Monday, March 24, 2008

The Crystal Method

Photo Credit: M-Pulse

The Crystal Method

Despite its suggestive name, this electronic duo adds a level of maturity to the dance music scene, by giving their songs depth and not singing nonstop about all-night drug trips. Following a similar path as Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, this duo displays their keen knowledge of music by exploring other styles, which produces songs that are much more than a blaring beat. There's something to be said for DJs that can provide their audience with a feeling of happiness, calmness, and anger, all within the course of a single set. In addition, The Crystal Method's music has been used in more movies than almost any other electronica artist.

Personnel: Ken Jordan, Scott Kirkland (samples, keyboards, guitar, bass)

Upcoming: Ultra Music Festival/Winter Music Conference March 28-29

Music Video for "Name of the Game"

Video byanilcp.

Ultra Music Festival

Ultra Music Festival

UMF10 is best known as the official closing party of the annual World Music Conference in Florida. This year marks the tenth anniversary of this world-renowned electronica festival, and it's supposedly going to be the most elaborate event to date. With 14 stages and over 100 DJs, bands, and producers, this statement is sure to ring true. Due to escalating ticket sales, the venue changed a couple of years ago to Miami's Bicentennial Park, a venue which couldn't be better for festival-goers who enjoy tons of fresh air and a nonstop beat.

Headliners: Tiesto, Underworld, Justice, Paul Van Dyk, Erick Morillo, The Bravery

Ultra Music Festival 2006 Promo

Video byanttler.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Joshua Tree gets ready

Southern California's other desert festival, three weeks after Coachella, is Joshua Tree Music Festival, which holds its sixth annual festival May 16-18 at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground in Joshua Tree CA. The festival added three more acts to its lineup, which includes Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, Ghostland Observatory, JJ Grey and MOFRO, Zilla and lot more.

Early bird ticketing expires midnight March 22. Visit the festival web site for full information. The same producer hosts the Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival in October.

Here's a video that gives you a flavor of the May festival.

Fifth shoe drops: Mile High Music Festival is announced

The fifth major new rock festival for 2008 was announced by AEG Live's Rocky Mountain division. The Mile High Music Festival will take place July 19-20 at the outer fields of Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City CO. Headliners are Dave Matthews Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, John Mayer and The Black Crowes.

The festival is co-produced by AEG Live, Starr Hill Presents (the production company of Dave Matthews manager Coran Capshaw) and Kroenke Sports Enterprises (which owns the venue, a professional soccer stadium). The festival's presenting sponsor is SanDisk, maker of flash memory for mobile consumer devices.

After failing to get approval for a proposed festival in Denver's City Park, AEG Live went with its Plan B and moved the planned event to the facility in Denver suburb Commerce City.

Tickets ($150 for two days, $85 for one) go on sale March 29. Visit the festival web site for full details.

In addition to Mile High, other major new rock events for 2008 are All Points West (Jersey City NJ), Rothbury Festival (Rothbury MI), Outside Lands (San Francisco CA) and Pemberton Festival (Pemberton BC). See our Special Report: Year of the Launch for analysis.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Coachella- A Bit More On The Alleged "Let-down"; MSG Boards Decently Full of Apologists

With the announcement of Aphex Twin, Goldfrapp, Serj Tankian and other artists to the Coachella bill, the festival seems to be in a position to gain back some of its "prestige" lost due to the first (main) lineup announcement. And, as a matter of fact, my previous estimation (see the "Rock Lineup Rundown" article in the March newsletter) might have been a bit too forward and, god forbid, a bit ignorant-sounding and harsh. Certainly, with the lineup size for 2008, it's impossible to predict how spectacular, annoying, decent or horrible Coachella might be-- it could end up featuring magnificent sets by all and turn out to be the best one yet.

The main point was and is that Jack Johnson, Portishead, and Roger Waters as the headliner trifecta and sequences like Dwight Yoakam after M.I.A., Fatboy Slim after Kim Deal of the Pixies' The Breeders and Kraftwerk after Death Cab For Cutie don't feel as cohesive as did Radiohead after Deal's Pixies (in 2004), Rage Against the Machine after Manu Chao (last year), Depeche Mode after Franz Ferdinand (in 2006) or the Arctic Monkeys after Jarvis Cocker of Pulp (last year)-- an Anglophile's wet dream. It should be said that the stage settings for all performances are "TBD" as of this writing, and I'm just assuming the worst in terms of timing and location (i.e. everybody ends up in a horrible never-ending clog on the main stage). So if everything runs as smoothly as possible and you aren't forced to sit through a bunch of sets you don't want to hear, please don't take what you've read here out of its cynical context.
Anyway, though it's always a good idea to open people up to new sounds, and there are some good potential two-hour-odd sequences to be found, such as Hot Chip before M.I.A. and space rockers Spiritualized coming on before My Morning Jacket, in my view-- which really might simply be a tad more "empirically" informed than everyone else's-- the higher echelon performers aren't likely to throw a one-two (let alone three-, four- and five) punch to beat what's been experienced by festivalgoers during late April evenings past. It's a continuous flood of good sets-- good sets in the minds of a static audience-- that really distinguishes a good festival from a good show, and that doesn't look quite as likely in 2008 as before.

Something else that might be disenchanting is that there's no Madonna being put in the dance tent this year-- i.e., the performers already mentioned are about as blockbuster as it's going to get this year. Sure, the amount of #1, million-album sellers you can tack onto a lineup doesn't translate to a great event, but it does tell you what may be in store-- what kind of traction organizers have or what investments (time, money, sanity) they're willing to make in setting things up. Indeed, Jack Johnson definitely represents at least one step toward solving the type of conflict I've suggested, but I think it's safe to say that he'll probably go down as being a bit like Melanie at Woodstock-- take from that comparison what you will. Meanwhile, Dark Side of the Moon might qualify as a blockbuster album, but performed in its entirety, it seems like a bit of a novelty, 35 years since its release; Roger Waters should at least go through some more of the Pink Floyd catalog (whatever happened to "Welcome To The Machine"?).

