Friday, September 23, 2011

Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion 2011

After missing Bristol last year, Black Betty and I were happy to be able to attend again this year. Especially after hearing that Railroad Earth would be back.

We were joined by our friends Marie, Sam, Michael, and Melanie at the super sweet Sugar Hollow Campground. This is a beautiful 300 acre wooded campground owned by the City of Bristol Dept. of Parks and Recreation. It has lots of shade, flush toilets, showers, electricity, and sites not big enough for the RV crowd. Sites are $12.00 a night (reserve early summer by phone and check) and a shuttle bus runs the few miles to the music venues on State Street.

                                                     Gnometown at Sugar Hollow

Friday evening, we arrived in time to catch our first glance of the David Mayfield Parade at the Piedmont Stage. We were instantly hooked and stood transfixed throughout his performance. All I can say is check him out for yourself. You'll see what I mean.

Next, we caught the young Americana super-star, Justin Townes Earle followed by one of our favorites, Railroad Earth. As always, RRE jammed it out to the delight of the crowd. The mystery group billed as the "High Country Allstars" playing at midnight turned out to be the Infamous Stringdusters! How cool is that?

                                                                     Railroad Earth

Saturday, we battled the insane State Street crowds to catch several great shows. We managed to see performances by 18 South,  The Everybodyfields, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Randolph Band, and Folk Soul Revival.

The much anticipated reunion of the Everybodyfields had to be the highlight of the whole weekend for me. It was really good to see Sam and Jill back on stage together. I don't know that it will last, but the thousands of fans massed at the Piedmont stage singing the songs were evidence that I am not alone in my admiration for this group. We'll see.

                                                                The Everybodyfields

So this is the deal, Bristol:
  • Twenty two stages and over 150 bands? I say it's too much. We've gone to this festival several times over the years and it really has gotten too big, too fast
  • There is not enough room on State Street to accommodate the crowds. At least, the Belle Chere Festival in Asheville manages to spread it out in the downtown area where there is room to disperse the crowds somewhat. 
  • And 150 bands? Why? Too many of the groups are playing in horrible little venues with terrible sounds. I can remember several years ago The Everybodyfields trying to play upstairs at the State Line while a rock band was playing downstairs. Needless to say.....
  • Did I mention that they still smoke in the bars in Bristol? 
  • This year we ended up leaving to eat dinner on Saturday. We could not even find a place that we could get into without an incredibly long wait with total chaos reigning. If you don't choose street food, you may have to get in your car and leave to find a place to sit down and eat. That's what we did.
We still love this festival. It holds a special place in my heart; this is the place that I was introduced to lots of incredibly fantastic bands for the first time. The magic moments and the killer memories still exist.
I understand that I'm not in charge of it and have no say in it. I'm sure that there are scores of people who would disagree with me about the organization of the festival.
Black Betty and I both said that we would have to re-evaluate how we participate in it in the future. Maybe we'll just go during the night and not try to do a daytime thing.
I'll let you know how it goes next year!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Music On The Mountaintop 2011

Black Betty and I really enjoyed Music On The MountainTop once again this year. It was held at a new location at Grandfather Campgrounds In Foscoe, NC about 10 miles outside of Boone. The venue was very scenic, beautiful, and appropriate and may make a nice home for the future of this festival if they work a few little bugs out.

Once again the lineup was stellar. We got there early on Friday afternoon and set up camp near the Wautauga River. After a little afternoon soaking rain shower (it really knocked the dust down), we headed to the little and remote third stage to see two of our favorite North Carolina bands, The New Familiars and Town Mountain. Unfortunately the stage was experiencing problematic technical sound difficulties through The New Familiars set and they finally unplugged, came down into the audience,  and played their last couple of songs to the delight of the crowd. You've got to love this band, this is exactly the kind of festival memories that really stay with you and keep you coming back!

We next went to the Main Stage area (Main Stage and Side Stage sat pretty much side by side) and caught Sol Driven Trail, Acoustic Syndicate, and Railroad Earth. This is when things started getting dicey, weather-wise. The sky grew increasingly dark and threatening through Sol Driven Train's set and by the time Acoustic Syndicate came on the rain was pouring down. Acoustic Syndicate sounded really GOOD! They started off appropriately with Water of Love as the crowd danced in the cool rain. Sadly, after just about five songs, nearby lightning forced the end of the set.

After the hazardous weather passed, Railroad Earth came out and performed their hot and jammy tunes. They were just really getting cranked up when the clock hit 11 pm and the sheriff rode up on a golf cart and signaled "cut-it off" and that was it. The boys came out to the edge of the stage and played one last tune unplugged, but that was it for the night. This place had a very strict and enforced noise ordinance! Eleven o'clock on Friday night in Foscoe is as wild as it gets!

Saturday, we hung out at the Main Stage area and checked out tons of good music; Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band, Do it to Julia, Greensky Bluegrass, Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush, and 7 Walkers.

Hurricane Irene was hitting the Atlantic coast on Saturday, and although we were in the far mountains of western North Carolina, we experienced high winds all day.  The bands really toughed it out and took it all in stride. At one point during the Sam Bush show, they had folks holding amps in place to keep them from blowing over and they had to tape the drum set to the stage floor.

All the music was great and 7 Walkers with Papa Mali and Bill Kreutzmann  finished the night out right. Talk about your swamp-a-delic rock and roll, they have got it down and do it up right! Besides performing various original Robert Hunter penned 7 Walker songs, they did a few Papa Mali covers and the Grateful Dead's Cosmic Charlie, I Know You Rider, and Wharf Rat. (I really loved their Wharf Rat!) As an added twist to 7 Walkers, they had Kirk Joseph (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on sousaphone sitting in as bass. I'll bet that sousaphone was hard to hold up on stage in the 40 mph winds!

Of course, we were still in Foscoe so the music once again came to a screeching halt at 11 pm. Papa Mali stated that he'd love to stay and play for several more hours, but alas!

                                              Black Betty, Aimee, Todd Sheaffer, and M Diddy
                                                    Black Betty at the Main Stage Area.

Right On:
The music, the lineup, the vibe, the camping, the price, the mountains.
Always a nice crowd. Plenty of clean port-a-johns.
You can bring your own cooler with your own beer and purchase a $10 wristband to drink.
Lots of Outdoor gear and Eco-oriented sponsors.
The best Appalachian-hippie-kids-eco-Mother Earth parade this side of Middle Earth.
This is a great little festival which donates part of their proceeds to a couple of  meaningful causes,  Appalachian Voices and The Mountain Alliance.
Read more info about this on  their website MusicOnTheMountainTop 

Near Misses:
I didn't see the need for a third stage. They actually had a really cool and educational Eco-Village set up there and this area was somewhat remote from the Main Stage Area. Several good bands played and much of the crowd never sauntered over there to enjoy them. It seemed to me that there was ample room in the big field for the Village and the extra bands could be dropped or added earlier in the day to the big stages.

There did not seem to be any clear Ingress and Egress into the large Main Stage Area. I don't know where you went in at, but I and hundreds of others had to walk through a campsite, squeeze past a tent, and walk through a narrow opening between vendors. It was very hazardous and haphazard.

The bands (especially the headliners) did not get enough playing time. The sets were way too short, both the fans and the bands seemed short-changed. Eleven pm is a ridiculously early ending time for outdoor live music. If it must be that way let the bands start earlier and jam longer. It really is about the music!

Boohoo, no Caroline Pond, Snake Oil Medicine Show, or Larry Keel this year!

                                                                 Eco Village Area.

                                                                Greensky Bluegrass

                                                      Hometown Hiker and Mike Devol.