The Death of the Encore

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Originally published here: http://www.glidemagazine.com/74582/carlys-corner-the-death-of-the-encore/#comment-92315

 

Somewhere in the back of my mind are memories of clapping fanatically, screaming toward an empty stage, waiting many long minutes for Phish’s triumphant return to the spotlight. After many a vigorous 2 set show, not only by Phish but other bands as well, the audience anxiously awaits the coming encore. The lights stay dimmed while people cheer and clap until their hands turn red and their voices go horse, and then they do it some more, merely to the point of coaxing the music back on stage.

Nowadays, second set ends and we pay hardly any mind, worrying only about the encore that is sure to come. We cheer for a few moments, then start to gather our things, prepare for the dash out or the wait in line. The noise level drops notably when really, it should be louder than it has been all show. That’s what got Phish back out for years, and it worked flawlessly throughout music history as an honor for musicians. Recently, however, I think that the encore has died.

For most of music’s sordid past, an encore was not to be expected after the official end of a performance. Bob Marley and the Wailers very rarely did encores. Elvis never did, as a policy of his managers, whereas Jimmy Buffet plays a mini acoustic set at the end of each show in lieu of an encore. In the classical music world, encores were strictly reserved for audiences that demanded it; when the performer did so well that the crowd wouldn’t leave the theater without one more tune, and the artist came back out, humbled, to satisfy their fans with an encore. A French word that means “again” or “some more,” the concept of the encore originated spontaneously and organically from a particularly roused up audience. Performers did and still do use it to show off their skills or mellow the crowd out to get ready to leave, and now it’s pretty much a staple at music performances.

While Phish shows without an encore have been rare throughout history, they weren’t always a guarantee, and from old audience recordings that didn’t cut out the between time, you can hear just how long they used to make us wait.  Maybe it’s purely because the boys have less they want to do between those moments, or maybe they’re just anxious, but in the last two years I would say standard wait time between the end of second set and start of the encore has dropped dramatically. And like I said, this does not apply just to Phish. Everyone is waiting in the wings for their encores.

This is bad news for a few reasons: it means they aren’t putting too much thought into the encore or spending much time discussing song selection; it means they’re not resting their limbs to give a good final push and solid last showing; and, most likely, it means they’re not trying to stick around for much longer. Sure, there are venue rules and contractual obligations regarding encores, but since when did they start caring so much? This is not to say that Phish, or anyone else, hasn’t thrown down some fantastic encores (i.e. UIC 8/17/11), but on the whole, encores are quick, simple, average at best, and for Phish, never reaching that signature level they used to be known for.

Most bands expect and are expected to do an encore after every show. In this way, the artists walk off stage with anticipation for the last showing of the night and the audience is left with nothing to wonder about, merely to wait. This may sound very much like a complaint, but believe me, I enjoy those final moments at a show when you’re holding onto the last notes and grasping for a last glance. I would, however, like to know what happened to begging for it? Why don’t we plead like we used to? It’s never been about instant gratification before, so why now?

Maybe it’s not so much that the encore has died, but it’s certainly shriveled up and less lively than it used to be. Not only are they instantaneous, but they not gratifying and not meant to be. Let’s hope our favorite bands are using this a tactic to keep us wanting more, but if they’re not, I’d love to see some encores that come completely out of left-field, and higher energy than the entire show, and took the audience 10 minutes of clapping and screaming to earn.

Domefest 2013 Review

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(Originally published on Jambase, but the link is dead since they changed over their site.)

Between the rolling hills, the winding rivers, the dirt roads and tiny towns of West Virginia lies a farmland oasis off Jerry Garcia Lane known as Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park. Once home to the early years of All Good Music Festival, fans now flock to this valley for intimate events like this past weekend’s Domefest, headlined and hosted by rising Baltimore jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.

It may seem like every band has their own festival these days, from the big wigs to the little guys, but it’s not very often that the band members themselves are up with the sun to change garbage bags and check on vendors. Domefest is different. Produced by Pigeons guitarists Jeremy Schon and Greg Ormont (as Groovehouse Productions), every moment of this event saw musicians and fans pitching in to create a magical weekend. And one of the most beautiful things about festivals of this nature is that it’s all good friends who may only see each other at stops on their tour but congregate here to support in any way they can and propel the love further.

As the last nail was hammered into the new stage at Tripp’s Farm (as the park is also known), The Southern Belles opened the festival and early arrivals got their first taste of the progressive rock jams that would come to define the weekend. Aqueous of Buffalo, NY, busted out the funkier grooves next, cushioned on either end with sets in the side music tent from multi-instrumentalist Mateo Monk, who showcased his looping techniques as well as his skillful playing and soulful singing several times between main stage bands throughout Friday and Saturday. Local rockers Fletcher’s Grove played a high-energy set of Appalachian jam leading up to a wild and musically complex show from NYC’s Tauk. In the final set before the Pigeons first, The Mantras gave a dance-inciting performance to an eager and excited crowd that they’ve watched growing beautifully in each of the festival’s four years.

“Welcome Dome!” shouted lead singer Ormont as the costumed Pigeons ran on stage and picked up their instruments. They wasted no time getting to the funk, playing each song to the fullest, as if they hadn’t just spent their past week setting up a music festival. This set showcased why PPPP draws such an enthusiastic and loyal fan-base: from their easy-to-sing-along-with chorus’ to the touch of choreography from the guitarists and bass master Ben Carrey, what they do on stage is more than just a performance of songs. That’s not to downplay their talent, however, as Schon’s guitar chops are something to be reckoned with and when powerhouse Dan Schwartz showed off his tight drum skills, the versatility that poured from his kit was incredible.