The amount of artists on the lineup receiving major critical or popular attention is nothing like last year, when the likes of Lily Allen, Against Me!, Lupe Fiasco and Nickel Creek were posted nearer to the half-way point than the top of the lineup each day, besides the fact of the Chili Peppers, Tool, Interpol, the Arcade Fire, Rage Against the Machine and Willie Nelson being at the top. 2008 might just be a harder year than usual for Goldenvoice, but with All Points West in the picture, it's hard to keep a little frustration from simmering. Nevertheless, in defending my objectivity in focusing on big names, I defy anyone who's reading this to come up with at least 10 performers from this year's lineup whom they have on simultaneous daily (or weekly, if you're "casual") rotation on their iPod.

As far as the overall thematic arc of the proceedings and programming, not much has changed-- mainly alternative [meaning punk (Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, Turbonegro), shoegaze (The Verve, Autolux), post-rock (Battles), and the "indie" umbrella (Annuals, Minus the Bear, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Rilo Kiley), etc.] followed by heavy doses of electronica (Pendulum, Modeselektor, Junkie XL) and dashes of folk (Kate Nash, Teagan and Sara, Brett Dennen), psychedelic (My Morning Jacket, Akron/Family and Mr. Waters, of course) and hip-hop (Spank Rock, The Cool Kids). The fans are to flock, amongst the same sort of odd installation art and sculptures, to and from a sea of tents of various sizes spread out across a flat grassy expanse that doubles as a polo field.

On the part of accomodations and amenities, things couldn't be better. There's a deluxe "Tent Hotel" that features actual bedrooms (w/AC), a comp'd breakfast buffet and deluxe showers and restrooms for those willing to shell out, starting at $700 per person for 2; you can even pay extra for a massage therapist. For the stingy masses, the return of a water bottle recycling program (turn in 10 empty bottles and get a full one free), more registration areas, more showers and toilets and a camping supply store to ensure more efficiency and well-being outside the concert area than ever before. Finally, lest we forget, the plot of living space for three days for the thousands who take the "regular" camping option has been upgraded to 8 ft. x 8 ft.

It's not as if the festival doesn't have big numbers-- there are, with the new announcement, over 120 artists set to play. And if you're one of those fans who belongs to the festival website's own "micrommunity," you've no doubt found ways to get excited. You've probably started threads on the addition of a single band; at least that's the kind of behavior I've been seeing on the message boards. There are several threads (with three running over three pages) devoted to the addition of Aphex Twin, an "official" MGMT thread (boasting 272 posts at last check), and multiple threads each devoted to the headliners as well as Kraftwerk, Serj Tankian, Stephen Malkmus, Vampire Weekend (who really should play higher in the lineup due to their recent exposure), Justice, and the Streets.

All this suggests that supply and demand are much better matched than what one would first deduce. While some of the people who start these threads joined the online community in January and February of '08, and thus come off as obsessives responding to the news of their band's addition on a fan club site, others who have been around since Jan. '07 seem to support the lineup, gushing over the additions of Aphex Twin, Erol Alkan, My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, Kate Nash, etc.-- I really could go on forever listing cases of the support of (relative) festival veterans in regards to the 2008 program.

In fact, the extent to which this is true is kind of amazing. By far the most convincing piece of evidence that the festival won't lose its market share is the very first post in the archives of the "Line Up/Artist" section of the boards, dated Nov. 25 2006: "I hope Portishead is in the lineup this year." The opinion was seconded on a weekly basis 'til the end of the thread in late January. Last year. So perhaps I was fairly wrong in my first assessment.

On the other hand, some of the board trolls also share similar opinions to the ones I've elaborated upon earlier-- "The official I want Roger Waters to do 'Wish You Were Here' thread" and "Probably the most disappointing lineup possible!" are the two specific titles that caught my eye.

So, I suppose we're right back where we started-- we won't know whether my first guess was gloriously wrong or horrendously right until everyone clears out on the early morn' of the 28th.

-- Ross Moody

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

2008 rock lineup rundown

By Ross Moody

Lollapalooza is still holding out, as are some of the late season events like Austin City Limits and Vegoose, but by now most of the big-time rock events have named their 2008 rosters. That includes two of the three big new festivals, All Points West and Rothbury, while Outside Lands has named its headliners but not a full lineup.

So this gives us a chance to take a run through most of the big festivals, looking at lineup highlights and getting a hit on which are likely to be the hottest tickets of the season. Well, which will be the hottest in addition to Bonnaroo, which just keeps getting better and sets the standard for all the rest.

But we'll get to that. Let's tackle this chronologically, starting with the just concluded Langerado, which is sort of the season opener. While Langerado started five years ago as a decently sized jam-centric event more along the lines of snoeDown or 10,000 Lakes, it now pulls artists like the Beastie Boys, 311 and of Montreal and features more than 60 performers (about 20 more than last year). This year, Langerado relocated from Miami to an Indian reservation in the Everglades, and while the initial run was not without some problems, the new site gives the festival a base for continuing its climb toward the top ranks of festivals.

Later in March comes the Ultra Music Festival, which definitely hasn’t lost its step, though last year’s visitation by The Cure decidedly proved not to be a harbinger of future lineups. The Bravery are the only sure stylistic outlier in 2008, though this will probably be lost on the roughly 70,000 people who are expected to come to see Tiesto, The Crystal Method, Underworld, Paul Van Dyk, Junkie XL and more than 80 other performers that make this a veritable American one-stop for dance and electronica.

