Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Notes, in a rush.

The blog has been terribly neglected during the last few months. My first resolution for the 2012 is to write more. At the very least, I will post a review of every concert I attend in 2012.

I also will not leave the house without at least some make-up on, and ponytails will be restricted to the gym and hiking trail.

But enough about resolutions. 

This year I saw a ton of live shows. The best show by far was Taylor Swift's. The best country show I saw was the Country Showdown with Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, and Randy Houser. The concert that was the most fun, was Kenny Chesney's. The one I wish I hadn't missed is Toby Keith with Eric Church.

I started out the year distrusting Eric Church and ended up loving him. I went from thinking that he is just too aggressive and rough to thinking he's rather sexy and brilliant (on top of being aggressive and rough). As a side note, the combination of attraction and revulsion to men of the sort Church represents has been plaguing me since Junior High.

I discovered that David Nail really doesn't enunciate when he sings. The first time I saw him was when he opened for Lady Antebellum and I was sitting way in back. I figured that I couldn't understand him because of a sound issue. I saw him again in a smaller venue with good seats. I still couldn't understand him. Note to David Nail for the New Year. If there is ONE THING a country singer needs to do, it's to enunciate.

This year I want to see Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, and Little Big Town. I've made a resolution that I'll see their shows if they come to town even if I have to go alone. 

The first two shows of the year will be Jason Aldean with Luke Bryan and Lauren Alaina, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Let's kibitz later! A happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Where are y'all going? Brad Paisley isn't done singing yet!

My friend and loyal reader, Rachel, reminded me that it's been a while since we've kibitzed country music, so here we go...

The last concert I attended was in September, Brad Paisleys' H2O2 tour with Blake Shelton and Jerrod Niemann at The Time Warner Pavilion at Walnut Creek, Raleigh. To much time has passed since the concert so I'll skip the play by play and just give brief impressions.

Jerrod Niemann apparently has a goofy side. His band dressed as superheros. He got people on their feet, making arm letters and singing along to "For Everclear". I'm looking forward to seeing him perform again in November, at the Durham Performing Arts Center in the Country for Kids concert supporting UNC Childrens Hospital. 

Blake Shelton sweats like a drunk...pig isn't accurate...I don't know. He sweats like a drunk country music star. At any minute you wonder if he's going to do or say something outrageous. But apart from the slight gross factor (Lord knows how he scored Miranda), my friends and I really enjoyed his show. I love Ol' Red, Austin, and Hillbilly Bone.

Brad Paisley is Brad Paisley. Everything about him and his performance is polished.

So what am I going to kibitz about? I'm going to kvetch about my pet peeves; sitting next to empty seats and people leaving concerts early  in order to beat the traffic.

We had cheap lawn seats and were upgraded to real seats inside the pavilion. I'm assuming that they had security walking around the lawn handing out tickets for these seats because the area around the end of the catwalk, between the blue areas of sections 6 and 7 in the diagram below, was not full. It would have been embarrassing for Brad Paisley to sit on the end of the catwalk (on a toilet that night, due to a prank by Sunny Sweeny's band) singing a love song surrounded by (pink flamingos and) empty seats.

We were sitting in the back-middle of section 8.
Many seats in front of us and all of the seats to our left were empty.
This map is not to scale. The lawn is deeper than the pavilion itself and appeared to be very full.

It's unlikely that I will take those free upgraded tickets again. It's a buzzkill to sit in the back, on the edge of a puddle of bodies around the end of the catwalk, with a sea of empty seats stretching into the distance. The venue should try and fill the entire pavilion if they're already giving free upgrades. Why leave 500 or more empty seats? There were probably 8000 people on the lawn. Unless folks have learned their lesson and know that staying on the lawn is just more fun, they could have found takers for those tickets among people sitting very far back. A big part of a being at a concert is a sharing energy with other attendees. The only energy to be felt where we were sitting was from a group of shrieking sorority sisters sitting behind us. Being surrounded by empty seats sucks the life out of me.

Then, to make it worse, about halfway through Brad Paisley's set, people started to drift out. Why did these people come at all? Some of them payed over $100 a ticket. The people sitting next to us left 45 minutes before he was done in order to avoid traffic.

I think it is rude for an entire party to walk out of a concert in the middle of an artist's set. It's rude to the performer (even if they're used to it and no longer give it much thought) and it's rude to the audience. Perhaps the fact that I grew up attending classical music performances influences my opinion here. I can't imagine a quarter of the audience getting up and walking out of Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh in the middle of a performance by Yo-Yo Ma in order to avoid getting caught in a bit of traffic.

What makes it OK to walk out on Brad Paisley?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Joe Nichols, Take It Off!

Joe Nichols' new video for "Take It Off" is out. Here's a link to the video.

In the video Nichols creates a magical "Take It Off" frame out of newspaper.  When a woman, walking down the street minding her own business, crosses into the frame, she suddenly finds herself in a bikini holding a beach bag.  Of course she's thrilled and proceeds to the party happening at the large above ground pool in the middle of an intersection.

Apart from the fact that this song had much greater video potential than just another girls in bikinis party video, I'm wondering if Joe Nichols doesn't realize that his greatest fan base is female. We're not interested in watching another bunch of skinny girls in bikinis frolicking in a pool. At the very least, Mr. Nichols, take your own shirt off! Why is it that everyone else in the video is half dressed when viewed through the "Take it Off" frame, but you, Sir, change into a drab grey T-shirt?  If you can dish it, you can take!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Kennyyyyyyy, I love youuuuuu!!!!!!" screached the drunk blond.

Anytime you tell anyone who has been to a Kenny Chesney concert that you're going to a Kenny Chesney concert, they say "You'll have fun. Kenny Chesney puts on the best show", or "Kenny Chesney concerts are a blast." Kenny Chesney has been channelling Jimmy Buffet, so my assumption before the concert was that it is going to be one big party.

The scene is set when we park our car and out of the SUV next to us tumbles, like clowns out of a phonebooth, a seemingly endless stream  of barely legals with open containers and attitudes. One young lady rushes across to the edge of the woods and squats in plain view of the parking lot and the handful of men also doing their business along that strip of woods. Welcome to a Kenny Chesney concert.

