorstep.

Jack Oblivian at the inaugural Harbert Avenue Porch Show.
  • Jack Oblivian at the inaugural Harbert Avenue Porch Show.
This year's show marks the return of Jack Oblivian, who played the inaugural performance six years ago. Keth Cooper, Frank McLallen, Graham Winchester, and Seth Moody, aka the Sheiks, continue to serve as his dream band.

When the tradition started, as Wyatt notes, "the event was attended by over 100 neighbors and friends. Since then we have held at least one porch show a year featuring musicians and bands from our region. Over 250 folks of all ages attended the 2017 Snowglobe show."

Some  were documented and simulcast by the short-lived Rocket Science Audio project, taking the porch show to international audiences through the magic of the internet. 

This year also finds Wyatt on the cusp of an even deeper commitment to local rock, as he lays the groundwork for a new record label. "Black and Wyatt Records is me, Dennis Black and Mike McCarthy. Dennis is the Research Director at Le Bonheur - but he goes back to working at a radio station in Millington when he was younger - and keeps motel rooms booked in Tullahoma for Bonnaroo every year. One Monday about 10 years ago Dennis and I flew to San Francisco to see the New Pornographers at the Warfield." Mike McCarthy, of course, is the punk film auteur, community activist, sculptor, comic artist, and underground film auteur behind Guerrillamonster, the catch-all enterprise for his many ventures. He and Ronnie Harris have designed the T-shirts for this year's show, and he'll be involved in curating the Black & Wyatt roster. The trio are brimming with enthusiasm for their new venture, although, as Wyatt says, "I'm just not ready to give out hundreds of handbills this soon."

The Harbert Avenue Porch Show featuring Jack Oblivian is free; a donation to the band of $5 to $10 is suggested. Free beer and food in the driveway (while it lasts) including beer Memphis Made Brewing. The music starts at 6:00 PM. Eat at Eric's Food Truck will be on the street.
Sponsors - Memphis Made Brewing, Memphis Sports Academy, Goner Records, Utopia Animal Hospital and Dennis Black.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Mempho Music Fest Announces 2018 Schedule, Opens Ticket Sales

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 3:00 PM

  • Nas
Now gunning for its second year, and rolling with the momentum of its 2017 turnout, the Mempho Music Festival lit up the Mid South some days ago when it announced its slate of 2018 performers. Today, they've announced the details of the schedule and are opening ticket sales. The Flyer's advice: get 'em while they're hot. This is a lineup of artists that rivals any festival in the business (see below). 
  • Beck

Grammy Award winners Beck and Phoenix will headline on Saturday, October 6. On Sunday, October 7, the legendary Nas, who has just dropped a new album, will headline, along with Post Malone. The festival will also bring us Grammy-nominated funkstress and Prince protégé Janelle Monáe, indie-rock favorite Mac DeMarco, German folk rockers Milky Chance, Atlanta-based rapper Rich The Kid, Danny Barnes’ Space Program, and “Stones Throw”, led by The Rolling Stones’ musical director Chuck Leavell and featuring current and former backing band members. And let's not forget the brilliant collective that is George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic.

Talibah Safiya
  • Talibah Safiya
First and foremost, the festival lives up to its name with plenty of local talent.

Mempho is fully committed to the #BringYourSoul city branding movement, celebrating the originality, soul, and change that Memphis is known for. Accordingly, we'll see shows by many a local legend: Juicy J, Project Pat, Lucero, Eric Gales, The Bar-Kays, Don Bryant & The Bo-Keys, Big Ass Truck, John Nemeth & The Love Light Orchestra, Boo Mitchell & The Kings featuring URiAH Mitchell, Lil Al & G Reub, and The Product, Talibah Safiya, and Cory Branan.

The real Lucero - JAMIE HARMON
  • Jamie Harmon
  • The real Lucero

Especially notable will be a tribute set dedicated to Royal Studios. Led by Grammy Award-winning producer Boo Mitchell, the Royal Studios Tribute will feature Grammy Award winners William Bell and Bobby Rush, Oscar Award winner Frayser Boy, and Grammy Award-nominated Hi Rhythm Section.

Also on the local tip, by way of Como, Mississippi, will be Dap-Tone Records' stars, the Como Mamas. 
Como Mamas
  • Como Mamas

“We are thrilled to be back at Shelby Farms Park for year two of the great Mempho Music Festival,” says Mempho Music Festival founder, Diego Winegardner. “We couldn’t be more excited to announce this year’s lineup, which includes an extraordinarily diverse
roster of today’s hottest artists, legends of rock, funk, and soul, as well as a healthy dose of local Memphis talent.”
Big Ass Truck will make a rare appearance
  • Big Ass Truck will make a rare appearance
One lesser-known aspect of the Mempho Music Festival is Mempho Matters, a non-profit organization committed to developing “Learn To Rock”, a philanthropy-based arts education and funding initiative. Working with Memphis area businesses and community leaders, the initiative provides Memphis area music teachers and their students admission to Mempho at no cost.
Project Pat
  • Project Pat

Mempho Music Festival is also partnering with the Memphis Area Women’s Council to promote the Memphis Says NO MORE campaign—aimed at raising awareness for domestic violence and sexual assault—by providing a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all attendees.

Finally, Mempho has teamed up with the Oceanic Global Foundation—a non-profit that educates individuals on issues impacting our ocean through art, music, and emerging technologies. One specific impact of this partnership is Mempho's pledge to make the festival completely straw-free. Plastic straws, of course, constitute a major proportion of the plastic waste currently accumulating in the Pacific and other oceans.
Love Light Orchestra
  • Love Light Orchestra
This year, Mempho Music Festival has partnered with CID Entertainment to provide VIP and Super VIP experiences, including on-site camping and glamping options. 
Janelle Monáe
  • Janelle Monáe

A limited supply of GA, VIP, and Super VIP pre-sale tickets and packages are available on Monday, June 11th, for returning fans, starting at $79 for Single Day and $139 for 2-Day tickets.

General on-sale begins on Friday, June 15th, at 10 A.M. CT, starting at $89 for Single Day and $159 for 2-Day tickets. Prices will increase on July 13th and September 28th, so reserve your tickets while supplies last.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stalwart Flyer Reporter Hits Bonnaroo!

Posted By and on Tue, Jun 12, 2018 at 2:15 PM

Bianca Phillips, whose byline is familiar to many Flyer readers, braved the sun and crowds to report on all the fun you couldn't have! Among the highlights were Mavis Staples and Eminem, but there were many more magic moments for those who fell under Bonnaroo's spell. Journey with Bianca in our exclusive tour...

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Zigadoo Moneyclips Drops Shiny New Album

Posted By on Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 2:07 PM

Zigadoo Moneyclips
  • Zigadoo Moneyclips
Once you hear the name Zigadoo Moneyclips, you'll likely never forget it. Which is helpful, since these Memphians have not been plying the local club circuit much of late. No doubt that's been partly due to the final sprint to the release of their sophomore album, Imaginary Girl, and maybe because it's because they're focused more on thinking big. Their music may be ideal for large outdoor gatherings like their last gig, the Memphis Hotwing Fest in April. As Flyer writer Joe Boone noted after their first album dropped, "Should we go ahead and call this festival music? Is festival a genre? It is now. Zigadoo Moneyclips have a sound that is perfectly matched to a large-scale P.A. outside."

Their songs are well-primed to be crowd pleasers. Unlike so many scruffy rock bands in the club scene, these pop enthusiasts are not shy about embracing their inner Timberlake. The new record thumps, snaps and pops with the familiar drive of a summer car stereo. Recorded at Super Secret Lab and Ardent Studios, the album features core band members Zak Baker (guitar, keys, and vocals), Leigh McDonald (trumpet and vocals), Jamie Davis (bass), Dan Brown & Khari Wynn (guitar), Michael Shelton (drums) and Josh Aguilar (alto sax and vocals), as well as a supporting cast of Memphis musicians like Tom Link (bari and tenor sax), Sam Shoup (upright bass), Jason Miller (piano), Julia Struthers (vocals), Kyndle McMahan (vocals), Rachel Levine (violin), Carlos Sargent (drums) and Jay Richey (drum programming).

That last credit is appropriate, as their sound has moved in a more electronic direction, adding keys & synthesizers to the mix. And central to this evolution was Ari Morris, who engineered, co-produced and mixed the album. Morris, a seasoned engineer who works heavily in Memphis hip-hop (Young Dolph, 8Ball), gives the band the full polished-bling sound of a radio hit.

The band are clearly embracing this sound with a sense of fun, only slightly tongue in cheek, as they sing lines like "Take a minute to look into the mirror and say, 'Damn, I'm sexy!'" over a lifted Stooges riff and horn blasts. Other tracks, like the frankly horny "Raza," are even more radio friendly, offering a call and response like "He's from the city/She's from the country" with only a slight wink.

On Saturday, June 9, the group celebrates the album's release with a part at under-recognized venue the House of Mtenzi Museum. It will be interesting to see how these Top 40 enthusiasts translate the record into a live experience, laden as it is with the chirping samples and skronks that are the sine qua non of contemporary pop. But, given the band's burgeoning reputation as festival pleasers, something tells me they'll do just fine.

Zigadoo Moneyclips celebrate the release of Imaginary Girl on June 9, with Crown Vox and Ohn and On at House of Mtenzi, 8:00 pm. $10 cover includes CD/download card.
$5 for unlimited access to local kegs.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Marty Stuart on Memphis, country music and the life of a honky tonk pilgrim

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 1:46 PM

Marty Stuart
  • Marty Stuart
Marty Stuart’s been on a country music pilgrimage since he left Mississippi at the age of 14 to tour with bluegrass icon Lester Flatt. He worked as a sideman for Johnny Cash and some of the biggest names in country music before launching a solo career in the 1980’s. In addition to leading his aptly named band, the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart’s become the living embodiment of honky tonk history, amassing an enormous collection of artifacts.

This Saturday he’s sharing some of that history when Graceland cuts the ribbon on Hillbilly Rock, a new exhibit assembled from Stuart’s collection. Later that evening he’ll share his talent with a concert at Graceland’s Guest House.

Memphis Flyer: So how are you doing?

Marty Stuart: I'm home — I feel great!

MF: Nashville?

MS: I still live around Nashville but I came back to my grandpa's farm in Mississippi. Connie and I built the cabin down here a few years ago. It looks like a state park and it's a retreat. We come here every chance we get. The dust of the world can cover you up very fast.

MF: It can, which is why I’m always amazed by your enthusiasm. I mean, you’re a great player with a great band but, end of the day I think I’m as much of a fan of how much of a fan you are. How do you hold on to that when you’re out chasing hits and the dust of the world is covering you up?

MS: I think at all costs. And it's always a struggle. To stay in tune with the very thing that you fell in love with. Or that I fell in love with in the first place. It was just a sound of music music.

My first memory on this Earth is being in my mother's arms crying. I know what the fabric on her dress felt like. I couldn't remember why I was crying, but I later found out it was the church bells. They were coming across the breeze in Philadelphia, Mississippi, from the Methodist church across town.