The psychedelic late-night barn had only one band playing Friday, Turkuaz, who opened their extra-long set with a Talking Heads tribute, performing each of the legendary hits off the film and live album “Stop Making Sense,” and then some. The sounds of David Byrne filled the space with joy and once all of the band members had filed on stage as their parts came up, they put the icing on this delicious cake with dance moves straight from the movie. The set of original funk that followed the Talking Heads display kept the energy going straight through the chilly night and provided a perfect end to an impressive day of music.

Saturday opened at noon with Boston’s The Jauntee, whose intricate playing and unexpected changes in explorative songs stood out in a sea of predictable jams, eventually drawing quite a crowd down from the campsites and Funk-E Forest (where, at a festival this size, it can be so easy to listen to the music from under the EZ-Up all day). The Shack Band followed, playing a fun rock set with a Little Feat cover sung by Domefest Stage Manager John Church. Freedom Enterprise and Deaf Scene, both jam-experimental-rock bands from Baltimore, played during the hot but beautiful afternoon before the third mini-show from horn duo The Hornitz, who played between evening sets and sat in with Pigeons on both nights (adding a whole other level of awesome). Armed with two saxophone players, North Carolina’s Supatight brought the funk out next, mixing in tones of reggae and jazz to complete their sound. This made for a nice transition to another Baltimore band, Yellow Dubmarine, who has lately made their dub-ified Beatles covers a once-in-a-while treat. BIG Something capped off the day with some more grooving tunes and DJs Star City Disco had the last two ‘tweener sets on Saturday, before Pigeons took the stage again for another exciting, interesting, funny, and sometimes ethereal musical bout. Ending their set with a song specifically written for Domefest was more than a classy move; it represented what they wanted Domefest to be- a gathering of music fanatics who share a love for nature and new experiences (and don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for over-booked events).

Twiddle played in the barn late that night, ripping through jams and wowing a crowd who seemed mostly unfamiliar with the Vermont-based musicians. Their vocals and lyrics matched in intensity, offering some of the most emotionally moving songs heard that weekend, not to be outshined by the Michael Jackson and Phish teases, which made the barn explode with happiness. And just for good measure, another Baltimore band DELTAnine sealed the whole thing with an electronic kiss that had people dancing and shaking as the sun came up over the vast green land.

Holly Bowling Interview [Full Transcript]

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In June 2016, I interviewed Holly Bowling for a summer issue of Surrender to the Flow.  Only about a quarter of the information below made the final article due to length limits, but what Holly shared with me was fascinating and inspiring, and in honor of her recent successes, I thought you’d be interested in how this talented and creative musician came to be. Congrats to Holly on the successful crowd funding and forthcoming release of her newest album Better Left Unsung, which she teases at the very end of this full transcription, and her recent sit ins with Phil Lesh, American Babies, and so many others.  You can see Holly during the New Years Run in NYC pre-Phish and on her 2017 winter tour.

CS: When/what was your first Phish show?  Was there a single song/show that got you hooked on the music? How many shows have you seen since?
HB: My first Phish show was New Year’s 2002. I got into them during the hiatus and never thought I’d get to see them play, so when they announced New Year’s and the three Hampton shows, there was no question whether or not I was going. I was already really into the music, and predictably, seeing them live only furthered the obsession. I ended up seeing all but 4 shows in 2.0, I was really determined not to miss out since I had missed so much already. I put off going to school and traveled around the country seeing Phish and learned more that way than I think I would have in school at that point in my life. Made a lot of friendships too that are still a huge part of my life. I slowed down a little in 3.0 and stopped catching quite as many shows, but I still see a lot. I’ve seen around 300 to date.

What’s been your favorite time or tour in the band history musically?
Everything from 1997. Fall 2013. Summer 2015. Summer 2016 (I hope!)  I really love the thematic, focused style of improvisation that’s developed in the last few years. 

Have you gotten any reaction from the band/members to your music?
Mike Gordon showed up at one of my shows in Philadelphia. I gave him a copy of my album. He stayed and listened to the whole Tahoe Tweezer and I think he gave me a thumbs up on his way out the door.  Other than that though, I have no idea what they think of it. 

When did you start playing piano?
Age five.

What did you do before this project?
For a living? I was teaching music. I ran my own studio. I actually miss the kids I worked with a lot. Seeing kids begin to understand music and watching the concepts click for them as they discover all these experiences is really the coolest thing. 

Did you always want to be a professional musician?
Yes! Since I was a little kid. But I had kind of given up on that working out as a realistic career. Then a few years ago I dove back in and haven’t looked back.

When/how did you get the idea to reinterpret Phish songs?
It wasn’t something I sat down and decided to do one day after thinking it over and searching for an idea for a project. It just developed naturally out of my experience with the piano and my love of Phish. I play what’s in my head, and what was stuck in my head a lot of the time was Phish.  I’ve been doing that for a long time, but approached it with more focus and discipline recently and actually worked through some of the harder parts that I’d been stuck on for years when I was just casually exploring the music.