Happily waiting for the show to begin.

Our car is parked almost mile away, so for 16 minutes we march with our lawnchairs past tailgaters swilling beer, with their tents and cornhole. We know we are close when we arrive at the RV parties, complete with bigscreen TVs and Karaoke machines. There is always tailgating at Walnut Creek, there is just more of it than usual. We are a little surprised when we were able to score a spot on the lawn about a quarter of the way back, right in the center. The gates have been open for half an hour but everyone is still outside partying, and has been for almost two hours. As we're sitting there observing the abundance of cute girls in their daisy dukes, boots, and braids we notice a young woman weaving back and forth as she approaches the group sitting in front of us. "Where do I know you from?" she slurs. There are smiles and hugs and then she stumbles back to her seat. The concert hasn't even started yet and she's already smashed.
Photos from of the tailgating at Walnut Creek.

I thought these young women looked great in their get-ups.
 Uncle Kracker was the first to open. My friend Kristie jokes, "Well of course he's opening. Isn't it his job to follow Kenny Chesney around?" It's easy to poke fun at Uncle Kracker but I like his song "Good to be Me". In general, his set is underwhelming. He closes with his buddy Kid Rock's "All Summer Long", and by then most of the partiers have drifted in, filling in the spaces. An unconscious vomit streaked 20 something is spotted being carried out on a lawnchair by an army of security. The concert has barely begun. That's not fun.

Billy Currington gets the crowd on their feet. I love the sense of humor in his songs. Because we are sitting so far back at the concert I don't have much to say about Currington's set apart from that it's fun to sing along with him. He has just enough hits to make him the perfect opening act. He can fill his short set with songs we all know.

I head to the restrooms right after he leaves the stage, and, after being stuck in a crushing bottleneck that forces me to tread across the former contents of someone's stomach, I find myself in a line to the ladies room that was, I kid you not, at least 1000 women long. The bathroom mission is aborted and replaced by a beer run. I did manage to make it back to the restroom in the middle of Chesney's set. There was no line and just one sick girl standing over a garbage can with her very patient friend, missing the concert. That's not fun.

The lawn was packed at Walnut Creek
Enter Kenny Chesney! "I love you Kenny! I love you!" Shrieks the drunk blond behind me, right into my ear. We are so far back that when I extend my arm and hold up my thumb, Kenny Chesney is the height of my thumbnail. Although with better visibility comes a better experience, being at a concert where the audience knows every single word of every single song is a whole lot of fun, regardless of where you're sitting.  The crowd is singing along, and when he quiets for even a second, the space is filled with a roar. Everybody is dancing, from the 6 year old in a gingham dress on her father's shoulders to the shirtless beer-bellied 65 year old with the handlebar mustache. All the couples are hugging and quite a few making out, including the lesbian couple nearby. There was so much love and happiness in the amphitheater it's clear; when people say that a Kenny Chesney concert is a blast, that's what they're talking about.
Photos of Kenny Chesney in concert from

The concert ended. While waiting for my friends to get through the restroom line, I shared a picnic table with a family. Their 20 year old son appears to be a mean drunk, strutting around, flexing his bare pectorals and looking for a fight. I said to his older sister, "Maybe he just needs a hug." She snorts. He suddenly sits down. "Mama, I'm so thirsty. I'm just so thirsty." Mama rolls her eyes. I toss him my water bottle. He drinks it down, shuts up and puts his head in his hands. He has stopped having fun.

We march back to the car, past the recharged RV parties, over the creek and through the woods (literally) with a lively bunch of folks, to find the youngsters from the car parked next to us locked out of their car, with the battery dead. Two of them are curled up on a blanket exhausted or nearly passed out. Nobody has a AAA account except one of the girls on the blanket, and she'd have to call her Mom for the number. She wasn't rushing to call Mom. After attempting to help them problem solve for a few minutes we threw in the towel and said "Good luck." Security would eventually help them or the seemingly sober driver would break down and call his parents. They would be OK, but that's not fun.

Now you may ask, why is so much of this article about drunks? Because apart from the music, there is a whole lot of drinking at a Kenny Chesney concert. I've been to around twenty concerts and shows in the last two years and haven't seen so much drunkenness. Even I, for the first time in my 25 years of driving, decided to leave my car where I parked it that afternoon, in a friend's driveway, and pick it up the next morning. If stopped by the police, I surely would have failed a breathalyzer test. I was not the designated driver so it's neither here nor there that I drank a couple beers into tipsy, but it is no wonder that so many of the twenty somethings ended up as complete messes.

So is there a moral to the story? Of course, but it's obvious. I had fun. The majority of attendees had fun. The only people who didn't have fun are the ones who drank themselves into oblivion or had to take care of a sick friend. Don't be one of those people. Kenny Chesney concerts are a blast.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

1300 Calories Later, Jason Michael Carroll's Numbers

Jason Michael Carrol
image from  Cracker Barrel's website

Did you know that Cracker Barrel actually has its own record label? The other day I had to google "Cracker Barrel locations" in order to purchase Jason Michael Carroll's new album, Numbers. I met my friend Rachel and her sweet little girl for lunch and as we walked in I shook my head and said to Rachel "the things I'll do for country music...."  After partaking of a biscuit, chicken & dumplin's, green beans, fried okra, sweet tea (all adding up to over 1300 calories, oh no!) and good conversation, I bought the CD, loaded it into the player in the trunk of my car and headed home, speakers blasting.
Country Kibitzer wondering why she's eating at Cracker Barrel when she's on a diet.
This was just the beginning.
 Jason Michael Carrol lives in the Raleigh area, so I've seen him perform three times in the last nine months and have heard at least half of the songs on the album during those performances. I expected to like this album. What was unexpected was my becoming so completely immersed in the album that I missed two separate exits onto highways that could take me home. If you happened to see a chubby but cute blond mama in an old Mercury, singing and dancing in her seat while circling the RDU Airport on August 2nd, after lunch, that was me.