The second time I can remember feeling that way as a little boy was standing on the corner watching a parade go by. Some tired little circus came through Philadelphia. The high school band announced their arrival. I was standing on the corner just bawling my eyes out at the power of music.

That's my first memory on Earth. And nothing has changed. The right piece of music can reduce me to a puddle of tears in a heartbeat. Or get the Goosebumps on me. I fell in love with it. It was a natural wonder to me, even through all the ups and downs and victories and defeats. After 40-something years of doing this, I still feel like a nine-year-old kid when I hear songs that made me fall in love with music. That's a long-winded answer but that's about it.

MF: I’d say it took exactly as much wind as required.

MS: You know there’s two ways I can get down here. You can go through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, which is shorter. Or I can come by way of Memphis and cut through the woods down 55. Sometimes I drive by Memphis just to go visit Sun Studios. It's a touchstone. A spiritual hotspot. I'm reminded when I look in that little room and imagine what happened in there. I can almost tangibly feel it. Those are just things that keep me alive.

MF: You had a lot of opportunity to get to know the folks who made records in that room working on Class of ‘55 at American. You also met one of my favorite folks who doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves, Cowboy Jack Clement.

MS: I met Cowboy Jack and Johnny Cash on the same day.

MF: Really? Somehow I had it in my head that you met him first and he introduced you to Johnny Cash. Is that not what happened?

MS: No. It happened there was a buddy of mine who made the introduction. See, Lester Flatt had passed away and I didn't have a job. I worked for just a few months goofing around with Doc and Merle Watson. That came to an end. So this buddy of mine named Danny Ferrington was working in Nashville at the time building this really fancy black guitar. I asked, “Who's that for?” And he said, “Johnny Cash.” and I told him I wanted to go with him when he delivered it. And I kept up with the progress of that guitar. And the day he delivered it to Cash it was in Jack Clement’s office. So the door swung open and Cowboy was dancing in the room with a martini on his head and Cash was singing the “Wabash Cannonball.” And there was two of my best friends that I got with a swing of one door.

MF: Wow. He’s an amazing character and talent who somehow gets lost in Sam Phillips’ shadow in Memphis, I think.

MS: The thing about Cowboy I love and he was such a great songwriter…

MF: Doesn’t get better than “Someone I Used to Know.”

MS: And a good guitar player too. And everybody knows he's a great engineer. But, dude, he was a magician, and he was a star-maker. He was a star-maker the way Cecil B. DeMille was a star-maker. And his track record bears that out. They're aren’t any of those people left. Cowboy was the last of his breed in Nashville

MF: We haven’t even talked about your solo career because you start playing with some pretty serious folks as a teenager — and obviously learned from them all. But I’m curious —who taught you to be a bandleader? Who mentored you as a musician? Who kicked down the great life lessons?

MS: I was a sponge.

MF: You’re kidding me.

MS: I've always learned. Maybe from a 12-year-old kid playing his guitar in a parking lot. I can learn something from him and hope I give something back. Of my own mentors, Lester Flatt primarily. Lester had a third-grade education but was one of the wisest human beings I've ever known. He was a great man. When it came down to the basic rules of life and the basic rules of show business, I had all that by the time I was 15-years-old because of Lester Flatt.

Johnny Cash was my lifetime chief and mentor. Another was Sam Phillips. Whenever I had outlandish or dreamy ideas, I’d come to Memphis and talk to him. Cowboy was another one. I was blessed with so much wisdom and experience in my path as a young artist. That comes with a responsibility these days to make sure it gets passed on to the next generation of musicians.

MF: There’s a handful of folks who really take that responsibility seriously. Folks like you and Dale Watson. It’s not about being stuck in the past so much as just knowing where you came from. But making that commitment seems to come at some cost.

MS: Thing is I find out that it enriches my life. Tradition can trap you and you can be a prisoner to it. Or, I can inspire you and inform you to take things into the future. The past is the past. We all look at it with wonder and see our mistakes and the accomplishments of our heroes. But as far as moving the story, song by song, show-by-show, museum exhibit by museum exhibit, photography exhibit by photography exhibit, day after day, we have to keep pushing it into the 21st century, deeper and deeper. We’ve got to keep getting it in the hearts and hands of like-minded kids who get it. There was a price to pay when I made that turn almost 20 years ago. It started at Sun Records at the end of the 90s. I said I've got to do something different and I don't know where to start.

MF: That room means a lot of things to a lot of people.

MS: During the Class of ‘55 sessions I was looking to start my own band. And be a band leader. Well, I had a bunch of hits after that. After the first round of that, though, I thought I had to keep going deeper. So I went back to Sun and started working on a record called The Pilgrim. That record was the line in the dirt record that got me on the trail that I'm still on today. I had enough radio hits. My piggy bank was full. I was married to the girl in my dreams. I had a huge Cadillac and a Telecaster. It was time to do something that had some meaning to it. Something other than just stack up more money in the bank and be a star. I had all that.

MF: So, you’re coming to town to play at Graceland’s Guest House with The Fabulous Superlatives. But you’re also opening a new exhibit out there as well. Tell me a little about Hillbilly Rock.

MS: I wrote the whole exhibit. And you'll find artifacts out there of Hank Williams, Hank Snow, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Little Jimmy Dickens. And I show how they informed The Million Dollar Quartet. Then, how the Million Dollar Quartet basically informed Dwight Yoakam,Travis Tritt, Chris Isaak. It's about evolution and inspiring the next generation.

MF: You have been collecting this stuff for a long time. And between your own connections and being married to Connie Smith, you’ve had uncommon access. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s “one that got away.” A holy grail. Something you want in your collection that’s just not happening.

MS: There are 20,000 items in this collection. And it's deep stuff. It's some crazy stuff. Johnny Cash's first black performance suit. The handwritten lyrics for “I Saw the Light” and “Your Cold Cold Heart.” The boots Patsy Cline was wearing when she lost her life. On and on, and all at that level. But there is one thing I have yet to find, that I've been looking for for a long time. I have Jimmie Rogers briefcase that was in his casket when he died and they brought him home on the train from New York City. But I do not have Jimmie Rogers' autograph.

MF: Before letting you go, I want to ask about a piece of advice you once shared. About how, when a fella's down all he really needs is a new Cadillac and a Nudie suit. Always thought that sounded like something that couldn't fail to cheer a person up.

MS: That's what Merle Travis told me. That was in Mountain View, Arkansas. It's when I was married to Cindy Cash. We were over there for Merle Travis days or something like that.

After the show he said to come by the room and we’d talk and play poker. I was down to like 10 bucks. Well, he beat me and took my $10. I love Merle Travis. He was one of my heroes. But he put my 10 bucks in his pocket and said, “now I'm going to sell you some advice for $10 that will last you a lifetime. I know you're fixing to leave J.R.’s band to go off and be a country music singing star. Well you're about to find out what the real definition of ups and downs is. Now let me tell you what you do when you're really coming up out of a bad place or a bad spell where the world is upside down. Go buy you a Cadillac. It don't have to be a new one, but buy you a Cadillac. Call out there to California and get you a Nudie suit. Find your guitar because you probably lost it somewhere along the way in the last week or two. Put some new strings on it. Make you up a new song and start singing it. Make sure it’s one that makes you feel good about yourself. And go put your suit on and get in your Cadillac and drive around town and remember who you are.” I laughed, but several times along the way I've done that and it worked.

At 2 p.m. on June 9, Stuart will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony for his new “Hillbilly Rock” exhibit at Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment and exhibit complex. Tickets for the evening concert start at $35.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bonnaroo's Sweet 16

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2018 at 1:46 PM

  • aLIVECoverage
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, celebrates its Sweet 16 this year as the festival opens this Thursday, June 7 and runs through Sunday, June 10. That teenage energy is somewhat evident in the line-up, which, unlike years past, lacks an impressive veteran rock band headliner.

The 2018 lineup — headlined by The Killers, Muse, and Eminem — may appeal more to Millennials and Gen-Xers without much to offer for older Baby Boomer festival-goers. In recent years, the festival has wrapped up with performances by Paul McCartney, U2, Phish, Elton John, and the remaining members of the Grateful Dead. But, Eminem will close out the main stage on Saturday, promoting his new album, Revival, which has been widely criticized as a mediocre release that fails to adapt to the changing sounds of hip-hop. Long-time fans will surely be hoping Eminem plays plenty of his late ’90s classics, as he did at his last Roo performance in 2011.
  • Andrew Jorgensen
The Killers close out the festival on Sunday. They’ll likely perform works from 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful, but they’ll certainly get the most fan reaction from 2004 breakout hits, like “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me.”
  • Andrew Jorgensen

Other lineup highlights include indie folk rockers Bon Iver, pop-country crossover artist Sheryl Crow, rapper Future, emo rockers Paramore, and electronic acts Bassnectar, The Glitch Mob, and Kaskade. Click here for the full line-up.

Those looking for more of a rave experience than a rock festival can dance the night away at the Kalliope stage, featuring both well-known and obscure DJs spinning into the wee hours of the morning.

  • Andrew Jorgensen
Bonnaroo is so much more than music though. The festival offers plenty in the way of cultural activities, and this year they’re pushing new “Campground Experiences” at plazas located across the general campgrounds. Family game nights, yoga, puppet-making workshops, and even a Roo Run 5K are among the highlights, along with the old standards — a water park, a Ferris wheel, a food truck court, a craft brew tent, and more.

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Posies Chime In On Power Pop, Band Chemistry, and Big Star

Posted By on Sat, Jun 2, 2018 at 9:31 AM

The Posies in 2018, not dressed for summer in Memphis
  • The Posies in 2018, not dressed for summer in Memphis

The Posies, masterminded by Bellingham, Washington's Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, are an unlikely band to connect the Seattle alt-rock boom of the 1990s to Memphis, but by now no one can deny they've laid down roots here. It's a wholly unpredictable alchemy. Certainly, their harmony-soaked alt-pop, while sporting some fine sonic guitar, always ran counter to the grungier sounds that put Seattle on the map in those days. In a sense, they were playing against type, much the way Big Star did in their time. Perhaps, at heart, the Posies and the unique sounds that blossomed in 1970s Memphis share that hope of transcending time and place through pop perfection. Ultimately it's the hope that binds them to this town.

It's hard to believe that the 90s are a quarter century behind us, what with so many of that era's bands continually proving their relevance. Fans recently thronged to see David Byrne, the Flaming Lips, Erykah Badu, Cake, Alanis Morisette, and other aged ones at the Beale Street Music Festival. Surely the Posies stand on an equal footing with all of the above, especially with their classic mid-90s lineup that yielded such hits as "Dream All Day," "Solar Sister" and "Definite Door". That's exactly the band that the Posies have once again become, thanks to the recent reunion of Stringfellow and Auer with original drummer Mike Musburger and bassist Dave Fox. Celebrating the band's 30th Anniversary, they've recently embarked on a tour of the U.S. and Europe that will bring them to Lafayette's on Tuesday, June 5th.