Next isCoachella in late April, which sadly does not measure up to last year. First of all, there’s no big reunion along the lines of Jane’s Addiction (in 2001) or Rage Against the Machine (last year). My Bloody Valentine will not reunite at Coachella this year, as had been rumored. Second, it’s safe to say the average Coachella fan has probably heard Dark Side of the Moon enough to last five lifetimes, so Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters might be hurting things more than helping them by performing the album in entirety. Nor do the other two headliners, Portishead and Jack Johnson, deliver a got-to-be-there urgency. Perhaps Coachella’s relative weakness can be partly explained by the organizer Goldenvoice's focus on its new project, All Points West (see the dish on that below), but it still has to rank as the disappointment of the year, compared to many others on this list.

In May we have the 7th edition of Sasquatch, Washington state rock fest now owned by Live Nation that has done pretty well for itself. Located at The Gorge, which has been voted by Pollstar Magazine as the best outdoor music venue nine times over, the festival’s lineup increases by more than 15 artists. They also managed to get M.I.A., who pulled out at the last minute in 2007, so that shows some reverence-- either on the singer’s part or that of producers-- which bodes well for the future. With headlinders R.E.M., The Cure, and The Flaming Lips, I'll give it an A- as things stand now.

In June comes Bonnaroo-- “finally” because it really is the festival to look forward to this year. Four days of camping in the middle of Tennessee might sound a bit dull and/or exhausting, but this is the necessary span of time needed to guarantee that you’ll get sick of being entertained by the end. First, there’s the 71-artist musical lineup, which is insanely strong. There’s no one selection this year as adventurous as Ornette Coleman, but Sigur Rós and Lupe Fiasco, Metallica and Jack Johnson and other quite eclectic pairs can be found in this year’s lineup, and we’re concerned with the best rock festivals right now, anyway.

That said, what makes Bonnaroo the champ this year is how it manages to put so many big rockers (Metallica, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few) with the so many big names of another ilk (B.B. King, Bela Fleck, Kanye West, Solomon Burke). The point: it’s more likely at Bonnaroo than any place else this year that you won’t just be overjoyed by seeing your favorite bands, but you’ll probably have five or 10 new favorites that you’d have never thought to check out before as well.

In addition, there’s a comedy component that seems to grow every day, and it’s full of people you actually know-- Chris Rock, Lewis Black, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo-- rather than just a collection of random faces whose maximum exposure amounts to a Comedy Central special. Thus, while we won’t really know which is the best until summer’s over, Bonnaroo looks the best on paper.

Perhaps the most interesting and risky new festival isRothbury. Set for early July, the festival frankly deserves more attention this year than either of the other two big new ones, All Points West and Outside Lands, partly for the fact that actually seems sincere about sustainability. The festival includes its own think tank for environmental change, in addition to a system that will offset its carbon footprint and install solar panels for local schools. The program is anchored by a panel of four environmental scientists. The surprisingly robust musical lineup (more than 60 acts, including artists like Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Snoop Dog) is more than respectable, so all in all, it looks like Rothbury could be the pick of the new festivals this year.

August brings a succession of big events in major cities-- Lollapalooza, All Points West, Virgin Baltimore and Outside Lands. As noted, Lolla and Virgin are so far mum on their lineups. For the two new eventsm, the jury is still out. Granted, both of them can boast two of the world’s most popular bands-- Radiohead and Jack Johnson (and Tom Petty as well for Outside Lands)-- as headliners, but the rest of the lineup for APW is fairly unremarkable. (OL has yet to announce beyond its three headliners.) It leaves me to wonder if Goldenvoice would have done better adding some its to top APW names to the underpowered headliner list at Coachella, and ended up with one powerhouse festival instead of two with question marks.

So, there you have it so far. It may be too early to reach definitive conclusions, but the look of the year going in is that Bonnaroo has the mojo, Coachella is dim by comparison, and the pick of the new fests might well be darkhorse Rothbury in Michigan.

Part 4: Festival Economics

By Dan Ruby

So as we head towards high festival season, we can already mark down 2008 as a year of frenetic festival launches. Whether it also pans out as a year of boffo festival attendance remains to be seen.

The launch activity certainly suggests that major producers think the market remains ripe for development. And there are reasons that the festival business might continue to do well this year despite an economic downturn.

Even with rising ticket and travel costs, festival attendance remains an affordable luxury when bigger ticket items are being trimmed. The fundamental draw of festivals--participating in a live community event--will continue to attract festival patrons seeking opportunities to have a memorable live experience.

My best guess is that total festival attendance will match the industry performance in recent years, but that there won't be the big growth spurt that the production companies seem to be expecting.

Most attendees will substitute attendance at one festival to take a chance on one of the new ones, although some will gladly add one or more new ones to their schedule.

We're still waiting for news about Mile High and possibly others for 2008. The bigger question is how the industry will fair this year and how that could affect each of the new events in 2009 and beyond.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Part 3: Land Rush

By Dan Ruby

So consolidation and corporatization is one big explanation for the outbreak of new festival activity. Another is the land rush to lock up key markets and geographies, especially in urban festivals held in big city parks.

This one is slightly counter-intuitive, since the trend in festivals since Woodstock is to put big musical events in rural locations that are within reach of big cities but not right in them. That makes sense because it has been easier for promoters to clear local ordinances when dealing with smaller localities. Also rural festivals can provide camping for attendees while city festivals typically do not.

While big city festivals as civic enterprises are not new--see Bumbershoot, Summerfest and others--big urban rock festivals as for-profit enterprise is a novel phenomenon. Lollapalooza proved that festival model when it transformed its dwindling success as a festival tour into a top-five powerhouse when it sunk stationary roots in Chicago's Grant Park.