The album opens with a "This is for the Lonely", an uptempo song, with terrific lyrics, that showcases Carroll's beautiful voice. When Carroll hits those low notes, it goes straight to my toes. Of all the songs on the album, they definitely chose the right one to start with. I'd like to hear "This is for the Lonely" on the radio.

JMC performing "This is for the Lonely" at UNC-Pembroke.
As videos recorded from the audience go, this one has decent sound.

Numbers, the first single off the album, has grown on me over the last few months. QDR, our local country station, has played it with such frequency that my original wall of resistance crumbled. That was the song I was belting at the top of my lungs as I missed the exits to the highway.  Still, the subject matter is perplexing, but who cares? It's a pretty song.

A fan made video for "Numbers" with photos of JMC in concert. 

"Numbers" is followed by a spiritual but sad "Ray of Hope", a song about loneliness and prayer. It is a quiet and lovely song that many people will be able to relate to.

"Meet Me in the Barn" is the party song on the album and I'm thrilled to finally have a recorded version to dance around the kitchen to. I've heard him perform "Meet Me in the Barn" three times with his band, so was taken by surprise when toward the end of the song a female voice enters the mix. The addition of the female voice is great but it's unclear who the woman singing is. Does anyone know? This song was supposed to be the first single from the album, but due to another song about a barn being released by Trace Atkins at the same time, they decided to release the song "Numbers". I do hope "Meet Me in the Barn" makes it to radio because it makes me smile.

Another good recording from the UNC-Pembroke show by the same fan.
"Meet Me in the Barn" performed without the female vocalist mentioned above.

Another entertaining song is the quirky "Can I Get an Amen", an odd and unexpected political song. It sports lines like "I believe in equal pay, if the job's the same why pay somebody less. It don't make sense. And I believe in women's rights, but I ain't gonna lie, I do like a short, tight dress." and "I believe in loud guitars, smoky bars and muscle cars, pick-up trucks and gun control, as long as they leave mine alone." The originality of having a gospel choir accompany him on this type of song is disarming and caused me giggle until I teared up with happiness. Finally, a song about being a moderate redneck. Beautiful!

The remaining six songs are all about relationships.  They range in quality from OK to good. He performed "Let Me" and "Last Words" at Rapids Jam and I enjoyed them live. The weakest one is "My Favorite" which is just too schmaltzy. "Stray" is interesting but it's about knowing that your partner is destined to cheat. Oy. What a bummer of a topic. According to the dates on YouTube videos, "Stray" (click for info) is a song Carroll has been performing for some time.  Apparently he wanted to put it on his first album but the record label refused.  If he's been performing "Stray" for this long it was probably a great decision to finally record it.


He closes the album with his hit from a few years ago, "Alyssa Lies". I have seen grown men cry during this song at his show. It's a good one.

If you like Jason Michael Carroll's voice I suggest going to Cracker Barrel and buying the CD, but learn from my mistakes. Don't overeat! Tonight I had carrots, celery, and pickels for dinner.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tim McGraw and his Broken Foot, Raleigh, July 8th, 2011

I wasn't planning on attending the Tim McGraw concert but we have a 21 year old Israeli camp counselor staying with us for a few weeks. I asked her if she had any interest in going for the cultural experience, assuming she had no idea who Tim McGraw is. "Tim McGraw? He's married to Faith, yes? I watch E. Can I wear a cowboy hat?" It's a small world, y'all.

The Band Perry opened. They did a very short set and sang 2-3 songs in addition to the three songs we know from the radio. Luke Bryan got a bigger reaction from the crowd of mostly women. As one would expect from Luke Bryan, he put on an energetic and sexy show. Bryan radiates mischief, which is why it was easy to believe Tim McGraw when he blamed his broken foot on Bryan.

The following is public service message to all country music stars. If you have a broken foot and it hurts, sit down. You do not need to move around the stage with a broken foot. We do not care if you chose to do your whole performance from a hospital bed in traction, as long as you want to perform.

Tim McGraw announced that this performance was being broadcast live on Sirius XM radio. He then proceeded to overdo it and walked right off the stage after 15 minute 30-45 minutes (thank you anonymous commenter for correcting me), leaving his band to awkwardly finish the song. After a momentary pause his keyboard player of 18 years, Jeff McMahon came on and explained that Tim needed to catch his breath. McMahon sang two of his own songs for us. Even though one of my friends called this keyboard player "the sacrificial lamb" he held his own and the crowd gave him plenty of love. I really enjoyed his song Angela's Wings, which I found on YouTube for you (click) . McMahon said that this was a first for him (performing solo on the fly for 15,000 people who were there to see McGraw) so if anything good comes of McGraw's broken foot, I hope it comes to McMahon. His performance was, as they would say on Seinfeld, a feat of strength.

The Band Perry then joined McMahon on the stage and performed two more songs including a medley of American favorites like "American Pie" and "Jack and Diane". They are just cute as three little buttons, but by now we were ready for McGraw to come back on and people were starting to wonder if he was done for the night.  McGraw did reappear after a 20-30 minute break. He reopened with "I Miss Back When" and was joined by Luke Byran, who dressed up the line "back when a screw was a screw" with some very naughty hip thrusts. For the most part, McGraw refused to sit on the stool they had put on the stage for him. He sounded fine as he limped around, waving his cane in the air and letting the first row sign his blue cast as he passed. I do think the entire crowd would have breathed a sigh of relief if he has just sat his tush down.

He closed with "Live Like You Were Dying", "Indian Outlaw" and "I Like It, I Love It". For all of McGraw's difficulties in the end it was a great show. Once he came back on, McGraw put his all into giving the audience what they came for. I suppose that's the stuff that makes him a country superstar.

I wonder if Sirius XM broadcast the entire thing. Does anybody know?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rapids Jam, Day 3: One Hot Southern Mess, but Lots of Fun.