Was the Tahoe Tweezer your very first piano arrangement?
The Tahoe Tweezer was the first Phish song I worked on in depth, and the first complex piece of music I ever transcribed and arranged. Not exactly a logical choice for a “starter project”, haha! But definitely a good one to learn from. The music is so varied and covers so much ground that it taught me a lot. And I mean that both in terms of texture, what to leave out, what to keep, and varying that over time, and also in terms of how to express different sounds and timbres on the piano. Sounds that either are pretty far from the piano to begin with or sounds that don’t translate well. Like really heavy distorted crunchy stuff, or really quiet delicate drawn out ethereal passages. Or interesting percussive sounds and patterns. Long sustained sounds, either from Trey’s guitar or from Page’s organ (which can hold a note indefinitely, and the piano can’t). Sweeps on the synth that move continuously rather than having discreet pitches. All kinds of stuff. So yeah… not a great starter piece to work on, but also in another sense, the best one to work on, because it covers so much ground. I learned a ton. I know if I did it again today my process would be very different. I think the end result would sound different too since I’ve definitely changed and grown as a musician since then. It’s funny. The original is a snapshot of Phish at that moment and in that period of their improvisation. And then my arrangement is a snapshot of me in that moment, of my style as a musician. So it’s like a musical snapshot of a musical snapshot.

What has been your favorite arrangement thus far?
As far as the jam transcriptions, I think maybe the GD’s ’74 Eyes of the World. But that might just be because its the most recent complete one I did and I’m always learning from each one and trying to make the next one even better. As far as arrangements of compositions and songs, rather than jam transcriptions? I really loved the challenge of It’s Ice. It takes a lot of focus to play and I spent a ton of time figuring it out, it was a really rewarding project to tackle. But that’s a really tight technical arrangement and consequently there’s less room in it for my own musical voice (aside from the middle section, which I’ve been taking liberties with for sure) because the composition is so complex to begin with. I really like how the arrangement for Scents and Subtle Sounds came out. I did a lot of playing around with the different registers of the piano and moving the melody line around from to another, and trying to make use of all of the areas of sonic space.  Another favorite is Pebbles and Marbles. I feel like the arrangement is still settling a little. But in the right setting on a really good piano, I think a lot of emotion comes through on that one, which is what I wanted. I think it’s a really powerful song to begin with and I love the lyrics, and the build. The feeling I wanted to come through in the arrangement is there, and there’s a lot of subtle delicate stuff before it gets heavy.  Across the board, really any of the arrangements where you get to hand off a part or a melody from one hand to the other, sort of like passing a baton, or I guess ideally maybe something more graceful like a trapeze artist moving from one flying trapeze to another… any of these are physically fun to play, just the physical motions you go through as you try to keep that melody line intact as it shifts.   

What’s one of the hardest songs and/or jams to reinterpret? Easiest?
Simple songs with four chords are easy to learn. Sometimes they’re harder to make something special out of them, especially in a purely instrumental context. If there’s a lot of repetition, which is fine if there’s great lyrics over top, it can be hard to make that translate to an instrumental setting without it getting boring. So in that sense, the stuff that’s easiest to arrange can also be the hardest to do well. Then there’s stuff that’s hard just because its technical and complex. I really want to learn All Things Reconsidered but its just insane and I’m not sure how I would cover all the parts and do it justice. But really the thing I find hardest in general is arranging parts of jams where the meter becomes ambiguous and time falls apart for a while. When there’s a structure and a framework to fit the pieces into, it all makes sense, even if its really hard to figure it out. There’s an order and a right answer. When the meter disappears, its really hard to pin things down to paper. And there’s not really notation for things that are that loose, or if there is, I don’t know it. So my scores in that part end up being descriptions to jog my memory of what that section sounds like as much as exact directions of what to play. And in the case of these jam transcriptions, I’m not looking to be too free with it and just do my own thing – I do that in my improvisation, but in this case, I’m trying to recreate and re-orchestrate something, almost like making a piano reduction of a symphonic work. So I want to be as true to it as possible. It’s funny how difficult it becomes when the underlying structure becomes a question mark.

How do you select songs or jams to arrange?
Lots of times, I pick because a section of a jam is stuck in my head. So I’ll pick favorites, or stuff I’m listening to a lot. Sometimes, with songs especially, I’m more picky about the criteria. Like if its really focused on a drum groove, 2001 for example, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t think it would be in service of the music really. And some stuff is just physically basically impossible on the piano, due to the constraints of the instrument. You can’t repeat notes as quickly on a piano as you can on a guitar, because the actual mechanism in the piano doesn’t work that fast. You can’t sustain notes indefinitely, or bend notes, which pretty much rules out doing one of my favorite jams ever, the Camden Chalkdust from ‘99. I’m still trying to figure out a way to do that one though. It’s so good.

How does it feel when you first perform them?
It’s always harder performing things in the very beginning. There’s something cool about stuff that’s really fresh, but I’m also often learning things at the very last minute so the music isn’t as comfortable under my fingers as it will be a few performances later. It takes more concentration and there’s less room to take chances with it or let it open up a little. That usually comes later.

What’s your relationship with The Grateful Dead?
I never got to see Jerry, I was 11 when he died. I grew up listening to the Dead because my parents did, so I’ve known a lot of the songs as long as I can remember. I fell in love with the music on my own terms later, sometime in high school. I mean I liked the music already, but there’s a difference between knowing and liking music you hear growing up versus seeking it out yourself and really diving in to it.

