The Lee Boys from Miami @ Bonnaroo on Sun, 6/15

THE LEE BOYS will bring their blazing, inspirational live show Bonnaroo on Sunday, June15th from 1:15-2:15 in Tent 2 (That Tent).  They will also perform on the Sonic Stage that day from 6:00-6:30 PM (following Solomon Burke).

Dead Confederate will be @ Bonnaroo on June 14th, 2008

Hailing from Athens, DEAD CONFEDERATE's psychedelic-meets-grunge sound created quite the buzz at this year's SXSW and Sasquatch festival with a number of well-attended shows, including a much-coveted opening slot for R.E.M.

Railroad Earth's Amen Corner Hits Streets June 10

photos by Amanda Bell- for the Grateful Web

After a long wait and plenty of anticipation, Railroad Earth prepares to release their new studio album Amen Corner, which will be in stores nationwide on June 10, 2008 (SCI Fidelity Records).  Written and recorded at lead singer/songwriter Todd Sheaffer's 300 year-old farmhouse in New Jersey's rural countryside, Amen Corner is, literally and figuratively, the rustic sound of a band happy to be at home. 

"Normally," Sheaffer explains, "you come home after six weeks on the road and jump into the studio, all frazzled because you don't have much left in the tank.  This time I feel like we've invited our friends into our living room and that's basically how we recorded it.  We wanted for years to try working this way and I'm so happy we were finally able to do it."

Combine that with the fact that Sheaffer, bassist Johnny Grubb and drummer/percussionist Carey Harmon all became fathers in the months leading up to the recording sessions and you have a recipe for change.

"The changes in our lives brought about a peacefulness that is reflected in the music," says Sheaffer. "We consciously tried to take the approach of 'less is more' in how we arranged the songs."

That "less is more" attitude is also evident in the band's and record label's decision to make the album as "green" as possible.  After considerable research, SCI Fidelity selected Printing Responsibly of Rockaway, NJ to print all promotional materials related to the album.  All posters and postcards announcing the album release are printed on FSC Certified paper using soy based inks, as will tour materials which will be produced later this year.

"SCI Fidelity and Railroad Earth have devoted considerable time and energy, educating ourselves on environmental issues and the green movement," said Matt Hogan, Director of Marketing at SCI Fidelity.  "The Forecast page on the album web site is devoted entirely to various green-related issues, environmental action and sustainability causes."

"FSC certification is about much more than recycled paper", stated Steven VanPraagh, owner of Printing Responsibly.  "It's about knowing where the fiber in the paper comes from, and that any trees that are cut are replanted.  It's about people all over the world working in the timber and paper industries being as responsible as possible; replenishing and sustaining our renewable resources.  It's about environmental, economic, social and personal responsibility.  And in this case, it happens to be about great music too."

Amen Corner is a collection of crisp and crafted roots, bluegrass, and acoustic sides that resonates in all the right places. The tunes breathe both on and between the notes. They hit you immediately, but then linger like a good buzz.  Look for Amen Corner in stores nationwide on June 10, 2008.

The band tours this summer in support of Amen Corner.  Current confirmed tour dates include:

June 04 The Orange Peel Asheville NC
June 05 Variety Playhouse Atlanta GA
June 06 Riverbend Festival Chattanooga TN
June 07 Bama Jam Enterprise AL
June 10 Vintage Vinyl St. Louis MO 6pm In-Store Performance
June 10 Blueberry Hill St. Louis MO
June 11 The Crossroads Kansas City KS
June 13-14 Ogden Theatre Denver CO CD Release Party!
June 16 The Paladium Salt Lake City UT
June 17 The Big Easy Concert House Boise ID
June 19 McDonald Theatre Eugene OR
June 20 Crystal Ballroom Portland OR
June 21 The Showbox Seattle WA
June 28 Community Theatre at Mayo Center for Performing Arts Morristown NJ
July 01 Summerfest 2008 Milwaukee WI
July 03 ROTHBURY Rothbury MI
July 04-05 High Sierra Music Festival Quincy CA
July 13 All Good Music Festival Masontown WV
July 25 Floydfest Floyd VA
July 27 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Hillsdale NY
August 01 Dunegrass Festival Empire MI
August 02 Silver Maple Music Festival Comstock Park MI
August 13-14 YarmonyGrass Copper Mountain CO
September 04 9:30 Club Washington DC
September 05 The Fillmore at the Theatre of Living Arts Philadelphia PA
September 06 The Fillmore NY at Irving Plaza New York NY
September 13 Barrymore Theatre Madison WI
September 14 Miramar Theater Milwaukee WI
September 16 The Cabooze Minneapolis MN
September 17 The Englert Theater Iowa City IA
September 19-20 Fox Theater Boulder CO
September 22 Orpheum Theatre Flagstaff AZ
September 23 Belly Up Tavern Solana Beach CA
September 26-27 The Fillmore San Francisco CA