On Saturday, day three of Rapids Jam, Tracy and I arrived at the concert late to shorten our exposure to the heat. First we went out to lunch in Roanoke Rapids at Logans Roadhouse (I don't recommend it for salads. My salad was wet.) and then asked in the Starbucks where to walk around and do some shopping. After expressing their frustrations on the scarcity of attractions in Roanoke Rapids, the baristas sent us to the Riverside Mill shops in Weldon. It was air conditioned and had a nice combination of QVC closeouts (I bought a sweater of all things), good quality pottery and crafts, antiques, and used books. If you want to do a little shopping next year in the Rapids Jam area, I suggest Riverside Mill.

One hot Southern mess! That is the word to describe Saturday  at Rapids Jam. It was around 100 degrees and even after the sun went down, it never cooled to a comfortable temperature. The only people busier than the water vendors were the EMS. We sat under the shade tent for the hottest part of the day and watched a stream of people being transported on ATVs back to the first aid tent.  At one point it was so hot that I considered taking up smoking again so I could go into one of the tobacco promotions tents which appeared to be air conditioned. We decided that it was too hot to stay in our sunny seats for any act that wasn't really good, so I'm only going to review the good performances we watched from beginning to end.

Jason Michael Carroll

Until Scotty McCreery came along, Jason Michael Carroll was our country music hometown hero in the Raleigh area. Since I'm not a teenager, in my book he still is. JMC has an album coming out (to be available at Cracker Barrel) that appears to be chock full of terrific songs, including his current single, Numbers. Numbers has grown on me quite a bit since I last wrote about it.  He focused his show at Rapids Jam on songs from his new album, including Let Me (Beautiful), and Meet Me in the Barn (Sexy), and Last Word (OK). This is the third time I've seen JMC live and he's always good. He moves that wonderful bass voice of his all over the stage. At Rapids Jam he tripped on a piece of equipment while running backwards and fell flat on his back but he kept right on singing. At Rapids Jam it was too hot to jump up and down with at the appropriate place during "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead", but of course I wept during Alyssa Lies. That song breaks my heart, and with the memory of an act the day before telling the audience to "beat their children" I'm sure glad he played it.

Clay Walker

Clay Walker was also good but he had some problems with feedback and at one point seemed a little aggravated with a stage hand. I also think the heat may have been getting to him but it's obvious while watching Clay Walker perform that he's a guy with a great sense of humour. He opened with "I'm in the Mood for You." He sang one of my favorites, "Before She Was Mama", which always makes me laugh. "She Won't Be Lonely Long" in my opinion is one of the sexiest songs out there so that was excellent to hear. "Jesse James" was a little awkward (it always is) but I like the lyrics to that one. He played one song that sounded like a Mexican vacation party song (not sure if it's an old or new one) while he shot confetti out above the audience. Of all the acts at the festival, his felt like a fun summer concert. If it just hadn't been so darn hot.

Lady Antebellum
 Lady Antebellum closed the festival. I saw them last summer but had terrible seats. Even though it was still baking hot at 10pm this concert was more enjoyable than the more temperate one last summer from bad seats. They played all of their hits and some of the songs they've penned or co-written for other artists, including Sara Evan's "Little Bit Stronger" (co-written by Hillary Scott). They closed with "Just a Kiss" and "Need You Now", in that order. Hearing those two songs in that order is like the story of a first date turning into a booty call a few hours later and I was amused. Of the three headliners, Willie Nelson, Sugarland, and Lady A, I definitely enjoyed Lady A's concert the most. Country music snobs can me shallow and accuse me of having terrible taste in music but Lady Antebellum deserve their popularity. They have a wonderful country/pop sound and have generated a lot of excellent songs in a very short period of time.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rapids Jam, Day 2, Part 2: Karla Davis, James Wesley, Craig Morgan, McKenzies Mill, Darius Rucker, and Sugarland

Fried Chicken, Green Beans, Fried Cornbread, and Chicken with Pastry at the Broadnax Diner

After Tracy and I indulged in a terrific fried chicken lunch at the Broadnax Diner in Seaboard, NC (worth the half an hour drive), Friday at Rapids Jam started out strong. It opened with a wonderful North Carolina singer and songwriter (now living in Nashville, according to her biography), Karla Davis. She is charming, funny, has a sweet voice, writes excellent songs, and is just plain ol' lovable. Her performance was mellow but the audience was not. Even though the place was still almost empty when she was onstage, the people who were there hooted and cheered her on as she stayed on stage past her allotted time. She was admittedly a newbie on the big festival stage and enjoying every moment of it. The most memorable song she sang was "Whiskey's got a job to do" but I enjoyed her entire performance and happily bought a CD. Hopefully we'll hear more from her as she continues on her journey.

Karla Davis

The opening act I was excited about was James Wesley, who sings "Real". He had that one hit this year without having an album out. He's recently released "Didn't I" which sounds like a sequel to Luke Bryan's "Do I". The two of them should do a mashup duet.  We were not disappointed by the performance. He is a fine looking man with a smile right out of a Crest Whitestrips ad and, more to the point, he has a beautiful voice. Unfortunately I have lost my notes on his performance, but it was good. Everyone sitting around us talked about putting his album on their to-buy list when it comes out later in the summer. There was a long line for his meet-n-greet. I usually don't stand in meet-n-greet lines because I  find those exchanges to be awkward. Luckily my friend Jenn (aka Lovin' Lyrics Promotions) was on the scene and since she knew both of us, I felt more comfortable and was able to say something nice without stuttering and sounding like an idiot.

Tracy, James Wesley, and Country Kibitzer

Apart from "This Ain't Nothin'" I've had a neutral reaction to Craig Morgan. For the most part I just haven't been able to relate to many of his songs.  It surprised me how much I enjoyed his show. Of the acts at Rapids Jam, the only one I changed my opinion on was Craig Morgan.  I've even stopped changing the station when "What I love about Sundays" comes on. That is what I love about hearing someone live. A good performance will increase my appreciation of an artist because it gives a good idea of what they're really about. Craig Morgan seems like a real mensch, and a mensch gets extra points in my book.
Craig Morgan

At some point during the day we saw a young, Carolina raised band called McKenzies Mill (go to their website to hear music). I liked them a lot, but Tracy did not. They were too loud for her. They are loud. I hate trying to define a band's style since I'm no expert, but I think they have a sound that combines southern rock, metal, and country. I loved that they sang a cover of The Band's song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". I probably haven't heard that song since college.  I enjoyed everything they played except the one song they said they're pitching in Nashville. As is usually the case, it wasn't nearly as interesting as anything else in their performance. Their mother was their merchandise lady. I thought that was complete given how naughty these boys seemed, so I bought an album.

