Roosterwalk Music Festival 10: (The Legend of King and Strings)
Festival season has officially begun and we are excited to share the JBP review for Roosterwalk Music Festival 10, which is not just a music festival but a haven for the jam community here in Virginia. We can't cover all the wonderful music at Roosterwalk but I hope this recap does some of this musical experience justice.
Friday's Musical Highlights:
I arrived at Pops Farm much later than I had anticipated and after hauling gear and getting things set up, I had missed a great portion of music that began early on Friday. Billy Strings first performance was totally eclipsed by even the notion of King and Strings, while I only caught a few songs, Billy is always high strung and exhilarating but I kept wondering what he was planning with Marcus later on that night. Sanctum Sully was up on the Pine Groove stage, doing some jamming, including a rendition of Phish's, "Stash" into "Fixin To Die." Ending in a great cover of Tom Petty's, "Nightwatchmen." It felt good to be in the reminisce of the Pine Grove; there have been some great sets of music played here. Historic even.
The Jerry Douglas Band on the Bassett Main Stage was a mix of hard driving blues and bluegrass. Busting out a "Hey Joe" cover that was vastly different than the original. This would be my first time seeing JDB and I found the dobro style played originally with modes and transitions, more classically structured. Nominated for a Grammy, the album and song, "What If" was moving and very composed, classically driven with a long introduction. "Battle Stick" featured Mike Seal heavily on guitar. I happen to have went to high school with him in Bridgewater, Virginia and cannot believe his skills on the axe.
Newest Act Alert:
Vocally determined, Sister Sparrow at the Lake Stage had me excited for the future of female vocalist in this scene. I wasn't able to catch the entire performance but what I did catch, made me want to see more. I will be doing a full review of Sister Sparrow whenever I can get a chance to see them again.
JJ Grey and Mofro were dressed to impress in all black suits. Coming out with that creole; soulful and full of spirit, really respecting and representing an older style of music. Rounding through, "Brighter Days" and "Country Ghetto," JJs southern banter would bore a hole in my mind, making me hungry with all that talk of home cooked, country food. The classic cover "Seminal Wind" had this show going country but overall JJ reminds me of Dr. John, without the eccentricity. Closing out with "Glory Glory Hallelujah."
The Main Event:
I was extremely excited for the King and Strings duo set at the Pine Stage. Both of these young players are phenomenal and I had no idea what to expect. Meeting just 4 hours before the show both, Marcus King and Billy Strings, are highly talented and pulled together quite the tight performance. The added bonus of Jeff Sipe on drums made this even more exclusive. Sipe, who is always a solid and professional drummer, has played with many of the jam world’s greatest legends.
Opening with an MKB song, "Guitar In My Hand", The band would go into Billy Strings, "Dust In A Baggie." The two would take turns soloing and dueling it out during, "Swinging Doors." Quite the dynamic cover of Marshal Tuckers, "Can't You See"; King is methodical and like a cat on the prowl while, Strings is loose and wild. Such a palpable stage energy between these two. Billy takes out the electric (PRS) for "Johnny B Goode" which was hard and fast, almost punk rock. The Grateful Dead's, "It Hurts Me Too" sees Billy taking the slow notes while, Marcus rips the solo a new one. Two unique and distinct styles meshing together to form something improvisationally fantastic. Calling songs on the fly and trying new things both of these players are wise beyond their years. "Compared To What" was by far my favorite song and jam of the set; full of raw energy and bristling with excitement. "Hey Joe" was on point. I swear I saw the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughn somewhere in the back during “Born To be Wild” writhing violently behind the stage. No joke. The future of music is in great hands. King and String would also cover Led Zeppelins, "Good Times Bad Times," “Spoonful", “Sweet Leaf” and “Rocky Top.” Encoring with “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” There's not much more to say about this performance. You will just have to watch below and judge for yourself.
Best Light Show Of The Weekend:
I was only able to catch the last 4 minutes of Tauk at the Lake Stage due to the overlapping sets but they hands down had the best light show of the weekend and have been taking on vocal covers more often. Tauk is talking!