The success of Austin City Limits Festival in the Texas captial's Zilker Park, also staged by Lolla producer C3 Presents out of Austin, gave further proof that urban rock fests can be big winners.

So this year we see new festivals in Liberty State Park, a stone's throw from Manhattan, and in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The Mile High festival was originally slated for Denver's downtown City Park, but was derailed by community opposition and may now take place in a Denver suburb. As noted, Vineland began as a proposal by C3 Presents for a Lollapalooza type event in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park.

With most of these events, promoters will not be providing any camping facilities, so attendees who would be traveling to the festival need to find other accommodations, greatly increasing the cost of the experience. Already we see some grumbling among fans about the cost of attending All Points West, and the same situation will apply in San Francisco for Outside Lands.

In an increasingly competitive environment and weakening economy, I expect the All Points West and Outside Lands will draw well among area residents but may fail to meet expectations for out of town draw.

In a counter trend, New York-based Festival Network, long-time producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals, is rolling out two or more new festivals this year–all situated in resort destinations. Though full details remain unannounced, the company's event calendar lists Whistler Music & Arts Festival for July 19-20 and Jackson Hole Music & Arts Festival without a date attached. It will also hold a second edition of its 2007 debut of a festival on Martha's Vineyard.

Destination festivals are nothing new in the market. Places like Newport and Telluride are legend in the festival business. Accommodations are obviously pricey in these locations, too, though camping can be an option in some cases.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Part 2: Clash of Titans

By Dan Ruby

Every year brings new launches in the festival business, an economic sector known for attracting more than its share of dreamers. But the level of activity this year is unprecedented, with major bets being laid by hard-nosed business players.

Still, considering the slowing U.S. economy, you have to wonder what's really going on here. Is there truly a market for all these new festivals? How can we explain the frenzy in festival launches?

The most obvious factor is the rapid consolidation of the festival market. What was once a fragmented industry, with individual for-profit and non-profit companies owning one or a small number of festival events, is rapidly evolving into a competitive alignment of top-tier festivals controlled by a few producer alliances.

While the festival business was once sheltered from the overall music industry, the growing importance of touring has raised the profile of festivals. For bookers and promoters, festival venues represent a fast-growing slice of the live music market, a recognition of the relative economy of festival versus concert attendance.

I say relative because the cost to the festival attendee is also soaring. At Coachella, fans pay $90 a day or $265 for the weekend for a general admission ticket. VIP tickets come in around $600 for most big-time events.

The two big kahunas in the concert industry, Live Nation and AEG Live, are now slugging it out to own key properties in the festival market. So far, AEG has been getting the better of it.

The company's home-grown festival production unit, Goldenvoice Productions, is responsible for Coachella, Stagecoach, a country music festival launched last year, and the new All Points West.

AEG Live is also partnered with producer Madison House Presents on the other big launch of 2008, Rothbury Music Festival. And it will have another big one if the resituated Mile High Festival comes off as expected.

AEG Live is also partnered with producer Madison House Presents on the other big launch of 2008, Rothbury Music Festival. And it will have another big one if the resituated Mile High Festival comes off as expected.

Live Nation's big play for 2008, Vineland, itself a substitute for an earlier planned Philadelphia festival, failed to come off as planned. It would have been the first U.S. festival for British promoter Melvin Benn, whose Festival Republic company is now majority owned by Live Nation. We'll see how it plays out in 2009.

Live Nation also has a new play in the touring festival market, partnering with the creators of Van's Warped Tour to create The Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, which will play in 30 Live Nation amphitheaters across North America this summer.

Among festivals, Live Nation got Sasquatch when it bought House of Blues. There are published reports that the company is seeking to produce an all-new event in Pemberton BC for the western Canada market.

So even though Vineland misfired this year, don't discount Live Nation's designs on the marketplace. Gaining three or four major festival footholds is key to the company's vertical integration strategy, in which it controls booking rights for both venues and artists--something like the old Hollywood studio model where a few single companies owned both product and distribution.

In most cases, one company cannot own it all, so they commonly seek out partnerships with other production companies that bring local connections or genre expertise. Thus we see players such as jam market biggie Madison House Presents teaming with AEG for Rothbury, or San Francisco powerhouse Another Planet Entertainment aligning with Bonnaroo's Superfly for Outer Lands. (Another Planet is the three-year-old startup from key executives of the old Bill Graham Presents formed after Clear Channel--now Live Nation--bought that venerable production company.)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Part 1: Year of the Launch

By Dan Ruby

Now that the dust has settled in New Jersey with one new mega rock festival set for August and another one postposed till 2009, this is a good time to review the state of play and try to make sense of the spate of major festival launches in 2008.

So far, the big new events for 2008 are All Points West, a Coachella-style event for the New York market, Rothbury Festival, a Bonnaroo wannabe in western Michigan, both produced by divisions of entertainment conglomerate AEG Live, and Outside Lands, a Bonnaroo offshoot in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

The big event in southern New Jersey, Vineland, was announced with great fanfare in November by AEG competitor Live Nation but later postponed. More shoes may drop in the weeks ahead with a Mile HIgh Music & Arts Festival widely expected for July in the Denver area (AEG again) and another probably less likely one near Vancouver in Pemberton BC (Live Nation).

Meanwhile, another festival powerhouse, Festival Network, producer of the Newport festivals and others, plans to roll out a series of new festivals in resort locations, including Whister BC and Jackson Hole WY.

All this activity comes in a market with established players like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Virgin and many more. The next tier of festivals contains a dozen or more successful festival brands: Langerado, Wakarusa, High Sierra, Sasquatch, 10,000 Lakes, All Good, Voodoo....the list goes on and on. Many of those are also looking for opportunities to expand, as with High Sierra's brand-new DelFest coming to Maryland in May.