Darius Rucker has grown on me over the last year. I didn't love his self-named album and remember not being excited about seeing him open for Brad Paisley last summer. I ended up enjoying that concert more than expected, possibly because he played quite a few covers and Hootie songs. When the songs from Charleston, SC 1966 started being released, especially "This" I became a fan. I think "This" is one of the best songs recently released to radio by anyone. His show at Rapids Jam was a whole lot of fun. He played more of his newer music than covers or Hootie songs and the audience loved him. He was energetic and full of joy.  Darius Rucker radiates positive energy.

Darius Rucker

Tracy with Darius Rucker's bodyguard. We felt very safe, too.

Sugarland was Sugarland. They give are very creative and give a terrific show. I'm not the biggest Sugarland fan but am glad I got a chance to see their concert from such good seats. As far as I'm concerned, they are the most creative act in country music.

Sugarland in front of their giant circular HD screen. Cool stuff.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rapids Jam: Day 2, Part One. Don't Tell People to Beat Their Children from the Stage

Day Two, Friday, was for the most part outstanding, but I'll write about all the good acts in my next post. I don't want to sully positive reviews with bad ones. A couple of performers midday got me so annoyed that just have to get it off my chest.
A guy named Drew Davis was the second act of the day.  He bounded onto the stage full of energy, an attractive guy in that bad boy kind of way. He moved like a rock star. He had a decent country/rock sound. We were mostly enjoying his performance. At the very least, he was entertaining. Then, out of the blue, he says "I'm Drew Davis and I'm running for president. I believe in God in school and beating your children. If you're not willing to beat them, I'll do it for you."

Tracy and I got up and left. We were not going to sit there and listen to that garbage. I know a lot of people use this phrase "God in school", whatever that means. I was taught that God is everywhere. But to be irresponsible enough to say from the stage that people should beat their children? Shame! Shame on you Drew Davis. That's completely unacceptable.

I am a very patriotic person and I enjoy a good patriotic song, but I was tuning Drew Davis out as he started to sing something about red, white, and blue. Then a stage hand began to wave a huge American flag and Davis, in the middle of the song, began a verse from the Star Spangled Banner. Everybody on the lawn stood up.  That's what you do when there's a flag up and the national anthem is being sung, but by the time everyone got up, he had moved into another verse of his song and everyone sat back down in their lawn chairs. I think it was disrespectful not only of the flag and the anthem to be used like that, but of the audience. Quite frankly, he was obnoxious. Drew Davis, you're no Toby Keith.

A couple of acts later John Berry came on and did a short acoustic show. I didn't catch anything but the last song "Give Me Back My America". I  have included a video so you can judge for yourself, but it was all I could do to restrain myself from actually booing. It's a song all about how an unnamed group in government is plotting and scheming to change everything America was founded on. It has lines like.

I want to raise my family on my piece of land
Start my own business, do the best that I can
Without interference from government plans
I want to worship my God like my father did
Give to His church what I know is His
Without interference from Capital Hill
Give me back my America.
John  Berry, who is preventing you from raising your kids on your piece of land, starting a business, or worshiping and tithing? I am raising my kid on my piece of land without any problems. I started my own business, two actually, and I worship exactly where and how I please. Stop whining. In a little bit you'll get to vote again and maybe your guy or gal will win. That's America.

When he thanks the audience in the end he says something like "America is the greatest country on earth". The guy sitting next to me says "Well that's funny. Just a minute ago he couldn't find America." 

Somebody posted the following article on twitter today. With scenes like I just described, I'm inclined to agree with some of what he says. The article opens like this: "It’s time to abolish country music. Just ban it outright. It has become a toxin in American culture, retarding the cerebellum of the body politic"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rapids Jam: Country Throwdown

Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Jamey Johnson and others
closing the Country Throwdown with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"
Day one of Rapids Jam was Willie Nelson and the Country Throwdown tour.  I think this may have been the best day, although it may have felt like the best day only because it was the shortest and most cohesive day.

Lee Brice opened the evening on the main stage, and sadly, if there was a weak act, it was him. I was looking forward to seeing him because I love like crazy his "Love Like Crazy". It sounded like he was trying too hard to entertain us. He wasn't smooth. What he did have was two of the best looking guitarists on the face of the earth. During the Willie Nelson concert they were standing in front of me and two pretty blonds were working hard to win their favors. One may have succeeded, but I lost interest and didn't actually see her close. As amusing as it may be to watch beautiful people in a mating dance, Willie Nelson is still a better show.

Lee Brice and his handsome guitarists. Not sure you get the scope of their, shall we say, symmetry, from this photo.
Craig Campbell, the guy who sings "Family Man" was on a side stage early on. He was very enjoyable. He sang his new funny song, Fish. It uses fishing as a metaphor for sex (or I just have a dirty mind and he's really talking about fishing). My friend Deirdre's comment, with a chuckle, was "I can't believe someone hasn't recorded that song already." You can hear it in the video below.

Randy Houser was next. I didn't know what to expect from him but he hit it out of the park. I even got carried away and stood up to dance during Whistling Dixie, even though I am just whistling Dixie. My family wasn't even in the U.S. during the Civil War. He just sounded that good!

I ran over to the side stage to see Brantley Gilbert after that. Gilbert should have been on the main stage. He gives a fantastic performance and has many familiar songs, even if he isn't the recording artist who made them into hits. I dare say that he sings the songs he's written better than Jason Aldean, especially Dirt Road Anthem. Dirt Road Anthem sounded wonderful coming from his mouth, and from Aldean, frankly, it's a bit forced. There was a big crowd of teenagers and twenty somethings at the side stage for Gilbert, and they were dancing and hollering. It was a blast.

