Taos will never be quite the same again… until next year. Go here for our pre-fest feature and interview.
PHOTOS BY JOHN GALUSKA
The inaugural Monolith on the Mesa festival, held on May 17 &18 in Taos, New Mexico, left an indelible mark on the audience and bands alike. With a relentless two days’ worth of seismic torrents pummeling the area, ear drums were shattered and the geology of Northern New Mexico will never be the same.
Unable to attend myself I managed to draft in musicologist, photographer, and raconteur John “Rastaman” Galuska, who withstood the sonic onslaught and fog of mystical herbs to bring you two days of images from the festival. —Jonathan Levitt, Blurt Psych/Levitation Editor
Taking place Friday and Saturday of this week, May 31-June 1, in Canton, North Carolina, it features a slew of diverse artists—among them, Calexico, Milk Carton Kids, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Kat Wright. We talked to one of the festival organizers about its origins, its intention, and its overall success to date. (Above photo the official festival photo; image below, by David Simchock www.davidsimchock.com / courtesy CMMF)
BY FRED MILLS
The summer festival season begins anew—having already been sufficiently primed/goosed by numerous pre-summer festivals, which seem to occur earlier and earlier each year—with festival-goers and musicians alike fairly frothing at the mouth over, respectively, the ensuing fun-potential and the ridiculously easy paychecks.
One relatively young event is the two-day Cold Mountain Music Festival, May 31-June 1, occurring in Canton, North Carolina (specifically: 25 Wormy Chestnut Lane, Canton, NC 28716). Canton is about a half-hour west of Asheville, already renowned for its thriving music scene, and the hills of Western N.C. are similarly alive with the sound of music (to paraphrase a great philosopher). And as we pointed out not long ago here at BLURT, it’s to be “a tasting board of artists ranging from the folk, funk, Americana, bluegrass, and post-rock worlds, with highlights including Grammy-nominated alt-rockers the Milk Carton Kids, critically acclaimed “desert noir” duo Calexico, crowd-favorite jamgrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, fast rising troubadour J.S. Ondara, “soul queen” Kat Wright, the equally Stax-worthy Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics, and improvisational genre-benders Driftwood, among others.”
There’s an interesting angle here, too: the family-friendly camping festival, now in its third year and located in Pisgah National Forest at the wonderfully scenic Lake Logan, is put on by the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in order to support the work of the ministries of the Lake Logan Conference Center and Camp Henry. Doesn’t exactly sound like your garden-variety sex/drugs/rock’n’roll gathering, where topless girls get hoisted upon the shoulders of their E-gobbling boyfriends and frats on leave from campus slam beer-bongs in between actual bong hits, eh?
I posed that question, or at least my somewhat toned-down version of it, to Lake Logan Conference Center’s Development Director Michelle Robinson, as I was curious to learn if the festival organizers have ever encountered raised eyebrows when informing someone about potential looming collisions between Dionysian youth practices and Faith-based church cultures. I got a firm “LOL” from her…
“We haven’t seen any of that,” chuckled Robinson. “I hope it’s respect for the place we are in and for those around us. If we are to continue to have this festival, we can’t have issues like drugs destroying the vibe. Christians are not excluded from liking good music, be it rock ‘n’ roll or any other. And we count it as a blessing that we have very poor Wi-fi here—people aren’t walking around with their faces in their phones. Instead, they are connecting with their neighbors and enjoying nature. It’s amazing to watch.”
In our conversation, Robinson professed to be a big fan of music festivals in general, adding that she has prior experience with large such events. She always had a hunch that the Lake Logan setting would be an ideal one for such a gathering, and explained that while the venue had always been used primarily for summer camp and church groups, “the festival arose as a thought between a few long-time supporters of Lake Logan and myself—I knew we could make it happen. My best friend is married to one of the Steep Canyon Rangers, so she was very helpful, as were the Rangers, with getting the first one going. We knew the location was perfect for it! It took a lot of work that first year from the entire planning committee, the Diocese staff and Lake Logan staff—I’m always afraid our head of facilities will retire! We have great people at Lake Logan and in the Diocese office in Asheville. Everyone works hard to make this a success.