And that is not to mention the more eclectic city festivals that draw huge audiences for top name talent: New Orleans Jazzfest, Bumbershoot in Seattle, Summerfest in Milwaukee and many more.
Read more

Article updates

March 19: AEG Live Rocky Mountain Division announced the first annual Mile High Music Festival, July 19-20 at the outer fields at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Headliners are Dave Matthews Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, John Mayer and The Black Crowes with many others also named.

March 13: Based on Billboard's reporting, it appears that Pemberton Music and Arts Fetival is now a sure thing for July 26-29 in Pemberton BC, a co-oprduction of Live Nation Canada and Good Boy Productions, the latter a partnership of Coldplay's and Depeche Mode's business managers. Attached artists include Coldplay, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Jay-Z, My Morning Jacket, The Tragicaly Hiip, Flaming LIps, Death Cab for Cutie and lots more.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Coachella Adds Artists and Other Attractions

Electropop group Goldfrapp and acid techno kingpin Aphex Twin have been added to the lineup of the 9th edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, along with Kate Nash, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Redd Kross, Adele, and DJ Mehdi, who will appear during previously-announced Uffie's set. Beyond this, organizers Goldenvoice are offering a new "Safari Tent" accomodation, which amounts to a fully furnished and air conditioned bedroom, along with a comp'd breakfast buffet, deluxe "facilities" and convenient parking. Read more about it here.

Langerado: The Day of the Songwriter

I woke up to a chilly Florida morning, got out of my tent, yawned, stretched and thought TODAY IS THE DAY WARREN HAYNES AND GRACE POTTER HIT THE STAGE. Yep, just like that. Thought bubbles, caps letters and all.

But first, Josh Ritter.

Ritter and his band were my favorite surprise of the weekend. I was buying earrings from a vendor who happened to be directly across from the Swamp Stage. Hey, I'm a chick, give me a break.

ANYWAY I was drawn to the stage when I heard Ritter sing:

"I'll have you back by the break of day
I'm going your way anyway"

I couldn't move. This is what music festivals are all about- discovering those artists you have heard about peripherally through friends but never thought to seek out. I actually had goosebumps in the hot afternoon sunshine when he sang "The Temptation of Adam." He and his band were obviously thrilled to be on the stage. Dressed in natty suits and creased pants, this was one of those bands that will obviously be big in the upcoming year.

Speaking of which, it's time to talk about Grace Potter. The lovely, the incredible, the hotness that is the lead singer of the Nocturnals.

Miss Potter is a rock star- she's got the style, the charisma and that voice. I've been a fan of her and the band since happening upon them at All Good last year and caught them when they came around with Gov't Mule last September. The Nocturnals road dog work ethic is palpable- the band has always been up-tempo, cohesive; but this time around was something more. They were a team. Potter is the frontwoman but was always slightly behind the rest of her bandmates musically. This time, you could tell her talent had grown in spades. It was also incredibley cool to hear other people in the audience know the words to "Nothing But The Water."

(Sidenote: I met Grace while we were backstage the day before her performance. She was rocking her red cowgirl boots, chugging warm wine straight from the bottle and giggling about her "day to play." That's a whole lot of cool in one chick.)

Totally buzzed off the Nocturnals and positively roasting in the sun, it was time for the Gov't Mule set. In my world, the Holy Trinity is composed of Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Mr. Warren Haynes. Whether with The Allman Bros., GM or solo, the man is magnanimous (say that five times fast). Gov't Mule shows are always packed with irregular and surprising covers. This time around, we had a little James Brown, a little Pearl Jam and a smattering of Traffic thrown in (with a "Hey Jude" teaser). Here's the set-list:

1. John the Revelator
2. Thorazine Shuffle
3. Time To Confess
4. Rocking Horse
5. Soulshine
6. Hunger Strike (Pearl Jam)
7. Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)
8. Hunger Strike reprise
9. I'm A Ram
10. Brighter Days
11. Brand New Angel
12. It's A Man's World (James Brown)
13. Blind Man in the Dark

First of all, I have seen Haynes do "Soulshine" in outdoor venues five times. Three out of those times, the man has made it rain. This was almost the fourth. He sang "It's damn sure better than rain," and I swear on my galoshes, black clouds formed over our heads. Haynes also continued the undercurrent of political strife amongst the artists and included the line "And God created George W. Bush,/ but man told him what to say./ Maybe one day a black man or a brown man or a woman will come along/ and save the day," during his cover of "This Is A Man's World" (this wasn't the first time he has used that line, by the way. It's been pretty regular in his performances for a couple of years.)

And then, Phil Lesh and Friends. He and his band played two sets to close out the weeekend. the first went something like:

1. Sugar Magnolia
2. The Wheel Tease
3. Uncle John's Band
4. The Wheel
5. Jam
6. Cumberland Blues
7. Gone Wanderin'
8. Help On The Way
9. Slipknot
10. Franklin's Tower

set 2:

1.China Cat Sunflower
2. I Know You Rider
3. New Speedway Boogie
4. A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall (that's six Dylan covers from various artists over the course of the weekend, for those who are counting)
5. Unbroken Chain
6. Telstar
7. The Golden Road
8. Viola Lee Blues
9. Casey Jones

That's it folks. Don't call, don't write, don't text. I'll be sleeping for the next week.

Langerado: Saturday Night

So around 630 on Saturday, things start to get blurry. No, not that way. There was just so much to hear and see and discover- it was overstimulation of the awesome kind.

On my way to the Everglades stage, I could hear RAQ absolutely tearing things up over on Greenarado. I didn't have time to stop and watch because Thievery Corporation were just about to start things up- but I did hear a scathing version of Van Halen's "Jump." 80s supergroup meets jamband rockers? Yes please.

