Bonnaroo Article

“Bonnaroo Superlatives and Overall Festival Wrap-Up”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

the infamous arch

Well, I survived my first Bonnaroo… something that I wasn’t so sure of going into the weekend… but I came out okay on the other side, and what’s more is that I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I feel comfortable now saying that I was genuinely worried about the lack of sleep and the heat and the sweat and the dirt and the general lack of hygiene and everything else unpleasant that comes with a four-day camping festival in Tennessee in June (and I feel comfortable saying this now because they were in fact real concerns, not just the girly dramatizations of my mind), but no matter how much all of those things affected my experience, I (and I think it’s safe to say that 95% of my Bonnaroo peers would say the same) walked away with a smile and a sunburn and remained otherwise unscathed.

In general, my days (other than the day we actually got there and set up camp, which was slightly different if only in time frames) went like this:

8:00-8:30 — Wake up sweaty and hot as a result of the sun beating down on my tent, creating a tiny makeshift sauna; position myself directly under the oh-so-valuable tent ceiling fan (yes, they have those!!) to try to go back to sleep; wake up five minutes later, still burning up, and exit tent into the bright, dewy morning
8:30-9:30 — Trip to the nearest porta-potties/wash stations; back to the campsite to try to sleep just a few more minutes in a lawn chair; greet fellow campers as they emerge and do the exact same thing; eventually give up on sleep and grab the nearest Gatorade/bottle of water/liquid of any kind; make breakfast, which could range from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an orange to a beer to instant grits
9:30-10:00 — Turn the car on to charge up my phone; use this precious 30 minutes to also change clothes in the car with the AC blasting

a lovely middle of the scorching day shot

10:00-11:00 — Sit around in lawn chairs and various other minimally physical activities to reduce the chances of sweating, some of which included reading, drinking beer, spraying each other with misty fans, making sandwiches, telling stories and reminiscing about the events of the previous day, cheeseball eating contest, etc.
11:00-11:30 — Get ready to leave the campsite for the day; pack backpack with water, coozie, power bars, flashlight, picnic blanket, wet wipes, toilet paper, sunscreen, schedule, phone, wallet, sunglasses, etc.; apply copious amounts of sunscreen; fill misty fans with melted ice water from coolers; grab road beer; zip up tent; lock car
11:30-12:00 — Walk into Centeroo; set lunch meeting time and place; split up for various shows beginning at noon
12:00-3:00 — Go to shows (approximately three); fill up water bottle (approx. twice); reapply sunscreen (approx. once); eat lunch or snack
3:00-4:00 — Find a shady place (if possible) to lay out picnic blanket and take a nap
4:00-6:00 — Go to more shows (approximately 1.5, depends on the day and the schedule); drink more water; maybe do a little shopping or just walking around (because the heat is somehow more bearable when moving as opposed to just standing or sitting and sweating)
6:00-7:00 — Lay the picnic blanket out again (probably near one of the bigger stages in order to sit and enjoy one of the bigger acts); take turns going to get dinner

a Bonnaroo summer sunset

7:00-10:00 — Rejoice in the setting of the sun and the resulting cooler temperatures; find a place farther up in the crowd for the headlining act; rock out to the headlining act
10:00-11:00 — Leave the headlining show a little early to beat some of the crowd; walk back to the campsite
11:00-12:00 — Spend some quality time at the wash stations with some freezing cold water, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and some shampoo; lean head over sink to wash dirt, sweat, sunscreen, etc. out of hair; use giant cup to wash/rinse arms and legs; use washcloth to rinse rest of body as well as possible; resist wasting time washing dirty, dirty feet
12:00-1:00 — Sit around at the campsite, drinking beer, wiping dirt off feet with wet wipes, competing in a cheeseball eating contest (again), texting Mom to let her know we’re still alive and well, talking about what late night shows to attend
1:00-2:00 — Take a nap before going back to Centeroo for the late night show
2:00-2:15 — Wake up and realize the late night show is starting right now and also realize that sleep sounds like such a better option
2:15-8:00 — Glorious slumber in the cool, refreshing night

the 20-something people on stage for Mumford's encore

As far as the music goes, there were some good shows and some great shows. With the exception of The Black Keys ending their set 30 minutes early with no encore to follow, I was never disappointed by an act’s performance. It seemed like every artist I watched was throwing him/herself into the performance, despite the heat and the sun and all other circumstances. The best example of that fact was Mumford and Sons’ show. They played as if Bonnaroo 2011 was the last show they’d ever play, which is of course, far from the truth. And their encore consisted of a 7-minute rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung and played by members of Apache Relay, Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Cadillac Sky, as well as the legendary Jerry Douglas himself. Yeah. So the Award for Best Encore goes to Mumford and Sons.