What was the first Dead song you reinterpreted? Hardest/Easiest?
The ’74 Eyes of the World jam transcription was the first one I transcribed and arranged. Another interesting choice as a first project, haha! Go big or go home I guess. I mean I’d played around with tons of their songs but just casually, figuring out the chord progressions and playing that way. I’d never sat down and rearranged all the puzzle pieces and tried to weave the threads together in a really deliberate way, and rearranged, and rearranged again until it seemed right. I would just play.  I actually arranged that one because JamBase wanted me to do a song for the “Songs of Their Own” series they did leading up to the Fare Thee Well shows, and no one had picked Eyes yet, and I had coincidentally been messing around with that song a few days before, playing around with the timing moving from 3 to 4 and back again. They asked me to do a jam transcription or at least include a tease of a notable jam, and I wasn’t going to, I didn’t think I had time to get it finished before the deadline. But then I listened to the Louisville Eyes and just decided I had to do it. I worked on it pretty much nonstop for several weeks. It was kind of nuts.

What has been your favorite place/venue/show to play so far?
Jam Cruise has to be one of my favorites ever. I think it has to be probably the only music festival ever where you show up to play your set and they happen to have a beautiful grand piano just sitting there waiting for you all ready to go. I mean obviously if you’re Dr. John or someone like that, you get that at every festival you play. But as an emerging artist, it’s hard to find that, much less in a festival setting. So that was pretty rad.

I also really love the Massry Center in Albany. People show up there really prepared to listen and get into the music and let it take them away, no distractions. That’s a really cool thing. There’s also an amazing piano and the acoustics of the room allow you to play completely unamplified. Another place like that is a new favorite of mine that I just played for the first time a few months ago called The Old Church. It’s in Portland OR and as you would expect, it’s an old church… but its no longer religiously-affiliated and is purely a performance space for arts and music now. The space is beautiful and the acoustics are too, and the whole vibe in there is just really special. I love spaces like that. I really like when I have the opportunity to play in spaces that are different from the usual places we’re used to going to see music.

Who have you played with that you were particularly wowed by (either because you didn’t know them at all, or because you knew (of) them very well)?
I’m grateful to have played with so many musicians who have wowed and inspired me. Obviously getting to play with both Aron [Magner] and Joel [Cummins] during my Jam Cruise set was really special. If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d share the piano with both those guys, in the same set no less, I don’t think I would have believed you.

What other bands/interpretations do you incorporate into your sets?
I’ve done a few songs and teases of songs by the Disco Biscuits. There’s some long-form compositions in their catalog I’d like to explore more. The one I’ve worked on most so far is Magellan, which has always been one of my favorites of their songs.  And then I’ve thrown in some Greensky Bluegrass teases and references. That started on Jam Cruise ‘cause Paul and Anders were there and I wanted to give a little musical shoutout to them. And then after I got to sit in with them in Eugene, which was such an honor, I snuck some GSBG references into my sets the rest of that tour. Phish and the Dead are the bread and butter of my sets right now but it’s always evolving.

How do you see yourself expanding your repertoire or performance as you grow from here?
I love the piano, and I always will, but I’m excited to expand out into other keyboard instruments as well. I’ve been having a ton of fun playing around with all the less expected sounds you can coax out of a piano and expanding the palette of sounds I have to work with, and I’d like to keep moving in that direction. I’m also working on some original music. That’s something I want to let grow in something other than a solo setting though. Maybe a trio.

What do you hope to see this project accomplish/become?
My goal is to make music that connects with people. If that nonverbal conveyance of emotion is happening, then I’m doing it right. Obviously there’s plenty of things on the creative and logistical end of things I’d love to see develop, but really, goal number one for me is connection. If I’m connecting with the music I’m playing emotionally, and someone out there listening is too, I think that’s what it all comes down to.

Anything else you want to share?
Yes! I’m making another album. It’s the music of the Grateful Dead reimagined for solo piano, and I’m unbelievably excited about how the sessions have gone so far. I can’t say any more about it just yet, but keep an eye out for it! It’s gonna be good!

 

Music as an Escape and Living the Double Life

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(This was written in August of 2011, likely for BreakThru Radio but I can’t be certain. It’s a long one, but interesting.)

Music is undoubtedly an outlet. For both the maker and the listener, music provides an avenue out of the regular world into a world of perfection. In a studio or at a concert, people experiencing music are unlikely to worry themselves with outside drama as the weight of each day seems to fall away when the music hits.

This kind of release is not just for young people, as dominating as they are on the music scene. Feeling like the oldest person at any given music event is not an uncommon sensation, nor is the sense that all these talented musicians have barely graduated high school. Nevertheless, the escape is available to anyone who choses to take advantage of it.

But then this begs the question; do adults use music an escape? Certainly the youth have historically used music to escape schoolwork, their parents, the government, etc., as is showcased by countless youth-in-revolt style bands and most songs that have ever been in the Top 40. When career life starts, is the lawyer expected to abandon her favorite band? Is the doctor not allowed to listen to the radio? Can the teacher not start a band of his own?

Guitarist Michael Dion would certainly know. Not only does he rip a mean guitar and sing a sweet tune on the weekends with his fairly successful band Hot Day at the Zoo, but he teaches high school English during the week.

“It’s a pretty interesting balance with these kids,” he says. “My weekends are so tiring, it’s hard to drag my ass back into town and get up at 7 am the next day. You have to be pretty ambidextrous to pull that off. It’s wonderful actually, I like wearing different hats.”

Leading separate lives certainly takes it’s toll, however. Even though he wouldn’t consider Hot Day a full-time gig, the work it requires is as time consuming as any job.