“And there is a great deal of organization to it. I work for Lake Logan and Camp Henry, with support from the Episcopal Diocese of WNC. And Bishop José McLoughlin has been our strongest supporter. He understands our goal [is] to bring all people together in this place where all are welcomed. He lets us do the job and trusts us to make good decisions.”
Good decisions, indeed. Early on, the festival organizers determined that strategic partnerships would be key, and by the second year they had brought on well-respected and -connected Asheville concert promoter and talent buyer Jeff Whitworth, of Worthwhile Sounds, to help line up performers, along with Chad Stewart of Asheville’s Sound to coordinate the lighting and sound systems. (Robinson: “He’s the best, so that was an easy choice.”) Also in the mix now: Haywood County’s weekly newspaper the Smoky Mountain News, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority helping out with some of the talent costs, and the Haywood Sheriff Department for festival-related security and traffic control (not to mention accompanying bureaucratic hoops). Plus, plenty of participation from local breweries, food trucks, and regional merchants—crucial for probably every kind of music festival on the planet.
Robinson adds that another crucial element in mounting a solid festival is lining up sponsorships in order to cover the costs of the booking budget. “We have been successful financially so far,” she says. “It isn’t a huge profit yet, but we keep growing. We have many generous sponsors who come back year after year to help us make this happen. And the Haywood TDA gave us a grant this year that has been a huge help for getting great talent. In terms of genre, we stress that this festival is not a bluegrass festival. We love bluegrass and we have it on the schedule, but we don’t stop there. We want diversity in the music and in the musicians. This year, we have some great soul acts, Americana, folk, country, and bluegrass—and some that I’m not sure how to categorize, but it’s good music.”
And she’s quick to point out that the Cold Mountain Music Festival is intended to be more than simply musically inclusive:
“This festival sort of announced to the community that Lake Logan is open for all. We are not a private campus and we welcome all. You don’t have to be Episcopalian to be here. We host artist retreats, family reunions, private retreats, dancing, and the list goes on and on. Last year, our new-ish Executive Director, Lauri SoJourner, opened Lake Logan for annual memberships. That has been a huge success with our neighbors. People can come out for the day to enjoy the lake or to fish.
“We really do welcome all.”
For further reading about the festival, check out my interview with Joey Burns and John Convertino, of Saturday evening headliner Calexico, along with don’t-miss featured performer Kat Wright, who plays late afternoon on Saturday.. – FM
The newly christened music festival this weekend, stationed in Taos, New Mexico, is destined to turn (on) more than a few heads. Cofounders Dano Sanchez and Roman Barham explain.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Monolith on the Mesa is set to make history with their inaugural festival in Taos, New Mexico starting this Friday, May 17. Local news reports that with two days of heavy music, the mountains are already shaking and avalanche warnings have been posted. Doctors are on standby for people who might be affected by the cloud of mystical smoked herbs that will be billowing towards Santa Fe. Kids have been told not go to school until Monday.=
Joking aside, OM, Woven Hand, Dead Meadow, The Obsessed and a whole raft of heavy bands are set to rock the thronging masses literally and figuratively into a hallucinogenic miasma. Lucky for Blurt readers then that I caught up with Dano Sanchez and Roman Barham while they are still clear headed enough to ask them a few questions about the festival.
BLURT: What possessed you guys to create a rock music festival in Taos New Mexico?
DANO SANCHEZ AND ROMAN BARHAM: Well, Taos is a special place. When the Melvins played the Taos Mesa Brewing it was packed and Al Cisneros [of] (OM, Sleep) [we were talking at that show and were] like ‘you need to play here” and with that the idea was born. Taos Mesa Brewing is a very unique venue, next to the gorge bridge, at the base of the Sangre de Christos (blood of Christ) mountains all over seen by [the] Taos Pueblo, [which is over 1,000 years old]. It’s a heavy vibe and a high desert setting ripe for this festival.
BLURT: How hard was it to get funding?
Well this festival has some great sponsors but it is a festival born of ideas of limitless possibilities that Roman and I have created.
BLURT:What are some of the funding sources and sponsorships that is making it possible to hold the festival?
