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.