“Yeah, musicians are big kids but on the other hand, I would compare it to regular job. When you ask the average person about what life in a band is like, they will only comment on the show and the public aspect. It’s the iceberg metaphor– if you look at the performance it’s just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more beneath the water. For example, Hot Day is about as far as you’re gonna get without going full time and the work we have on our plate is outrageous, it’s got to be triple or quadruple for a full time band. We’re just in the neighborhood of 150 shows a year and that alone is a huge amount of work. Over 8 years, we’ve been exposed to exactly what it takes to be a full time outfit. Sure, there are a few bands that get big over night, but we’ve cultivated everything from the ground up. We’ve personally driven every nail into the machine. It’s not for the faint of heart or the weary; you need to be prepared for a long road ahead of bullshit and hard work. You don’t see a lot of rewards for all this effort. I mean, we’re surviving but its not all sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, like it seems… although there is that too.”

Unlike Michael, I am 23 years old and work 4 days a week. Hardly an adult, and hardly working a full-time job, I’ll admit, and even I use music as an escape. I follow the jam band Phish around the country when they tour and would jet off to every music festival on the east coast if I could. Phish’s shows transport me to a magical place where no one is depending on me, there’s nothing I need to rush for, no one I need to answer to, no work to be done. Not only does following the band provide an escape from reality, but also the infectious feeling of joy I get when seeing Phish, and most other live music acts as well, carries me through my next few days and supports me as I reenter normal life.

I see many adults at Phish concerts who are experiencing a similar escape as I, but who have been doing this for many more years. Generally speaking, many adult Phish phans were once followers of the Grateful Dead, going from show to show letting the band steal their faces and melt their sorrow away. More so than Phish, the Dead’s songs were very serious in nature, often dealing with sad subjects and the trying forces in life. In learning that the band understands those same pains, listeners were transformed by the power of words and getting lost in the music.

Like the Dead, however, Phish uses extended jams and complex compositions to move the listener. Improvised jams take the musician away and have the tendency to do the same with an audience member who is paying attention. Trying to follow each instrument or pick up on the different strokes of sound requires a lot of attention, and does not allow headspace for other thoughts or worries. The familiar compositions can have the same effect, even though the listener knows what’s coming. Carefully hearing every note where it’s supposed to be and taking in each step of movement creates an avenue for escape just as good as an improvised jam.

But when the music ends and the audience disperse back to their jobs and chores, they’re stuck with the double-life complex. Like Michael, it’s hard to draw the line between work and play, but sometimes those two simply cannot interact.

“I don’t advertise that I’m in a band with my students. Eventually, it comes out through out the course of the year and a lot of kids know what’s up and rumors will circulate but I don’t offer that information,” says Dion. “On another note, our music is just not for your typical high school kids. They all like rap and radio friendly music, which is just not us at all. When they ask me to play music for them, they just don’t get it. They like the idea of it, especially students who are a little more mature, maybe heading into the party scene, they’ll poke some fun at me, make comments and such. I just have to turn away and maintain professionalism, try not to recognize a lot of the shit they come out with. I try to keep those worlds totally separate.”

Each of the members of Hot Day hold down a steady job, but no time is wasted when they’re doing double duty.

“Friday we have to leave early for a show and Jon [banjo, computer engineer], even though he’ll have to clock out, will be doing work remotely on the way. I’m in grad school as well so I do a ton of work in the van, writing papers and grading homework. But it works out. If I’m going to be sitting in the van for hours, I might as well be using that time creatively. We’ll write songs in the van too, it’s a lot of fun.”

On top of the work they have to do for each of their jobs, the balancing act is a perfected routine. While I can come into work a little tired from the weekend and start my Monday slowly, a teacher has to be ready and energized first thing in the morning, every day of school. And even though he may be burning the candle at both ends, Michael says that he has perfected the double duty, even with his side project Alligator Wine.

“With Alligator, we practice every night and have bar gigs on school nights, so we don’t lead a stereotypical lifestyle. I have balanced it out in my past, but I can’t really keep doing this. We can’t get all twisted drunk any more on the weekends, because we’ve got stuff to do. You have to look at it as a job,” he advises.

“We’ve had some rough nights where we may have pushed it too far. So you have to ask, are we a joke bar band or are we seriously trying to do this? Is this gonna be a job for me or not? That’s the stuff that’s got to happen or you’ll crash and burn earlier than you hope for. We’ve all seen what it’s like but I have no interest in that. I’d love to make this a profession and enjoy my life. That’s another aspect of this, settling down with a family is part of adulthood and I can’t do that right now so in terms of avoiding adulthood I think I am, yes. A family is one thing that can destroy a band. If you don’t have the financial and industry backing for your band, the workload is not possible to deal with when you have a family. We wouldn’t be able to do it if we all had wives and children, I firmly believe we would not be where we are or make that transition in the future. It’s not feasible.”

A double life could never be easy, as it requires twice the dedication and twice the effort. But if music makes you happy, let it be your escape from whatever. Adults should feel as free to get away from the rules, the bosses, and the government as kids do. Whether you’re making it or simply enjoying it, music can be the key to staying happy during a mundane work week, and why shouldn’t it be?