Thievery Corporation aren't great on disc. Yet again, I think this is a personal taste thing. However, their globally conscious electro-jam-funk is an entirely different entity once these boys get onstage. The sun had set by the time TC hit the stage and the temperature was dropping at an alarming rate (it eventually got down to 40 degrees). I was too busy getting down to notice.
I honestly think this might have been my favoriteshow of the weekend- they just blew me away and left me, along with the rest of the audience, wanting more.

Next up was Matisyahu vs. Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood. Life would be so great if these were always the hard decisions in my life. ANYWAY I love watching mesmerizing Hasidic hip-hop stars, but it had been a while since I'd been spaced out by the trippy electro magnetism of MSMW. So away we went.

As much of a fan I am of all four of these men, MSMW is somewhat of a contradiction for me. Scofield is a very talented man- there is no question in that. But I have found that when he sits in with the band, he throws off the dynamic between the other three. That's what happened at Langerado; while the music was technically sufficient, I found the performance to be overall lackluster. Ok moment of honesty: I was freezing and needed to go warm up before R.E.M.

For all his weird eccentricities, Michael Stipe might just be one of the best front men ever to hit the rock 'n' roll stage. He had us following his every hand flourish, hip wiggle and eye flutter. The man is magnetic.

Bands with as many hits as R.E.M. always have a sort of predicament when they perform to a mixed fanbase (read: people that did not buy tickets to see them headline). They know we want to hear "Losing My Religion" and "It's The End Of The World As We Know It," but they want us to check out their new cuts off of the upcoming "Accelerate." And while the new album was definitely prevalent, they were able to pull off a two hour set packed with the hits. Here's the list:

1) What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
2) (I'm pretty sure this was from Accelerate - an uptempo, garage-rock of a song)
3) Bad Day
4) Drive
5) Fall on Me
6) Hollow Man (from Accelerate)
7) Southern Central Rain
8) Orange Crush
9) Accelerate (umm, yah)
10) Imitation of Life
11) Man-Sized Wreath (from Accelerate)
12) Begin the Begin
13) Electrolite
14) Houston (from Accelerate)
15) Losing My Religion
16) Horse to Water (from Accelerate)
17) Walk Unafraid
18) The One I Loveencores
19) Supernatural Superserious (from Accelerate)
20) Auctioneer
21) I'm Gonna DJ (from Accelerate)
22) Man on the Moon

Monday, March 10, 2008

Saturday: Langerado out of the Rain

So when I said in the last post that it started to rain after the Umphrey's McGee late night set, I really was not kidding. Lightning, thunder, sheets of water- I had resigned myself to never getting out of my tent again. Ah well, thought I as the sky lit up yet again, at least if I go, my last memory was of Jake Cinninger tearing into his guitar.

Melodramatics aside, we awoke on Saturday to find the weather clear. What's a little sleep deprivation?

I started the day by wandering over to the Sunset Stage to catch some of Railroad Earth's set. This band always confuses me. Although I like the easy bluegrass chug of their music, I always expect things to go a little more uptempo than they do live. Their studio albums seem to capture that better- but that could also be because the celtic influences become more apparent in the live show. Anyway, the show included "Long Way To Go," "Like A Buddah" and "Bird In A House." They may fall a bit far from my personal tastes but we had a great time hopping around in the mud. Besides, any friend of Kerouac is a friend of mine (read "October in the Railroad Earth" for those who failed to get that reference).

Unforunately, I had to skip the State Radio set- I've actually seen these guys open for Spearhead and heard through the media-tent-grapevine that their set went very well. I did catch Chad Urmston doing a solo acoustic jam backstage; one note out of his mouth and I was automatically kicked back to the days of Dispatch.

Moving along. Next up was the Avett Brothers. The buzz going around Langerado was charged for this set and the crowd began to swell way earlier than all the previous day artists. I was insanely curious about what a neo-bluegrass group with pop-punk influences sounded like. Hold that thought and skip to a half hour later. Apparently, a car accident prevented the Brothers from getting into the festival site and had to cancel their appearance. Their website promises that they "want you to know that we will be back to southern Florida as soon as we are able."

I had the chance to hear Ben Folds sing acoustic backstage and I have to admit, I was surprised by what I heard. I know this guy for his hit "Brick," possibly one of the most depressing tracks of all time. And yet, Folds' solo music is anything but serious. In fact, most of it is self-depricating geek rock.

I was told not to miss Antibalas and now I know why. One part roots based African samba, one part rockabilly, Antibalas is the answer to a dull morning. Or an overstimulated early evening. Either way, these guys provided one of the most high energy sets of the weekend.

All this and we haven't even hit on Thievery Corporation, Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood, R.E.M. or Disco Biscuits. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Festival Crashers at Langerado

Here are photos of Umphrey's McGee Friday at Langerado, courtesy of Zack and Andy who are blogging the festival at Festival Crashers. Check out their live reports for the set-by-set action.

Langerado: Friday cont'd

So here is why I love the Roots: they can come onstage half an hour late, not apologize, rip into a song, and have the entire crowd in the palm of ?uestlove's hand. They had the unfortunate position of opening the night sets and leading into the Beastie Boys- many people in the audience left to grab a spot by the stage for the Beasties. If you did, you missed a haunting version of Dylan's "Masters of War" and a kickin' rendition of their concert staple, "The Seed."

The Beasties did exactly what I thought they would- got onstage and rocked a set composed of staples such as "Ch-Check it Out," "Sabotage" and the jam tracks from 2007's instrumental departure "The Mix-Up." I was disapointed with the set. Here we are surrounded by some of our favorite jam bands and all I wanted to do was have the Beasites rock us into the late night sets. All three of the guys are amazng musicians- but come on, dig deep, give us "To The Five Boroughs" and "License To Ill." I want to jump in the mud to "Brass Monkey" and get silly to "Girls." Ah well.

