Bonnaroo 2012

I have been doing the small, local festival circuit for a few years, and have been really anxious to try to one of the larger domestic festivals. Bonnaroo seemed to fit well; I had a few friends interested in going, and the festival also boasted a killer line-up this year. My friends Maranie, Kristen, and Evan signed up for a little RV excursion, and we crammed in to the little camper for five days away from home.

Leaving Wednesday evening , we were lucky enough to have a fairly smooth ride down (except for the cargo rack that began to sag off the bumper; nothing a few ratchet straps couldn’t handle). I drove the whole way, and we stopped for a little rest at a travel stop somewhere in Kentucky to recharge a bit. Fortunately (this is clutch for any good road trip), everyone in the RV had great taste in music, so one of my favorite parts of the trip was having everyone take a spot an DJ’ing the trip. It was great, even including Evan’s strange fixation on Eddie Vedder.

Bonnaroo’s scale shocked me. Standing on top of the RV and looking out over the horizon, there seemed to be no end to the cars, people, and campsites. We we lucky enough to camp next to some awesome neighbors and, just like at small fests, I met countless new friends over the weekend.

The water fountain in Centeroo is a great place to cool off, or at least people-watch…

I saw a lot of music, and this probably isn’t the venue for a detail synopsis, but there were a few shows that really stuck out for me. The Word‘s set was incredible; all of the musicians are simply virtuosos. I also discovered Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds which blew my mind with their talent (not to mention, my total crush on their lead singer, Arleigh Kincheloe. If this video doesn’t make you melt, you don’t have a pulse).

I admit to my guilty pleasure of dubstep, and really had a wild time at the Skrillex show to, the crowd was perhaps the largest and most energetic group of twenty-somethings I’ve ever been in. Among other bands that I really raved about were the Punch Brothers, the Infamous Stringdusters, Fitz and the Tantrums, and The Alabama Shakes. There is not enough time to see every act, and the crowds are huge at almost every show, so next time I go, I’ll have to spend a little more time fine-tuning my schedule.

Though, another piece of advice – don’t take your schedule to seriously, there is no way you’ll keep to it anyways.

Robert Randolph and The Word totally killed it…

My old rowing buddy Yon stopped by at our campsite for a few nights, so it was great getting to spend time with an old friend. Meanwhile, our campsite had nightly jam-sessions with our neighbors (soundtrack to the video below), and the whole environment of the festival was astonishingly peaceful and vibey considering the huge number of people. It was such an awesome experience, totally worth the money and vacation days. Maybe next year, I won’t decide that after driving most of the night, arriving at my driveway at 8:00am, going to work would be a good idea. That was a huge mistake.

John Farley, Acoustic Virtuoso at UPG

John FarleyI’m sitting at the University Of Pittsburgh Greensburg’s coffee house with a handful of students that are hoping to find the most entertaining thing in Westmoreland County on a Tuesday evening – not an easy task.

John Farley approaches the microphone and says “I’m going to play a little song by the Reverend Gary Davis”. I see a few eyebrows rise amongst a majority who clearly were not familiar with the gospel-blues guitarist that died almost 40 years ago. A few fellow music elitists voice their support, making sure to display their superior, esoteric taste in music.

Before he performs, many of the students appraise him at face value. Farley, an acoustic guitar virtuoso is humble, just like his blues. His horned-rimmed glasses and beret do not make for a daunting presence in the room. But this is only before his fingers start to move.

He begins to perform, and at first I see that many of the students look confused; they aren’t sure what they are hearing. Farley is a finger-picking prodigy, double and triple-tasking on six strings. We can hear distinct bass, accompaniment and melody coming from the same instrument, all backed by Farley’s solid and sorrowful voice – blues echoing the era of Robert Johnson. “It really, really does come from a sorrow, a deeply rooted sorrow that you know” Farley told me after the show. “It has this sort of soul-wrenching, tearing out of your heart.”

Next, the mood shifts as we hear an instrumental piece. It’s considerably more technical than the blues and I find myself staring at Farley’s fingers. He glides over his fretboard as finger-picked arpeggios fill the air, and the group of boisterous college students has now been lassoed in to listening in silent reverence. Farley has captured his young crowd.

During the two hour set, we are taken on a musical journey from Texas Blues to Spanish Flamenco. Farley, who spent some time traveling Europe learning his craft, brought the audience a multi-cultural experience in his music. His current album, Tattoo Train is stylistically somewhere between Chet Atkins and Andy McKee, full of advanced guitar techniques that can only be learned from decades of practice. Farley tells me that the key to his music is diversity. “I try to keep things interesting so that I don’t find myself in one niche. It’s always changing.”

For the first few songs, both audience and performer are learning about each other, and applause is tepid. By the end of the set, the audience has doubled in size; during the intermission, word of mouth has spread through the campus. The applause has grown from polite to exuberant. Farley is appreciative of the young audience’s warmth: “These people are really inclusive and I think that’s a very positive thing. It’s hard to find these days.”

Farley is a coffee shop soldier – an artist who has yet to reach his full potential. In a competitive genre with hundreds of starving artists, he is set apart by his unique ability to combine seemingly unrelated musical elements in to one signature sound. A blend of reggae, folk and blues, the style is inventive as it is unorthodox. It isn’t a surprise that Farley has gotten some airplay on local radio stations in Pittsburgh and San Francisco where his record company is based, but recognition of such a unique sound can only be gained on the battlefield of small venues like this one. It is a great example of the opportunity to explore new types of music in Westmoreland County.

Donna in the Burgh

Last night, I caught Donna the Buffalo when the rolled through Pittsburgh on their seemingly never-ending tour of the Eastern Standard time zone.

The show was in one of my favorite spaces in Pittsburgh, Mr. Smalls. I got to see a new artist I haven’t heard of before, Hoots and Hellmouth. I am going to explore their discography a little more and then write a blog post about them in the future.

I’ve seen Donna the Buffalo probably 5 times now, and they never disappoint. For me, for as melodious as Jeb’s guitar sounds, and as tight and punch as Tara’s vocals sound, for me the signature icing on the Donna cake is their Hammond B3 and Leslie. That organ makes the music sing for me, it has been and always will be my favorite element of DtB.

I had the pleasure of enjoying Kristen’s company, and it was a good show. Couldn’t tell if the sounded more sober than they did at Heron, or maybe I was just more sober.

The Town Pants in the Burgh

A little chunk of Heron came all the way down to the ‘Burgh, and Bober and I were pleased to catch the show. One of my favorite venues in Pittsburgh, Club Cafe was a great place to catch the show. Their opening act was a band I haven’t caught yet, Weathered Road. They played a fairly mellow set of Americana with Celtic roots. I’d rather see them with their own full set to get a better sample of their music, and it was a little low energy to pump up before a Town Pants show, but I enjoyed them, and I’d see them again.

After Weathered Road went off, it was time for the Pants. This is my 4th Town Pants show and as usual, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Dave and Ivanka went out for a drink with Bober and I before the show, and it was nice catching up with the gang.

They played most of my favorite tunes, all except Rasputin, much to my dismay. But it was a kick ass show, high energy the whole time, and a wild experience to fill that little venue with all of it.