Stringfellow, Auer, and I settled in to what turned out to be a revelry of music nerddom, at times descending into a Tape Op-level appreciation of good gear and great sounds. The results offered up some interesting details from their many years in the second coming of Big Star and their own evolution as songwriters and sonic explorers.

Big Star Becomes Them
In 1993, you joined the reformed Big Star at a festival in Columbia, Missouri. In hindsight, you guys joined Big Star pretty early in the Posies' career. That must have been a watershed moment.

Ken Stringfellow: Yeah, it was probably the first major project that we did outside of our own band. The first time playing with people, not only at a professional level, but who were fricking icons. We had no real experience in that kinda thing. We were pretty green. And it was great that Jody [Stephens] took that chance on us. He really believed in us.

It's interesting to note that that first Big Star show, in Columbia, Missouri, was the same weekend that [the Posie's third album] Frosting on the Beater was released. In fact we flew on a red eye from the release show in Seattle to Columbia to play the gig. So things were about to go up to another level, 'cos Frosting on the Beater did have much more success than the album before it.

When they were putting that show together, after Alex [Chilton] unexpectedly said yes rather than no, the DJ's from KCOU who proposed the show were trying to make it a bigger event, and they had hopes to get all these big names in there, like Mike Mills from R.E.M., Paul Westerberg, Matthew Sweet, etc. And for various reasons, none of them would do it. Jon and I were begging and pleading to get the gig. And I think what was cool about it was that we were a little bit known, but not really known. It allowed the focus to be on Alex and Jody. The Replacements sold a lot more records than Big Star ever did, so if Paul had been in there, it would've been like, "Paul sits in with one of his favorite groups" in the headline. And instead it was "Big Star reunites."

Jon Auer: Yeah, there was a short list of better-known names for who might become the new members to supplement Big Star. But if you think about it, and this is not to discredit them, I think they might have stuck out a little too much. As great as Paul Westerberg is, I can't imagine him fitting in as well to the Big Star sound as we did. Even if Ken and I had been more famous at that point, I don't think that would have been a deterrent. I think we had the sound in our voices and also in the way that we played, and that gelled with what Jody and Alex were doing. I really think we were the perfect people for the job. I don't mean that in an arrogant way at all.

Also, Big Star never put on that many shows back in the day. They never really had those harmonies live. But Ken and I could do them. Plus, I was a massive Chris Bell fan. We had already done versions of "I Am the Cosmos" and "Feel," that Jody Stephens ended up hearing eventually.

So it was Jody who initiated bringing you guys in?

KS: Well, I think he'd been pushing for us all along in a way, since the time we first met him. We had a major label budget to make our second album, Dear 23. And we looked, naturally, into recording at Ardent, because so many of our favorite albums had been done there. Big Star, but also Pleased to Meet Me by the Replacements, Green by R.E.M.. The studio was part of the legend. And then, to our shock, we got this brochure and a cover letter from Jody Stephens. It'd be like, you know, contacting Abbey Road and calling them up, and you hear "Hello, this is Ringo, just running the desk today." You know, it was like, “What? Jody works there?”

We didn't end up working at Ardent for that record, but we got on Jody's radar, and eventually we met him. He knew we were huge fans and was very flattered. We gave him a copy of our single with "Feel" by Big Star, and "I Am the Cosmos" by Chris Bell, which not a lot of people knew about at that point. He was totally blown away, despite the fact that I fucked up the lyrics on "Feel." We didn't have the Southern R&B influence that people from Memphis would have, but the glorious, chiming, vocal harmony-laden pop was our thing. All those vocal harmonies, which even Big Star didn't do live back in the day. It's not like Paul Westerberg or whoever were gonna be able to do that so smoothly, and sound like young kids. Which Big Star basically were when they started. So, we were the right age for the role.

At the time it was a big deal, and people flew in from all over the world to see the show in Missouri. And it got a review in Melody Maker: "Alex saunters on and spends some time twiddling with his guitar, blah blah blah, and they start to play and the most remarkable thing happens: they sound like Big Star." That was the quote. And I thought, that's exactly how it should be.

When did you guys first get into Big Star?

KS: My first contact with Big Star would be seeing them referenced in interviews with R.E.M.. And going "I wonder what they're talking about?" It's not like I could get the records in Bellingham, WA. Alex Chilton was releasing albums in the mid 80s. And there was a little bit of press around that, and then came the Replacements song. So that started to fill in the story, but we still hadn't heard the damn records. They just weren't anywhere.

So we put out our first cassette in 1988, and right as it was getting known and getting on the radio, older guys at the record store were like, "If this is the kind of music you've been making, then you've got to listen to Big Star, because you're going in that direction."
#1 Record era Big Star
  • #1 Record era Big Star
As fortune would have it, the CD reissues of the Big Star albums happened right then. Basically it was love at first listen, with the first chunky guitar notes of "Feel," and then when the band kicks in, it doesn't sound like anything else from its time. I mean, the songs are amazing, and there's this clear lineage from the Beatles and the Byrds, and there's all this cool soul-influenced bit, like "When My Baby's Beside Me". It's just such a great mix. The "cool" sound of that era, the early 70s, was more frumpy, you know, a little rounded off and a little muffley in a way, and that was considered a cool aesthetic. Like it was less corporate sounding that way. And Big Star recordings were just jaw-droppingly crisp and hi fi and amazing. It's like the Beatles, where the studio they are in just happens to be the greatest studio in the world and it's this perfect blend. Big Star at Ardent are that.

JA: We'd kind of exhausted our options in Bellingham. So I moved down to Seattle and crashed on Ken's couch for a while. I got a job at this record store in the University District. And we ended up jamming with Mike and Arthur "Rick" Roberts at that time, and that turned into the band. So I'm working at this record store, and I had a kind of mentor there who was in an older band in Seattle, and he liked our first cassette, Failure. And his logic was that if I was making that music, I must be into certain things. So of course he would mention people like Elvis Costello or Squeeze or XTC and of course I would say yes, I knew their stuff.

He would try to stump me, and one day he said, "Hey, have you ever heard of this band, Big Star?" Then he said, "Look, I"m gonna do something for you here." And he went to the vinyl section of the record store, which at this point was very small, because CDs were the thing. He said, "I'm gonna do you a solid here, I'm gonna buy this record for you, I'm gonna let you get off work early, and I want you to take it home and I want you to put on this song called 'September Gurls.'" I'm like, "Well, okay. I get to get off three hours early and I get a free record and I get to go home." I did what he said. I followed instructions and dropped the needle, and without sounding too corny about it, it was like hearing something that was already part of me or something. It sounded like the greatest song I'd ever heard at that point. I couldn't believe this song wasn't a massive international hit. It's  probably at the top of the list of songs that should have been hits but never were. It has all the components, and it has soul too. It's not just a piece of craft. There's something that's beyond the sum of its parts.

That's a great boss

JA: Yeah! And you can imagine how it was in the future, when we got to join that band and play with them for 17 years. Talk about hindsight, when you're looking at your life in reverse: you don't really see these moments until you look back at them. It's pretty remarkable.

KS: By 1993, I'd listened to those records, but I'd never tried to play the bass lines. Yet I'd heard them so many times, when I started rehearsing, I was like, "I already know these bass lines!" I had listened to it so many times, I even had the bass lines memorized by ear. We're like, Illuminati level nerds on Big Star.

Greetings from Beautiful Bellingham!
So your self-released cassette album, Failure, was your entré into Seattle radio, and later was released as an LP. I must say I'm pretty impressed, revisiting it now, as something put together in a home studio. I understand the recording of that was largely your doing, Jon.

JA: Oh yeah, it's 99.99% me. [laughs] Yeah that was my job. In hindsight, you don't really realize the actual fortune you have in your life while it's occurring. In hindsight, I can't believe how lucky I was and that my father was into music. I had a working recording studio in my house before this was a common thing. In this era, everyone has a laptop and can record on it, but then it wasn't so usual. So I'd do the normal things as a teenager. I had girlfriends and we'd go out and try to get people to buy us alcohol and other recreations, and we would have fun and party, but there were also times when I would spend all weekend in this studio space by myself. I would stay up late. I'd work until the sun would come up and then I'd crash and wake up and keep going. Nobody told me how to do it or taught me how to do it. I just had these tools here. My dad showed me a few things and I learned by watching others and asking questions. Mostly it just came from trial and error. And there was a lot of trial, a lot of just messing around.

So I was a 15, 16 year old kid recording all the bands in town. And I was working in a record store. My manager was a very good friend of mine. He turned me on to a lot of great records. But he heard what I was doing, and suggested I listen to things like Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies. This wonderful man named Henry Szankiewicz. We formed this little record company called Jon Henry and we put out this thing called The Bellingham Complication. It was the first compilation of Bellingham bands, basically. This is pre-Failure. And we made a limited run of cassettes. And the deal was, the bands would come up to my house, and they each had two hours. We did side one, five bands in one day, and side two, five bands the second day. It was just like an assembly line. And I was the engineer and we were the producers on all that.

Early Posies
  • Early Posies
So that led to me being the guy responsible for all things audio in the early years of the Posies. Failure was really made out of necessity. Ken and I were a little awkward, maybe, and we also were going through many different phases. musically and also in terms of fashion. In this era of Failure, we were listening to a lot of pop music. But there was also a big Goth streak in us. In fact, if you look at the artwork on Failure, the picture of us, you can see us still in our Goth phase. So you can imagine how weird it would be to try playing in a band where you look like you were in a Goth band but you wanted to play these 60s influenced pop songs. It didn't make sense to people, they were like, "Who are these weirdos?" So eventually Ken and I were like, "Fuck it, let's do it ourselves." So I played all the drums on the record, and Ken played all the bass to keep it equal. And we just made this record on weekends. Ken was already in Seattle at the University of Washington, and I was going to Western [Washington University], which was the school in Bellingham where my father taught, and we would just knock the stuff out. I think we spent 90 hours making that record.

One more nerdy thing for you about this recording: I didn't have any great tape deck or DAT machine to mix down to, so I actually mixed everything to a cassette. The CD and vinyl masters are all made from that master cassette, which I still have. My father's deck had dbx noise reduction on it. So I mixed the instruments on cassette, put that mix back onto 8 track analog, did the vocals, and then mixed that back onto a cassette. And I think it sounds pretty damn good considering that. Whenever I hear people talk about how they've gotta have the best this or that, I'm like, "You know what, it just has to sound good. It doesn't matter what you use."

And that led to me engineering on [Posies' second album] Dear 23. The track "Apology" was my 24 track demo in the studio. And I would go to the mastering sessions too. That's why I have all the backups, all the DATs and CD refs.

Frosting on the Beater and Beyond
KS: Frosting on the Beater is kind of like a Dinosaur Jr.-ized Big Star in a sense. We actually asked J Mascis to produce it; he wasn't really doing that at that time. But we ended up working with Don Fleming, who'd worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. And it certainly is true that the guitars are a little tweaked on Frosting on the Beater. But the way that we write and sing is still so sweet that I think Frosting is the perfect balance of the salty and sweet aspects.

