Tag Archives: Acura Stage
January 11, 2013
Gregg Allman’s life is a road well travelled for sure. As much thriver as survivor, his blues have the resume to match (40+ years on the road and hard knocks you wouldn’t wish on anyone). Last year’s T-Bone Burnett produced “Low Country Blues” is a seminal record that embodies the sum of Allman’s musical lives in roadhouse ramble, swampy Muscle Shoals drenched horns and his all the way at the bottom looking up vocals. You can feel the miles and hear the fight breaking out in the back.
Like many of his musical peers, Allman has gone open kimono on his life and times with the autobiography “My Cross to Bear” released last year, continuing a trend of influential musicians (Keith Richards, Neil Young, Pete Townsend, most notably) sharing internal reflections, creative insights and the occasionally rowdy it could only happen to this rock star story. Sure, there are more salacious aspects one would expect in these memoirs (and, yes, Richards “Life” is hard to put down), but more powerfully, there is honesty and a peak behind the curtain from guys with less sand in the hourglass and their eyes on the clock. In Allman’s case (as he told Spinner last year), his was not so much of a book as an ongoing journal over 30 years. Seeing Greg Allman on the talk show circuit openly engaging on his life, his approach to the blues, his marriages, his run-ins with former band mate Dickey Betts, was disarmingly real and surreal at the same time. But what struck me was an almost vampiric need to keep playing as long as he has a pulse. That urgency is not unique to Allman, but it is palpable and poignant.
Just after the release of “Low Country Blues”, Allman played the Blues Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2011, competing against the orchestral strains of Arcade Fire from the neighboring Acura Stage. It was a sweaty, satisfying and enthusiastically received set with three-piece horns that moved between rearranged ABB material and Allman solo tunes including several from “Low Country Blues” (Allman’s JamBase interview before the Fest is good reading).
Allman had some health issues last year, but he has been road ready for a while with a swing through the south including a New Year’s Eve stop at the House of Blues in New Orleans and a date at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium. His Royce Hall performance is part of a California/Nevada stretch that includes San Diego, Vegas, San Francisco, Napa and Tahoe.
Royce Hall is a gracious space (think more jazz and classical, than roadhouse blues) that gave the evening a relaxed feel, and there was a lot of Allman joy in the air as the band strode onstage to B.B. King on the PA. The current band features Scott Sharrard on guitar, Bruce Katz on keys, Jay Collins on horns, Steve Potts on drums, Jerry Jemmott on bass and Floyd Miles on percussion and vocals, and the 2-hour set was a group effort from start to finish. Allman alternated between guitar and his B3 throughout the night and anyone expecting ABB intensity from a Greg Allman show should check their expectations at the door.
The love for the bandleader was apparent after the opener, “I’m No Angel” with a (male) yell of “you sound sweet, Greg!” from the back rows. About a third of the 19 song set was ABB material and the rest from the deeper Greg Allman recorded and touring catalogue, ranging from a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (with an appropriate weary tenderness) to crowd pleasers “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider”. “Statesboro Blues” appeared early in the set and showed some kick to the delight of the ABB diehards. Floyd Miles, who Allman has “played with since he was 14” took the band through the blues flavors of Muddy Waters “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and two from his 1994 release, “Back to Daytona”. Allman’s daughter Layla held her own on a cover of Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying” and Dad dug a little deeper swapping vocals with his daughter. “Wasted Words” was punchy as all get out, with Bruce Katz’s spiky keys, Jay Collins tenor and Scott Sharrard’s fretwork fully jelling. Guest bassist Tal Wilkenfeld stepped in for “Just Before the Bullets Fly” (from Allman’s 1988 release of the same name) and “Midnight Rider”(Wilkenfeld is a phenomenal player who was going toe-to-toe with Jeff Beck at barely 20). “Bullets” was another high point of the night and Wilkenfeld’s presence certainly took it up a notch. “Rider” had Collins layering in flute lines and Katz added just the right touch of Rhodes work to evoke the frozen in time feel of the tune. A slow burn of “Whipping Post” was far from the tempest of the ABB (of any era), but Collins’ sax, the rhythm section of Potts and Lamott, and Sharrard’s wah-wah, brought the set to a satisfying finish.
