A Wet and Windy Wakarusa 2008

Despite two evenings devastated by severe thunderstorms and even hail, the 2008 Wakarusa Festival held at Clinton Lake, Kansas powered through it all and still provided its attendees a great weekend of music, camping, and all around good times.

Behind the Dead Symphony: A Look at Lee Johnson's Great Opus

For classical composer Lee Johnson, tackling the work of the Grateful Dead was like discovering the musical foundations of a new foreign country. Johnson is known for his concert pieces, choral works, short operas and musicals, planetarium soundtracks, and solo/ensemble pieces that cross into jazz and big band music.

Joby Goob's Retro Reviews (7.29.1988, Laguna Seca)

Today's review is a show readily available for download at the Live Music Archive, 7/29/88, at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey California. This was the first of a three show run at Laguna Seca, and in my opinion the best of the three. I chose this show mainly because of the extremely high quality of the recording currently available at the LMA. It sounds to me to be a mislabelled soundboard or soundboard/audience matrix recording, but I suppose it's possible that its just a phenomenal audience recording.

Cameron Tapp: A Mate with a Big Heart

Cameron Tapp - photos by Janie Franz- for the Grateful Web

Last week, Australian singer/songwriter Cameron Tapp made his US solo debut, not in a coffeehouse or intimate club, but as the processional singer at a fan's wedding. He flew almost 10,000 miles to sing his hit song as Jesse Ihry walked down the aisle of a Fargo, ND church.

Jesse had discovered Tapp's song, "The Guide," on iTunes well before she and her fiance had made their commitment to each other. The song had been recorded in 2006 on Loss of Signal, a CD by Tapp and his band mates under the name Borne. That song had also been licensed and featured on the television program Friday Night Lights and on October Road. "The Guide" became a Single of the Week on iTunes and earned the band a slot at SXSW last year, marking the band's first appearance ever in the States.  Last year, Borne won four Music Oz awards in Australia, including Artist of the Year, and Tapp was tapped as Best Singer/Songwriter.

When Jesse and her fiancé became engaged last June, they began the search for sheet music for "The Guide" because the church didn't permit recorded music during the wedding service. "We looked and looked online everywhere and could not find it," Jesse said. Out of desperation, she went to the Borne website, and emailed every contact person she found there, asking for sheet music.

But there was a problem. Tapp didn't have any sheet music. In fact, he didn't know how to write musical notation. Tapp explained that in a personal email to Jesse and made a few suggestions. One was to have a singer with a good ear listen to the song and learn it; another was to do some sort of video over the internet and show how he approached the song, explaining chords, bridges, and vocal treatments. A third was simply to fly him to Fargo. Jesse's reaction was unbelief. "I thought he was joking," she recalled. "Then, we realized he was serious." That's when the wedding couple decided to consolidate their student loans and give up their honeymoon to get Tapp on a plane to Fargo.

"The thing with this song is so surreal," Jesse said. It was more than just having the singer of a famous band coming to her wedding. "It is the meaning behind the song and having the actual singer here. It's something that you'll never forget."

And for Cameron Tapp, it is just as special. "I'm a sucker for a love story," he said in a phone interview last week and repeated during a relaxed lunch in Fargo the day after the wedding. "It's such an honor to be asked to sing....To be asked to play a song that you've written at someone's wedding is such a beautiful thing. It is a wonderful thing for any artist to be asked that because it means that your song has done what it was supposed to do, which was to reach people, to talk to people. That's what music is for. It's not for bank accounts."

As Tapp, his publicist Christian Quilici, Grand Forks ND singer/songwriter Ron Franz, and I lingered over drinks, we were very aware how much this remarkable story had brought strangers together, not just Tapp and the bridal couple, but all of us. "It's a beautiful story and people love to hear beautiful fairy tales," he said.  "The song was born (pardon the pun) out of love.  Jesse's life is about how she's found pure love again...These kinds of stories just don't come along very often."

But even more strangers got into the act. Tourism Tasmania organized a $10,000 honeymoon package for the couple. It will cover airfare and high-end resort accommodations. The costs are being covered partly by the Tasmanian tourism bureau, which is a government entity, and by airlines, car rentals, and other hospitality industries.

Though the wedding is over, Tapp, however, is not flying back home immediately. He is using this trip to strike out with some material as a solo performer. Some of the live radio spots he did in Fargo, especially at a country station, proved to him and to some new fans that his new material was more universal that the pop genre pigeonhole Borne had been put into.

Tapp is comfortable playing acoustic guitar, but it wasn't his first instrument. Surprisingly, it was the harmonica. And, not blues, but straight harp. "My father played a beautiful mouth organ," Tapp said. "We use to go camping a lot as children with my parents. We'd always have a campfire, and we'd sit around it and sing songs. Dad would play the harmonica and tell us stories of his past... I had a beautiful, wholesome childhood." Later, Tapp picked up drums and then guitar when he was about ten.

Tapp's father, Paul Tapp, today is an author of children's fiction and adult non-fiction books. When Cam Tapp was a boy, his father also wrote songs. "I used to sit around and listen to my Dad play his songs on the acoustic guitar."