The Beastie Boys got off the stage and then it was time for a decision: STS9 or Umphrey's McGee. I've heard that the STS9 set was transcendent (no surprise there) but I stuck around for the entirety of Umphrey's. These guys have just gotten so good. As a long time fan, I'm glad that the buzz that could have destroyed them only helped them create a loyal following which these musicians deserve.

Here's the set list from last night:

"40s Theme"
"Wappy Sprayberry"
"The Floor"
"Utopian Fir"
"Mulche's Odyssey"
"Rocker (part II)"
"Padgett's Profile"
"All In Time"
"Nothing Too Fancy"
"JaJunk (reprise)"
Encore: "In The Kitchen" "Bridgeless (reprise)"

I got back to our tent just in time for mother nature to show it's apprication. The sky opened up, sheets of rain came down and lightning lit up the Everglade sky. Let's see what happens during Disco Biscuits tonite.

Langerado Day 2: Sunshine and Rock 'N' Roll

Langerado has shaped up to be one of those eclectic festivals where the crowd is as diverse as the line-up. Yesterday was one of those perfect Florida days, where the breeze was strong, the sun hot, the sky cloudless.

Things got kicked off with a 12:30 afternoon set from The Dynamites, which stuck out as a new name for me. Lead vocalist Charles Walker strutted onstage in a lime green zoot suit- he and his band dug deep to kick off Friday with an hour-long set. Before leaving the stage, Walker bowed and told the crowd that "Whatever you do, Do it with soul."

Next I wandered over to the Swamp Stage to catch the Earl Greyhound show. This band always confuses me. Physically, the band looks great- one part hipster soul with a dash of Lenny Kravits love patrol. The problem with the band is its' divided cohesion. This is the third time I've been in the audience for their show and I've found that the moments of cohesion are intermitint with this weird division. Sometimes I think they're playing three different songs.

I caught enough of the Indigenous set to get the fact that I need to see more. These guys can play- loud, soulfoul, rockin'. If there were any tapers in the audience, I'd really appreciate a copy of this set.

Sam Bush hit the Swamp stage at 3:30 for a good ol' afternoon hoe-down. Everyone knows what to expect from Bush: down home, Southern-style Nashville guitar pickin' with a side of dizzying banjo. He ended the set with a Dylan cover, the title of which is escaping me at the moment.

After Bush, the Wailers brought us what we needed for a sunny afternoon: some of our favorites from their days with Bob Marley. The guys kicked the set off with some new songs before introducing Matisyahu (who also made a cameo during the Ozomatli set) for "No Woman, No Cry." That led to a run of songs that included "Stir It Up," "Get Up, Stand Up," "I Shot The Sheriff," "One Love," "It's Gonna Be Alright" and "Jammin'."

And that was just the afternoon. More on what went down last night in a minute.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kicking off Langerado '08

I have to be blunt- last night was rough. Say what you will about everything being “part of the festival experience” but sitting in the pouring rain for four hours while trying to get to the camping spot is not fun. Trying to set up a tent in said pouring rain is not fun. And finding out you have to navigate your tent stakes around cow pies is DEFINITELY not fun.

But just when we had resigned ourselves to our wet misery, something truly awesome happened.

It stopped raining.

So now, to the festival we go.

Langerado had big aspirations this year. A packed line-up, new site and higher tickets sales have created some ridiculous buzz around jamheads and festival goers. Each of the stages looks like a mainstage (save for the smaller Green-A-Rado stage) and this is one of the most spread out Shakedown Streets I’ve seen.

Let’s get to the music already. We headed out around 8:30ish to try to catch the already-delayed Les Claypool set. We came up to the Swamp Stage last night to find some guy slapping this pipe-looking thing (I’m sorry but my ‘puter battery is running low and I don’t have time to look up the proper term.) ANYWAY the artist formerly known as Mike Silverman produced such manic, disturbingly awesome sounds that a lot of the people in the audience mistook him for Les Claypool.

Claypool, for that matter, played the best set I’ve seen him play. Dressed in a Herman-Munster-like flat top plastic mask, he rocked the forty-five minute set (set-list coming up).

However, it’s what he said before his last song that really set the tone of Langerado for me: “Just think Ferris Wheel thoughts,” he said, pointing to the ride to the right him.

With Ozomatli, Sam Bush, The Roots, The Beastie Boys and Umphrey’s McGee’s late night set coming my way today, staying positive shouldn't be too difficult.

Thank Les.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Langerado 2008: Here We Go!

I’ve just arrived in sunny Florida and thought I would just check and make sure you’re geared up to get down at Langerado 2008. Like all festivals, Langerado has a no glass products policy, so make it easy on yourself and the staff and make sure you shuck the glass and opt for plastic instead.

I read an interesting discussion thread the other day that warned of an outbreak of red ants on the site this year. The best way to protect yourself from these annoying critters is to pack and wear a couple pairs of long socks and closed-toe shoes. Also, it’s always good to make sure you have plenty of bug spray. We are, after all, going to be camping in the Everglades in the middle of March.

Speaking of which, have your rain gear ready and waiting; has predicted we will have thunderstorms Thursday, Friday and early Saturday. Rain is part of the festival experience- pack a poncho, grab those galoshes and have fun stomping your feet in the mud. Luckily, Florida rains tend to be patchy and not ongoing, so hopefully the sun will peek out long enough to send us Northerners back home with a little sun in our skin.