JA: You can imagine how for me the current tour rekindles that kind of lead guitar interplay, that guitar/drum interplay that I have with Mike Mussberger from that era. That's kind of what Frosting on the Beater was about. That's also the record where I felt that we started to deliver something that could be called our own sound. It wasn't as much wearing the influences on our sleeves, as we were doing on Dear 23 and Failure. I really feel like we came into our own. Besides the vocals and the songwriting, a lot of the guitar sounds are very unique. And that's kinda what that record's about, the incredible drumming and the awesome guitar sounds.

My guitar sound just kind of happened accidentally in my basement, late one night. I was recording "Coming Right Along" as a four track cassette demo. We tried to do a full band version of that, which is on the re-release. But in the end Don Fleming deemed the demo version better. So we took my harmony off the demo and added Ken's and that was pretty much it. 
Frosting on the Beater era Posies
  • Frosting on the Beater era Posies

Hearing that guitar sound for the first time was exciting. And I think that really influenced the rest of the record. It was all pretty much this one guitar, which is a very cherished item to me: a 1973 cream colored, three-pickup Gibson SG Custom. And I would use the rhythm pickup. And my father was a musician and he had this amp, a Fender Super Champ. It was a Paul Rivera design, with these high gain stages and this pull pot and this incredible spring reverb in it. I didn't use my father's, but I stumbled onto one in a pawn shop, and it was pretty beat up and worn. Someone had replaced the grille cloth with a bandanna. It looked horrible. But I plugged it in and turned the gain and the reverb all the way up. And that was the sound. Instantly. And I was like "Whoa!" Everybody who's heard it, wants to know what the sound is on Frosting on the Beater.

Frosting was also the first record with extensive touring, and the first era of the band when we really became a good live band. If you saw us back in the day, on the Frosting tours, we were on fire, man! We were young, we were into it. But we also had the experience of touring on Dear 23 and working out a lot of the kinks and the awkwardness. We kinda knew more what we were doing at that point. Of course we had Mike, and then Dave came into the picture. The chemistry occurred, and that was that.

The Current Tour
I think a lot of people are gonna be psyched to hear the old line up again in this 30th Anniversary Tour. How is that working, after playing for many years with other side men?

KS: Things were fairly volatile back in the day. No one was very secure in their role, or our role in music. We were striving to establish something, and also to become grownups. And it wasn't very smooth.Jon got married at that time, I got married at the time of Frosting, but we didn't have successful first marriages. So the kinds of things that give you stability and maturity hadn't really come into the picture. And there were often times when we certainly didn't appreciate each other the way that we should have.

So all of that, of course, is long gone. Now we've done different things, realized what a great moment that was and what a great opportunity that was, and that we didn't totally blow it. I don't see the story of our band as a tragedy. I see it as, we did pretty good. We didn't bust into the upper echelons of the million sellers, which would have been nice, but it certainly wasn't the Big Star story, where they had bad deal after bad deal that basically left them selling like couple thousand records. You know, we sold more records the day that Amazing Disgrace came out than Big Star sold in their whole career, until later. Anyway, I think everybody's just really happy to be here, and we've got kids and marriages and we're grown ups. It's as simple as that.

I'm sure that'll come through in the playing also.

KS: Yeah, I would say that the old Posies were a great live band, most of the time. But you throw in twentysomething partying and all the personal stuff, and though we had a kind of magic, we really didn't know how to direct it and control it. Now, I think we've got magic that's completely in control. Like, you've got the wizards going now. We put so much focus onto the show, and we don't do stupid stuff that would imperil that, and we can handle our liquor. So when we get onstage it's bangin'.

I have to say, one other thing I've been noticing: Basically everybody is working together. We have a lot of quirks. We make quirky music. And I think back in the day we might have found someone else's quirks annoying, and I think people also didn't rein it in. Your personality shouldn't extend so far in the van that it takes up another seat, you know what I mean? We're working together, is what I'm trying to say, and it makes everything easier. Back in the old days, it felt like making progress was like pulling a 500 ton sled through a fucking field of mud, and here I feel like, even with these hefty drives, it's like skiing through fresh powder. It's a dream.

Do you foresee future music-making with the reunited quartet?

JA: I kinda just have to focus on the now moments. And many of them are great. Personally, I'm very happy that this lineup is together again. For me, the Frosting on the Beater lineup of the Posies is my favorite lineup of the band that ever existed. I gotta qualify that by saying I've had pretty deep relationships with everybody that we've played with. These are all people that consider close friends, really. And some I see more of over the years. I made a record with Joe Skyward, for instance, who was on Amazing Disgrace, and I've toured and made records with Brian Young, who also played with Fountains of Wayne before coming on to Amazing Disgrace.

But as far as the actual playing, this is the best lineup. Dave Fox, the way he plays his bass, he's got this feel that I like, and he's not overly muso about what he plays. And then you couple that Mike Musburger, who, without sounding too much like a gushing schoolkid, for me he's one of the great drummers of all time. I was gutted when he was no longer in the band. That was a big blow for us. As a musician, you must appreciate the value of a good drummer. A great drummer can make a good band great. You've gotta have that foundation there. And not only do we have that foundation with Mike, but he provides a lot of the window dressing too. 'Cos he's the kinda drummer that other drummers bow down to. Hey audience, if you've never seen Mike Musburger play drums before, it's a sight to see.

Given your time in Big Star, coming back to Memphis must mean a lot to you both.

JA: Oh yeah. And Memphis has been so good to Ken and I. In a way, we've been adopted by Ardent and Memphis and that whole scene. I mean, even when Big Star received a Memphis Music Hall of Fame award, they put Ken and I in the hall of fame as well, for our contribution to propagating Big Star. We weren't expecting that and were very touched by that.

I would count Jody Stephens as one of my dearest friends at this point. He's just such a warm human being. Anyone will say that about him. I'm just glad that we have that relationship and those experiences together.  
Big Star at New Daisy - LOUIS D GRAFLUND
  • Louis D Graflund
  • Big Star at New Daisy

And Alex Chilton. I got to hang out with the guy a lot. He was a really interesting man. Some of my favorite times were just hanging out with him with a guitar and telling stories and just playing whatever. He was almost better when people weren't looking. Yeah. To quote Alex, "it's a gas." It's always a gas to come back to Memphis.

Here's a slice of the band in their heyday:

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Dr. Herman Green: 88 Years Young, Still Blowing the Blues

Posted By on Sat, May 26, 2018 at 7:24 AM

  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Herman Green
Dr. Herman Green, the saxophonist supreme who started out on Beale Street in the 1940s, and who, after travelling the world playing his horn with giants from John Coltrane to Lionel Hampton to Stevie Wonder, became a Beale Street institution in his own right for the past 40 years, turns 88 on May 27th. It's a Sunday, a day when, for over three decades, he's been reliably playing with the funk/soul/jam outfit FreeWorld on Beale. So naturally, it's party time!

"It just so happens," says FreeWorld co-founder Richard Cushing, "that we play Blues City Cafe every Sunday anyway. It really dovetailed together nicely." Cushing adds that, although Green's health has been less than ideal lately, he'll be there and "he's really looking forward to spending this special birthday evening with all his friends, family, fans & loved ones."

Cushing adds that "we have a bunch of special musical guests lined up to join us on stage to honor Herman that night," hinting that the guests may include super fans such as Jim Dandy or Carla Thomas. Seeing the Queen of Memphis Soul will no doubt resonate deeply with Green, who got his start in show business thanks to her father, the late Rufus Thomas.

Such a celebration also resonates with the location, which had a specific mission under its previous name. "Blues City Cafe used to be Doe's Eat Place," notes Cushing. "And they envisioned the band box there to be kind of like Preservation Hall in New Orleans: a place where the old players always had a home, at least once a week." Certainly it has served that mission well with Green, who's been a fixture there. But, Cushing adds, "Under doctors orders, Herman hasn't had a thing to drink in over six months, so please refrain from buying him his formerly beloved shots of vodka."

While Green has not been playing as much lately, he still blows on occasion, and on May 12th, he carried out a tradition of 25 years by playing at the Memphis College of Art graduation commencement, marching the new graduates in to the ringing sounds of his saxophone. It was MCA that granted Green his honorary doctorate. (Read more about Green's life in our 2017 profile of him, below).

So it's likely you'll hear his legendary tone at some point, depending on the doctor's health. Either way, it's a perfect way to ring in Memorial Day, honoring one of Memphis' greatest living players, who's held his own among the titans of jazz, blues and soul for nearly a century.

Dr. Herman Green's 88th Birthday Party, Blues City Cafe, Sunday, May 27, 9 pm - 2 am.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Quintron Brings Weather Warlock to Bar DKDC

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 7:53 PM

Weather Warlock at St. Maurice Church in New Orleans
  • Weather Warlock at St. Maurice Church in New Orleans
This Friday, a slight chance of thunderstorms will give way to clear skies in the evening, with temps hovering around 70 degrees. While that's not always relevant to club goers, studying the forecast before heading over to Bar DKDC this weekend will give you an inkling of what to expect from Weather Warlock

The brainchild of Mr. Quintron, trailblazing auteur of the Hammond organ based in New Orleans, whose one-man shows are built around manic keyboard grooves and the rhythms of his hand-built Drum Buddy™, Weather Warlock is a custom-built synthesizer connected to multiple weather sensors. Its tones and filters are directly altered by signals from the sensors, translating the wind, rain, and sun into tonal impressions. It's innovative enough to have earned a feature in Popular Science. But Weather Warlock is also the name of the band of improvisers Quintron has recruited to enhance the synth's sonic responses with live human interaction. No two shows are alike, as each begins with the eerie, sensor-driven tones generated by Quintron's machine, then takes flight into parts unknown. It's a slightly unhinged drone-rock adventure that must be seen and heard to be believed.

Curious about the tour and this week's stop in Memphis, I talked to Quintron about making music that's wired to the sky.

Memphis Flyer: I fondly recall seeing Weather Warlock at the Brooks Museum of Art in 2016. It was a heavy, heavy sound.

Mr. Quintron: That was with a 100 percent pickup band. That was all Memphians.

It seemed very successful. You managed to draw a little thundercloud over the show. Any other experiences of affecting the weather while playing?

Last night we had a really successful rehearsal. When we opened the door to walk up to the corner store and get a beer, the sky was totally green. The sun sensors were going nuts, the wind started blowing, and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in two seconds.

That Brooks performance was, like many Weather Warlock shows, at dusk, but this Friday you're playing at night.

As opposed to sunset, yeah. I wanted to try it. I like boundaries and rules, but I also didn't want to be ridiculous and basically ensure that this band never goes on tour. That parameter [playing at sunset] makes it incredibly difficult to get into the van and have a logical string of shows with the musicians I want to play with. These weather sensors are definitely very exciting during sunrise and sunset and electrical storms in the evening. But they're still taking weather information all night long. So it will be receiving weather info and pumping it into the concert, just not with those sunset sounds. Basically it made the tour be able to work, doing it this way. It was my choice. I wanted to do it. And if in the end I felt like it was a total cop out, well then, back to sunset-only shows.