Songwriting came naturally to young Tapp. That carried through to his work with the pop entity called Borne. But Tapp quickly asserted, "Borne primarily is me," Tapp said. "It's a Moby-type situation. I've always had the inspiration to write songs. I take them to my producer, and we work the songs. Then the boys come in and play the material with me and we compile the tracks. And when the time comes, we'll go out and play the music."

While Tapp was in Fargo, he brought some new tunes with him. "Winter Chill" tells the tender story of when his father and mother were apart when the elder Tapp served in the Vietnam war and how their letters and the moon they both watched every night kept them connected. This was one story he heard a lot around the campfire. It's a tune that fit very nicely aired on a country station live.

Another song, Tapp is showcasing is "Dacridium franklinii." It was a song his father wrote about the Huon pine, the Dacridium franklinii (now called Lagarostrobos franklinii). "The Huon pine tree grows only in my native state, which is Tasmania," Tapp said. "It's the oldest and slowest growing tree in the world." Individual trees have lived for almost 2,000 years and whole forests stands have survived uncut for over 10,000 years. "When my father wrote this song, they were chopping down these trees to make a dam," Tapp recalled. "That song had a huge impact on my life."

Tapp wrote of the song, "Dacrydium Fanklinii is a lullaby, a lullaby that was sung to me at bedtime as a child. As I fell asleep the verses took me to cool and tranquil Gondwanic forests where the Huon pine tree lives. It was in these forests that I spent the better part of my childhood."

He decided to record it on a compilation CD called Forests Forever that was released this year by the Wilderness Society Initiative to raise money and awareness for the continued destruction of old growth forests. That CD included cuts by two other well-known Australians, Xavier Rudd and John Butler.  Though the Huon pine is now protected, its plight is similar to what else is happening in the country. "Quite recently, there has been a massive debate in my home state of Tasmania about a wood chip mill they are trying to build," Tapp explained. "They are trying to log areas that have vast tracts of old growth forests." Not only is this of concern to Tasmanians but it also can impact the rest of the world.  "These big huge tracts of forest store massive banks of carbon," Tapp said. When the trees are cut, this carbon is released. "So it would be a great global warming crime if they don't stop doing this to wood chip these trees for paper."

It is a plaintive song that makes good use of Tapp's vocal range, his passion, and his crisp acoustic guitar playing. "I went down to Tasmania quite recently," Tapp said, "and I went into the bush to one of these areas that they are going to log and I played that song in the wilderness." That helped launch the CD. (You can catch a youtube video of the song).

These stripped down tunes like others he will showcase this week in CA rely on Tapp's unusual finger and plectrum combo style on his Australian Maton guitar. He demonstrated that for Grand Forks singer/songwriter Ron Franz and then let Franz have a go at his favorite guitar.

Tapp's guitar work is clean and rootsy.  But the strength of each of these new songs hangs on the power of Tapp's vocals that sometimes whisper and sometimes erupt from the heart in a mourning cry. Both skills uplift lyrics that speak of relationships between people and between people and their environment.

On the coattails of his generous, unpretentious hands-across-the-waters gesture, Cameron Tapp will put his foot into the waters of the American acoustic music scene when he brings his solo show to the Plush Cafe in Fullerton CA on Tuesday June 17 at 7 pm and to the Hotel Cafe (unplugged) in LA Wednesday June 18 at 8 pm. Check him out. There are depths Cameron Tapp hasn't fathomed yet in his songwriting career. Let's hope he continues to bring his talents to American shores.

Gogol Bordello Gears Up For Bonnaroo

After proving a highlight at Coachella this year, internationally acclaimed Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello performs today at Bonnaroo on Saturday, June 14 at 4:00 PM on the Which Stage. Come see why Q Magazine calls Eugene Hutz, "a great performer of our times," with what the New York Press is calling "a band that everyone should see live."

Grateful Dead - Road Trips: Volume One, Number Three

Staggering gas prices curtailing your travel plans? Avoid the pinch and let Road Trips transport you far and wide while safely parked with your favorite listening device. Our latest 2-disc installment takes us to the magical Summer of '71 with stops in New Haven, Chicago and, for a limited time, sunny Southern California. All in brilliant HDCD and all for the same low $19.98.

Catch Yonder @ Bonnaroo - Sunday 3:45PM (What Stage)

Catch Colorado's Yonder Mountain String Band on the Main Stage (the 'What Stage') this year at Bonnaroo just prior to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss¹s set this Sunday, June 15 at 3:45. Yonder returns to Bonnaroo after a short hiatus having played on the festival in 2003, 2004, and 2005. They return to Bonnaroo with a brand new live record, Mountain Tracks: Volume 5, on their own label.

Day 2 of Jam on the River 2008

Due to a scheduling mishap by the Disco Biscuits, they had to play during Day 1, which made the festival's lineup suffer tremendously on Day 2 (pictures here). The festival's organizers compensated by making Day 2 free if one held any ticket stub from either Day 1 or any of the late night shows. That saved Day 2's attendance. We can't blame the festival's organizers for this one.