Jamey Johnson is brilliant and Willie Nelson is beautiful.

Lukas Nelson, Willie Nelson's son, had a very strong presence the entire day. He's an impressive guitarist and has a voice very similar to his Dad's. I think he made a cameo appearance with every performer. Security put some miles on a golf cart on Thursday shuttling Lukas Nelson back and forth between the main and side stage. It was moving seeing him perform with his father. Deirdre is a big Willie Nelson fan and that was her favorite part of the evening.

They closed the show with Jamey Johnson and Lukas Nelson joining Willie in "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Fantastic!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rapids Jam, Year One. Benefits of the Platinum Ticket

Early this year the word began to spread that Willie Nelson and the Country Throwdown was coming to Rapids Jam, a brand new country music festival in Roanoke Rapids, NC. A girlfriend sent me a message, "Do you want to go?" I answered "Is water wet?" We decided to splurge for second row reserved seats in the platinum section. It was more money than either of us had ever spent on a concert ticket, but it was worth the additional cost for the following reasons.

The View
We are both now completely spoiled. After the last few days neither of us want to watch a concert from a jumbotron ever again. The party pit separating us from the main stage was only about twenty feet deep and two sides of our section were catwalk. The people in our section who liked to go up and touch hands with a performer could do so easily as they walked by. Even though there weren't any big troublemakers in our section, the police were very busy getting people back into their seats from the edge of the catwalk. At first this police presence got on my nerves, as I felt like people just wanted to be close and have fun, but it became clear that if they didn't do this, the perimeter of our area would become full and those people who wanted to sit and watch from their very expensive seats would not be able to see, and make no mistake, people were being very clear. "We payed a lot for these seats so sit down!"

The Company We Kept
Our little section ranged in age from eighteen months to eighty. We were a motley crew: a gay man, a chatty lady who came by herself in her forty foot motor home, sisters in their 60s who acted just as silly about getting pictures and touching hands with performers as the twenty something blond with the very patient fiance, the local guy who sat quietly with his wife and friend except when yelling at someone to move out of his view (He was funny. He never reacted to any of the music except to take his fan on a Popsicle stick and flap it at the performer when he approved.) two other local guys who drank a whole lot of beer and threw peanuts at the guy with the fan, (one of them showed up on Saturday looking much more sober with a daughter, a date, and an ex-wife) the pregnant couples with doting husbands, the soldier with his overprotective sister, a couple of lesbians, and of course, us, two Jewish ladies. What we did not have a whole lot of were drunks in their twenties making a scene. They were all on the lawn.

Sitting in the sun listening to music with the same group of strangers for three days is a bonding experience and I left with at least one additional friend.

Ticket Splitting
Unfortunately the friend who I had originally bought tickets with was unable to attend Thursday, the first day of the festival, so I brought another friend that day who wanted to see Willie Nelson. A big  benefit of buying a reserved seat versus a general admissions ticket is having the ability to split it the ticket.

The venue itself is a huge flat field. There was no running water, only portapotties and hand washing stations, but the portapotties we used were only for the people with reserved seating or with a party pit pass. They were as clean as you could possibly expect a portapottie at a music festival to be and were cleaned between each day.

Private Beer Vending
We had our own beer booth. It never had a line, but usually the only line in the entire venue was for the snow cones. Apart from the first day when it was overcast, it was too hot to drink more than a beer or two, at least for those of us who didn't want to be hauled off on an EMS stretcher.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Merlefest: Final Notes. Blue Tarps Are Noisy When Folded and Jumped On.

My Merlefest notes have disappeared with my itouch. I've offered my eight year old $15 to find it, but alas, the itouch remains AWOL.

My Merlefest experience ended on Saturday night with performances by Sam Bush and Lyle Lovett. Sam Bush did his own performance, and then joined Lyle Lovett's band on the mandolin. Both performances were terrific. I would love to describe them more in detail, but as I've said, my notes are gone.

I do recall that the only time I cried during Merlefest was during Lyle Lovett's concert. My friend Rachel is a huge Lyle Lovett fan but she's also stoic, so she didn't cry. And here I will teach you a little about Merlefest culture. I was sitting in my lawn chair weeping during a sad Lyle Lovett song, while the family sitting in front of us deconstructed their seating area.  With quite a bit of commotion they folded up the blankets, tarps and chairs, and loaded them together with several coolers and a small child, into a wagon. Then they proceeded to walk around their seating area with a flashlight, looking for anything they may have missed. Finally they rolled the whole kit and caboodle out of the festival.

Lovett moved onto his next emotion laden song of love and woe and a group of people in their sixties began to fold up the 400 square yards of tarps they had laid out first thing in the morning. These were blue raffia garden tarps, so the folding made noise.  But what really made noise was a man in a Tilly hat and Bermuda shorts jumping up and down on the folded tarp to push the air out. Lyle Lovett is still singing. I am no longer weeping, rather laughing.

By the time Lovett finished, most of the people on the lawn had left. We walked all the way up to the fence keeping us out of the reserved seating to hear his encore.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Merlefest, Part 6, Album Hour, The Waybacks with Joan Osborne

We started hearing about "Album Hour" before arriving at Merlefest. People said things like "It's so cool, they play an entire album from start to finish." and "Get a spot early, it fills up quickly".

Waiting at the Hillside Stage for "Hillside Album Hour" to begin.
By the time they started, the hill next to me was completely filled in, hipbone to hipbone.

The event is really called "Hillside Album Hour". Each year The Waybacks choose an iconic album to play from start to finish.  The chosen album is a closely guarded secret until they start playing. This year, they gave some clues, the main clue being that it was an album made in America. I did hear the guy sitting next to me mention the album of choice as people were guessing, but really, nobody knew. In past years they had done Zeppelin II, The Beatles' Abbey Road, and The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers. This year, with Joan Osborne and her gorgeous voice joining them, they did The Allman Brothers Band, Eat a Peach.