The Award for Most Eclectic Crowd goes to Primus.

The Award for Best Frontman goes to Robert Plant and Band of Joy.

The Award for the Best Sit Down and Chill While Listening Act is a tie between Amos Lee and Iron and Wine.

Bela and his banjo

The Award for Best Spot in the Crowd goes to Bela Fleck, not really for anything he did, except for the fact that I knew I could only enjoy a portion of the performance from far away, only being able to hear the music. To truly get the full experience at a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones performance, I knew I would have to be so close that I could see how fast and nimbly their fingers were moving. It was incredible, and well worth the elbowing and the extra sweat factor involved in standing among thousands of other hot, sweaty people. And I can now officially say that I’ve seen the original lineup of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, which is quite something in and of itself.

The Award for Best Main Stage Act is a tie between The Decemberists and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

The Award for Best Big Name, Daytime Act is a tie between Alison Krauss and Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show.

The Award for Best Act that Piqued My Curiosity and I Now Need to Look Up goes to Beirut.

David Mayfield and sister Jessica Lea

The Award for Most Surprising Act goes to The David Mayfield Parade. I had heard of the band before, mostly in relation or conjunction with Mayfield’s also musical sister Jessica Lea Mayfield, but knew very little about them beyond that. I went to their Thursday night show because friends of mine dragged me along. And wow! They are fantastic! We were right up front for all the action on stage, which included corny jokes and unbelievable guitar solos from the larger-than-life, boisterous bearded man that is David Mayfield himself, a tiny yet impressively adroit little fiddle player, a female bass player whose long blonde hair hung directly in front of her face 80% of the show, a ginger lead guitar player, and an equally as epicly bearded drummer with an unexpected but lovely singing voice. The band blew me away and in doing so, registered themselves as by far my favorite show of Thursday’s line up. I bought their album immediately after returning home (well, immediately after a shower, that is).

The Award for Best Up and Coming Act goes to The Head and the Heart.

The Award for Most Unexpectedly Large Crowd is a tie between Florence and the Machine, Neon Trees, and Sleigh Bells.

The Award for Oldest Crowd is a tie between Gregg Allman and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

the six-piece from Music City

The Award for Best Local Act goes to Apache Relay, who just killed an all-too-short Sunday evening set. Theirs was the last show I attended before leaving Manchester forever (read: until next year), and it was one hell of a way to close out the festival. The six piece band had all the instruments for a bluegrass or Americana band, but these guys played nothing if not straight up rock. I actually have the privilege of being able to say that I know most of the members of Apache Relay, each of them being former Belmont students like myself, but even fully understanding how talented each of these guys is did not prepare me for their exceptional stage presence and raging, fiery, exciting set. Nashville can be so, so proud.

The Award for Best Introduction goes to The Black Keys for having Aziz Ansari.

The Award for Best Dance Show goes to Walk the Moon.

And the Award for Best Headliner goes to My Morning Jacket.

I could go on and on about Crazy Things That Happened at Bonnaroo, or Awesome and Unexpected Collaborations on Stage, or How I Managed to Get In on Thursday and Out on Sunday in Under an Hour Each, but truly, truly, the festival called Bonnaroo is an experience that you can only fully understand after having experienced it for yourself. And everyone’s Bonnaroo is completely unique. So, my final words on the subject are simply these: I will see you there next year.

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Tin Pan South Review

Tin Pan South

“The Problem with Tin Pan South”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

I wrote once long ago that songwriters seem like pensive people. Not people who separate themselves from the rest of us, but rather people who understand the world a little better than we do, or at least can express their perceptions of it in more profound ways, and therefore relate differently to it.