Hometown Biscuits Rule the 23rd Annual Jam on the River

Philadelphia's favorite jam friendly festival kicked off its 23rd annual party by the Delaware River on Penn's Landing. This perfect city location set the scene for two days and three nights of live music and camaraderie.

World Premiere of Dead Symphony, August 1st, in Baltimore

Dead Symphony- for the Grateful Web

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will delve into the psychedelic world of The Grateful Dead on what would have been Jerry Garcia's 66th birthday, Friday, August 1 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with the world premiere performance of Lee Johnson's Dead Symphony No. 6. More than 10 years in the making, Dead Symphony No. 6 is the first orchestral tribute to The Grateful Dead ever composed. For this one-night-only performance, the lobby will transform into a counterculture museum featuring Grateful Dead memorabilia and other rock 'n' roll gems from the 1960s and 1970s. Rare Grateful Dead photographs by Baltimore native Amalie Rothschild—house photographer for the legendary concert hall Fillmore East in NYC - will also be auctioned online and in the lobby the night of the performance with all proceeds benefiting the BSO. See below for complete program information.

Known not only as counterculture icons, but also for their original musicianship, the group stands alone in its embrace of genres as diverse as gospel, funk, jazz, blues and psychedelic rock—complex musical forms which lend themselves to symphonic settings. With a following of "Deadheads" in the hundreds of thousands even today, the legendary music of The Grateful Dead lives on with countless cover bands and live recordings. The BSO is the first major orchestra to dedicate an entire concert to The Grateful Dead's legendary music. The BSO's premiere of Dead Symphony No. 6 will also celebrate the 66th birthday of Jerry Garcia, the late lead guitarist and iconic member of The Grateful Dead.

Dead Symphony No. 6—the No. 6 signifies that it is Johnson's Sixth Symphony—dedicates separate movements to Grateful Dead hits "Saint Stephen," "Here Comes Sunshine," "Mountains of the Moon," "Blues for Allah," "Sugar Magnolia," "To Lay Me Down," "If I Had the World to Give," "Stella Blue," "Bird Songs" and "China Doll." The work also features a symphonic jam session during "Stella Blue." In keeping with The Dead's performance style, Pro Video Group of Baltimore will recreate a psychedelic video display behind the orchestra during this performance.

Work began on the symphony in 1995, shortly after Jerry Garcia's death, when record producer and Deadhead Mike Adams contacted Johnson with the idea for the symphony. "I wasn't a Deadhead at the time, so I had to start at the beginning," Johnson said. "I bought everything The Dead had published and became a student of their art. I would finish a movement or two and gather up those that loved The Grateful Dead and see what happened when I played it for them. Their honest reactions told me everything. Tears, smiles, closed eyes and sometimes dancing. Any new movement that didn't create a genuine vibe in the listening room went away for good."

The culmination of Johnson's hard work paid off in 2007 when the Russian National Orchestra recorded and released Dead Symphony No. 6. The August 1st performance will be the first time Dead Symphony No. 6 is performed live.

Lee Johnson, composer

Lee Johnson has conducted and recorded with several world-class orchestras including the Russian National Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Taliesin Orchestra, London Session Orchestra, American Rock Orchestra and Cyberlin Philharmonia. During his career, he has composed six symphonies, four musicals, two operas and numerous chamber works, concerti, choral and vocal works. He has also composed music for ballet, theater, feature and experimental film and hundreds of works for multimedia and interactive technologies.

Among his numerous accolades for original compositions, Mr. Johnson has received an Emmy Award (1991, "It May Not Be Tara"), was named Georgia Artist of the Year (1995) and has won ASCAP (1993) and ADDY (1996) awards. Mr. Johnson is currently a full-time Callaway Professor of Music Chair at LaGrange College in Georgia.

About the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is internationally recognized as having achieved a preeminent place among the world's most important orchestras. Acclaimed for its uncompromising pursuit of artistic excellence, the Baltimore Symphony has attracted a devoted national and international following while maintaining deep bonds throughout Maryland through innovative education and community outreach initiatives.

The Baltimore Symphony made musical history in September 2007, when Maestra Marin Alsop led her inaugural concerts as the Orchestra's 12th music director, making her the first woman to head a major American orchestra. With her highly praised artistic vision, her dynamic musicianship and her commitment to accessibility in orchestral music, Maestra Alsop's directorship has ushered in a new era for the BSO and its audiences.

Each season the BSO plays host to some of the world's most renowned talents, including violinists Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In addition to its year-round classical programming, the BSO has been praised for its popular concerts. In recent years, the BSO has performed with artists such as Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss, Ben Folds and The Decemberists. For more information about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, visit


Dead Symphony: A Symphonic Tribute to the Grateful Dead

Friday, August 1, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. — Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Lee Johnson: Dead Symphony No. 6 (WORLD PREMIERE PERFORMANCE)

Special anniversary pricing at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall is made possible by generous underwriting from the PNC Foundation.

Media sponsorship is provided by WBAL 1090AM.

Tickets for this program range from $20 to $60 and are available through the BSO Ticket Office, 410.783.8000, 877.BSO.1444 or