Finally, I have been told that those of you who have the patience to wait out the crowd are welcome to stay overnight on Sunday and pack up and ship out early Monday. Let’s work together to ensure we leave the site as clean as we find it- garbage bags will be provided to everyone in attendance

I’ll be on site all weekend to bring you updates on what’s going on as the insanity that is Langerado 2008 kicks off festival season in the US. Stay tuned, stay dry and of course, have fun.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Gearing up for All Good 2008

By Samantha Spector

It’s the All Good Music Festival’s twelfth birthday this year and it’s business as usual for the people over at Walther Productions. As in years past, All Good will boast a kick-ass lineup at one of the most beautiful venues in the U.S. (That's Michael Franti’s description, not mine).

So let’s celebrate. For the weekend of July 11-13, the sleepy West Virginia countryside will be transformed into a thriving, churning, throbbing mass of energy as 17,000 music fans invade Marvin’s Mountaintop to worship our favorite jamrock deities.
The buzz on All Good is that it’s the best festival for jam fans to congregate, and for once the media has it right. All Good is what Bonnaroo used to be before Superfly let it become corporate and turned it into an over-hyped pop fest.

Let’s start with the headliners. Widespread Panic are apparently back together and share the boldface type with Phil Lesh and Friends. It’s anyone’s guess as to who Phil will bring onstage for his set. I have my heart set on cameos by Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, each of whom are at the festival with their own bands (Gov’t Mule and Trucks’ and Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew revival). If you have followed my festival writings , you are already well aware of my Gov’t Mule fixation--if Warren Haynes and Susan Tedeschi sing together, I might just lose it. Hearing their voices resonate throughout the mountains is sure to be something special (I’m listening to Tedeschi’s version of “Angel From Montgomery” and getting goosebumps as I write this.)

Keller Williams returns this year with the WMDs and Mr. Michael Franti will rock us once again with Spearhead. Last year, Franti hit the Rope-A-Dope stage for an acoustic set before rocking the main stage with the rest of the band--four hours of Franti in one day kept us smiling for weeks later. I was lucky enough to run into Franti at the Nocturnals set the next day- the man is magnetic, onstage and off.

Moving on. Medeski Martin and Wood will channel their manic grooves while we bake in the sunshine (hopefully this year we’ll stay high and dry). I’ve been told not to miss Railroad Earth and will definitely be in the audience for Tea Leaf Green, who nearly blew the roof off the barn at Mountain Jam last year.

I opted to sit out for The Bridge last year. Big mistake. Thankfully, I somehow managed to get my hands on the set and it has been in constant play on the iPod since. Here’s hoping the boys bust out “Brother Don’t” during the show.

I expect some rocking late night sets from Pnuma Trio and RAQ, always look forward to seeing Hot Buttered Rum and can’t wait to check out Bonerama, The Wood Brothers and Bassnectar for the first time. All Good is the kind of festival that will rock you into the early morning and keep you at peace for months to come. You’ll come for the lineup, be amazed at the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and come back the following year because the experience of being that isolated and enthralled is something that is hard to put into words.

I’m ready to hit the “Country Road” running. See you on the mountain!

With five simultaneous stages, will Langerado be too much fun?

By Samantha Spector

For those of us still contending with the long, cold winter, Langerado brings a welcome kickoff to the American festival season. You’re stoked to get out of the cold and into the Florida sunshine for the ridiculously great lineup the organizers are bringing us. The problem is how to see all the bands you want considering the overlapping stage schedules.

Since the festival is at a new site at the Big Cypress Indian Reservation, nobody really knows how the festival grounds will be laid out or how to set up your weekend for maximum musical enjoyment. However, checking the schedule maker that is available on the festival website, courtesy of Jambase, starts to provide some clues.

There are five performance venues. The big venue is the Everglades Stage, where The Beastie Boys, R.E.M. and Phil Lesh & Friends are scheduled to close out Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights respectively. But the Sunset, Swamp, Chicken Hut and Greening Stages each have plenty to offer all weekend long, frequently simultaneously, beginning Thursday at 6 p.m.

For me, I don’t have too much of a problem on Thursday, except for the overlap between the late night sets from Perpetual Groove and Dark Star Orchestra. Friday also is fairly spread out until the mid-afternoon conflict between Sam Bush and Ozomatli presents a bit of a challenge. Later that night, I have to figure out a way to be in three places at once when Umphrey’s McGee, STS9 and Phix hit the stage for a triple-barreled post midnight blowout.

But even that doesn’t even compare to how exhaustingly awesome Saturday is going to be. During the day, I’ll meander in and around the stages to check out lesser known bands Railroad Earth, Blitzen Trapper and State Radio (the newest project from the guys from Dispatch). Once 5 p.m. hits, however, it’s a whole new blur.

We’ve got Citizen Cope competing with Pnuma before Thievery Corporation, The Benevento Russo Duo and RAQ all hit the stage at the same time. That leads in directly to Matisyahu, Medeski, Martin and Wood and Ghostland Observatory (check back for an on-site interview between the guys and I on Friday). The stages will be cleared for R.E.M. before The Disco Biscuits, Lee Boys, Pelican, Dan Deacon and Yard Dogs Road rock us into the wee hours of the morning.

Things will get even more interesting on Sunday. I’ll have to decide between Josh Ritter and Martin Sexton before The Funky Meters hit the stage. I have no idea why organizers decided to have Keller Williams and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals go head-to-head, but there is no question that I am going to have to forsake Minus the Bear for Gov’t Mule (Warren Haynes always wins--always.). I’m curious about the newest incarnation of Blind Melon but haven’t seen Ani DiFranco live since Bonnaroo ’04. Talk about decisions of the best kind.

They say you can sleep when you are dead, but it isn't a bad idea to bank some hours before heading out. Rest up, festie friends, it’s going to be a long weekend. Stay tuned.