We have generous sponsors who share our vision and wanted to invest in the vision that is Monolith. Magical Tattoo, Black Arts Tone Works, Worshiper Cabinets, Music Go Round(Albuquerque), Taos Mesa Brewing, Hotel Luna Mystica, Arise Music & Coffee, Fly Pr, Blues Funeral, Heads Up Music (Taos), Kickstarter Music, Vans, The Coffee Apothecary (Taos), Magnetic Eye Records, Ripple Records.
BLURT: Who came up with the name Monolith on the Mesa and who designed the poster?
I did (Dano), I feel that Taos is a monolithic place that evokes limitless possibilities and being high in elevation the transmissions broadcast[ed] and receive[d] are really clear. The poster was designed by Simon Berndt – he organizes Endless Daze and [lives] in South Africa. [It’s a] great image to set the tone for our inaugural year.
BLURT:What were you looking for in terms of the bands you wanted for the festival? (When I look at the lineup I think it’s perfect for Northern New Mexico with its mystical psychedelic edge.)
First off we are fans of the heavy genre of music, all-encompassing genres. So we sculpted the show that we would want to see.It all started with OM, the rest was milled over and came to fruition and now we are weeks away from realization.
BLURT: Which band was the hardest to secure?
I’d say The Obsessed were pretty hard to nail down, but Wino and crew came thru!
BLURT: Musically how did you all decide the order of the bands and will you be filming this concert for future release?
That was hard to decide but we are really excited with the order that they are in. We hope to film portions of the show and there’s definitely videos coming to our YouTube channel.
BLURT: Were there any bands that you invited that had to cancel or were there any that you hope to get next year?
We had 2 drop and 2 new ones sign up. Sleep, Melvins, Mondo drag, are [the bands] who I would like to see, and seeing The Saviors play again would be killer! But we are focused on this year and making a great time for [both] artists and attendees.
BLURT: Who are you guys most looking forward to seeing?
Everyone really, that’s why we sculpted this line up. EYE is one I’m really looking forward to (Dano) and [of course] my all-time favorite, OM.
BLURT: In terms of creating the music festival what festivals did you draw inspiration from?
I really like old time carnivals so a little of that mixed with Stoner Hands of Doom.The idea that music inspires art inspiring music. Christian Ristow and Christina Sporrong are bringing their intense metal sculptures out that have interactive fire elements to them, along with The Ad Alchemist Liquid Light Show handling visuals on the outside stage. So [it’s] more [a] psychedelic carnival.
BLURT: How are ticket sales?
So far so good! We are going to have a great time.
BLURT: Tell us about how the location will be set up?
Taos Mesa Brewing is the main venue where there is a indoor stage(worshiper stage) and the outdoor “earthship” ampitheatre is outdoors.
BLURT: Is there camping?
Yes, the Hotel Luna Mystica compound is steps away where they have a vintage trailer park, as well as primitive camping areas.
BLURT Will there be security screening?
Yes, there is a safety factor. Everyone deserves to have a safe and fun time.
BLURT: Will the music be in tents as well as out in the open?
There will be the Bedouin tent on Hotel Luna Mystica property that will have a DJ set and also a small bar.
BLURT: What about facilities such as water and restrooms?
We will have restrooms at the brewery, as well as porta potties all around the compound. Water stations will be available as well as beverages for sale.
BLURT: Are there any decibel restrictions?
Yes there are, but not ‘til after midnight, so that’s why the outdoor ampitheatre shuts down at midnight. Lisa Bella Donna will be doing a first night wind down [Friday] night inside from 12-12:30 and our after party and wind down on Saturday is Lord Dying and Year of the Cobra inside from 12-1.
BLURT: How many people do you have working for the festival?
We have a great crew putting this together. Dano Sanchez, Roman Barham, Joel Meinholz are the main organizers, and we have a great team working hard on media, volunteers, box office, security and hospitality, along with the great crews [from] Taos Mesa Brewing as well as Hotel Luna Mystica.
BLURT: Have local businesses been supportive of your efforts?
We have had great support from local businesses. Next year we intend on [having] more community involvement and outreach.
BLURT: What sort of local vendors will you have on site and what sort of stuff will they be selling?
We will have vendors from all over as well as local ones, from artists doing live screen printing, jewelry, snack vendors, a bee lady, Wumaniti native earth sanctuary, coffee, record store, and many more.
