I can still remember jealously searching through pictures of Grateful Dead shows past and seeing Phil Leshs sons sitting atop speakers on the side of the stage, enjoying the music, capturing the essence of what their father was doing. I always dreamed of what it would like to grow up Dead. I also still remember hearing that Grahame had joined Phil Lesh and Friends on tour and barely remember catching them at All Good Music Festival that same year. Many said he wasn't ready to be playing with such high caliber musicians at the time but now with hundreds of shows under his belt with Phil Lesh and Friends, as well as, The Terrapin Family Band, Grahame Lesh has set out on a new adventure with Midnight North, releasing their brand new album, Under The Lights. I was lucky enough to grab an advanced copy of this album and checked it out. Here is my honest opinion of the album and the songs within.
First, I should start by addressing Jam Band fans; while they can definitely find something to enjoy in this album, they should not expect Jam music; no long guitar solos or improvisational progressions, just straight and to the point songwriting, much like the Grateful Dead's seminal albums, American Beauty and Working Mans Dead. Under The Lights seems to veer more in the direction of Alternative Country but with lyrics much more poignant and endearing than anything seen in country music today.
There are more than a few songs that I found interesting on this album and driving down the road, I turned them up, really delving into the writing process; trying to understand the depth of the album itself. Songs like, "Playing A Poor Hand Well" and "Headline from Kentucky" showed versatile songwriting techniques and musical arrangements that impressed me but didn't quite get me there.
"Roamin" struck a chord with me personally; the driving beat and simple lyrical structure keep me turning it back to hear it again. I think that most people can find something to relate to within this albums very well recorded songs. The recording itself is polished and rehearsed, clean and precise. I would have liked to have heard a few more guitar solos but there was some fine instrumental playing done by Elliott Peck, Alex Jordan and Conner O' Sullivan within all of these tracks. I was very impressed with female vocalist Elliott Peck, she really adds another presence to this band and they wouldn't be the same without her.
I have truly enjoyed watching Grahame Lesh grow musically and succeed in the industry his father helped create. I am so glad we have a new generation perpetuating the scene and culture that surrounds it. Even though this album lacks improvisational qualities, I am positive their live shows are quite different and if we can affect any change in Nashville and the pop country scene by an means, it's good for us all. Keep doing what you're doing Grahame Lesh and keep rollin' down the track Midnight North.
May The Jam Gods Be With You,
Jam Band Purist
As I traversed the mountains and valleys toward Rooster Music/Art Festival outside of Martinsville, Virginia, I enjoyed the rural backgrounds and scenic pastoral settings that is the Virginia landscape. Filled with small rural communities, one can truly picture themselves in the turn of the century; things move slower here and nothing is fast-paced. All is quiet and comfortable. Arriving to Pop’s Farm, the immediate feeling of this small friendly community surrounds you. This festival was a very easy in-and-out with helpful and friendly staff. The festival actually begins on Thursday night but I was unable to arrive until Friday due to prior business. I arrived as early as I could and was able to catch a great deal of music throughout the day. Pop’s Farm is a smaller festival venue, that seems to have all the options for festival accommodations.
The Pine Stage was nestled in a grove of pine trees where hammocks could be set up and all kinds of activities were available; even slack-lines where one could try their hand, or should I say feet, at balancing across like a tightrope. The Lake Stage was by far my favorite although, it got extremely hot during the day and with little shade, it seemed unbearable at times. The view makes it worthwhile and at night the trippiest lights are shown across the water. This is the perfect late night setting. The Main stage was adequate and even had good viewing from a copse of trees to the side that had great seating for patrons. One of the best things about smaller festivals is the ability to walk all the way to the railing very easily, without any hassle. There is always plenty of room for everyone to have their own space. I started my day at the Pine Stage with GOTE, a smaller local group that I had never heard of but they played a fun “Going Out West” and “Good Lovin” with an added, fiddle flair. Mason Via funk was up next on the Main stage with ripping steel slide solos and Michael Jackson songs with a banjo. The diversity of this group and their energy was fun.
Eric Krasno Band was up next at the Lake Stage. I think Kraz was the tipping point for me to come to Roosterwalk, I just had to see him again and check out his new band. They did not disappoint. Krasno can play it all, from wailing blues, progressive rock, soul, gospel, funk, R&B, Motown and improvisational jams. His band included, a great keyboard player and sexy lead vocals from Mary Corso. I also compliment the stand out solo from Danny Mayer on rhythm guitar. Kraz and his band played many songs from his most recent album, “Blood and Stone” while still shredding on many improvisational type jams and even playing to the crowd. Eric Krasno Band have a tight and distinct sound. I'd love to see them do a lot more jamming in the future.
Jon Stickley Trio from Asheville, North Carolina opened up with an instrumental rendition of “Blackhole Sun.” They continued with hard-hitting breakdowns on all acoustic instruments. They were just like a trio should be; high powered and full forced. They shredded Americana-folk, and Celtic music with a gritty edge that ran up and down the strings of the fiddle and acoustic guitar. I can't describe them without adding the obvious influence of metal into their musical structures.
The Wailers came out swinging with all the classics: “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Rasta Man Vibrations,” “Three Little Birds” “One Love,” “Jammin,” “Redemption Song,” “Could You Be loved,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Exodus;” need I list more? I sat in a hammock on top of the hill for some time, relaxing and enjoying music that wafted from the Mainstage. I finally got my dancing shoes on and headed down to the front, where the energy was uplifting.