Allman came back with “Floating Bridge” (the Sleepy John Estes cover that opens “Low Country Blues”) and seemed to find something extra in this song about being pulled under the muddy river. “One Way Out” put the show to bed, another horn-centric arrangement of a classic ABB tune and a chance for Sharrard to flash his slide work. Any player in Sharrard’s spot has to beat down the ghosts of ABB slingers past and present and Sharrard brought the right amount of fire, fuzz and respect to the Allman repertoire throughout the night. After all, the ABB is a guitar oriented bunch and the Greg Allman Band is not. Sharrard rose to the challenge.
Allman has hit some rough road along the way and parts of his life read like lines from much of the Elmore James material he plays. While the evening was more subdued then raucous, Greg Allman appears to be on his game and the affection of his fans (not just ABB fans) has only grown. There’s thriver and survivor in all of us. That’s what makes the blues so relatable. Greg Allman is living proof.
From the Revivalists passionate opening Gentilly set to the final moments of Springsteen’s plaintive reading of Saints, the first weekend of Jazzfest 2012 was an abundance of special moments. Yes, the draws were the Acura headliners. Petty and Bruce delivered deep satisfying sets (from what I was able to catch), and Springsteen’s presence was a rallying cry of celebration and reflection. A reminder of how New Orleans has healed since his epic 2006 post-Katrina Seeger Sessions appearance, and how far there is still to go. Even the Beach Boys brought their game, judging by the smiles and sing alongs from a nice size Acura crowd. But, hey, did you check out Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Congo Square? The four generations of players from 9 to 90+ that filled the Fais Do Do on Saturday for the Savoy Music Center Cajun Jam? How about Bon Iver’s stirring (and unexpected) connection with the Jazzfest crowd? Gary Clark, Jr. absolutely tearing down the Blues Tent opposite the Boss with Texas blues that left teeth marks? Not to mention the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen showing Tom Petty how it’s done in New Orleans. Sure until self-cloning is an app, we all pang for what we missed. Weekend 1 proved, yet again, no matter where you are at the Fest, it’s exactly where you should be.
The days between were not too shabby. Instruments A’ Comin’ on Monday night at Tip’s and New Orleans Musicians for Obama at Generations Hall on Tuesday had my head spinning (in a good way). IAC was loaded this year, as always. The sight/sounds of the best young brass in town marching along a closed Napoleon Ave. is breathtaking, and Shorty, Galactic, HISB and a cast of thousands made for a very satisfying 4:30 AM bedtime. Tuesday night’s “ObamaFest” had some unfortunate ticketing glitches, but once inside Generations Hall, there was a little bit of everything with two stages, multiple bars and a great relaxed vibe. The mostly Meters mini-set with Dr. John was locked in and tight, the highlight of the night by far.
The second weekend of the Fest boasted one of the richest lineups in year. While the Foos and the Eagles were not in the cards for me (my closest encounter was fighting the 65,000 Eagles fans for the exit), the Gentilly Stage and the Blues Tent pulled me like magnets. Thursday can never be a bad day. The crowds are lighter and headliners undemanding. It’s easy to roam, chill and eat. Like a bonus day. Flow Tribe completely entertained, Glen Hansaard sang/played his heart out with a 6-string that makes Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” look new. Honey Island Swamp Band’s “Bayou Americana” keeps getting better. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners were totally in the groove. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread was magical and Florence Welch had me completely under her spell. Only at Jazzfest could Florence + the Machine be counterpointed with the earthy grit of James Cotton’s blowing in the Blues Tent. If that’s a down day at the Fest, give me more.
Friday was a highlight. Grace Potter’s scorching stage presence was topped by the Nocturnals go for broke delivery. Hornsby’s long overdue Fest debut was juicy and this Bruce was loving every minute of it, especially when joined by dem ‘bones. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s metal rooted world nylon string mash up was mesmerizing. Zac Brown showed why he is a festival circuit favorite, and so much more than a solid country rock comer.
