Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 5 Reviews
Saturday, October 1
By Jon Pruett and Nate Cavalieri
The Porch Stage, situated with a bit of a slant - okay, let's not
say bit, let's say about 45 degrees uphill, wasn't exactly the prime
set-up for watching music. That said, it did have prime real estate,
as most anyone who entered into the festival through the park's
main entrance passed by the small stage on the way in. For Saturday
morning's first show of the day, Anna Egge braved fog, gravity and
the constant presence of the equestrian police squad in order to
kick things off to an earnest start. Armed with her trusty acoustic,
she sang a mixture of emotive singer-songwriter fare balanced out
with some folkier, Roger Miller-type tunes. Although the crowd
couldn't have been more than just a few dozen strong, they all
seemed to know the words. Egge kept them wrapped up in her entrancing
songs. She closed her set with a nearly a capella cover of
Toshio Hirano unassumingly stepped to the stage as the afternoon
slowly began to take shape, the crowds had swollen to massive amounts
in parts of the park, but remained fairly thin at the Porch Stage.
His soft-spoken manner and thick Japanese accent caused more than
a few onlookers to cock their head in wonder. But once the chords
began to ring out and Horino began to sing, something began to
happen within the crowd. Mild curiosity turned smiles as Horino
began to perform pitch-perfect cowboy tunes as if the ghost of
Jimmie Rodgers himself was right there on stage. Horino ran through
tracks like "T For Texas", "Way Out West" and Ernest Tubb's "Thanks
a Lot." His uncanny ease with the material began to take a hold of
the crowd and once he dropped right into a yodel worthy of resonating
through the loneliest canyons of the west, people went completely
nuts. Within minutes, it seemed that the crowd had grown tenfold,
as people watched Toshio Hirano work his cowboy magic.
After the rush of Horino's performance, Deborah Pardes stepped to
the stage with a palpable enthusiasm and a trimmed down band to
follow her lead. Percussionist Pam Delgado also helped out on the
higher harmonies and the two led the crowd through some pleasant
folk-driven pop songs. The more emotional weighted tracks were
notable thanks to Parde's lyricism, easily making phrases like
"Sysyphus in high-heels" seem like more than just undergraduate
As Michael Fracasso set up on stage, the crowd was slowly coming
to the realization that they were likely to go an entire day without
sunshine. Not that the natives were getting restless, but it was
evident that people needed some stirring up. Fracasso's sweet,
slightly nasal tunes - topical, yet sweetly romantic at first
resembled some of Roger McGuinn's more barebones efforts. The energy
stepped up as Patti Griffin came up onstage for a reworking of
"Dirty Old Town" that brought the audience (which now included
newcomer gypsy folkie Devendra Banhart) into new realms. From there
on out, Fracasso had the crowd completely engaged. When he leant
his skills to the Gershwin standard, "Summertime," he turned the
track into something more desolate, adding cello to emphasize that
track's inherent drama and wistfulness.
Many latecomers to the festival made their way up JFK Drive through
the gothic fog to be greeted by a somber set from sandy-haired Tim
Bluhm, who was scheduled to perform with usual sidekick and former
Mother Hip Greg Loiacono. Due to a scheduling mix up Bluhm took the
stage without Loiacono's expressive leads and banjo playing, and
starting with an apology for his partners' absence, he hunched over
his classical guitar and took to a yet-unreleased tune with the
working title of "Isn't it Hard."
Combined with the atmosphere, Bluhm's somber presence made for an
appropriately plaintive and quiet start to the afternoon. As the
stalwart Mother Hips fans sat in rapt silence, there slowly amassed
a group of passer-bys who seemed taken by the intimate stage.
The setting was perfect to check out Bluhm's lyrical tooling, with
"I Will Fear No Evil" and "If Love Has No Pride" leading up to the
shanty "Eucalyptus Wood," which found him incanting the lyric "Any
boy or girl knows, you build your ship with eucalyptus wood, you're
gonna drown" under the sway of branches above. Though he played a
handful of selections from his debut solo record, California Way,
he sent the crowd away with Avila Beach's "Unless" and his own
throaty, soulful closer "The Way the Story Goes."
Shawn Camp's set enlivened those who stayed with mostly up-tempo
numbers that fit more comfortably into traditional bluegrass channels.
The recent addition to John Prine's Oh Boy label and young Nashville
songwriting sensation jumped out of the gate, leading his five-piece
band (two-guitar, mandolin, upright bass, banjo) through a ramped-up
version of "Travelin' Teardop Blues" which leads-off his latest
record, Live at the Station Inn. In that tune Camp speaks of "drifting
over California...like the clouds above" and the throughout the set
his band followed briskly behind every lead with racing picking
and sweet harmonies.
After a couple tunes Camp confessed that the audience had "caught
him with a cold" that he just couldn't shake, but little evidence
was in his rich treatment of "Sis' Draper," a humorous tune that
from Camp announced from stage had been "written with a dear friend
of mine," the inimitable Guy Clark.
For Charlie Koltak, an onlooker who came to the festival all the
way from Detroit, Michigan, Camp's set was the first highlight of
a festival he'd flown hundreds of miles to check out.
"I'd really only known his name because of that corn ball tune he
wrote for Garth Brooks," Koltak said, referring to the #1 "Two Pina
Coladas," that he co-wrote for the pop country icon. "But, I take
anything John Prine signs to Oh Boy for gospel, and I love his own
tunes and band so much better. If this weekend started this good,
I can hardly imagine how it can get better," Koltak said.
While Koltak headed off to check out Gillian Welch, HUD featuring
Javier Matos took the stage as the fog started to clear. This, the
last set of Saturday on the small Porch Stage, had many other sets
vying for attentive ears, but it didn't seem to phase Matos, who
blasted through a series Delta-touched blues numbers with aplomb.
Those who stuck around for the set caught Matos' impressive guitar
work and tasteful blues riffing, which captivated the onlookers and
departing festival goers alike.
[ More Reviews ]