Northwest String Summit July 18-20 at Hornings Hideout

The Northwest's premier acoustic music festival returns for its seventh year to beautiful Horning's Hideout in North Plains, Oregon, on July 18-20.  The event boasts three days of nearly all-acoustic music, culminating each night with main stage performances from musical hosts Yonder Mountain String Band, this year joined by special guest fiddler Darol Anger (David Grisman Quintet, Psychograss) and banjo/guitar virtuoso Danny Barnes (Bad Livers, Tim O'Brien Band).  Yonder

Bonnaroo Goes Even Greener

The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is proud to announce large scale greening initiatives for its 2008 event, set to take place June 12-15 in Manchester, TN. Festival organizers continue to take aggressive steps toward mitigating the event's environmental impact and raising awareness about green issues.

Indigenous: A New Blues-Rock Incarnation

photos by Jeremy Cowart- for the Grateful Web

Bands evolve. Some for the better, and some not. South Dakota's Indigenous blues band has certainly moved into new, fresher territory with their new band lineup. The story of that band is quite unique.

Indigenous burst on the musical stage as youngsters, three siblings and a cousin. They were all members of the Nakota Nation and living on the Yanton Indian Reservation, located in the southeastern portion of South Dakota, along the Missouri River, close to Nebraska. (Those ethnic and geographic roots are important, so keep that location in mind)

Their father, Greg Zephier, a spokesperson for Native American rights had been a musician in the 60s and '70s, and he wanted to pass the legacy of classic rock artists that he admired and had learned from to his children. "Yeah, my dad was really into music," said Mato Nanji, the oldest of the siblings and the guitarist. "That was pretty much where I heard everything: the R&B, the blues, the rock. There was just all kinds of music. He and two of his brothers and a nephew used to have a band called the Vanishing Americans. They used to play all of the old rock stars, Santana, everything. That's kind of where I got my start. They were actually broke up before I was born. I found his guitars and his records."

Ptcecha, Mato's sister, took up the bass, and Wanbdi found drums to his liking. Their cousin, Horse, added percussion. First they learned a lot of blues and rock covers. Mato's strong voice was able to carry the weight of a Hendrix tune or an Eric Clapton song. Then Mato began to write originals.

"My dad always said from the start, 'You need to write your own songs,'" Mato remembered. "I've always tried to do that from the start. I think one of the first songs that I wrote was 'Things We Do.' We recorded it for a CD the Indigo Girls put together, a compilation of different artists. [Honor the Earth (1996)]."

At first, Zephier toured with them as a family, until the youngsters were discovered by the wider world.

When their debut album, Things We Do, (Pachyderm Records) in 1998, it hit Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, something that no Native American bands had ever done. Soon, they came to the notice of Bonnie Raitt and BB King. They had become another young blues phenomenon out of the Plains, like Fargo's Johnny Lang. BB King was so impressed with these young talents he invited them to join his Blues Festival Tour. A year later their father passed, but he had lived to see his children's success.

Indigenous continued to tour widely and record. But the siblings were growing up, having families, and some even growing away from the music of their youth. They recorded their last record together, Long Way Home, in 2005. "It was a lot of hard work over the years, touring non-stop, pretty much," Mato said. "I think everybody kind of sat back after the last record and just wanted to pursue different things, I guess. ....My sister hasn't really been playing that much. My brother wanted to start his own band.... Now, they're doing different styles of music than what I do....I just wanted to keep going and keep the name because it's always been about the music, and it always will be."