Saturday brought a rollicking (and rocking tight) Allen Toussaint set. Anders Osborne, fresh from the release of “Black Eye Galaxy” dug deep and raw, then vulnerable. Dropping the guitar and backed by strings, “Higher Ground” was simply beautiful. John Boutte brought the house down with a triumphant Jazz Tent performance and running between My Morning Jacket, Herbie Hancock and the Warren Haynes Band (with Dr. John) sums up why there is nothing like Jazzfest. The Haynes Band especially shined in the slot originally scheduled for Levon Helm. Levon’s spirit was all over the Fest, whether it was Hornsby covering “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” or Mavis Staples bringing the crowd to tears in the Gospel Tent with “The Weight”.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you tell yourself the tank is more than half full, not running down fast. You believe the flight home is just a scheduling mistake, rather than a cruel joke. Then Galactic overpowers the Acura crowd. Glen David Andrews brings out that red horn and everyone rises a few inches off the ground. You go to church with the entire Boutte clan. David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco seize the Jazz Tent crowd before the final coming together to honor 50 years of Preservation Hall, with guests that celebrate all that is New Orleans music. Go shake it with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings before the reality sets in that there are only 355 more sleeps to Jazzfest 2013. Now that’s a life. Thank you Quint and every human who make Jazzfest possible.
Jazzfest 2011 is in the books. Weekend 2 brought the it could only happen here bag of familiar closers (Jimmy Buffet, the Nevilles, et al), epic sonics (Arcade Fire, Wilco), roots, (not so) alt-country and blues (Lucinda Williams, Greg Allman, Willie Nelson), mind-bending bills (Trombone Shorty>The Strokes), sentimental moments (Rads farewell, Christian Scott proposing in the middle of his set), jazz giants (Sonny Rollins) and local and regional artists who have been, and always will be, the heartbeat of the Fest. The lack of a jam band closer seemed to go unnoticed, supplanted by an edgier, “indie” orientation – an eclectic mix even by Fest standards. “Only at Jazzfest could….” 50/60-somethings leave their front row seat for Robert Randolph and the Family Band to catch Kid Rock.
The weather cooperated to the point of being freaky. Not a drop of rain all seven days, temps warm to warmer, but not scorching. As always, the food will take a year to work off and worth it.
Whether at the Fairgrounds or night shows, I couldn’t split myself in half. Simply too much good stuff to go around.
Most of my time shooting circled the Jazz and Blues Tents, and unexpectedly (or not), the moments I took away most from this second weekend, both personally and as a photographer, were provided by the New Orleans musicians and artists I’ve covered/attended many times over. Sure, Henry Butler, Sonny Landreth and Robert Randolph tore up the Blues Tent on Sunday, and Aaron Neville’s Amazing Grace brought church to the Acura crowd as the sun went down. But the stage debut of Nine Lives during the week, and songs transformed by the Rolling Road Show at the Fest were something so big, you had to step back, smile and cry a little. There seems to be new meaning and new power in New Orleans. Rebuild, renew, that’s what people do, indeed.
Shooting the Fest is akin to an endless buffet, musical whiplash and constant discovery. Instead of full sets, joy is more concentrated, fleeting. Depending on the stage and act, three and done translates to here/now/next move. The fan inside is stifled and exhilarated. Mental focus is at a premium, especially when now doesn’t want to go. My coverage has been exhaustive some days, less intense on others, leaving the observer behind to just soak up the experience. Nature stepped up with beautiful weather, the rest was on me.
Friday opened strong, and this photographer had to bond with the mastery of Jeff Beck, but close with a smokin’ set by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. The reborn roots of Robert Plant, paired with Patty Griffin and the amazing string work of Buddy Miller were also especially captivating.
Whether shooting or not, where else could anyone experience the Kentucky bluegrass of Ricky Skaggs, move on to Robert Cray’s deep and soulful well and then witness an absolutely stunning performance by Ahmad Jamal, as I spent Saturday afternoon. Bluegrass, blues and straight ahead/to your head jazz – and that’s just a taste of a day, one of seven. Sunday could not have been a more diverse experience. From the “indie-folk-rock-grass” flavored and cheeky humor of Portland’s The Decemberists, Glen David Andrews joined by Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Paul Sanchez and brother Troy ruling the Blues Tent, the consistently transcendent Terence Blanchard, the Bhangra Funk of Red Baraat, and yes, even John Mellencamp closing out Acura with Pink Houses and Crumblin’ Down.
Sure, some folks complained about sound and noise bleed from Congo Square or into the Jazz Tent. It’s all part of the gumbo that’s the Fest. Pretty tasty if you ask me.