BLURT: I’ve been to Taos and it’s a small town. Was it difficult to get the permits and was there any pushback from the locals or Native American community, given the Pueblo nearby?
Taos Mesa Brewing and Hotel Luna Mystica carry permits and work hard to pull off events. No blowback from the Taos Pueblo, we love the puebloans and want to encourage festival goers to visit the Pueblo and learn about the people that give this beautiful town its rich history.
BLURT: In terms of the Native American Community, what can we expect on that front – will there be any Native American musicians?
This year the way it worked out no, but next year we fully intend on having dancers, drum circles and bands as well.This year really happened so fast we filled up [really] quick. Lots of local New Mexican favorites tho.
BLURT: Taos and Northern New Mexico weather changes on a dime in May, so what are your contingency plans if it starts to snow or a sudden hail storm happens?
We are a rain, snow or shine festival. We suggest that you wear layers because of the shifts [in the] weather. [Best to] be prepared. We have [an] inside [venue] as well as tents that will be around as well as the safety of the trailers and personal tent and RVs.The Bedouin tent will serve as a [contingency in case of] extreme weather.
BLURT: Is it already decided that there will be a festival next year?
BLURT: Finally, when all is said and done what do you hope people leave Taos with?
An experience! With the crazy vibrations that are going out to the universe these days, we want to radiate positive high vibrations that reverberate unity, love and healing through art and music. I think that most people coming are seeking something out of the norm and this may just scratch that primal search for truth and belonging.Taos is Magical and transformative [place that] can have a lasting impact on people [making them want to] return. [There’s] no place like Planet Taos!
Big weekend in Atlanta the other weekend with Shaky Knees Music Festival at Central Park, and our longtime photographer John Boydston was there.
BY JOHN BOYDSTON
3 Days of Peace, Love, and Understanding – and plenty of people watching. He brought us photos, but this is by no means an exhaustive overview, but the best of the stages he got to. John says, “The most amazing thing about Shaky Knees is the people who make it happen, behind the scenes and the crowd that turns out. Plus the huge roster of indie, world, and better known acts. The music never stops and its the best of the best all around you.”
Day 1: May 3
The great artist known as Beck, his amazing band, and his massive crowd closing out Shaky Knees opening day.
Sharon Van Etten wows the main Peachtree stage Friday.
The Idles taking it to the crowd Friday at the Ponce de Leon Stage.
Foxing at the Criminal Records stage.
Thee Oh Sees and crowd surfers (Piedmont Stage)
I lost count of how many instruments Tash Sultana played during her solo set, but the music never stopped.
Liz Phair with her usual flair – looking and sounding better than ever on the Piedmont stage in the midday sun.
Brandon Boyd and Incubus.
Tears for Fears, a surprise hit of the day for my money – smiling and waving, and looking so fine. Huge crowd – penultimate act of the day on the Piedmont stage.
Day 2: May 4
Japanese Breakfast might have been my personal indie-rock find of the day (Piedmont Stage)
Bad Books features Kevin Devine and Andy Hull (of Atlanta’s own Manchester Orchestra) and has been around a while off and on. They should have a lot more fans after their great set here.
Two photos won’t do justice for The Struts and their big stage performance here. They lit it up. (It’s timely to be reminding people of Freddie Mercury’s stage greatness.)
Natalie Press ready for a little rain, that did get people wet later on.
Jim James and band bringing the heart-shaped rock. (Piedmont Stage)
Interpol (Peachtree Stage)
Jade Bird (Ponce de Leon Stage)
Lucy Dacus – Criminal Records Stage
The Murlocs from Melbourne, Australia
Group Love getting some on the Peachtree Stage.
Calpurnia featuring Finn Wolfhard, star of the Atlanta-filmed hit TV series “Stranger Things.”
DIdn’t expect to hear seriously good country music at Shaky Knees, but they are full of surprises here. Tyler Childers and band.
Tame Impala brings the visual storm and festival closing set Sunday night.
Third annual acclaimed event takes place May 31-June 1 in Canton, North Carolina.