The Congress, “The Game” Album Review

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The Congress, “The Game” Album Review

Published in the September 2016 Issue of Appalachian Jamwich

The Congress is a soulful, southern blues-rock band now based in Richmond, VA, after their move home from Colorado. The relocation, now nearly a year past, makes the lead track all the more significant- “Home Again” is a poignant, stripped down melody that showcases the vocal prowess of the band before anything else. Throughout the rest of the album, there are noticeable differences between Jonathan Meadows’ and Scott Lane’s signing, but on this track they are flawlessly one. “New Amsterdam” follows and is the first introduction to what the band can really do. They bust into a danceable verse almost instantly, but, quick not to give away too much, dial it back for stellar balance. The high-energy chorus is impossible not to move to, and the drum driven bridge takes listeners almost to another world. The third track takes a far more honky-tonk approach than when played live; “When I’ve Got The Time” features a slide guitar, broken-down music, slower and simpler than their rock ‘n’ roll take, and lead vocals that crackle and scoop like country singers are so known to do. “The Poison and the Antidote” is the newest (to this writer) song on the album; an epic ballad on love and loss, this song is most reflective of their lyrical ability to reach right into the soul of their listeners. The album’s title track is sixth, a staple of their live performance and perfect summary of who the band is; fun-loving southern boys just trying to make music that people will love. Besides Meadows and Lane, The Congress also features Chris Speasmaker on keys and Raph Katchinoff on drums (however the album was recorded with former drummer Mark Levy). Three other equally as quintessential “Congress” songs close the record, reinforcing their technical skill, outstanding talent, and classic song writing. The Congress will be touring the west coast before a run in Spain in November. Check their website for other upcoming dates near you.

Leaving FOMO Behind and Embracing the Moment

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This is a piece I wrote for Appalachian Jamwich on January 10, 2014, so it was likely published in the March 2014 addition of the magazine. Appropriately themed for this weekend, staying home for Halloween and missing Phish (who knew when writing this what Phish 2014 Halloween would hold!), but I will try to take the words of 25 year old me to heart and have no FOMO.

The Old Fears in the New Year?
Leaving FOMO Behind and Embracing the Moment

 

There’s no denying that 2013 was an explosive year in music. There were countless tours and festivals to choose from that were fairly close to home, and the events that required some travel seemed bigger and better than before. There were awesome new bands that deserved everyone’s attention, but also musicians who were thought or known to be calling it quits for a while. Needless to say, the decisions on what shows to see and what festivals to go to were difficult. Many fans ended up, as they often do, with the old dilemma of buying too many concert tickets, and then not having any money for concert tickets. So, as fans try to decide the best way to spend their resources (time included, as so often the best bands play on the same nights), there arose the social media dubbed sensation known as “fomo” or fear of missing out.

 

Whether the term came from a specifically musical background or not, it has seemed to apply especially here as the live jam scene enters this gigantic, loving swell of popularity. Destination events have popped up left and right, and with strings in Mexico or cruises in Jamaica, escaping the early part of 2013 proved to be just as difficult a decision as summertime would come to be. As many of the jam scenes heaviest hitters set out for spring tours, fans waited anxiously for festival announcements and packed the small city clubs to get their fix. But even then, there were signs of fomo- people begging for advice on whether to chose this one over that one, skipping the mid-level tickets to save for the waterfall of summer spending. And along it came, as anticipated: many shows, many options, few resources, lots and lots of fomo. When the leaves started turning and the temperatures dropped, the music went back indoors and seemed just as, if not more, plentiful and thrilling as before. Then, just a few months ago, the New Years Eve decision had to be made, and with it, a wave of the fear- driven by the completely legitimate idea that some once-in-a-lifetime moment will take place.

 

Come 2014, hopefully everyone had the NYE celebration they hoped for, but in the spirit of resolutions, look forward without fear. There’s no doubt that this year will be a similarly adventure-filled and musically inspiring turn around the sun. With Furthur taking a break, and a major shift in The Allman Brothers Band line-up, there’s lots of room for new projects from these artists and others. There will be a lot to come from acts like Lettuce and The Werks, and even more growth for the next “generation” like Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Rumpke Mountain Boys. There were seemingly countless new festivals in the last 12 months, and this year, the ones that survived will really start to shine. So, will the jam fans cave to the fear, or leave fomo behind and embrace flood of new activity?

 

As it seems from a sociological perspective, a big part of the jam fan culture is living in the moment, which contradicts the general feeling of missing out on anything. Then again, the music is certainly as important, if not much more, and being part of the best shows is high on the priority list as well. Of course, no one group or set of unspoken rules can determine the way any one individual feels about his or her current physical place. But since the jam band world has been so saturated with interesting music, and since there are so many affordable and exciting options for music lovers of all kinds, truly embracing the magic of moment is going to provide absolutely the best possible state to be in. Yes, there are countless options, but revel in their diversity and feel comfort in the ultimate selection. Don’t wonder what could be going on in another part of the city or country or world; instead try to see what’s going on in the mind of the musicians on stage. Because no one should let thoughts of what they’re not doing effect the experiences they are having.

Karl Denson’s Big Plans for his Tiny Universe

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Originally published on Appalachain Jamwhich 9/26/13

 

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe comes to Pittsburgh at Mr. Smalls on Saturday 9.28, and we got to have a quick word with Karl D. himself about playing with Mike Dillion, the Tiny Universe’s “New Ammo” due out in January, and playing the West Coast.

 

AJ: How do you like Pittsburgh? Excited to play Mr. Small’s again?

KD: I love Mr. Small’s, it’s a great room. Probably gonna cook dinner for the guys, they have a kitchen there.

 

I saw you were looking for veggie sandwiches the other day, are you vegetarian?

I am generally vegetarian, yeah. I love meat but I’m getting too old to eat it so I try to make it count when I do.

 

Sure, that’s a good way to stay healthy. So Mike Dillion’s on the tour, how did that happen?