A year later, Mato decided to release a solo album. That record, Chasing the Sun, became a way to break out on his own while still maintaining amicable relations with his siblings. "My brother played bass on the last record," Mato said. "There were a couple of songs my sister wrote, and I think a couple of them ended up on the record. I kind of co-wrote some songs with her."

For the next year, though, Mato looked for a band to tour with to support this new album and to continue as a band entity known as Indigenous. Oddly enough, the band he found, the extremely talented Kris Lager Band from Lincoln, Nebraska, was one he came to know when Indigenous was first discovered. "I think we met probably in the late 90s. Off and on, we played together at shows." Then in the spring of 2007, the Kris Lager Band and Mato ended up getting together and doing a jam. "A mutual friend got us together, and we did an acoustic thing," Mato explained. "It was a little private show right in the studio there in Omaha. That was the first time we actually played together as a band. We did an acoustic set, and we came out and jammed together. I felt really good. I have always wanted to try having a full band with me, another guitar player and a keyboard player, as well as drums and bass. We have just been jamming together ever since."

The addition of keyboards was something the original Indigenous didn't have. "I think on each record we did, that's what you hear anyways. There are some keys on there and some other guitars. I've always wanted to take that, tour with that as a full band," he said.

But the Kris Lager band wasn't immediately folded into Indigenous. It was all part of the unique evolution of the band. "I've had different band members off and on for the past year, since the record came out. They were really good players, too."  But the Kris Lager Band had been opening for Indigenous. "I think after I saw these guys play, I really, really liked them and liked the music so I thought maybe we can kind of get together."

Kris Lager adds another strong lead guitar that many other blues guitarists would not have wanted. But Mato doesn't consider him competition, but assistance. "One of the big influences starting out at the beginning was still a lot of guitar playing," Mato said, "and I think that's what a lot of people were drawn to. A lot of guitar playing was part of the history of the band." And, Mato is amazing. He has been heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix in his attack on the guitar. Now, with Kris Lager taking the lead sometimes, Mato can concentrate on vocal delivery that is heavily influenced by Sam Cooke and other early R&B singers.

Mato and the Kris Lager band had been playing for only three months as Indigenous when I saw them last August at the Last Ride Bluesfest in Thief River Falls, MN. They were incredible together. Then, I saw them this past March at the Jackpot Junction Blues Fest, and they blew everybody off the map! "I think there was a pretty cool connection," Mato says. "It is at a point where it's kind of unexplainable when you play together as a band."

Phenomenal is more like it. The blues is still there, but there is a life in the music that comes from the vocals and the driving guitars. And Mato is extremely generous on stage with his bandmates. Everyone has a chance to shine. Though the songs are his, the vocal duties are mainly his, and most of the blazing guitar work is his, the band is exceptionally Indigenous, with each member sharing the burden and the glory on stage.

Though you try not to compare artists on the same bill, you do. At Jackpot Junction Blues Fest, I saw many other blues players. Some were old legends; some were young legends. But one thing was clear, though I saw a lot of flash and power noodling, especially among the younger players, none of that could compare with the technical skill and heart of the new Indigenous band. This was one blues band that made you feel so good after you heard them and, especially, when you saw the delighted interplay among the musicians. They were having a bang-up good time and the audience did, too.

Mato parted with Vanguard, his past label, in 2007 and is now looking to record a new CD with the exciting new Indigenous incarnation later this year. I can't wait!

Turbine Steams Out a New CD: Reward

Turbine- for the Grateful Web

Those New Yorkers, Turbine, have a new inventive CD, Reward. It's their first studio album as a foursome. It is a mix of upbeat pop, roots ballads, rock tunes, and lyric-driven jams. When the duo of Jermey Hilliard and Ryan Rightmire expanded their band with the addition of Justin Kimmel on bass and Jason Nazary on drums, it allowed more creativity to develop.