It was really pretty funny. We were all sitting around guessing these albums like Michael Jackson's Thriller (with Joan Osborne?) and Springsteen's Born in the USA, expecting that when they played the first few chords it would be crystal clear what it was.  After the first track much of the crowd was still looking at their neighbor for an answer. A typical exchange was "Quizzical look" answered by a mouthed "The Allman Brothers, Eat a Peach" "Ahhhh, Ok". Rachel and I checked Twitter. James Nash, lead singer and guitarist of The Waybacks, after the first instrumental track, said "That's how it starts" or something very similar.

There appeared to be an expectation that Album Hour should be almost a sing-along, familiar song after familiar song. The Allman Brothers' most well known songs are not on Eat a Peach. I had heard a couple of the songs but my friend, Rachel, had not. People started leaving after the third or track or so and they probably lost about 15% of the crowd. We stuck it out and were rewarded.

The Waybacks are great musicians. Eat a Peach is one of these albums with what feels like ten minute guitar riffs, the kind all we girls sat through in dorm rooms watching our boyfriends play air guitar to.  Some of those guys were there in the audience and you could see them using all their willpower to keep from breaking into air guitar. The Waybacks executed the instrumental stretches with such panache that I only rolled my eyes once. Joan Osborne definately rocked the vocals.

In the end, the cherry on top was "Whipping Post", a song not actually on Eat a Peach. Great song. Here's the video.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Joe Nichols and Walker Hayes at Allure, Greensboro, NC

On May 27th, three girlfriends and I drove to downtown Greensboro to see Joe Nichols for my birthday. If you were there you may have spotted me. I wore my Joe Nichols "Gimme that Girl" T-shirt and, reluctantly, a foam "Happy Birthday" cowboy hat with candles glued around the brim.

The Country Kibitzer at Rivas Trattoria, before the show.
The rollicking laughter began soon after we hit the highway and one friend, while looking at one of Joe Nichol's Roper ads, suggested that we club him on the head with an umbrella and haul him back to the hotel in, as my Dad calls it, the "six body trunk" of my Mercury Grand Marquis. By the time we walked into Allure after polishing off two bottles of wine with our delicious dinner at Rivas Trattoria, we probably looked and sounded like something out of a reality show. The Real Housewives of Raleigh, Episode: They Don't Get Out Much.

On our way, already looking like trouble.
Allure is a smaller venue than I expected, the interior rather like a posh shoebox with red lighting. We arrived in time for the opening act, Walker Hayes, who is talented, funny and sports a very attractive haircut.  I liked the songs "Touching Feet""Pants", and "Mama's Hot". (click for videos) Now that I've watched a video of him performing "Mama's Hot" I realize that Hayes performed last year in the Bluebird Cafe Songwriter's Tent at Country Throwdown. I distinctly remember "Mama's Hot" because the song says, before you marry a woman, check out her mother, and his mother-in-law was at that performance. The reason this was not immediately apparent to me during the show is because the sound in Allure, at least  right in front of the stage, was so bad I could barely make out some of the vocals.  Walker Hayes announced that Rodney Atkins is going to be recording one of his songs, although I have forgotten which one he didn't say it was. We'll figure it out when it Atkins gets it out there. Congratulations to Walker Hayes.
Walker Hayes and I after his set. He said that if he had known,
he would have sung Happy Birthday. Oh well. Guess I should have
worn the darn hat during his set.
Joe Nichols bounded onto the stage and opened his show with "What's a Guy Gotta Do", the same song he opened with last year. He and his whole band looked like they were having a blast performing. He played many of his hits, some fan favorites, his terrific new summer song "Take it Off" (click for video) and almost as many covers.  Unfortunately the sound right in front of the stage was still terrible. I should have moved to see if it was better in back but being close enough to touch the toe of his boot was too luxurious. 

Can't get much closer than this.
As much fun as we had we were also a little disappointed. We were frustrated that he played so many covers. He has a huge number of terrific songs and they just don't get out there. Since it was my birthday, I considered making a sign that said "It's my birthday, so please sing "Old Things New", "This Bed's Too Big", and/or "Believers"" but I'm a lazy country music fan.  I should have made the sign. 
Those are my lil ol' fists. If this photo had sound
there would be some hootin' and hollerin'.

We are pretty sure that the beautiful blond standing to the side of the stage, watching the show and scanning the crowd, was Heather, Joe Nichols' wife. Although I tried to avoid gawking it was interesting to observe her reactions. It must be very strange to see your husband perform in front of a crowd of mostly women who enthusiastically sing along with him, hoot and holler for the silliest of reasons, and in general think he's the cat's meow. When he sang "Let's Get Drunk and Fight" she had a bit of a frown on her face (Nichols credits her for his sobriety) but there were moments when she laughed and seemed to be enjoying the show as well.

When all is said and done, it was a fun event with a great group of fans. I was impressed by the dedication of a couple of guys who drove six hours from D.C. to see the show. The pretty six foot blond who was standing next to me had been waiting patiently at the venue for three hours by the time I took my spot next to her, and she was still nice to me.  After the show I heard a man say "I had no idea who Joe Nichols was, but that was fun!" He's still my favorite.
 Downtown Greensboro is a friendly place after midnight. A policeman on a Segway told us what bar we should go to next. We ran into one of the security guys from Allure at that bar who helped us avoid turning the night into "The Real Housewives of Raleigh: The Hangover III". All four of us managed to make it back to Raleigh the next day terribly sleep deprived, but with most of our belongings and nothing but our overnight bags in the trunk of the Grand Marquis. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Merlefest, Part 5, Harper and Midwest Kind

There were a few bands at Merlefest that I heard for the first time, but I only fell head over heels for one, Harper and Midwest Kind.  I'm not sure if I'm supposed to refer to Harper and Midwest Kind as "them" or "him" because it does appear that Harper, the lead singer, is the beef in this dish. From the biography on his website, it's really all about Harper, his unique vision and toolbox of skills.