We frequent the same places and it was on the heels of him doing some recording for me on the new record that we decided to do a little run together. We did a day of percussion-ing, some of everything, except we didn’t get him on vibes [viberaphone], which was kind of a drag. But I got him on pretty much all his other toys.

 

Well that’s cool, he does have a lot of fun toys to play with. So the tour with him has been going well?

Yes, it’s going awesome. They crowds have been having fun, I’ve got a new drummer so I’ve been breaking him in but it’s been really easy and it’s getting really musical.

 

Who’s your new drummer?

Max MacVeedy. He started this tour, a week and a half ago. He’s fitting in great, it’s really awesome.

 

That’s always cool when you add a new member to the band and they just sort of melt right into everyone else’s vibe.

Yeah, it’s really nice.

 

So I guess he wasn’t on the new album, but how’s that going? All done and ready to go?

Yeah, it’s done, middle of January is the release date, it’s called “New Ammo.”

 

I like that, how’d you get to that name?

It’s one of the songs we included and we just decided to go with it to create an image of war and peace kind of thing.

 

Do you think you and the band have changed a lot since your last album in 2009?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, the band is very different now and I think we’re settling into a cool place right now. It was kind of a struggle figuring out exactly what we wanted to do with the band in the last couple years, but I think we’ve kind of gotten there now and the new record is kind of the first phase of what we’re doing now.

 

Cool, you feel like it’s much more defining now than it was before?

Yes, I feel like it’s much closer to what we are live.

 

Did you keep that great R&B feel or is it a completely new sound on this record?

No, I think it’s got a nice little bit of the R&B sound and little more of like a 60’s/70’s soundtrack vibe and I think we’re actually pointed more in a real soul, R&B direction right now, so I think it’s gonna be a good complement. I’m aiming at getting another record out really soon behind this one just to kind of codify where we’re going. 

Definitely good to follow up with something just as strong. I saw that it will be released on Slightly Stoopid Records, were you in Slightly Stoopid or how did that relationship begin?

We’re both from San Diego and I’ve been a part of the band for the last 3 years, and they just kind of adopted me so, I run around with them when I’m not doing my thing.

 

That’s sort of been the same time that Tiny Universe has been kind of on the rise, how’s that been balancing two big projects?

Well it’s allowed me to take some time out of these markets, like we haven’t really done a big run like we’re doing this fall in a couple of years so it was a good kind of respite to gather our thoughts and get the new record ready and now we’ve got more focus and more energy to do the Tiny Universe. So that’s gonna be really the main focus for the next year.

Yeah, and there’s a ton coming up, you’ll be playing Mustang Music Festival in NC on October 11, and then Joshua Tree Music Festival in CA the next day, and a lot of California shows on the tour, do you see a difference at all in the music scenes between the east and west coast?

No, not really, it’s just a chance to go and see your friends, see who comes out. Have a nice party- it’s party season as we call it. There’s always a strange flux that you see when you do it as much as I do, but I find that it has a lot more to do with how we feel and how the audience feels, so we just try to stay positive and enjoy what we’re doing and hope it translates well.

 

Do you have a favorite venue in California or out west that you particularly love to play at?

Ya know, I really like the Fillmore in San Francisco, and the Belly Up in San Diego, it’s nice playing at home.

 

Cool, great choices, I love the Fillmore. So now out on the west coast you have Zach Deputy who’s great and The Cosmic Horns, which sounds like it should be a lot of fun. How did that come about? Are you excited for it?

Well we did this at Jazz Fest this past year, so it was kind of something we had so much fun with, we decided to revisit it and so it’s gonna be a blast.

 

“The Ray Charles Boogaloo Party?”

Yea, I discovered that Zach had a penchant for Ray Charles so I kind of made a big issue out of it and now we’re gonna see how far we can go with it.

 

That’s fun sounds like it’s gonna be really cool, and you sound excited. Think it’s gonna take off?

Yeah it’s gonna be really fun. Ya know normally we do these novelty little things, we only do a couple shows so you never get a chance to really settle into it where now we have 2 months of this thing with Zach so I’m really excited about actually doing 15-20 gigs and getting it tight and having it be something cool.

 

Totally, sounds like it’s gonna be really cool. I never really thought of the combination until I saw your tour schedule and the sound matches perfectly and the Ray Charles thing- you are totally right, it’s gonna be great. The couple times I’ve seen Zach it’s just been dance party beach vibe and I’m sure you guys will just turn the heat up.

Yeah, it’s gonna be fun.

 

And then you’re gonna be on Jam Cruise in January, you must be excited. You’ve been on most of the Jam Cruises, right?

I’ve been on ALL the Jam Cruises! It’s always super fun, my January vacation. I mean, we only have 2 shows in 6 days, so it’s a lot of chilling and hanging out with friends. I’m kind of a creature of the moment, but I’m really excited to see Bootsy.

Watermelon Gazpacho BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

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I know Summer is officially over but it’s NOT QUITE OVER until you have that last watermelon. Well. My last watermelon came and went with this tremendous Watermelon Gazpacho that was inspired by a hot weekend at Lockn’ Festival.

Takes 10-15 minutes to make depending on how soupy you want it. I did about half and half because I like it thicker, but as you can see, the chunks were submerged in a fully blended liquid.

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Chop about 3 cups of watermelon and put a little more than half of it in a blender. Chop a cucumber, red pepper, and red onion, and put a little more than half of those in as well. If you want any heat, add a chopped jalepeno here, I used half of one. Add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and puree.