Prior to 2005, Hilliard and Rightmire attempted to play all the parts of a full band on two guitars and a harmonica. They had arranged music so those three instruments played bass parts and even percussion. Yet, what was always a hallmark of Turbine material was the variety and quality of the original songs they brought. The new band members took on those tasks and completely altered the way the band writes and arranges. Hilliard and Rightmire now could add more guitar flourishes, more complex harmonies, and that extraordinary harmonica work that Rightmire is known for.

And, of course, the new band members add their own touches. All of the band members have jazz and/or classical roots. Hilliard studied jazz guitar. Rightmire studied piano and French Horn, then moved to acoustic guitar and harmonica. Kimmel and Nazary are also jazz trained but are extremely versatile, even filling in on a reggae song or a country tune.

Though Hilliard has historically written most of the songs for the group, the band has begun to add to that song pool. Reward, the first album for the full band, complements the work of the duo in their first studio album, Don't Mind If I Should, that was released in 2004.

I had the opportunity of previewing a lot of the cuts on this new album during the 2006 10,000 Lakes Festival when the band played not only an opening night set on the Saloon Stage, but spend the rest of the weekend, playing during lunch in the VIP hospitality tent. The band spent two hours or more entertaining the other musicians, the staff, members of the press, and those fortunate enough to buy VIP tickets. It was a treat to hear their full original repertoire. They did jam rock songs, sea chanties, Irish drinking songs, folk tunes, ballads, spacey jams, Afro beat, and everything in between. Many of the tunes on Reward were introduced there. I also was privileged to get preview cuts before the final pressing of this CD.

Reward like Don't Mind If I Should is enhanced by Rightmire's harmonica work, which he puts through a microphone with pedals that he crafted with Frank Sternot, a Chicagoan who developed the traditional microphone most harpists buy. Though this set up, Rightmire adds not only John Popper type straight harmonica, but he can make synthesizer sounds, Hammond organ chords, and even spacey electronic sounds or the sounds of a DJ turntablist.

But Reward has used these effects carefully so that the result showcases the merits of each song. The guitar work is strong, but, again, not over the top, and the vocals are pure with often Phish-like harmonies. Though the nine songs on this album in no way represent the wide breadth of this band, they do give the listener a taste of what Turbine can do. All of these songs are also radio friendly. In fact one of my favorites, the folky, harmonic tune, "Cranberry Creek," is being played on Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 17—Jam On.

The first cut out off the album, "Don't Take Money From Strangers," is an upbeat pop piece that is a good introduction to the band. "Blackout Song" and "Stand Down" are classic Turbine songs, with early Phish-type harmonies. "Roll On" steps it up with an odd mix of styles (Phish, the New Grass Revival, the Allman Brothers, and Primus), and it works! "Invited" has a New Orleans bass and drum beat with country/rock lyrics. It's a bright twist on what Poco and Pure Prairie League used to produce, and what radio hasn't heard in a long time. "Seven Years of Bad Luck" is a bluesy, funk tune, and the title cut, "Reward," is pure roadhouse. The final cut, "Rosehill Promenade," is my all time favorite. It has the innocence of Bill Staines' "Roseville Fair," but has something more that only Hilliard and Turbine could evoke.

So, check out Turbine's new CD, Reward. It's good music.

Arlo Guthrie In Times Like These

photo by Jon C. Hancock- for the Grateful Web

To some purists, hearing Arlo Guthrie's, In Times Like These, released last summer, they might figure the live album was overproduced because of the symphony orchestra that backs up Guthrie's acoustic guitar and piano work. The result, however, is a recording that showcases Guthrie's singular storytelling voice and the nakedness of his instruments, while providing a theatrical swell behind his songs. As a listener, you almost anticipate seeing a movie unfold with the next note.

Folksinger, master storyteller, and all-round genuine human being, Arlo Guthrie has been entertaining for over four decades. In 2006, I had an opportunity to interview this folk legend while he was on the Alice's Restaurant 40th Anniversary Massacre Tour, where he recreated the insanely-funny 18-minute monologue that made him famous. My husband and I shared that experience with our twenty-something son at a local university concert that Guthrie did here in North Dakota.  It was our pleasure to pass along the humor and social consciousness renderings that Guthrie was know for.