Songwriters, good ones that is, have an uncanny ability to seek out our universally human fears and desires and articulate them in a manner to which we can not only connect, but feel as if those were the words we would have chosen ourselves, had we but had a far more expressive vocabulary. When we lack the capacity to convey our true hearts, we often find the words in songs. Words set to music reach their audience on a divine level, a plane on which we feel more ardently and openly. I believe it is the power to elevate our thoughts that generates such a passion for music in all of us alike.

NSAI’s Tin Pan South is Music City’s way of celebrating our songwriters. Named for the infamous region of lower Manhattan that boasted great numbers of songwriters and publishers each banging out tunes on cacophonous pianos (creating a sound like clanging tin pans together… or so the story goes) and an early 20th century era in which songwriters went to work in suits in an effort to convince the rest of the world of the legitimacy of their occupation, Tin Pan South’s primary purpose is to drag the hitmakers, composers, writers, lyricists, etc. out from their offices and homes and into the spotlight… if only for a week. Each year, 8-10 venues host two shows a night for five nights. Each show highlights 3-5 artists. Without actually doing the math, I think it’s safe to say that Nashville is positively crawling with this sort of backstage talent.

The problem with Tin Pan South though is that you have to choose. And whether you’re going for sound or location, artist or favorite hit, the opportunity cost is great. Of the 88 shows and hundreds of brilliant musicians to choose from, one can really only see 10 of those shows, and that’s working at it. I made it to five of my ten possible and enjoyed every minute, but there are always stand outs, and for me, there were two.

Station Inn

The Station Inn is the perfect sort of venue for nights like these. Tin Pan South celebrates the songwriters of this town by stripping down the show, by tossing them on badly lit stages and in dingy, low-ceilinged old places, by letting talent speak for itself.

I had no idea what to expect from a late Thursday show with Marshall Chapman, Phil Lee, Meaghan Owens, and RB Morris, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the grizzly, organic thing it became. Three well-seasoned musicians and one up-and-comer make for one hell of a show.

Highlights included Chapman’s groovy guitar work, Lee’s bluesy searing harmonica riffs (and string of dirty lines throughout), Owens’ rosy, girlish melodies (notably a beautiful French refrain), and Morris’ understated humor and blustery vocals. Chapman read a passage from her recently published book, they all chatted and joked and told stories and the audience, well, we just got to be in on it.

Listening Room Cafe

The Listening Room’s early show began long before the sun went down on Saturday, but there are reasons to come indoors early on a perfect spring evening. The gleaming, folksy vocals of the players at the corner cafe, the resonant acoustics of four musicians: Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Phil Madeira, and Cindy Morgan Brouwer.

Kirkpatrick with his murky bayou rhythms, Madeira and his complex guitar instrumentation and wide-ranging repertoire, Kennedy’s effortless falsetto and warm melodies, and Brouwer with her silvery, gospel-tinged piano tunes and casual charm together on stage made for an evening of pleasant and easy listening.

On the whole, the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival is unpretentious and underhyped. It’s such a critically important aspect of what makes Nashville Music City, and we need not take it for granted. Living in Nashville where creativity aptitude is concentrated and abundant, it’s easy to forget how truly rare sheer talent is in the rest of the music world. Here, our songwriters have one short week in the spotlight, and it is our job to turn our faces to their light and let them shine upon us.

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Punch Brothers Review

“Punch Brothers Give Nashville the Old One-Two”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

makin' it look easy

As of Tuesday night, I have seen mandolinist Chris Thile play six times – once as part of newgrass trio Nickel Creek, once as a solo act, and four times with his most recent endeavor, Punch Brothers. At this point, I consider myself pretty much an authority on the guy; I know a lot of things about him.

I know that he was eight years old when Nickel Creek formed. I know that he has five solo albums to his name and dozens of appearances on other artists’ works. I know that he likes covering his favorite bands’ tunes, especially those that might seem like unorthodox choices for bluegrass instruments (Wilco, Pavement, Elliott Smith, and Weezer are all classic examples). He’s been called a virtuoso and a prodigy and rightfully so with over two decades of experience composing and performing despite being just days from his 30th birthday. But of all the things I’ve learned about Chris Thile, there is one that stands out as steadfast personal experience: I am never bored while watching him play.