All the Weather Warlock purists might be up in arms.

I'm fully expecting to get some shit for that.


You don't even know how catty and mean electronics nerds can get! You know, I got a bunch of shit the first time I toured Europe without my real actual thousand-pound Hammond organ. One German man in particular was extremely upset and demanded his money back. He said, "Quintron, I think you're being too convenient."

And this was one of the first shows, so it was after a super hellish flight and all the stuff that you have to go through to get to Europe. You're just totally exhausted and beaten up by life, and there's this guy complaining and demanding his money back because I didn't ship a thousand-pound Hammond Model D or whatever.

Looking at the video of Singing House, the prototype of what became the Weather Warlock, it seems like the kinds of parameters and the way they affect the synth have really changed over time.
Absolutely, yeah. That was prototype #1, and now I think this one I'm taking on tour is about up to Mark 5, and it's still developing. Yeah, it's been really refined. And my understanding of how best to tune the sensors and tune the circuit, so that they get the most variable sounds out of the sensors, has really developed over the years of building this. But that's what this kind of thing is all about. Especially with this weather-controlled thing, it's like you really don't know until you stick it out there and live with it, how it's gonna behave and what works best, and what you like best and what becomes annoying.

When you get a bunch of musicians up there jamming with the Warlock, is it a challenge to just let the Warlock speak? It seems like it would be easy to overpower.

Yeah, that's the point. We just make it go away for a while. We take it as a jumping off point, as a kind of spiritual center, to be cheesy about it. And then we just wipe it out with volume for a while. But it's always there. And then it has its moments in the set, where it's back to just featuring those sounds again. And then it will kind of inform the tempo of the next thing we go into. 'Cos it's a musical instrument inside as well. Outside, it's picking up all this weather, but I built it so you can really jam on it and play it, and change the phasing speed and move the delay around and mix the different sounds. So it's a really playable synth as well as taking info from the weather. And I've done plenty of concerts where it's just me and the synth. The new record that Third Man just put out (I just got 'em in the mail today) is a recording of just me manipulating the Weather Warlock synthesizer in Nashville during the total solar eclipse.

Yeah, what effect did that have?

The total solar eclipse of 2017 - NASA/AUBREY GEMIGNANI
  • NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
  • The total solar eclipse of 2017
It was really great. I didn't know... It was like, "Is this gonna be kind of nothing?" It was a very boring day. It was hot and there was no wind. Nothing was really active, it wasn't raining. Thank goodness it wasn't raining, 'cos it would have been cloudy and you wouldn't have seen the eclipse. But it behaved exactly as I thought it would in response to the eclipse. It was like a sunset in fast motion. It was like a time-lapse sunset, sonically. It was really really nuts.

Does the pitch vary according to the light?

Yeah, the pitch drops. It's calibrated so that it's beyond human hearing all day long, and then when the UV gets just reduced enough, a high tone will pop in to audibility, and then it will descend in pitch until darkness, when it goes away. And during a regular sunset, that takes about 40 minutes. During the solar eclipse it took about ten minutes. And then it rose back up, so it was like hearing a full day. Like hearing a very quick sunset and then a very quick sunrise paired up next to each other. But the power went off at Third Man before we could get the reemergence of the sun. 

And the B side of this record is another solo synth recording of the Weather Warlock responding to a hail storm in Las Vegas, New Mexico. And I mixed in an audio recording of the actual hail. It was called a microburst hail storm. Have you ever seen one of those? I don't know what makes a microburst storm different from a regular storm, but they're very, very intense and really focused in a small geographic area. I didn't realize until later that that's what we had been experiencing. Hail big as golf balls. You had to get in the car or you'd get hurt, for about a half an hour. And rain and wind. Crazy.

It didn't damage the sensors?

No, this thing's been through several hurricanes. The most interesting times are during an evening storm when the UV is rapidly fluctuating up and down. It'll activate the sky sensor and sort of go "whooroarrrghhuuh." It sounds like a ghost, constantly moving around in pitch, going up and down, and then lightning jumps in there and that affects something. You can hear it on this record with the hail storm.

But this tour is as much about a band and this different mode of playing and working with musicians, as it is about the weather.

So you play with different musicians in each town?

Yeah, I'm touring with Aaron Hill on drums, who plays in EyeHateGod from New Orleans, and Kunal Prakash, an Indian guitar player who's worked with tons of people, most notably Jeff the Brotherhood. He was their second guitarist for a while. And then Gary Wrong is joining us on some shows. But in every city we're gonna pick up two or three local improvisers to play with us. It's largely improvised music, though there's structure and riffs and stuff. So Alicja Trout and Seth Moody are gonna play with us in Memphis. Seth's gonna play sax and Moog and Alicja's gonna play some kinda synth.

One video featured a guy playing a mouth bow. Is he on this tour?

Cooper Moore? No. He's best friends with William Parker, who's one of the OG free jazz upright bassists. He was very active in the ’60s and ’70s and is still playing his ass off. Cooper Moore and him are partners and play a lot together in New York. I played with William down here in New Orleans, and that's how I met Cooper Moore. He played his diddley bow and I was totally fascinated with that, and he played with us the last time we went to Brooklyn. But he's not gonna join us this time. I'm trying to make it different than the last tour, and play with different musicians. We're playing with a classical sitarist in New York this time. And an Egyptian keyboardist, and Paula Henderson, who plays sax and the EWI.

Do you give the musicians any kind of parameters, like "don't play scalar music" or what have you?

I kind of conduct people in and out. Almost without exception, most musicians, if they're just jumping in and improvising, want some kind of guidance and structure so it's not just a free for all. Nobody should feel intimidated by rules or have too much to worry about. Improvised music got really structured and gamey, like the Knitting Factory stuff in the ’80s and ’90s, and it was interesting. This is more jammy, I guess, though it is very structured, and there's riffs and changes. The hardest thing to do is to not play. But other than that, there's really no rules. There's times when you need to come out, and I'll have signals for that, and times when you need to come in. In general, fly like a bird.

Quintron and Weather Warlock play Bar DKDC Friday, May 18 at 10:30 pm.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

The 39th Annual Blues Music Awards: Winners Both Global & Local

Posted By on Sun, May 13, 2018 at 8:37 PM

Janiva Magness, Dom Flemons, Bobby Rush, David Porter, Candi Staton, Steve Van Zandt at the BMAs - JEFF FASANO
  • Jeff Fasano
  • Janiva Magness, Dom Flemons, Bobby Rush, David Porter, Candi Staton, Steve Van Zandt at the BMAs

Everyone was dressed to the nines last night as the 39th Annual Blues Music Awards paid honors to the world's greatest blues artists. It's a tradition that would doubtless make W.C. Handy smile, just steps away from where he brought global recognition to the music. Now just over a century after he published “Memphis Blues,” the genre is thriving and always evolving.

Steven Van Zandt at the BMAs - CONQUEROO
  • Conqueroo
  • Steven Van Zandt at the BMAs
Master of Ceremonies Steven Van Zandt acknowledged that the power of the blues goes beyond aesthetics. “At a time when our country is more segregated than at any time in the past hundred years, music holds us together and touches all our souls,” he reflected from the podium. Award presenters included Van Zandt, Tony Joe White, Joe Louis Walker, Janiva Magness, Ruthie Foster, Candi Staton, and David Porter. The latter two, presenting together, offered some amusing banter, seemingly making plans to collaborate while onstage.

Tony Joe White at the BMAs - CONQUEROO
  • Conqueroo
  • Tony Joe White at the BMAs
Among the award winners' acceptance speeches, the most moving appearance was by Rev. Charles Hodges and Archie Turner, accepting the award for Best Soul Blues Album, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (as David Porter quipped, “Robert must be off somewhere making money”), and reminding us of all that Willie Mitchell and crew have accomplished over the decades. While Memphis native Vaneese Thomas (daughter of Rufus, sister of Carla) lost out to Mavis Staples as Best Soul Blues Female Artist, newcomers and local heroes Southern Avenue snagged Best Emerging Artist Album. Grammy winners Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ won Best Contemporary Blues Album with their TajMo
  • Joseph A. Rosen
  • Keb' Mo'

Performances were inspired all around. The North Mississippi Allstars lit up the room with their dynamic set, and one could feel the emotions of the room rise as they sang their funky “Prayer for Peace.” At one point, Cody Dickinson played drums and keyboard riffs simultaneously; later, he moved to a synth- or pedal-treated washboard for a psychedelic down-home front-porch finale.

Another galvanizing performance was turned in by Harrison Kennedy, whose a cappella opening number brought the room to a hush, as he kept time on a shaker and moaned out his soul, moving many to give him a standing ovation.

Blues Foundation President and CEO Barbara Newman noted, “We are watching the trends closely, and the blues, as a genre, is definitely on an uptick, with younger musicians being drawn to create and play this style of music and a continually growing following of the music on our social media outlets and beyond.”

Blues Music Award winners
1. Acoustic Album: Break the Chain – Doug MacLeod
2. Acoustic Artist: Taj Mahal
3. Album: TajMo – Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’
4. B.B. King Entertainer: Taj Mahal
5. Band: Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
6. Best Emerging Artist Album: Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue
7. Contemporary Blues Album: TajMo – Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’
8. Contemporary Blues Female Artist: Samantha Fish
9. Contemporary Blues Male Artist: Keb’ Mo'
10. Historical: A Legend Never Dies, Essential Recordings 1976-1997 – Luther Allison (Ruf Recordings)
11. Instrumentalist-Vocalist: Beth Hart
12. Instrumentalist-Bass: Michael “Mudcat” Ward
13. Instrumentalist-Drums: Tony Braunagel
14. Instrumentalist-Guitar: Ronnie Earl
15. Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Jason Ricci
16. Instrumentalist-Horn: Trombone Shorty
17. Pinetop Perkins Piano Player (Instrumentalist – Piano): Victor Wainwright
18. Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female): Ruthie Foster
19. Rock Blues Album: We’re All In This Together – Walter Trout
20. Rock Blues Artist: Mike Zito
21. Song: “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” written by Rick Estrin and performed by Rick Estrin
22. Soul Blues Album: Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm - Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
23. Soul Blues Female Artist: Mavis Staples
24. Soul Blues Male Artist: Curtis Salgado
25. Traditional Blues Album: Right Place, Right Time – Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter
26. Traditional Blues Male Artist: Rick Estrin

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Listen Up: Clay Markley

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2018 at 9:31 PM

  • Michael Donahue
  • Clay Markley

As a child living in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, Clay Markley drew cartoons. But the characters weren’t Batman, Superman, or other superheros.

“They all looked like me,” says Markley, 31.

But not exactly like him. “I always imagined having long hair because mom would never let me have long hair. I guess years later as the cartoon progressed, the characters would emulate the things I would desire. Like tattoos and piercings.”

He also held a guitar in some of the drawings. “A bass guitar. I also drew my own custom pro models.”

As the years went by, Markley let his hair grow. He got tattoos and piercings. And he got a guitar in his hands. But life wasn’t smooth sailing.