When I interviewed Guthrie that year, he had just come from Lexington, KY, where he had recorded this album with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of John Nardolillo. "We've done shows with about thirty different orchestras, over the last five years," he said two years ago. "This is, I think, the first time we're working with a young orchestra. It's really great, working with young people."  The orchestra did slip in thirteen guest artists who were friends of the university, of which five were faculty. But still the large orchestra was composed of university music students. Nardolillo has the infamous distinction of breaking into Guthrie's dressing room at the Lincoln Center during a performance. He did manage to make a plea for doing work with orchestras before he was hauled off by security!

This experiment with making music with orchestras is not just using a symphony to back whatever Guthrie does up front on stage. Instead, it is creating something new and fresh that is crossing genres. "The trick," Guthrie said, "is to try to do something that is not just something you could do with a synthesizer, but to create orchestral arrangements in the symphonic tradition rather than make them sit there playing chords." He insisted that he wanted to use the talent that was present in the orchestra. "We've done that, I think," he continued. "We've got some great charts that were written by a friend of mine who is new to the kind of music I play."

What has happened and is very present in this new CD is a synthesis of musical traditions. "There's a great classical tradition that most people are probably not as familiar with as they could be," Guthrie added. "It's a situation where our audience will probably come to see us even if we're playing with a herd of elephants. And there are a lot of symphony people who would go to hear the orchestra, regardless of who is playing with them. So you get a wonderfully mixed audience of people for whom the whole thing is new."

While at UK, Guthrie also taught his first university course. "There is a lot of interest in the part that music plays in different aspects of the culture, certainly for somebody from the sixties when music was really important, when music was the only vehicle for popular dissent,' he said. "And so it can play an important part in creating the soundtrack for social change. That's one aspect they're looking at.

"Others may be looking at more technical takes on this:  how do you make a record or those kinds of things," he says. "Everything from the simplest mechanical information to the business of doing music within and without the entertainment industry."

In 1983, Arlo left a major record company and started his own label, Rising Son Records, and quickly advised young musicians to go the do-it- yourself route. "I've done both. I've worked 15 years with Warners and then the last 20 years, we've done it on our own. We were really one of the first people to strike out from the stable of the major labels and do it ourselves. 'Course a lot of people are doing it now."

Certainly, a lot of independent bands are doing that and even some bands that were signed are becoming independent mainly because of the nature of control. What people forget is that you may get a big advance, but you've got to pay it back. Guthrie added, "Not only that. They have the best creative accounting in the world. Even for purely financial reasons, it really doesn't make sense to sell yourself to a corporation that is basically owned by a different corporation, as they are both own by another corporation. By the time that you get done looking at the big picture, the music part of the company you're working with is a very small part of a large company that has a lot of different interests. So, their interest in you as a single artist becomes minuscule compared to what they are doing.

"If you do it yourself and you're actually interested in yourself, not only do you have no one looking over your shoulder, but you stand to make a living, which I guarantee that you will not do when you are the minuscule focus of some global network."

Unfortunately, musicians still believe in the magic of a record deal.  "The reality has not flowed to the general public," Guthrie said. "You would have to have worked in it for a little while before you realize that not only will you not be somebody, but you will be poor. There are all kinds of drawbacks of getting caught up in the entertainment industry."

Rising Son Records not only produces Guthrie's music but his children's recordings and some by other artists. "We're beginning to branch out," he said. "For me, this was not an easy thing to do. The only thing we had was the ability to make music. I didn't know anything about the business of it so it took many years to get to the point where we actually knew what we were doing.... But the bottom line is that when we make a record and somebody likes it and purchases it, we do the accounting. We know how it works. We know that we can actually make a living doing this."

Guthrie continues to make his own kind of music. In Times Like These proves that he can still make a significant mark on the music scene. Of special note is Guthrie's arrangement of "St. James Infirmary." With careful addition of horns, Klezmer clarinet, and stride piano, the simple folk classic takes on a significant musical reawakening. The orchestra also breathes life into his tender "If You Would Just Drop By," which was one of my all-time favorites. This version is fresh and will be eye-opening to old folkies like me, as well attract new fans. Though some of Guthrie's songs become pop songs. Others retain their folk roots and the orchestra just supports that effort. "In Times Like These," the title cut, is left as a solo voice and guitar piece.