Saturdays Musical Highlights:
The Marcus King Band took the stage to a voracious crowd, hungry for more jams. A new steel pedal sat onstage and would be an additional instrument for Dean Mitchell. Opening with “Sharry Barry” the band goes for it right of the bat, keeping the MKB tradition alive at Roosterwalk. As much fun as the King and Strings set was, it's always great to see one of my favorite bands live and back in Virginia. Justin Johnson’s playing was shining as bright, as his trumpet in the sun. Marcus laying down some slow melodic riffs, perhaps preparing mentally for the late-night performance. Soulful and powerful, "Good Man" highlight this performance. I got a close look at Marcus’s pedal board and it's slim, with very few effects because he doesn't need to them to sound great. Blistering progressive scales and blues always from this band. "Where I'm Headed", the first single off new album, was great and I can't wait I hear the album version. Closing with "Virginia", Ron Holloway would sit-in as, artist at large for the day. I look forward to hearing ‘Carolina Confessions’ when it is released and will hopefully be doing a full album review.
As a light thunderstorm struck the area, I retreated to my makeshift campsite for some R&R before the nights festivities. When the rain subsides, I got some more R&R with Robert Randolph and The Family Band, high powered blues. “I Need More Love” with a “Don't Stop Til’ You Get Enough” interlude that was fun and funky. Covering “Up On Cripple Creek“ by The Band, had the whole crowd singing along. The Wood Brothers, a trio that I was unfamiliar with but would get to know throughout the evening, played an unhurried set. Playing harmonica while playing the bass, dancing crazy legs McGee and the rest of The Wood Brothers, played many of the songs from their recent album. I thought I heard keys but only say 3 people and realized the drummer was also doing double duty playing, keyboards and drums at the same time which is quite impressive. Although sounding exactly like Weezers, "Say It Ain't So", The Woods Brothers song “Luckiest Man” is still one of my favorite tunes from this headlining performance.
Roosterwalk can't get enough of MKB and Marcus himself would play all 3 stages throughout the weekend. The CSNY "Ohio" cover was a great surprise and was well done, getting the crowd involved with some vocal reflections. "Let's get to know each other!" shouts Marcus to the audience; opening his arms and raising them in the air. “Self-Hatred” was blistering with Grateful Dead influence and ABB jam qualities. Applying the best of both these formidable American bands to his music, Marcus is not only one of the most consummate guitarist I have seen, he also plays slide, as well as, anyone I've seen, excluding Derek Trucks. Deshawn Alexander exploding on the keys, as they fire into "Slip Back", Justin Johnson bringing his vocals to this one. Improvising and taking the lead during the next few songs, Marcus includes jazz, afro-beat and even, salsa rhythms into his songs and segues. The bass solo from Campbell, shook the light-night stage and all its surroundings. The two rustic lamps that sat on the either side of the stage began to flow and emit smoke as the band busted into an ethereal, "Dreams" which included a special guest guitarist, dueling back and forth. "8am" is “a song about being drunk as hell at 8am" was slow and bluesy with a tinge of country. Marcus still amazes me every time I see him and his band. They each continue to grow and evolve musically, responding to the audience and their fans every whim. I have seen MKB 10 times since I first saw them only one year ago at the Roosterwalk 9. and I look forward to seeing them again this October at The Marcus King Band Family Reunion Festival in Black Mountain North Carolina at Pisgah Brewery.
Walking over to catch the tail end of The Mantras, playing "Immigrant Song", I kept thinking to myself, why should I have to choose between these two bands again? I had never seen The Mantras before and they were on my must-see list but I just couldn't miss MKB. Oh the woes of a musical purist. High energy and jammy much like Phish, The Mantras would play their take on Charlie Browns theme song and mash it together with “Cat Scratch Fever.” Lead guitarist and vocalist, Keith Allen, shouted out "Who let Ted Nuggent in here?" I know it wasn’t me… I will most certainly be seeing The Mantras in the future for a full review and possible artist spotlight.
Sundays Musical Highlights:
Sunday was a bit wet and I was feeling the exhaustion from the weekend but the day was filled with extremely great sets of music. Yarns rendition of the Last Waltz took the highlight of the day, while Zac Deputy was improvisational and enjoyable during his solo set. I didn't make it to as much music Sunday, as I wanted to but as festival season continues my festy legs will grow stronger.
The overall musical experience at Roosterwalk was unforgettable and legendary. I am sure the King and Strings set will become a legend in its own right. I really hated having to choose between headlining acts like King and Strings/Tauk or MKB/The Mantras but I still had a great time enjoying friends and the outdoors. Perhaps adopting a no overlapping set policy like Lockn' would benefit Roosterwalk in the future. For 10 years this festival has grown and evolved into something, not only the local Martinsville community should be proud of but Virginia itself.
Keep the jam alive!
Jam Band Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.