Late night with the Pimps of Joytime and they played that “in the pocket-gangster-funk-shit”. The vocals and stage performance was on point. Vocal ability seems to get more and more important to me and the music I become fond of. While Pimps Of Joytime are a fantastic band they also have an electronic twist. I wasn't sure where some of those electronic sounds or ambient beats/percussive sounds were coming from; It looked as though the bass player was using his laptop to overdub the music, how much of that is used, I am not sure, just something to note. The show featured fire spinners on the side of the stage in some sort of ritualistic ceremony. I have never understood the fascination with these distractions at music festivals like painting onstage and fire type events, is the music not enough? But I stayed as far away as I could, still hoping to catch a glimpse of some dreads going up in flames. I really enjoyed POJT songwriting and easy sing-alongs like, “Joy Time Radio” and “Bring Your Body To The Party.” The lead singer has a real Prince vibe and they effortlessly mix funk, salsa, doo-wop and everything in between for an original experience. The two female vocalist were also a great addition and I loved their stage performances.
Saturday turned out to be hot and humid day, the bright morning sun woke me up early, beating down upon my face. I caught afternoon bluegrass with some younger players who did their best motivating the crowd and then more bluegrass with Mountain Grass, who played an interesting version of Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man.” I caught a self proclaimed, “festival siesta set” with Mandolin Orange. All the upbeat music for the day seemed to be in VIP, the sound overlapping the slow and docile music of Mandolin Orange on the Mainstage; I can't say I didn't take a nap myself.
One of the main reasons I attended Roosterwalk was to catch up and coming star, Marcus King and his band. Before his set I got a chance to meet Marcus and talk with him about a variety of subjects including the passing of Allman Brothers Band legend, Gregg Allman. I had just heard the news and happened to be wearing an Allman Brothers shirt that day. I asked Marcus if he would be playing any Allman Brothers songs and he said, “Well, I have to?” and that he was “fucked up” from the recent news. I didn't push the subject but Marcus seemed to reflect on his memories with Gregg and slayed more than a few Allman Brothers songs during his sets that night.
I was super impressed with Marcus King and his entire band, from the groovin’ bass player to the keyboardist with the immaculate beard. Marcus King has a soulful and original voice, his roots are in southern rock and R&B. Marcus also plays guitar better than anyone I've seen at his age. He has learned all the tricks from the guys who have been doing it forever like, Warren Haynes and Eric Krasno. Marcus includes many powerful and fast breakdowns, improvising on the fly, modulating keys. He includes sweeps, arpeggios, melodic minors and shifting tempos into his playing. MKB integrates new jam music with traditional improvisational qualities. The Marcus King Band’s songwriting reminds me of the Alabama Shakes or something similar, more pop R&B orientated. I would like to see them delve deep into the lyrical process, deeper into the darkness of Marcus King. We will have to see what happens as he continues and at 21 years old Marcus King has many life lessons ahead of him and only room to grow as a musician. While I really enjoyed the addition of horns, I would also like to see Marcus in a trio just doing his thing but the horns add such an additional layer to their sound. After hearing about the death of Gregg Allman, it was my pleasure to witness the new generation of southern jam artists continue the sacred tradition of improvisational jam and southern rock.
Greensky Bluegrass was the crowd favorite by far, this band seems to have loyal fans and a large following that know all their songs. Poignant and heartfelt lyrics are what stood out to me the most and I look forward to delving into the catalog forthwith. The lack of drums is immediately apparent but this approach is much more traditional to the bluegrass standard. I liked the little fake out into the Beverly Hillbillies theme song but their sound is the epitome of progressive bluegrass. The progressive structure comes from the jams themselves and use of effects pedals on their instruments. They also have one of the best light shows I have seen from a band this size. The sit-in from Marcus King was awesome. I was so pumped that I didn't even take any notes just enjoyed the show. I do know they played the classic ABB song “One Way Out” and they all took turns soloing and trading licks. At 21, Marcus King can hang with the best players out there. I especially like the mandolin players spirit and energy, this band is all about the strings. I still say some drums wouldn't hurt anything. Drums give a driving structure to the music and if you're going to go progressive why not go all the way? But I can see there ever shifting music quality is complemented by their spacey and jammy sound. I love the cover of “Working On A Building” by Bill Monroe but I seemed to be the only person in the crowd to know the song. Greensky Bluegrass was a lot of fun and I'm excited to see them again as soon as I can.
Late night Saturday well... what happens at late night Roosterwalk stays at Roosterwalk…
No, but in all seriousness The Motet was funky and fun but I had to see more Marcus King Band and headed over to the Pine Stage until the wee hours of Sunday morning. I was completely mind blown by MKB, this kid can do it all. There's not much more to say about this set, just go see this band NOW. Go see Marcus King and see what he can do, it will truly melt your face and I don't say this lightly.
I was pretty pooped by Sunday, I ended up crashing out for most of the day, it happens. I was still reeling from MKB and my brain was still leaking out from all the amazing music of the night before. I was still able to check out some music though, like The Trongone Band from Richmond, Virginia and Yarn as well as, Yarn Gets Stoned which included all Rolling Stones covers. Obviously, I didn't want to miss the Nth power who was worth waiting for, as most of the music on Sunday I wasn't that interested in. They ended Roosterwalk on a high note with some outstanding funky performances. Sunday was a great time to reflect on the weekend and having my face melted off by Marcus King.
Roosterwalk exemplifies the best things about the Virginia music scene. The lineup caters to local bands and the local music scene, and still provides great headlining performances ie: Greensky, MKB, Anders Osborne, The Wailers. The story and the origins of this event are magnificent and the spirit of Roosterwalk is truly positive and friendly. This is the perfect festival for every music lover out there, from family to partier. I am so glad that I got to experience this festival and seeing some of these bands, mainly MKB has been the highlight of my year. I hope Roosterwalk continues to grow and be successful in its next 9 years.
Jam Band Purist
WARNING: The views and opinions expressed on this site may not be in conjecture with your own. Be Advised
Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.