By Fred Mills
With the festival season already in motion (the celeb clusterfuck known as Coachella not duly noted), here in the Tar Heel state – where BLURT is based – the concert-going denizens are gearing up. Literally in our backyard is the third installment of the Cold Mountain Music Festival, taking place May 31 and June 1 in Canton, North Carolina, at the undeniably gorgeous Lake Logan, and our magic 8-ball tells us that it promises to be a winner.
Allow us to quote from the organizers, and watch this space for updates and additional info.
With music as its centerpiece, Cold Mountain is pleased to be hosting a tasting board of artists ranging from the folk, funk, Americana, bluegrass and post-rock worlds, with highlights including a very special full band performance by Grammy-nominated outfit The Milk Carton Kids, critically acclaimed “desert noir” duo Calexico, crowd-favorite bluegrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, fast rising troubadour J.S. Ondara, and “soul queen” Kat Wright, among others. With two full days of nonstop music, attendees can expect an immersive and balanced weekend of electric, hip-shaking tunes and swoon-worthy acoustic melodies. Also to note, daily schedules and single day passes have just been released, making it easier than ever for folks to curate their ideal festival experience.
Tying it all together is Lake Logan’s pristine 300-acre property surrounded by the Shining Rock Wilderness Area of Pisgah National Forest, where a variety of outdoor activities will be available, including paddle-boarding (on Cold Mountain equipment only), swimming, and fishing (with valid permit).
With music, food, sun and sand, Haywood County’s own Cold Mountain Festival is the ultimate weekend retreat. General admission weekend, single day, and youth passes are available at www.coldmountainmusic.organd range from $20-$100. For more information on camping, dining, and more, please visit www.coldmountainmusic.org/faq.
Louisville, Kentucky, September 27, 28, and 29 is where the dirty deeds will be done…
BY MARK JACKSON
The Louder Than Life Festival is back and louder than ever! The festival had a great lineup set for last year, and then the floods came and destroyed the park leading to the festival having to be canceled for 2018. If you know Danny Wimmer then you already know that this set back would not stop him and his team for 2019! This year Louder Than Life changed the location to prevent any chances of rain from stopping the fun. This alone was a great move, but Danny went above and beyond by reuniting two huge bands and bringing them to Louisville!
As if the one and only Guns N’ Roses wasn’t enough they also are bringing Staind who will perform for the first time in five years! This alone makes the festival news worthy, but wait there’s more like Disturbed, Slipknot, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, a Day to Remember, Breaking Benjamin, Godsmack, Three Days Grace, Chevelle, Halestorm, Ice Cube, Die Antwoord, The Crystal Method, GWAR, I Prevail, New Years Day, Dropkick Murphys, Stone Temple Pilots, Badflower, Suicidal Tendencies, joyous Wolf, Jelly Roll, and many more.
From the start this has been a premier festival and this year is set to take it to a new level. FYI all the camping passes have already sold out and ticket sells are on a record breaking pace to sell out soon, so you better hurry or else you will just be seeing all the highlights on social media while you are at work!
Go here to view Mark’s review and gallery of the 2017 festival.
Put your transport settings on “Taos” (and don’t forget to bring ‘shrooms to this new festival,,,)
By Jonathan Levitt
The maiden Monolith on the Mesa music festival will take place on May 17 and 18th in Taos New Mexico. When I saw the lineup, I immediately booked my flights and started listening to some of the bands I thought I would never have a chance to see like Om, Dead Meadow, and Woven Hand.
Having grown up in the southwest, northern New Mexico was often a favorite summer destination for my family. Psychedelic music has often drawn inspiration from the desert southwest, with its dramatic thunderstorms and intense heat as well as certain mystical elements mythologized by folklore and druggy culture. Two years ago when I was living in Santa Fe it snowed on April 29th and then a few days later hail storms hit the area. Taos experiences even more unpredictable weather from what I hear, so things might get interesting! Festival founders Dano Sanchez and Roman Barham (we’ll be running an interview with them soon) have curated what looks to be the festival to beat in 2019.
There will be plenty of local vendors selling their wares, and according to the festival, both the indoor and outdoor venues should allow for a more intimate interaction between band and audience. I will attempt to film some of the festival for our readers in the hope that some of you will be similarly inspired to make the trek down to New Mexico. Anyway, on to a few of the bands.