Even Steve Goodman's song, "City of New Orleans," that Guthrie made famous is enhanced by the orchestra. It is always a crowd favorite. But there are unexpected touches, such as horns and drums that peek out from the strings.

Also, included in the mix are three other songs that Guthrie didn't write.  Glen Anthony's ballad, "You Are the Song," may have been a bit of a stretch for Guthrie vocally, but it works, and will appeal to the symphony/pop crowd. Huddie Ledbetter's "Good Night Irene," unfortunately, is treated as a theatrical musical number. There is no way to make it less so with an orchestra. In contrast, Luigi Creatore's "Can't Help Falling in Love" does work both for the orchestra and for Guthrie.

All in all, In Times Like These is a bold melding of the folk experience and symphony structure. I can understand why Guthrie keeps working with orchestras, encouraging new talent, and drawing new fans. Check it out.

Trading Label for Fan-based Experiment: Ari Hest's Song a Week

Ari Hest- for the Grateful Web

In January, singer/songwriter Ari Hest launched an ambitious project to write and record a song each week of the rest of the year. Fans would then pick their favorite songs and twelve songs would be pressed into a new album. Fifty-two songs in a year would daunt many a songwriter, but for Hest it's an opportunity to showcase new work. "I have a lot of ideas," Hest says. "Music comes to me very quickly. It's the lyrics that take a while longer. I knew that that would really be the hardest part of writing this year. There are still tons of songs I still have to write. I just have to keep life interesting and keep meeting new people for inspiration."

It's not surprising that Hest is attempting this kind of project. He's been writing songs since he was in high school. "I never thought that this would end up being my career," he says.  He was writing and playing in bands for fun.  But after his last band broke up, Hest recalls, "I started to realize that I don't need a band with the music that I was writing, which was highly percussive, acoustic guitar music." He began recording his own records that didn't leave room for any other instrumentation.

Then, in 2004, he was signed by Columbia Records who decided to re-release one of his independent recordings. They remixed it and offered it to the public. That effort set a precedent for Hest. From that moment on, Hest was chasing his older material. For some artists that wouldn't be a problem, but for Hest who was constantly evolving, those label efforts jerked his creative temperament. That first recording had songs on it that were three or four years old. "I thought I was done with them, but then I had to tease myself into thinking that they were new again for the general public who still had not heard them," he recalls. "I was writing stuff in 2004 that didn't see the light of day until the Break In, which was my last CD in 2006.  It just set this cycle up where I had plenty of material all the time. It was kind of a nice problem, but at the same time it was mentally a little challenging, knowing that you are writing better songs now but you have to promote songs that you wrote a while ago. Really for me, the style of my playing changed and my thinking about what I feel is a quality song, even my singing style changed tremendously in the last three years."

Those old songs have been good to Hest. "If you go to iTunes right now and you look at what my most popular downloaded songs are," he says, "you'll find that the majority of them are old. They are songs I wrote six or seven years ago.  It almost doesn't sound like what I do now. I am proud of those songs. I think the writing, especially for my age at the time, is pretty good, but I feel that I've gone in a very different direction, one that I'm happier with now."

So, when Hest parted with Columbia, he decided to find a new way to produce his music.  He decided then to write and record current songs. But this time the songs are immediate. These weren't songs that were written months or years ago, but last week or yesterday.

But Hest realizes that even putting a song a week on a website may not be enough involvement for his fans. "We wanted to make this more interactive. We wanted to involve them as much as we could in the creative end of things," he says. "Basically, they're being my A&R people. They are telling me which songs they like the best and which songs they think that other people will like the best. I'm going to listen to them." Moreover, Hest will hire a producer to bring some cohesiveness to the album.

"Everybody needs more word of mouth networking," Hest adds. "I don't have the money to do a whole lot of publicity without a major label. I need to rely on my fans to tell their friends."

Between meeting interesting people and recording the songs those meetings generate, Hest continues to tour college campuses.

Steel Train @ Bonnaroo

Steel Train will be at "The Other Tent" on Friday June 13th at 12:30pm.