“I know a lot of people say this with pride: ‘I’ve seen a lot of things. A lot of things have happened to me.’ I really have undergone a lot. I don’t say that from a point of pride. I don’t say that proudly.”

Markley’s hair was still short and he didn’t have any piercings or tattoos when he picked up the bass for the first time when he was in the fifth grade. His friend’s dad taught him to play so he couple play bass in a band with his sons who played guitar and drums. “He taught me my first bass line to a song. It was actually a Christian song he taught me. One he made up. And we performed it at the fifth grade talent show and we won. ‘What’s the Good News.’”

Markley still didn’t consider himself a musician. “I didn’t think I’d ever be cool enough to be a musician. I thought it involved people in big cities that were born into it, or, mysteriously, on the radio.”

Then Markley, who was overweight in elementary school, lost weight the summer before he entered middle school. “No one knew who I was. They’re like, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Clay.’ They’re like, ‘No way. You’re not Clay.’ It was really a culture shock for me. And then something that never happened to me before: the girls were actually interested in me.”

They started calling him. “I’m freaking out. For me, I’m just that fat kid that likes to draw cartoons. That probably doesn’t shower enough.”

In seventh grade, he became the new Clay Markley. “All of sudden different kids that never talked to me wanted to be my friends.”

Markley, who adopted “one of those late ‘90s beach blonde haircuts,” dated the sister of the most popular girl in school and began hanging out with their friends. “I became totally different. I started going shopping with them. Going to the mall. Started wearing Abercrombie. And changed completely.”

That didn’t last long. “I watched this movie and I think it changed me because I was so impressionable. I’ve always been impressionable. It was called SLC Punk and it was about these punks that lived in Salt Lake City, the Mormon capital, and they’re just creating anarchy everywhere they go. I loved it. For some reason, the music was like nothing I’d ever heard. And their attitude towards everything was so different from anything I’d comprehended. Instead of conforming to the system, it was identifying the system and basically revolting against it.

“I pierced my lip in the eighth grade and I got suspended for it. Just started acting up. I was in school suspensions for dropping the F bomb.”

He dressed differently. “One day I wore oven mittens to school. I would take whatever color of Kool-Aid I could find and dye my hair that color for that day.”

He also put Krazy Glue in his hair. “Then I talked my mom into letting me grow my hair out. She’s like, ‘As long as you don’t put glue in it.’”

Markley was more into skateboarding than into music. “I was like, ‘This is anarchy on four wheels.’”

He began smoking pot. “I liked it. It gave me a break from myself and my mind.”

Markley continued to play bass, but his music interest piqued when he began playing keyboards. His mother, who was taking keyboard lessons, “had the keyboard hooked up to this Mac with a midi cable. And with GarageBand I figured out I was able to play not only sounds on the keyboard that go through the computer, but I could actually create sounds. I started getting into sound production.”

He thought he was “just creating weird sounds,” but, he says, “I was actually composing songs.”

Markley was making music, but he also was continuing to get in trouble. He and some friends got caught breaking into a house. “At that age of 16, I got on probation, broke my probation, was spending every weekend of my summer in juvenile hall.”

He had been drinking and doing drugs for years. “It wasn’t severe at that time, but, of course, it escalated.”

Markley was kicked out of school. “Pot and drinking. Parties. All that stuff. Everything they don’t want you to do, I did.”

He “got into this meathead phase” so he could try to stop smoking pot. He “got all hostile and started getting into boxing and fighting. Started hanging out with the tough guys in school.”

Markley moved to California for eight months. “I’m in California at 17. This is amazing. Everyone has pot. This is awesome. I was listening to music. I can be a little of everything here. I can be a skater. I can be punk. I can be a hippie.”

He got back into music big time when he was 18. Markley, who had moved back to Wisconsin, and some guys played in a jam band, Crunch Factory. “That was our coined term. And we thought we were very cool saying it, ‘Hey, man. It’s crunchy crunchy jam.’ Everyone would say, ‘That dude’s heady.’ But the thing about being heady, if you’re truly heady, you don’t say you’re heady.”

He and the band members got an apartment together in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “It was the birthplace of Les Paul. There’s a really cool little music scene there. About two months later we got evicted. Band broke up. Someone got stuck with the lease.”

Markley moved in with a friend, who had just gotten a five-bedroom farmhouse and barn “in the middle of nowhere” in Watertown, and formed “Tiramisu,” a jam band. We played shows in our barn. The barn had a full bar. It had a stage. It had a basketball court. It was the best place to party in the world.”

His drinking kicked in. “I remember every day after work i’d stop and get a fifth of whisky and a 12 pack. Old Thompson and Miller LIght. PBR if they weren’t sold out.”

Things got out of hand. “It was getting to the point where a week would go by and I’d be like, ‘What the hell happened?’ I’ll never forget that feeling I had of just, ‘This is not the way to live.’”

The band broke up. “I ended up calling my parents and saying, ‘Hey, mom and dad. I have a problem.’”

Markley moved back home and stopped drinking. He cut his hair and began exercising. “That was a big deal for me to cut my hair.

“I thought for the first time, ‘Do I actually like music?’ It was a hard question to seriously ask myself. Because drinking became associated with music. And music became associated with drinking. And they went hand in hand. I relied on it. I relied on music for all my creative juices, influences, how I played on stage. I relied on it for everything in music.”

He then began “identifying with the acoustic guitar” a lot more. “I felt like I was able to say a little more. I was able to sing with it. That’s when I believe I started getting into songwriting. And that was a huge moment for me. To be like, ‘I do love music.’”

“Crazy Young Lady’ was his first original song. “It’s about an ex-girlfriend that I had on the farm. And she broke my heart.”

He also realized he could sing. “I never thought I could sing. I know I’m not an amazing singer, but I can sing enough to get my point across.”

Markley was 22 when he said, “I’m a songwriter. That’s what I am.”

His songs were “about a girl. Every time. About getting sober. Real heavy stuff.”

Markley became “spiritual” after he was fired from one of his many factory jobs. “I was just getting into Christianity and I went to a Christian music festival with one of my friends in sobriety. It was called Life Fest.”

Noticing a booth for Visible Music College in Memphis, Markley grabbed one of the school’s brochures and stuck it on his bulletin board at home. “I spent a year working at those factories and looking at that brochure on my bulletin board. Every night when I was falling asleep I would look at it and I would envision myself on a stage.”

Markley got fired from his factory job after falling asleep working third shift. “I’m like, ‘That’s it.’”

He and a buddy hit the road for Memphis and Visible Music College. In Memphis, Markley immediately “noticed the weather. How people talked. How people were a little friendlier. I could tell there was a spirit here. I could tell there was an atmosphere here. That there was something electric and alive.”

Markley loved Visible Music College. “I couldn’t believe I was going to school for music. That was the coolest thing. I felt so cool. I felt so good. From being a kid who never thought he could be a musician, to be in a music college that I had auditioned to get into. I was very surprised.”

He played bass and wrote songs. “I started messing around with some electronic stuff, too.”

Markley then decided to again change up things. “I was going to switch schools and go to this music college in Germany by a man named David Pierce. He does radical missionary ministries. Just going into some of the darkest places in the world and doing this Christian music. In places that you can be killed for doing it. I loved his passion. Because it resonated with that whole passion: ‘No, I’m not going be normal. No, I’m going to pave my own path.’ I just loved that. It spoke to the whole hippie thing, the punk thing, all of that.”

Markley was accepted to the school, but he didn’t have enough money to go. He ended up taking a trip to Alaska and getting a job with a buddy at a Bible camp in Alpine, Alaska. They played for worship services each day. “I know Christian music gets pigeon-holed, but we made it fun. I remember we were doing this song called ‘Blessed be the Name’ and we were doing 190 beats per minute making it punk rock for the kids. They loved it.”

He enjoyed working with kids. “I love to be goofy and joke around, so being around kids, I feel like the filter comes off of me and I get to be really silly.”

Markley returned to Visible College that Fall. “I was in songwriting for a year. I loved it. I got my first standing ovation ever. I’ll never forget it. It was one of the best moments of my life. I was playing this original song I wrote for the school. My first performance as a songwriter. It was called, ‘What I’ve Been Given.’ Just a three-chord song. It was a rock song. Gut busting. For some reason it worked.”

That same year one of Markley’s good friends died. “Lost him. And it really hit me hard. I was class president at the time. Everything in the world was going for me. I got Dean’s list, all this great stuff. And then he passed away. I started to lose my faith. One day a drink came my way after five years of not drinking. And I took that drink. After that it was a matter of time before I completely self imploded and was off my rocker.”

He quit school and signed with an independent label. He also got a job at a bar. “My drinking and drugs, they went with me. I would do cocaine so I could drink more. I know that sounds really weird, but I would take cocaine and Adderall at the same time, just so I could drink all night.”

Finally, he says, “I hit a bottom. I was thinking about ending it. I started to get to a really dark place.”

There were “just a lot of dead ends in my life. I was just going to drink and drink and drink and, hopefully, my idea was, ‘Maybe, I’ll just do something really stupid while I’m drinking. Just not thinking clear at all. Maybe I’ll drive my car off the road or something.’”

Markley again had to look at himself. “I had to make a decision again. I’m either going to keep doing this and die or I’m going to change my life again.”

He decided to stop drinking. “I started hanging out in a recovering community. I started getting involved with other people who were sober and met such amazing people. I believe they saved me.”

Markley was back in Wisconsin when he got a call from Sarah Simmons, who had gone to Visible. She said they needed a bass player to tour with her band, the Sarah Simmons Band. Markley left for Nashville the next day. “I made a conscious decision to start pushing myself.”

That was three years ago. Markley, who still plays with the Sarah Simmons Band, is a substitute teacher at School Rock.

A “totem pole of joy” is one of Markley’s many tattoos. “I believe my gift is joy. The spiritual gift of joy. Being able to joke or bring humor in dark situations somehow. Sometimes, it’s really uncomfortable. And it’s painful sometimes. But joy is not happiness. Joy is a state of mind. And it takes trials and tribulations to hold that joy. And it takes strength."

Clay Markley will perform at 8 p.m. May 13 at Canvas at 1737 Madison. No cover charge.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Little Steven Rings in National Teacher Day and Blues Music Week

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2018 at 3:20 PM

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
  • Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
It seems there's an unspoken rule in American rock: keep to safe subjects, like love and loss, and don't get too political. That's changing nowadays, with even a simple love song to the wrong person  considered transgressive by some factions, and extreme politicians inspiring cries of "Basta!" But for the most part, as over the past half century, rock stars avoid anything topical.

One artist to break that rule, back in the days of Apartheid, was Steven Van Zandt, whose 1985 single “Sun City” was both a song and watershed moment for politically engaged musicians. As a fund-raiser for Van Zandt's (and record producer Arthur Baker's) Artists United Against Apartheid, it was effective, and as a collaboration between nearly 50 performers of considerable stature, it was game-changing. Although one could detect a sensitivity to working class life in Van Zandt's earlier work, the explicitness of the politics in “Sun City” was something altogether new. 