Rachel and I first heard Harper and Midwest Kind while we were having lunch in the food vendors' tent next to the main stage. We noticed that whoever was on stage sounded great. Harper and Midwest Kind have a funky bluesy sound that includes the didgeridoo and harmonica.  Harper sports subtle charisma and their music is fresh and energetic. We made a point of going to see them on a different stage later in the afternoon so we could give them our full attention.  Without a plate of rice and beans to distract me, I confirmed that Harper and Midwest Kind are in fact, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

Here are some videos of Harper and Midwest Kind from Merlefest. They don't really do their sound justice, but you can get the idea.

The following is not a video from Merlefest. "Does Anybody Really Care" is a song about the Aboriginal people who taught Harper how to play the didgeridoo.

Here's another non-Merlefest video. I really like this song. There Must Be a Place.

Following their afternoon concert, we passed on the opportunity to attend a workshop where Harper taught the didgeridoo. The masses were becoming aggressive in their pursuit of seating at the Hillside Stage for "Album Hour" (to be covered in another post) and we were afraid to give up our spot. This was a miscalculation on our part. I think we missed out and should have hung out with Harper for another few minutes.

Harper and Midwest Kind are playing at Papa Mojos Roadhouse in Durham on June 25th. I highly recommend seeing them if they come to your area. They put on a great show.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Merlefest, Part 4, Donna the Buffalo

Saturday morning we rolled out of our tent, made come coffee on the camp stove with my new and very posh peculator, and headed to the festival to catch the folky and eclectic Americana of Donna the Buffalo. Donna was one of the few bands I had heard of when I looked at the Merlefest lineup and I was looking forward to seeing them. They've been just on the edge of my radar screen for a while now, every once in a while appearing in a Pandora mix. I've always had the reaction of "Who is that? They're good!" I like Tara Nevin's voice and really like many of their lyrics. The song I most enjoyed on Saturday morning is the one they closed the show with, "No Place Like the Right Time", but I couldn't find a clear video of them performing it.

Donna the Buffalo were in the dance tent that night as well, so they began and ended my day. At one point during the performance they made much ado about someone coming on stage to perform with them but I couldn't see that side of the stage from where I was standing and had no idea who it was until until I found the following video. I was very disappointed that we had missed the Zac Brown Band on Thursday night. Friday, I could have sworn that I saw him walking around with his cap pulled down low but didn't image that he was hanging around on Saturday night. Apparently he was, and I still got to hear him.

Here is a link to a full Donna the Buffalo concert. I think it's pretty cool that they gave permission for someone put a full concert online. It actually has decent sound. Put in on while doing paperwork.

And here's the official video of their song "Locket and Key". I don't remember if they sang this song that morning but it's very pretty.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Merlefest, Part 3, Scythian and the Dance Tent

If you read my previous post, I said that dancing during performances is not part of the culture of Merlefest. This does not hold true for the Dance Tent.

After the Doobie Brothers finished their final encore we walked to the Dance Tent where it sounded like a riot was taking place. At least 1000 people were crammed into a tent and jumping up and down to a band called Scythian. Scythian seems to be broadly categorized as Celtic Rock but with many other influences, Eastern European and Gypsy for example. My favorite song was "Cubicles and Tylenol" (click for video) that starts out like a Klezmer song.

Scythian in the Dance Tent is really best described by the following videos. The first video was produced by the band. The second is taken by someone in the audience while they were doing an 80s mix. Remember when watching that most of these people are completely sober.

We have to thank the big group of students in the front for setting the pace of the dancing. My thighs hurt for days from jumping. Saturday night Donna the Buffalo was in the Dance Tent. They were fun but it was nothing like dancing with Scythian.

Scythian's "American Shanty" was the only CD I purchased for myself at the show. In all fairness I would have also bought a Harper and Midwest Kind CD, but they were sold out. (Next post will talk about Harper and Midwest Kind).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Merlefest, Part 2, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Doobie Brothers

We arrived in Wilkesboro around 4:30PM on Friday. We pitched out tent, got some grub from the Firemen's concessions at Sewerfest, and jumped on an old school bus to be shuttled to Merlefest.

As Merlefest newbies, we soon discovered our first mistake. We arrived at the main stage, and realized that we should have brought chairs rather than a blanket. We found a good spot but the field is not sloped. 95% of the audience is sitting in chairs. It is impossible to see the stage when sitting on the ground. "It will be OK" I said. "Everyone will be up and dancing during the Doobie Brothers." (Remember that quote.)

The Emmitt-Nershi Band started playing soon after we arrived. Apparently anyone who follows Bluegrass knows who Emmitt and Nershi are, but I'll admit that I had never heard of them. They are from two very well known bands, Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident. Emmitt-Nershi were excellent and a good band to set the tone for Rachel and my next two days at Merlefest. My note from their performance says "I love the way a Bluegrass song can seemingly ramble on".

This is a video I found on YouTube from of the Emmitt-Nershi Band performing "Down in the Hollow" at Merlefest this year.

Finally the Doobie Brothers came on, so everyone stood up to dance. You have to dance around to the Doobie Brothers. Don't you? Apparently not. Dancing does not appear to be part of the culture of Merlefest. As the evening gets chilly folks huddle down under blankets in their woolly hats and fleece blankets. I love the Doobie Brothers but that was the most uncomfortable first half of a concert I've endured. Nobody stood up. In order to see and not block the view of the bundled being behind us we kneeled and shifted our weight so as not to do permanent damage to our 40 or so year old knees

The Doobie Brothers sounded fabulous. They played all of their old hits plus a few songs from their new album. Their first release from the album "World Gone Crazy" is called Nobody (click for video). It sounds like another Doobie Brothers song and doesn't knock my socks off, but the official video has some ancient and entertaining footage of them. The new song I really like it called "Far From Home" (click for video). It's just a quiet and sweet song.

This video from YouTube is what the concert looked like to me, kneeling way in the back.

Finally I'd had enough of the kneeling and decided that I don't give a hoot about obstructing the view of the huddled masses. "Blackwater" was the straw that broke the camel's back. I jumped up, sang my heart out, and danced around for the rest of the concert. The Doobie Brothers are one of those bands that have so many great songs, they do one encore and you say, "That must be it, they've sung it all." and they pull another hit out of the archive.