Finely chop the remaining ingredients (or leave them big if you want) and put them in a large bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Once the blended ingredients are smooth, pour them in the bowl, and mix to the two to fully combine. Taste here for s&p needs, and cover, letting the flavors meld in the fridge for an hour (if you can wait). Stir before serving, and enjoy!

What to do with all the photos I take of my food.. and Cashew Cheez

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I’ve been trying to get into vegan and healthy lifestyle blogging, as I try to get better at a vegan and healthy lifestyle, and along the way, I’ve taken pictures of the particularly successful dishes I’ve made to remind myself that it’s easy and fun. I post photos of my food on Facebook, like everyone else, so I figured I should take them elsewhere, and maybe include recipes… so here goes!

Baked Cashew Cheez (Dairy, soy, and gluten free)

This takes some time to prep, but the herbed chewy crust and creamy spreadable center make this small project a worthwhile effort and can last refrigerated for up to a week- if you can last that long. (Please note that even though there is a hair-tie in this photo, the recipe does not call for hair.)

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Soak 2 cups of raw cashews fully submerged in salted water overnight or for at least 8 hours. Drain and reserve at least half a cup of the water for later.

Blend the soaked cashews, adding the soaking water slowly to get a smooth consistency. Taste it at this stage in case you need more salt which will bake out, or want to add a flavor to the entire cheez. If so, add the spice or your select flavor (i.e.- basil, red pepper) as you are blending to get it all the way through. (You can use the blended cashews at this stage for a vegan mac n cheez, add spices and put on nachos, use for v. pizza, and more.)

Pour the blended cashews into a cheesecloth, wrap it in a bundle, tie the top with a rubber band, and suspend the cheez bundle over a bowl or bucket to drain at room temperature for 2-4 hours. (Leave a little room between the top of the cashew cream and the rubber band and stick a dull knife through to balance on the rim of any deep dish.) Then put it in the fridge to chill for another 4 hours at least. 

The cheez will be in a firm ball at this point but should be unwrapped delicately and placed in an oven-safe dish to be herbed. Cover the top with your choice of herbs or more salt, depending on your flavorings and preferences. Bake at 200 degrees for 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how crusty you want the… crust. If you want to bake it for less time, you can turn the oven up a bit but not more than 250 or the process will backfire. (The photo above was baked at 200 for about 2 hours and 30 mins.. I was going for a Brie-like texture and I think I got pretty close. Chewy but flavorful and slightly different from the warm velvety inside cheez.)

Will Power and the Biggest Loser Challenge

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This article was originally published on Peaceful Dumpling on 9/18/2013.

It seems like I have always been trying to lose weight and improve my fitness, but in the last year, I’ve been letting myself slip. A new job in a new place and the decision to cut dairy made me feel like I could be lenient in other ways, but here I am, many pounds later and just as unsatisfied. Fed up with it all, something had to change for me when I was invited by a group of friends on Facebook to make a go of it together.

We decided on an 8-week Biggest Loser competition and as Day 1 approached, I prepared by trying to remember anything that got me going lately. I wasn’t fully motivated by the desire to lose weight or eat better, nor was it external forces like getting a boyfriend or fitting into a certain dress. This had to come from within, from the most genuine source of any effort, especially since the competition was self-monitored and relied on the word of participants (and photos of our weigh-ins). There were no screaming ex-marines or celebrity fitness stars to push us along; just the satisfaction of our success and the strength of our desire. I remembered easier times, like during my college years when a free rec center meant hours on the elliptical or even in high school, when team practices were all the exercise I needed. What was it that kept me going then?

I followed exercise and wellness blogs during my slump, so as to not lose complete sight of my health, and one trend I saw a lot of was the 30-day Fitness Challenge. Time and time again, I tried to make these exercises part of my routine. I would print out the info-graphic, tape it to my mirror, and start out 5 or 6 days strong, but then sputter out even when I thought I could keep going. Life just kept getting in the way, but faced with the Biggest Loser competition, I wasn’t going to let this happen again.

To begin was intimidating—a calendar full of squats, sit-ups, jumping jacks, or wall-sits—but they all started out simple. Day 1’s challenges were a few of my favorites: 20-second planks and 2 sets of 15 burpees. Those first burpees were admittedly tough but I was proud to finish them and was encouraged to press on because of the ease at which that challenge (and many like it) progressed. Most allowed for a rest day after the first week or so, giving my body a chance to absorb the work, and in reflection, it turned out to be less scary than I thought. The longer and more consistently I did it, the easier it was to keep going. Sure, it took more effort every day, but by the beginning of the third week, my tummy felt tighter, my clothes fit better, I had more energy–I was starting to really see results, not only in the mirror, but also in my desire to do more.

Though the last week was surely the hardest, the satisfaction of completing the challenge was well worth it. I looked back on those 30 days and felt proud that I accomplished something I knew would be difficult and maybe painful, but so good for my body and mind. I lost a few pounds, which always feels good, but I could tell I had converted fat to muscle, which feels better. I looked slimmer, I had a bounce to my step, and I felt more attractive in the clothes I was wearing.  Right away, I was ready to start another challenge, thanks to the will power that grew stronger with my muscles in the previous challenge. My brain wanted to keep going; my heart was in it to win it, because my will power was keeping me on track.

Now, in the middle of my Biggest Loser competition, I know that these 30-day challenges motivate me and will carry me through. Knowing I’ve done it before and can do it again  makes me confident in taking on any fitness face-off, and with 30-day challenges to keep me exercising, my will power will grow stronger and my waistline smaller.