OM, whose album Advaitic Songs has been on constant rotation in my life, manages to seamlessly blend Indian musical elements and their heavy narcotic churn. Check out this amazing clip from 2013
Dead Meadow, who hail from Washington D.C., have seven amazing albums of psychedelic brilliance under their belt and this show from 2017 suggests what a blistering set they can deliver:
David Eugene Edwards’ band Woven Hand takes the fire and brimstone of 16 horsepower and blends it with widescreen mysticism. This show that was performed at a Synagogue in 2011, shows the incandescent transitory nature of their music.
There are also bands that I only recently discovered, such as Canadian band Weeed who bring the heavy on this titanic tune “Rainbow Amplifier Worship”—check out this live version:
And then there’s Green Druid with their sludge version of “My Sharona”:
Not to mention Pinkish Black with this epic track entitled “Loss of Feeling of Loss”:
Year after year, Prof. Rosen makes his pilgrimage to Knoxville to report back to BLURT on what just might be the best music festival on the entire freakin’ planet. This year included Richard Thompson, Bill Frisell, Mercury Rev, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago—and much, much more, of all stripes, genres, and inclinations, spread across 150 performances and 50 additional free events. Want more? Check outRosen’s 2014 report, as well as 2015, not to mention 2016 and 2017 and 2018.
BY STEVEN ROSEN / PHOTOS BY MINDY ROSEN
Is there anybody from Idaho or Nebraska reading this? If so, please clear you calendars now for March 2020. You’ll need to go to Knoxville, Tenn. for a long weekend at the Big Ears Festival. And you will be treated as an honored guest.
That’s because, at the 2019 Big Ears, which occurred March 21-24, those two states were the last holdouts. There were attendees from every other one, as well as from 21 countries. That was one sign of growth for the festival, which occurs at multiple indoor venues and was started in 2009. It skipped three years (2011-13), but has been growing since becoming a non-profit organization in 2016. This year, it held 150 concerts and some 50 free events, and venues for the most part were filled with attendees. As were the streets of downtown Knoxville.
That’s all quite remarkable, given that the festival resolutely embraces the musical avant-garde. As its founder, Ashley Capps, said in a written statement contained in the distributed program, Big Ears is “an invitation to explore the depth and breadth of the world of music in its many rich and evocative manifestations, beyond the traditional genres, boxes and boundaries that too often create divisions between music and audiences.”
That program also included a quotation from Gustav Mahler that “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” But don’t let the Mahler reference fool you into thinking this year’s Big Ears was primarily for fans of “settled” classical music — that which is already accepted as masterful.
There was, rather, much new contemporary classical music — such as violinist Kim Kashkashian, playing with pianist Robert Levin at the luxuriously restored Tennessee Theatre, presenting a brand-new work by octogenarian composer John Harris Harbison. It was a six-part rumination on mortality that was grave, solemn and questioning, yet also exciting and determinedly proud of life, even if it always ends sadly.
Also at the Tennessee was a classical piece, by rising new music composer (and The National guitarist) Bryce Dessner, featuring stirring music for the Roomful of Teeth vocal ensemble plus tenor Isaiah Robinson and mezzosoprano Alicia Hall Moran to sing. Called Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), it was about the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Images of his work were projected while the singers performed the libretto (lyrics) by playwright Korde Arrington Tuttle.
But there was rock, too. Mercury Rev, playing at the Mill & Mine club for a late-night show, did a revved-up show featuring Jonathan Donahue’s happily, joyful singing of such dreamy, melancholy, grandeur-drench band classics as “Tonite It Shows,” “Central Park East,” “Opus 40” and “People Are So Unpredictable.” He also did a killer cover of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid,” as the band provided a powerful wave of orchestral-like sound behind him.
Mercury Rev also sponsored a late-night screening with live score at the historic Bijou Theatre of the eerie early-1960s thriller Carnival of Souls, with such guest musicians as Steve Shelley, Ben Neill, Tim Berne and Mimi Goese. I thank them for presenting this wonderful movie in an optimum setting, but I’d have preferred to see it with its dialogue, which had been dropped out for the music. It’s such a strong movie that one wants to hear the actors talk (or scream).