With all that said, Thile’s Punch Brothers is one of his most intriguing projects. The quintet’s 2010 release Antifogmatic had critics at a loss for words… with regard to its pure, undiluted virtuosity, yes, but also with regard to simply what genre in which to categorize it. The album, and much of Thile’s life’s work for that matter, is a refreshing and effortless blend of classical and folk and bluegrass, threaded with strains of country and pop – a rare hybrid, delicately plucked and expertly tuned. And Thile’s fellow musicians – Gabe Witcher (violin), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Paul Kowert (bass), and Noam Pikelny (banjo) – are just as dexterous and just as droll. Together, the Punch Brothers form a masterful group, delightfully wry though for all their panache.

Punch Brothers have built up some clout in Music City too, because their Tuesday night show at Mercy Lounge sold out easily, a rarity in this town. And even more surprisingly, the crowd was packing in and buzzing with excitement, fighting for the last good spots in the crowd, more than 30 minutes before show time. Energy was expanding, billowing through the audience, becoming palpable, and suspending itself over our heads. And then, without ceremony or grandeur, the Brothers took to the stage.

master o' mandolin

They jumped right in, without words, opening the show with the first two tunes from Antifogmatic, “You Are” and “Don’t Need No,” as well as fan favorite, “Heart in a Cage” by The Strokes, already settling into a casual groove, easing into loose harmonies and the group’s characteristically tight dynamics. Thile and company were clearly responding to the room’s enthusiasm; although their faces remained poised, their eyes and fingers were alight with the verve whipping through the throng. The quintet continued with the opener from 2008’s Punch, “Punch Bowl,” before blazing through the snarky, “relationship-centric” tune “Next to the Trash.”

A cover of Josh Ritter’s “Annabel Lee” slowed the pace of the show, the Punch Brothers’ strings echoing quiet, evocative refrains for the first time over the course of the evening and following up with the delicate, swelling Antifogmatic single “Alex.” At this point, each of the musicians was consumed with the music, independently teetering and reeling to the rhythm of the melody like blades of grass wavering in a summer breeze.

With passions running high, Punch Brothers performed the 1st part of their “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” an ambitious forty-minute suite in four movements that toys with dissonance and layers complexities, incorporating countless melodic intricacies perceptible only by the most astute ear – a true masterpiece, showcasing each of the members’ individual skill while maintaining the fluidity of an opus.

From there, the show was wild and unrestrained, intensifying, gathering speed, as though musically, we were rolling down a mountain to the end of the show. Continuing with a killer cover of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” a beautiful, new tune (which Thile promised would be on the album they’ll begin working on over the summer) called “Full and Empty Hours,” and an old pick “Watch’at Breakdown,” from Thile’s 2006 album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, Punch Brothers had the crowd back in riotous good spirits. Answering the crowd’s frenzied cheers, the group played their rollicking “Rye Whiskey” and a scorching rendition of Gillian Welch’s “Wayside (Back in Time)” to wrap up the set.

While applauding and roaring for more, I wondered, “Gosh, can they be any more amazing?” And as if in answer to my very thoughts, Thile mounted the stage alone… to play JS Bach’s “Sonata #1 in G Minor” in double time. Yes, double time. It was one of those unparalleled moments in music when one’s mouth drops open with genuine awe, in pure astonishment of even being in the same room with such raw genius. Then, as though lifting a spell, the rest of the Punch Brothers joined Thile onstage to finish the night with a blistering cover of Welsh punk band Mclusky’s “Icarus Smicarus.”

Convincing rumors spread excitedly after the show that Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, old friends of Thile’s, were in attendance, blending into the crowd impressively for two bluegrass gods among droves of bluegrass fans. All the elements for a regular old front porch jam session were present that night at Mercy Lounge… with just one gaping hole – odds are a thousand to one that the musicians available for the rocking chair symposium could possibly be as talented or as in sync as the Punch Brothers themselves.

