After spending the weekend immersed in music and sweaty hipster kids in furry hats, here's a little listing of some acts you may not know about yet as well as a report on some of the highlights from this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Those of you who have gone before know this is a huge weekend of free music that takes a certain amount of guerilla guile in order to make the most of. Yours truly was up at 6:30 each morning just to secure spots close to the stage for a show that didn't start until noon. Despite the throngs of people and poorly leashed dogs, Hardly Strictly offers folks a chance to be exposed to new music, as well as see musical legends that may not be with us in the years to come...if you can get past sharing your tarp with a family of five.
The Punch Brothers
Who knew that the Punch Brothers' true calling was as backup band for T-Bone Burnett? Backing up the great T-Bone Burnett, these guys worked on providing a driving backbone to everyone who took the stage, becoming the true stars of Hardly Strictly's friday night lineup. Backing up everyone from Elvis Costello doing 1920's rock & roll to a pair of giggling girls from Alabama covering Johny Cash, they even managed to let fly some scorching numbers of their own, all in the span of an hour and fifteen minutes. Leaving an entire meadow of people to process what they'd just seen.
The two giggling girls mentioned earlier were The Secret Sisters, a new act signed by Burnett on his label Beladroit Records. Sisters from Northern Alabama, Laura and Lydia Rogers possess pure, sweet voices and some serious talent bringing them out of the chapel and into the recording studio. Alongside Burnett, the Secret Sisters had their first single, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River," released on Jack White's Third Man Records. The Rogers' own grandfather and his brothers traveled as The Happy Valley Boys, and today the girls are the opening act for their father's bluegrass band. Produced by David Cobb, their album was recorded using only vintage equipment, to capture the girls' classic sound.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
If you shop with us or read our updates, you know we think pretty highly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their tireless efforts to keep early American roots musci alive have given us some amazing records to listen to, as well as hope for the future of music. The three of them took the stage on Saturday, the main stage mind you, to a sea of people who had been told this was an act not to miss...and it was true. They played fiddles and jugs, they buckdanced, they brought out quills and bones and fife and drum, rolling through old tunes with an honest reverence matched with youthful exuberance and the aged Banjo stage crowd ate it up. The end of their set showed the wide range this group can draw from, flipping from their song Genuine Negro Jig (an original written by the Snowden Family), into a cover of Blu Cantrell's hit 'Em Up Style. Another wonderful thing was their merch, handmade tiny jugs, created by an American potter and though small, still playable wherever you might be.
Halfway into Saturday, the crowded masses had turned my mood sour. Unable to continue moving everywhere at the pace of a shuffling inmate, we retreated to the lonesome sounds of a man in leather chaps. Skip Gorman is an incredible fountain of knowledge on the subject of cowboy songs and trail ballads, a former Rounder Records recording artist, Gorman echoes the songs sung by countless cowhands with a true and steadfast emotion that fills the silence between songs.
Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys
What's that you say, you'd like a little something for the Jewish Cowboy in all of us? Well, as luck would have it we have something to fit your bill. Calling their music a mix of Klezmer and Bluegrass (also known on the internet as Jewgrass), this band was a surprise hit at the Porch stage. Watching them, you wonder why you've never seen a Barndance/Bar Mitzvah.
Holly Golightly & Lawyer Dave
One of those not-to-be-missed acts of the weekend, Holly Golightly is a musical legend. The often sour, always sassy former Headcoatee has definitely secured herself as a purveyor of porch inspired country and blues. Alongside Lawyer Dave, the multi-instrumental wizard, Holly's songs of broken hearts and empty bottles matched perfectly alongside Dave's dirty slide guitar and gravely southern drawl. Oddly enough, this was their first gig before opening for Railroad Earth at the Fillmore that night, and never before have I debated so hard about going to the Fillmore simply for an opener. But what brought these two to Hardly Strictly was their music's ability to reflect back to simpler times in a more rural America. When asked if she thought her music allowed her to escape the modern world, she replied, "I don't think I'm escaping it, I'm just ignoring it."
MarchFourth Marching Band
Who doesn't love the sound of a marching band? From the Hot 8 Brass Band to the Dirty Dozen, the idea of what a Marching Band is has broken clean out of the box. MarchFourth takes this even further, adding an electric bassist, stilt walkers and flag twirlers to the lineup to create an impressive and almost imposing mob. The name derives from the date of the band's creation, March 4, 2003, Fat Tuesday. Since then, they have performed with Fleetwood Mac, No Doubt, KISS, Blink 182, Galactic, The Neville Brothers, Antibalas and Pink Martini. What's best is that after playing their morning set, they worked their way into the crowd, performing impromptu sets for everyone who may not have shown up early enough to be properly blown away.
The high point of the festival, at least to yours truly, was undoubtedly Ms Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I don't think I've ever seen a band who brought such an A game to a free show, especially after being on the road since April. When she danced everything from the Camel Walk to the Tighten Up, we shucked and moved. When she broke into "Mama don't like my man," we all broke out into tears and when she was told she had 10 more minutes she exclaimed, "looks like I got 15 more minutes y'all so let's speed this up." I don't think I'll ever miss another chance to see this phenomenally tight band in action. Below is a quick melange of songs from the night's performance...that's right, I said melange. (try not to cry when she starts the last song, I dare you).
Of course this is only a brief overview of an immense weekend but sometimes the cliff notes are enough eh? We'll be stocking a bunch of stuff from all of theses bands in case you might have found some new favorites while reading today, so stop on by. Also, next month will see some great Reggae and Afro-Jazz hit the racks as well as some great shows. Tune in on Oct. 12th starting at 10, to KHSU to hear Radio Moscow live on the air with Mike Sargeant!!!
Things are REALLY cookin' now for next year's JEFFERSON STATE OLD TIME REVUE set for July 2011 so keep checking this out for more updates. Just to give you a little thrill, check out one of the groups who are going to come old-time your doors clean off.
Till Next Time, Keep Diggin In Those Crates,
--Matt n Adam