Richard Thompson also played the Bijou with a project called Killed in Action, featuring short songs based on extracts from letters and diaries of World War I soldiers, his acoustic guitar and low, yearning voice accompanied by the Knoxville Symphony Strings. Partially funded by Great Britain’s WWI Centenary Art Commissions, it debuted in 2016 at New York’s (Le) Poisson Rouge and has had a fairly low profile ever since. The Big Ears audience was keenly appreciative of Thompson’s performance and the string section’s arrangements, but the concert most came alive after this was finished and Thompson played other songs with the string section — including “Shenandoah,” his own “The Great Valerio,” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and especially Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time.”
Also at the Bijou, guitar virtuoso Bill Frisell, working with the band The Mesmerists, played a beseeching score to accompany films by avant-gardist Bill Morrison, who puts together abstracted narratives by reclaiming and re-editing found footage, often in a visible state of decay. Morrison’s finished work plays like missives from an old, weird America — or a pre-modern world — and Frisell’s music perfectly caught that mood. One short film in particular — called The Mesmerist and re-edited by Morrison from a deteriorated nitrate print of a 1926 film called The Bells — was unforgettable. It’s the tale of an innkeeper who kills a Polish Jew for his valuables, then puts the body in a fiery outdoor furnace or fire pit. But he’s later confronted by a vision of the man. This played like a chilling precursor of the Holocaust; the film’s damaged condition a metaphor for the post-Holocaust world.
Jazz in all its forms was on display at Big Ears. The group Columbia Icefield, featuring trumpeter Nate Wooley, drummer/vocalist Ryan Sawyer, guitarist Mary Halvorson and inventive pedal steel player Susan Alcorn (the latter two have become Big Ears favorites in recent years) played songs from a new album inspired by Wooley’s revelatory trip to see the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The concert, before a standing audience at The Standard club (I had to keep jumping up and moving around to see) featured music that intelligently, artfully captured Wooley’s awe at the landscape — compositions frequently were brought to life by short, rippling solos by the members. The show was a standout; the players forces to be watched in the future.
The portentously named British trio The Comet Is Coming made its debut at a packed Mill & Mine, where it filled the cavernous space with the strong, loud and almost-literally uplifting saxophone playing of Shabaka Hutchings. There were overtones in his tirelessly fierce playing of the Free Jazz legend Albert Ayler, as well as the contemporary Kamasi Washington. But I also heard in his playing something of the full-bodied, funky and danceable melodies of the great Manu Dibango of “Soul Makossa” fame. I would have liked Comet better with less of the super-heavy, Keith Emerson-like keyboard playing of Dan Leavers, an important part of the group’s fusion-y mix. (Another band featuring Hutchings, Sons of Kemet, also played Big Ears.)
The German jazz/cabaret singer Theo Bleckmann did two shows at the Bijou — “Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush” and ‘Berlin — Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile.” He’s a phenomenal vocal stylist — imitating the famous opening keyboard riff of “Running Up That Hill,” then using his own natural voice to give intense meaning to the words. His show of German songs was also rewarding, as he prefaced each song with stories or lyric translations, explaining that the love song “Lili Marlene” was a hit throughout Europe during World War II even though Germany was at war with countries where it was played. His version of Brecht/Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny” was especially effective — its best-known recordings are by women, but he made it his own.
Big Ears this year was celebrating the 50th anniversary of ECM Records (primarily known for its jazz releases, but the label’s name is actually short for Edition of Contemporary Music and its releases have covered other types of music) and there were panel discussions as well as performances by such ECM artists an Bleckmann, Wadada Leo Smith, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Meredith Monk.
All this led to the festival’s climactic conclusion, a closing-night concert at the Tennessee Theatre by ECM’s Art Ensemble of Chicago, the great avant-jazz group on its own 50th anniversary tour, dedicated to deceased members Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors Maghostut and their lasting contributions to “Great Black Music — Ancient to the Future.”
For this concert, the Art Ensemble was a true large ensemble — 16 people counting singer Camae Ayewa and poet Moor Mother. Every second of each person’s contribution to the program was thrilling, but the two remaining original members — saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and drummer/percussionist Famoudou Don Moye — were justifiably first among equals.