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Mumford & Sons Review

“Devils with Strings: Mumford & Sons at War Memorial”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

War Memorial, ablaze

It seems like the majority of the English-speaking world could at least tap a foot along to “Little Lion Man” these days. Beyond that, I’d be willing to wager that the majority of that majority’s opinion is that Mumford & Sons are some fierce musicians, the melancholy heroes of the British folk world. And how could they not be? Their lyrics are simple and poetic, their music rollicking and complex. I like to think of them as a sort of 2nd cousin to The Avett Brothers, trading the raw bluegrass overtones that makes the Avetts so compelling to listen to for the fuller, heavier feel of Celtic banjo and folk mandolin.

The young quartet put out their major label debut Sigh No More in February of this year and have since been accumulating some serious industry chops. They were the talk of Bonnaroo over the summer, and their US tour has grown organically into sold out show after sold out show. The band’s passionate energy and collective musical virtuoso is driving and contagious. Frankly, they overwhelm me. But after finally experiencing one of the most powerful live shows of the year, I’m convinced that Mumford & Sons are possessed: only demons can blaze as they did that night – radiating brilliance and passion without consequence, instruments or not.

Banjo extraordinaire

Their show at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville was a highly anticipated one anyway: tickets sold out in a matter of weeks, a rare occurrence in Music City. November 1st also marked the band’s second performance in Tennessee ever. Mumford & Sons later added a limited performance (set for just hours before the concert) at Grimey’s, the old record store. It sold out before it was even officially announced. Nashville’s Internet presence dubbed the day “Mumford Monday,” in honor.

King Charles opened the show with a husky foreign accent and conductor’s jacket. The crowd’s initial reaction was one of mild confusion mixed with stout curiosity and rightfully so. It takes a certain amount of bravado to stand onstage alone, sporting curls longer than any girl’s and wearing naught but a pink unitard (an outfit that belonged in the Nutcracker ballet rather than a folk rock opener). However, for all his ridiculousness, King Charles’ lyrics were subtle but earnest, his guitar muted but intricate, his voice throaty but clear, and he had won us over by the end.

The only thing I knew about the next act was that the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced their album, which is build up enough. All the same, you’d think maybe the band officially on tour with Mumford & Sons might be a little bit nervous about playing the same stage, but for Cadillac Sky, it was just another day they got to play their instruments and miraculously get paid to do so. Highlights of the C-Sky set included “Human Cannonball” and “Insomniac Blues,” both alive with fervor, lightning fast fingers, and coarse harmonies. The band itself was clever without being gimmicky, sharp without being overly technical.

After the openers, the audience is positively buzzing with the knowledge that there are now mere moments between them and Mumford & Sons. With time to stretch, jot down a few notes, and eavesdrop, I finally take a look around and notice my place among the masses. I have somehow managed to squeeze myself into the exact middle of this tightly packed, flannel-clad crowd: Nashville represented itself well.

Mumford himself

At long last, Mumford & Sons takes the stage to raucous applause. Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane are casually dressed in jeans and white cotton shirts, crumpled button-ups and old vests, exuding effortlessness and humility mingled with raw talent. One of them murmurs a low “Good evening” into the mic, and all goes quiet. They start off like the album, playing “Sigh No More,” “The Cave,” and “Winter Winds” in succession, with hardly a moment in between. Already we are beginning to sink into the world they have created for us – gentle, churning, acoustic, and unbridled. The set continues with “White Blank Page,” a fan favorite. Half the audience is singing every word, the other half stomping the tune’s hastening beat.

The band steps back from the gathering maelstrom, letting the energy gather and eddy through the crowd. Mumford himself introduces the next song as a new one called “Keep the Earth Beneath My Feet,” which was followed by sweet, symphonic “Timshel.” Next, “I Gave You All,” a rapturous and stirring tempest, builds into a gilded fury. Incandescent bulbs electrify the stage as the band begins their infamous “Little Lion Man.” Blazing and crackling, the lights strung across the space below the ceiling recall an ancient Italian restaurant; those lighting them from behind create old-fashioned silhouettes reminiscent of 20s Broadway.

By this time, Mumford & Sons fingers are moving at a blistering rate; the audience itself is roiling. People are cheering before, during, and after each tune. The band is now changing instruments here and there – Marshall adding dobro and slide guitar to the mix, Mumford switching to drums for a song or two, Dwane alternating between string and electric bass. The next few songs are a vehement, glowing blur. New “Lover of the Light,” stormy “Thistle and Weeds,” smoldering “After the Storm,” and dynamic “Awake My Soul.”

As for the last song, a scorching “Dustbowl Dance,” Mumford practically snarls the lyrics. The ground is shaking; the lights are flashing; Lovett and Winston are bellowing the chorus; and the crowd is roaring back. The four Brits – sweaty, wide-eyed, and beaming – bow together and leave the stage, but the crowd is practically riotous, chanting and cheering and stomping wildly.

A few teeming minutes pass, the crowd anxiously eying the backstage. Then with a deafening rise in applause, Mumford & Sons reappear with the boys of Cadillac Sky close on their heels. Each of the bands takes a moment to thank the fans, then nine guys on nine instruments start in on a fiery rendition of “Try to Turn the Tide.” Halfway through the number, the people around me are pointing excitedly; whispers ripple through the crowd: there are more figures with instruments in the backstage doorway. “No way,” I overhear, “DUDE, it’s Old Crow!”

And so it is. Nashville’s own Old Crow Medicine Show emerges, instruments in hand, making a total of 22 people on stage. This is a story that audience will be telling for some time to come. Together, Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, and OCMS play Old Crow’s “Cocaine Habit” and all-time favorite “Wagon Wheel.” They finish with a sweltering performance of “Roll Away Your Stone” – a show for the books, from beginning to swelling, tumultuous end.

EVERYONE

Mumford & Sons is the kind of show that gets in your blood and heats you up until you’re feverish and delirious, raucous and mad for all the world. The music infects you like a sickness, takes over until you give in to it. It’s fearsome and extraordinary, and I wouldn’t dare miss it.

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Herbie Hancock Review

The Imagine Project

“Herbie Takes The Ryman”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Herbie Hancock is magnificent. As a young pianist growing up, I knew him as a pioneer. The man played for years in Miles Davis’ quintet and was one of the first jazz musicians to infuse synthesizers and funk inspiration into his music. Now, as a music journalist, I know him as a legend. Hancock has put out over fifty albums of his own and won twelve Grammy awards, not to mention the nearly seventy albums on which he has collaborated or played.

But now that I have finally had the opportunity to see him live, I think audiences love Herbie Hancock as much for his inexorable talent as for his extraordinary personality. As a typical Nashvillian show-goer, I arrived about ten minutes late, but fiery ol’ Herbie was already talking up a storm, elaborating to a rapt audience about his most recent work The Imagine Project, an effort he described as a musical movement “about peace through global collaboration.”

The man himself is delightfully scatter-brained, speaking to us in his mellifluous baritone casually and without pause, creating a most intimate atmosphere as I have never felt in the Ryman. The audience was almost overly responsive, as if glad to be spending time with an old friend (one woman in the back even going as far as to shout out that she had gone to high school with HH).

The Imagine Project artists, Herbie tells us, include a wide range of today’s talent, like Dave Matthews, Anoushka Shankar, Jeff Beck, The Chieftains, John Legend, India-Arie, Seal, P!nk, Juanes, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, K’Naan, Wayne Shorter, James Morrison, and Lisa Hannigan: a group as young and current as they are varied. Hancock’s own live performance of The Imagine Project on the whole was spirited and bold. Backed by a stellar band including fellow keys man Greg Phillinganes, guitarist Lionel Loueke, vocalist Kristina Train, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the man is 70 years old and still rocking.

Their opening number was a jazzed up version of Lennon’s famous “Imagine,” which also happens to be the first track of the album; however, replacing P!nk’s recorded vocals was Blue Note Records’ young new artist Kristina Train. Together, Hancock and Train molded and stretched the song artfully, each relishing every respective note as if sipping expensive wine.

On the second song, Herbie took the energy up a notch, whipping out a keytar to facilitate various improvisations bordering on dueling riffs with his bass player. The third song had an authentic African vibe and showcased tremendous vocal solos by both keys and guitar players, after which the band disappeared momentarily, the lights dimmed to a deep violet hue, the audience poised nearly perfectly still, and alone, Herbie Hancock played a desperately beautiful, melancholy piece. As his fingers twitched deftly over the keys, music seemed to come from nowhere at all, the notes forming and blending together somewhere in the belly of the piano before drifting lightly, delicately to our ears. I closed my eyes for a while to let the melodies wash over me, and when I opened them, the band had flawlessly rejoined Hancock onstage.

From that point on, the concert sloped exponentially upward in tempo and in energy, quickly developing that feeling of some wild jam session, instead of a show. The next number, Herbie announced, was Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” with a funky groove and Los Lobos accompanying “through the magic of technology.”

The definite highlight of the show was the pairing of Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’” and Sam Cooke “A Change is Gonna Come,” both of which appear on The Imagine Project, though as recordings they are supplemented with The Chieftains and Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan and folk act James Morrison, respectively. To recreate the richness of “Times They Are A-Changin,’” Phillinganes synthesized bagpipes on his organ while Train sang blithely and alternately in Irish. On “A Change is Gonna Come,” Phillinganes’ vocals sent feathery shivers down my spine, his harmonies with Train ultimately pure and gracefully luminous.

Hancock and his band finished exceptionally strong with one last tune: a fabulously bluesy rendition of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain.” Kristina Train’s vocals soared with red hot, Joss Stone style bravado. Loueke wailed on guitar, and Herbie himself raged across his piano keys. The final performance concluded with an immediate standing ovation, each of the band members stepping up to the edge of the stage as Herbie introduced them all once more. Together, they took a final curtain call bow. The audience remained standing for the entire encore, which began offstage with a few telltale funk riffs from Hancock’s keytar.

In getting to see Herbie Hancock, piano extraordinaire, play at the Ryman in Nashville, I learned three things. 1. Age should never be seen as a limiting factor in life (HH has been a rockstar for more years than I’ve been alive), 2. Do not be afraid of gratuitous dissonance (embrace it, especially among highly sophisticated jazz fusion), and 3. Piano is still the most powerful instrument in the orchestra (if its music is wielded with passion and emotion). So thanks to you, Herbie Hancock, on behalf of myself and the rest of Nashville too. We all need a lesson in kicking ass every once in a while.

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Imogen Heap at Exit/In

I finally had the opportunity to see Imogen Heap live at a sold out show at the Exit/In in Nashville on Friday.  She was absolutely everything I wanted her to be.  She was energetic and fun to watch and incredibly talented, even from close up.  She wore mics on her wrists and had about four keyboards on stage.  She used the most unconventional methods with which to create her incredibly complex music.  Imogen Heap is pure enchantment.  I was enthralled with her performance.  And the fact that her set for this tour included a giant white tree with lights strung all over it and a plexiglass piano only made the experience more memorable.  She mentioned coming back to Nashville in April, and I wouldn’t dare miss it for anything.

So once again, I didn’t have my camera, which was killing me throughout the show, but my friend Candie Walter did, so these are her pictures.

By Candie Walter

The tree and the piano

By Candie Walter

Imogen Heap

By Candie Walter

The tree again, all lit up

By Candie Walter

Keytar!

By Candie Walter

The Ellipse stage

– EJR

 

Ingrid Michaelson at the Belcourt

I dropped and broke my camera on Halloween, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the Ingrid Michaelson show at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville yesterday.  We did get a picture with her afterward though, courtesy my sister’s camera:

Ingrid Michaelson

My sister, Ellen, Ingrid, me, and my boyfriend, Tyler

Also, the show was amazing.  I’ve seen Ingrid play 4 times now.  Twice while I lived in New York in 2006/2007, once when the Hotel Cafe tour came through Nashville in 2008, and last night was my fourth.  My only problem with the Belcourt was that we were sitting down; I wanted to get up and dance!  I can’t wait for her to come back, though.  Last night was a fabulous way to start off the month of November.


Quote of the Night: Ingrid, after drinking from her aluminum water bottle: “You know, I’m trying to be good to the environment, but this just tastes like a key.”

– EJR