Van Zandt started as an early associate of Bruce Springsteen's, at first informally as a guest artist and arranger, then as a full-fledged member of the E Street Band, ultimately claiming co-producer credits on The River and Born in the U.S.A. Around that time, he also ventured out as a solo artist, and the Disciples of Soul were born.

Whether or not his subsequent career featured other politically-engaged songs, his deep commitment to issues of social justice was plain. As he went on to pursue acting (The Sopranos), DJ'ing, and other interests, he and the Disciples of Soul took a long hiatus. Then in 2016, they reunited for a few select live shows, which in turn led to the recording of 2017's Soulfire. It carries on with the same huge rock and soul sound of his 1980s work, full of guitar bombast, blazing horns, and angelic background singers, with some classic ’70s funk a la Curtis Mayfield thrown in for good measure. And if none of the songs are quite the topical broadside that “Sun City” was, they all feed into his latest activist ambitions: all proceeds benefit Van Zandt's latest nonprofit, the Rock n Roll Forever Foundation.

At the heart of the organization is the TeachRock initiative. It creates materials for, and supports the teaching of, music history and performances at the middle school and high school levels. As TeachRock's website states, the initiative “brings rich, multimedia educational materials to teachers and students everywhere–at no cost. The lesson plan collections and resources at help teachers engage students by connecting the history of popular music to classroom work across the disciplines,” including “social studies and language arts, geography, media studies, science, general music, and more.”

Steven Van Zandt at the 2018 International Blues Challenge
  • Steven Van Zandt at the 2018 International Blues Challenge
Accordingly, it's highly appropriate that current appearances of Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul are part of their Teacher Appreciation Tour. In some happy serendipity, their show tonight at Minglewood Hall falls on Teacher Appreciation Day, also called National Teachers Day. Given the many years of de-funded schools and the struggles of teachers to receive living wages, even as they must buy classroom supplies themselves, this worthy cause is on par with Van Zandt's earlier activist commitments. For those who love both soaring rock-and-roll and the teachers who hold our children's fate in their hands, what better way to show your appreciation than to take yourself, and perhaps your favorite teacher, to tonight's show?

Before the concert’s sound-check, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation will also host free TeachRock Professional Development Workshops, and educators who attend will receive a complimentary ticket to that evening’s show. Educators in the Memphis area can contact for more information.

As it happens, the show also kicks off Blues Music Week, as The Halloran Centre for Performing Arts opens its doors Wednesday for the Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Then, on Thursday, May 10, he’ll emcee the Blues Music Awards at the Cook Convention Center, where he will be joined on stage by such presenters as Steve Miller, Joe Louis Walker, Janiva Magness, Tito Jackson, Candi Staton, and Tony Joe White.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Beale Street Music Festival 2018: Sunday

Posted By on Mon, May 7, 2018 at 12:48 PM

  • Courtesy Beale Street Music Festival
  • The Flaming Lips

The Beale Street Music Festival ended on a high note, selling out all tickets by 5 p.m. Final attendance numbers won’t be released until the Annual Report in August; however, organizers say the weekend’s attendees came from all fifty states and twenty foreign countries.

For me, it all started with Valerie June. You could hear her distinctive, keening alto cut through the hubbub of the crowd far upriver of the stage. By virtue of her voice, and her very eclectic material, she was a unique presence on the last day of 2018's festival. On the whole, she conjured up visions of people of the mountains, and the plain-spoken sounds of the Carter Family, even when using her banjo to lead the band through blues grooves that could have sprung out of North Mississippi or West Africa. Once you got close enough to the stage, you could see June herself, a “great speckled bird” in her sequined hot pants, glittering top, and horn-rimmed glasses, as if Minnie Pearl had moved to Paisley Park. It was an inspired set, and a welcome homecoming for June, who began her career in local coffee shops and clubs. 
Valerie June
  • Valerie June

She was clearly delighted to be back. “This song is for Tennessee,” she said before launching into “Tennessee Time,” then dedicated another to “anyone who's ever touched that river, or crossed that river, or been a part of that river.” Local bandleader Hope Clayburn joined in on saxophone, and June's brothers added background harmonies to many songs. The band could certainly groove, which made the set closer, Woody Guthrie's “I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore,” all the more powerful by way of contrast.

Unlike Saturday, which briefly endured a downpour and hailstorm, Sunday was idyllic, a smattering of clouds bringing relief to the sunshine and mild heat. It was also agreeably less crowded, making for easy wandering between stages, at least before the headliners got cranked up. I wandered over to another local woman who's making waves, Porcelan. A protege of David Porter's The Consortium MMT organization, Porcelan led a guitarless band through tightly crafted contemporary R&B. The crowd was a tad smaller, but enthusiastic, especially when things heated up with her “I Am the One.” She then noted, “I am a Memphis artist. Memphis may be known for its barbecue, but it's also known for talent. This is for all the Memphis artists who are out there cuttin' it up.” Porcelan was well-prepared to win new fans, instructing the audience to “take those phones out and follow me! I just started my Snapchat!” And while there were some odes to material success (“I need that bacon!” she sang), Porcelan played against the idea with her clever “Goal Digger,” exhorting her man to get with the program, any program.

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • Jimmy "Duck" Holmes
Wandering deeper into the festival, I came across an odd juxtaposition as I neared the Blues Shack. Jimmy “Duck” Holmes held court there with timeless blues grooves and soulful singing, but the heavily amplified kick drum from the nearby Luke Combs show pounded the air like cannon fire. It was Holmes vs. Combs. Holmes soldiered on, unfazed, and the rapt Blues Shack crowd seemed to collectively erase the competing sounds, and the tips rolled in. From the Bud Light Stage, Combs yelled, “100,000 people on Beale Street is a pretty good time!” and just then, as if in answer, Holmes moaned his verse, “yes, I'm broke,” and drove the riff home.

Eventually, country megastar Combs gave a shout out to Tennessee to tremendous applause, before launching into a country/soul version of “Tennessee Whiskey.” But when he later dove into his hit, “When it Rains it Pours,” the white noise of the cheering crowd was downright deafening. As I wandered back north to catch some of Young Doph's set, I heard one passerby exclaim to a friend, “Wait, you're not drunk yet??”

Memphis' own Love Light Orchestra was rocking the Coca-Cola Blues Tent with some genuine Beale Street sounds: a stomping band with a full horn section recapturing the glory days of big band blues. Singer John Nemeth was ready for anything in his brilliant red jumpsuit. Then I caught some powerful, earthy beats from D.R.A.M. Meanwhile, a man in a “Memphis As Fuck” shirt came gliding by, his bushy beard painted with gold glitter. Perhaps it was a portent of the Flaming Lips.

Ah yes, the Flaming Lips. They did not fail to dazzle. To the art on the sides of the FedEx Stage, they added giant mushrooms. State of the art video visuals flashed behind the band, who, aside from the green wigs sported by the drumming duo of Nick Ley and Matt Duckworth, or a splash of mylar sported by Steven Drozd, were relatively subdued, sartorially-speaking. But lead singer Wayne Coyne was dressed smartly, with blinking bling and an eyepatch, like an ambassador from a Star Trek episode. Coyne and his six companions brought a sound palette as rich as their records, from folk strumming to prog beats, techno zaps and bleeps, and lush, Mellotron-like symphonic harmonies. (Indeed, the progressions and textures realized by Drozd continue to mark the Lips as pioneers of both electronic experimentation and traditional orchestration). Memphian Jake Ingalls played either guitar or sat cross-legged before an array of synths at his feet. Giant pink robots, a mega-rainbow, and Coyne sitting astride a huge neon unicorn were but some of the delights, as beach balls floated and confetti rained down. Early in the set, the phrase “Fuck Yeah Memphis” in larger-than-life inflatable letters was raised onstage. They clearly
have some love for the Bluff City.

As dark settled in, Venus glowing like a beacon above the river, the band launched into David Bowie's “Space Oddity.” Coyne climbed into his “space bubble” and was propelled by dozens of uplifted hands out over the crowd. Ingalls contributed a spot-on lead during the swelling bridge, and the band did Bowie's legacy proud.  
Graham Burks and son Graham III after close encounter - BIANCA MAYFIELD BURKS
  • Bianca Mayfield Burks
  • Graham Burks and son Graham III after close encounter
After landing back on stage, Coyne spotlighted a youngster in the crowd who'd been sitting atop his parent's shoulders.

He apologized for any anxiety or head-butting that might have occurred during his space bubble foray, but the young lad beamed and signaled that he was okay, to much applause. Indeed, the youngster is the son of Memphis' own Bianca and Graham Burks, the latter being a key player in the city's alternative music scene.
Burks' Close Encounter of the Bubble Kind - GRAHAM BURKS
  • Graham Burks
  • Burks' Close Encounter of the Bubble Kind

Coyne congratulated them on their parenting skills from the stage. 
Generously enough, Coyne mentioned how excited the band was to see Post Malone after their set. And the crowd did seem to swarm en masse over to see the blockbuster singer's show. With an intriguing mix of hip hop, R&B, and echoes of dance hall, Malone had a huge crowd gyrating along. It was stunning, then, to hear him sing a ballad with only acoustic guitar. Despite his down to earth persona, he carried the night like royalty.

But the real royalty was yet to come: the Queen of Neo-Soul, Erykah Badu. Though the crowd grew restless waiting for her to start, even booing an MC who came out to assure us that the queen would appear “in five minutes,” all was forgiven once she hit the stage. Her stage show was not as over-the-top as the Lips', though featuring intriguing images of pyramids and scientific schematics, but her sheer presence, her remarkable voice, and a world class band of jazz/soul players made for a stunning festival capstone.
  • Courtesy Beale Street Music Festival
  • Erykah Badu
As she announced, this year marks the 21st anniversary of her album Baduism. “I wrote Baduism for the '90s babies,” she said, referring especially to her son who was born at the time. “Words are not necessary. All the '90s babies know: it's all frequencies and vibrations.” Exhorting the massive audience to raise their hands, she proclaimed, “We've just transcended race.” Then, she explained some of her iconography. “The circle represents the womb. Put your hands on your womb, if you have one. The extended arms represent Fallopian tubes. And the straight line pointing down represents the male principle. Brothers, put your hand on your male principle! Unless a sister already has her hand on your male principle.” As she sang many songs from her breakthrough album of the '90s, half the crowd sang along, word for word. Clearly Badu reigns in the hearts and principles of many a Memphian.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Beale Street Music Festival 2018: Saturday

Posted By on Sun, May 6, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Nothing was going to stop the near sellout crowd in Tom Lee Park from having a good time on the second day of the 2018 Beale Street Music Festival.
Sunset over Tom Lee Park. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Sunset over Tom Lee Park.
The day started early for Memphis music fans, with Chinese Connection Dub Embassy and Tav Falco & Panther Burns starting ten minutes apart on two of the festival's three main stages. CCDE greeted the crowds trickling into the park with a strong beat, and they responded with an ecstatic sing along to their song "Heavy Meditation".

Chinese Connection Dub Embassy on the FedEx stage. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Chinese Connection Dub Embassy on the FedEx stage.
We then hoofed it the quarter mile or so to the Bud Light stage where Memphis punk legend Tav Falco was holding court. The current touring incarnation of the immortal Panther Burns is a much tighter and more conventional band than the musical terrorists who set the standard for Midtown punk in early 1980s, but compared to the other acts on offer they were still bracingly raw. Sitting in on keys was Memphis Flyer music editor Alex Greene.
Tav Falco and Panther Burns tear it up on the Bud Light stage. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Tav Falco and Panther Burns tear it up on the Bud Light stage.
Falco was spry, loose, and utterly confident as he switched freely from shockabilly wildman to tango sophisticate. When he left the stage, the entranced crowd called for an encore, much to the visible consternation of the stage manager who called time as Falco returned for his victory lap. But the beleguared staffer did not know who he was dealing with. He could only look on helplessly as Panther Burns held the stage with a blistering rendition of "New World Order Blues". Falco spit fire, poetically condemning Trump and the current state of America as the crowd egged him on. It was only the second act of the day, but already I had added to my list of all time great Beale Street Music Festival performances.

If the stage manager was worried about Panther Burns putting the show behind schedule, it turned out to be a moot issue, as Mother Nature had the last word. It had been drizzling on and off all morning, but as Calexico was about halfway through their set, more serious weather set in.
Storm clouds loom over Tom Lee Park. - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Storm clouds loom over Tom Lee Park.
We sought shelter in the Beer Garden tent as the rain intensified. Then, a great gust of wind whipped through the park, accompanied by a torrential deluge and, for about five minutes, nickel-sized hail.
4:14 PM: Hail on the ground in Tom Lee Park. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • 4:14 PM: Hail on the ground in Tom Lee Park.
It was a scary few moments as the hail poked holes in the tent where we were sheltered along with several hundred of our fellow festival goers. But just as quickly as the unexpected cell materialized, it dissipated.
4:39 PM: Blue skies over the Hernando de Soto Bridge. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • 4:39 PM: Blue skies over the Hernando de Soto Bridge.
Pro Tip: Always wear rain boots to the Beale Street Music Festival, even if it's sunny and dry while you're getting ready that morning. There were quite a few regretful women in sandals and heels getting stuck in the mire for the rest of the evening. But no one who saw Al Kapone and his posse perform as the FedEx stage resumed music was in the least bit regretful. Kapone's set was somewhere between a Memphis music lesson and a pep rally. The climax came when he transitioned from "Hard Out Here For A Pimp" to the other Hustle and Flow hit "Whoop That Trick", which has become something of a rallying cry for the Grizzlies. There were about ten thousand people in front of the stage, and every one of them were pumping their fists in the air.
Commercial Appeal photographer Yoshi James capturing the local wildlife. - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Commercial Appeal photographer Yoshi James capturing the local wildlife.

By late afternoon, the weather radar was clear, and people were streaming into the park in the tens of thousands. As All Time Low took the stage, singer Alex Gaskarth said "Wow, our stuff still works after getting hailed on!"

Artist Lauren Lazaru takes a break from working on the mural she and Curtis Glover created live on the festival grounds. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Artist Lauren Lazaru takes a break from working on the mural she and Curtis Glover created live on the festival grounds.
We retired to the Blues Tent to hear Eddy "The Chef" Clearwater and his crack band wail as the sun went down.

Sunset at the Blues Tent. - LAURA JEAN HOCKING
  • Laura Jean Hocking
  • Sunset at the Blues Tent.
Fans gather for Ludacris. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Fans gather for Ludacris.
By the time David Byrne began his transformative set by sitting at a table and singing a song to a human brain like a postmodern Hamlet, the area in front of the Bud Light stage was packed. Byrne alternated songs from his new album American Utopia with deep cuts from his decades-long career. His twelve-piece band, playing all wireless instruments and featuring a percussion section instead of a single trap drummer, ranged freely across the blank stage, flawlessly executing both intricate choreography and layered experimental funk. New songs like "We Dance Like This" and "Everybody's Coming To My House" took flight when liberated from the studio, and he breathed life into reconfigured classics like "I Zimbra", "The Great Curve", and "This Must Be The Place".
David Byrne - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • David Byrne
At age 65, Byrne delivered the most radical and visionary performance of the entire festival by completely disregarding the conventions of the rock and pop show and incorporating new elements from Broadway, modern dance, and even marching bands. I hope some of the young performers were watching him burn down the house he helped build.
  • Laura Jean Hocking

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Beale Street Music Festival 2018: Friday

Posted By on Sat, May 5, 2018 at 1:06 PM

  • Courtesy Beale St. Music Festival
Beale Street Music Fest 2018 (BSMF) kicked off Friday, May 4th, which might explain why I saw 23 Star Wars shirts before I gave up and quit counting. Tie-dyed shirts had a respectable showing, with 14 appearances before I tired of taking my phone out and marking down a tally. Everyone has their own strategy for wringing maximum enjoyment out of Music Fest. I’ve attended with friends who like to meticulously plan their experience. They schedule pit stops for drinks and food and know, to the second, how long to stay at any stage before booking it to catch the end of another performance. I prefer the chaos method. Music Fest is mysterious, sometimes stealing your shoes with a puddle of oh-lord-I-hope-that-was-mud, sometimes offering up treasures unimaginable (like Cake covering Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”). I find it’s more fun to surrender to the mystery, and let Music Fest take the reins.

  • Courtesy Beale St. Music Festival
  • North Mississippi All Stars
I had a basic plan to make my way to the FedEx Stage for North Mississippi Allstars and then let fate (or whimsy) take over from there. Who can say whether its nature or nurture, but the Dickinson brothers, sons of the late songsmith and producer Jim Dickinson, have the musical Midas touch. I particularly enjoyed the Allstars’ 2017 album, Prayer for Peace, and was looking forward to seeing the blues-savvy brothers and their band on the banks of the Mississippi, but as tends to happen at Music Fest, I got distracted.

While shuffling past the River Stage, I caught a snatch of a Star and Micey tune and decided to stay for a song or two. It was their third time performing at BSMF, and the Memphis-based quartet looked at home on the River Stage, standing close together in matching white shirts and handing out the harmonies. Star and Micey never fail to evoke a very Southern style of community for me. I can’t help but think of vacation Bible school, campfire sing-a-longs, and neighborhood cookouts. The band’s live performance cranked up the grit and dirt in their guitar tone, but their vocals rang out with the pristine perfection I’ve come to expect from Memphis’ princes of pop. They have all the alt-country twang and earworm catchiness of Golden Smog without the Big Star’s Third-style warbling digressions. The band thanked the crowd before launching into their final song, fan favorite “I Can’t Wait.”
  • Courtesy Beale St. Music Festival
  • Margo Price
Next up was Margo Price. Her sophomore LP, All American Made, is a showstopper of an album, and I was eager to see how her live performance held up. I was not disappointed. Price cued the crowd to her performance by testing the speakers with a snippet of Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos.” It was a dirty trick, tipping the crowd off to her knowledge of the local music history, and it worked completely on me. Price strummed an acoustic guitar and sang the wry and candid lyrics that made her the darling of music critics almost overnight. She and her band ripped through a cover of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde-era “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” and they did the brass-heavy original justice. The prominence of the bass and organ in the mix lent some credence to the rumor that Price is a devotee of Memphis soul. She laughed and dropped some not-so-family-friendly language, which endeared her to me all the more. Either she has this showmanship thing down to an exact science, or Price is exactly what she appears to be: an artist enjoying herself as she works, and totally comfortable on stage and in front of a festival crowd. Though Price has surely been in front of bigger crowds, I was nonetheless impressed with how naturally performing seemed to come to her.

  • Courtesy Beale St. Music Festival
  • Clutch
Rushing from the FedEx Stage to a beer tent and then on to the Bud Light Stage, I had just enough hustle to make sure I caught the end of Clutch’s performance. I admit I was less familiar with the Maryland-based rockers, but I’m a sucker for semi-hollowbody guitars and crunchy riffs. So, it turns out, I was in the right place. The sun sank, red lights glowed onstage, rain was still on the menu but not yet served up, and Clutch delivered one riff-based rock anthem after another. One of the best things about BSMF is surely the ease with which a festival-goer can bounce between shows, taking in up-and-comers, hometown heroes, and legends making the circuit again. Neil Fallon, the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, looked like her was having a blast as he stalked the stage, waving his hand and coaxing cheers from the crowd. I had no expectations for Clutch, but I enjoyed their performance all the more for it.

Speaking of expectations, it’s time, I think, to set the record straight on Cake. In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Voodoo Fest, New Orleans’ Halloween-themed October music festival, was split between New Orleans and Memphis. Some of the acts took place in Crescent City, and the Bluff City handled the rest. The logistics of throwing a festival with next to no notice are enough to send the creeping-crawling cold chills down my spine. Still, with an admirable effort, the second night of the two-day festival moved to Memphis and went off with only some hitches. Cake performed that year, and their set was cut short by technical difficulties. I was there that night 13 years ago, and I’ve held on to an unsatisfied craving for Cake ever since. So when I rushed back to the River Stage last night, I must admit I had some butterflies in my stomach.

The butterflies were for nothing; Cake was incredible. John McCrea talk-sang the lyrics as only he can, and he wasn’t stingy with the vibraslap. McCrea’s distorted acoustic guitar, scratched sans guitar pick, struck just the right sonic nerve and assuaged any fears of technical difficulties I still harbored. Vince DiFiore’s trumpet melodies and Xan McCurdy’s guitar lines remain as hummable as they’ve always been. I didn’t imagine the band would reach all the way back to Fashion Nugget for “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” or that we would be treated to a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” It was a great show, and judging by the chorus of audience members who sang along to “Sheep Go to Heaven,” I am far from alone in that belief.

Cake closed out with “Going the Distance,” giving me six minutes to hightail it through the light rain to the FedEx Stage for Alanis Morissette. The Canadian-American goddess of alt-rock released one of the best albums of the ’90s with Jagged Little Pill, played God in Dogma, and has worked to raise awareness for health and spirituality. She is a podcast host, a columnist, an activist, and I am entirely convinced that she could rule the world if she so desired. Morissette gender-swapped a lyric in “All I Really Want,” singing: “I’m fascinated by the spiritual woman. I’m humbled by her humble nature.” The singer and multi-instrumentalist bounced across the stage, belting out her distinctive vocals without missing a note. She never stood still, playing harmonica and guitar, and taking deep bows when she introduced her band. I was humbled by the energy and talent on display, and I left the FedEx Stage blissfully satisfied. Let there be no doubt: Alanis still has it.

As I shuffled toward the main gates to leave Friday night, my ears rang and my head buzzed. One could hardly have asked for better weather or a better lineup for the first night of Memphis’ three-day festival. I would be tempted to say it will be a hard day to top, but with David Byrne, Calexico, Valerie June, the Flaming Lips, and more still to come, I expect that BSMF still has some surprises ready. The only way to know for sure is to head downtown and see.

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