I have witnessed few moments at the seven Big Ears I have attended as thrilling as when Mitchell, who had mostly been a quiet, reserved presence through the show, took a long, sustained, technically dazzling soprano sax lead toward the end, going on and on as others joined in or withdrew. After awhile, he stood up and kept playing with astonishing speed and stamina, the great bandleader compressing a whole concert’s worth of solo playing into this one long stand.
The applause and cheers at the end of this show were so rousing and sincere, and the overall experience sent the large crowd away with a peak experience … and probably already thinking about next year.
This year should be no exception, and the festival has been announced for April 5-7. Below are some of the details that have been released thus far – it’s a no brainer for NC residents, and I suspect it will draw attendees from all over the United States and possibly from beyond. It’s curated by Echo Mountain Recording Studio’ own Jessica Tomasin (read about Echo and other regional studios in this story by longtime BLURT contributor Bill Kopp; Tomasin is also co-founder of the Asheville Music Professionals organization) and produced by Crissa Requate of Mason Jar Media.
Connect Beyond Festival has revealed the first round of participating panelists and performances for the 2019 event. Performances include book readings from award winning authors such as Tim Z. Hernandez (All They Will Call You), and David Rowell (Wherever The Sound Takes You: Heroics and Heartbreak in Music Making); musical performances including Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock & Roll Revue starring Los Straitjackets’ and more;andpanel topics such as “social media revolution,” “fake,” “art of adaptation,” with film screenings and additional programming to be announced soon.
INSPIRING SPEAKERS AND THOUGHT PROVOKING PANELS
Do you consider yourself an NPR junkie? Are you fascinated by storytelling and are curious about your community and beyond? Connect Beyond Festival is a living, breathing version of your favorite podcast. We’re bringing together some of the most distinctive minds of today to explore what it takes to be a catalyst for change, and how we as individuals can act on what matters to us.
CAPTIVATING FILMS AND DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS
First run documentaries that resonate. Short films that profile amazing people doing extraordinary things. Stories that implore you to expand your horizons. Connect Beyond Festival and Social Construct films have hand-selected some of the most gripping narratives of the last century and are serving them up all weekend long. Plus, dive deeper into the makings of a great film with the Q&As and presentations we have on the docket.
CUTTING-EDGE MUSIC CONVERSATIONS AND PERFORMANCES
We know you want more out of your weekend, so Connect Beyond Festival invites you to rise up, sing out, and dance along with us. Between fireside chats with your new favorite songwriters, and a wide-ranging lineup of guest performances, we promise you’ll get your live music fix at Connect.
COMMUNITY AND CONNECTIONS
Connect Beyond Festival attendees share a common desire to be challenged and inspired. To build connections and leave the world a better place. To attend a festival not just for the music, film, and art, but for the engagement and discourse. So, invite those around you into your world, and be open to entering theirs.
Danny Wimmer Presents held a news conference recently for a huge announcement. Louisville, Kentucky, has always been the home for Louder Than Life and Bourbon and Beyond held at Champions Park, but 2019 will bring a new country festival as well and a new location for all three back to back to back weekends in September starting on September 14th.
As you may know the 2018 Bourbon and Beyond festival was interrupted by the major storms and led to the cancellation of the Louder Than Life Festival. In hopes to avoid the potential of the flooding happening again Danny Wimmer and the city of Louisville came together to move the festivals to the Highland Festival Grounds at the Kentucky Expo.
The new country festival will have such headliners as: Tim McGraw, Little Big Town, Dwight Yoakam, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Jake Owen, and many more. No word yet on Bourbon and Beyond or Louder than life as of yet, but Presale is will open February 15th for all events.
Louder Than Life will be extended to a three-day festival this year and if last years lineup is any indication of what this year will bring, this will be one of the hottest rock festival tickets of the year. I’m excited to see the new event site and how the event moves to the next level for these three festivals.
A Blurt Boot Video Exclusive: Simon Bonney & Bronwyn Adams (Live NYC) 5/14/2019 WARSAW
Filmed by Jonathan Levitt. Check out Bonney's latest record "Past, Present, Future" http://smarturl.it/SimonBonney
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea