More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

American Acoustic at Wolf Trap August 3, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:53 pm

I always try to make it down to Wolf Trap for a show at least once per summer because as I’ve mentioned many times before it’s one of my favorite venues. Last night was the night for this summer. It really is a testament to how much I love it that I’m willing to deal with rush hour traffic in both Baltimore and DC to get down there. Last night’s drive was particularly terrible because we drove down in thunderstorms pretty much the entire way. There was one particularly harrowing part where we could barely see the road it was raining so hard.

Despite the awful weather during the drive, the weather gods continued to smile on me this week because we got no rain once we actually got to the venue. There were a couple flashes of lightning, but it didn’t wind up amounting to anything thankfully. In fact it turned out to be the perfect barefoot, blue jean summer night. It’s my favorite kind of weather. The fact that the show was acoustic meant that the music wasn’t super loud, and you could hear the cicadas in the trees as well. It really was the perfect summer atmosphere in one of my favorite places.

The performance I went to see last night was the American Acoustic tour which featured The Punch Brothers, I’m With Her (a supergroup composed of Sarah Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan), and Julian Lage. Each of them played some songs on their own, but even in their individual sets there was lots of collaboration between them with various members of each of the groups coming out to join each other on songs. Then at the end they played a number of songs all together.

I pretty much have to agree with exactly what I heard a guy walking out in front of us say. My favorite parts of the show were the ones featuring the members of I’m With Her because I’m a huge sucker for some female harmonies. And as he said, I too still miss Nickel Creek, and loved the few Nickel Creek songs they played. It was an excellent night of music all around though. Everything about the night was well worth the less than fun trip to get there.

 

The 2017 Newport Folk Festival August 1, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture,Travel — dwhren @ 9:06 pm

As we’ve done for the past 6 years we headed up to Rhode Island the last weekend of July for the Newport Folk Festival. It’s always my favorite weekend of the year. As always it was a magical experience from the weather to the music. Heading into the weekend it looked like we were going to get rained on a lot. I literally took up half my suitcase with rain boots in preparation for being soaking wet. Instead it wound up being one of the best weather weekends we’ve had at Newport. It was chilly, grey, and super windy on Saturday from the nor’easter that came through the mid-Atlantic over the weekend, but somehow was kept just south of the Rhode Island coast. Unlike a lot of people who apparently don’t know how to check a weather forecast, I came prepared and was appropriately clothed so it wasn’t too bad. Sunday was perfect.

I know no one cares, so I won’t bore you with a play by play of who I saw play, but I’ll just share some of the best moments from the weekend. I always enjoy when artists have what I like to think of as a “Newport moment” where they just become overwhelmed by the fact that they’re playing this historic festival. That happened to Big Thief on Friday. The lead singer stopped partway through her set and said I’m shaking. It just doesn’t seem right to keep playing through my set like this is a normal show. I don’t know what to play right now, at which point people in the crowd started shouting out song suggestions. She was completely overwhelmed saying I can’t believe you guys know the name of my songs. She finally settled on a song, but asked to start it over and put down her guitar and just let the rest of the band back her while she picked up the microphone and sang and danced. The crowd gave them a standing ovation at the end of the song. Newport, man.

Nancy and Beth featuring Nick Offerman, which is the sort of vaudeville show put on by Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt. It was just ridiculous amounts of fun, and I appreciate that they stuck around the rest of the weekend and popped up in various places.

Grandma’s Hands Band was a special treat. I knew it was a tribute to the songs of Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lovely Day to name a few), but there wasn’t any information released ahead of time about who would be participating in it. This was just one of the many moments of the festival when you trust producer Jay Sweet and show up for something amazing. I’m constantly stage hopping so I very rarely make it in time for the pre-set announcement of who is playing. Assuming they actually did say from the top who was on stage I missed it, so I was incredibly delighted to realize that the distinctive sounds of M. C. Taylor (aka Hiss Golden Messenger) were coming from the stage. He played together with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) and Phil Cook plus a number of other guest singers. The whole thing was a real treat and again something just so signature Newport. What other music festival creates multiple tribute sets (there was also one for the songs of Chuck Berry).

As I mentioned in a previous post after seeing Joseph perform in Annapolis a few weeks ago, they definitely earned themselves a spot in my Newport lineup. They did not disappoint. They were equally as amazing and blew the crowd away. And they participated in another venerable Newport tradition in which an artist who is not on the bill for the weekend at all shows up and joins in other people’s sets. In this instance it was Zach Williams from The Lone Bellow who joined them to sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Definitely one of my highlights of the weekend.

Starting off my Sunday with Choir! Choir! Choir! was a wonderful experience. If you’re not familiar Choir! Choir! Choir! was started by two guys from Toronto just inviting people to get together and sing via a Facebook event. In the years since it has taken over their lives. For 40 minutes they amused the crowd with their humor and eventually turned us into a choir teaching us to sing in two part harmony Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Nothing better than joining my folk family in a beautiful sing-a-long.

Rhiannon Giddons was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Again you could just feel her excitement and awe at getting to perform on the Newport stage. One of her band mates told a wonderful story about how his father-in-law played the first Cajun two-step set back in the 60s. Prior to arriving they were panned in the Newport paper and worried they were going to show up and get booed off the stage. Instead the crowd went wild for them and he wrote a song about the experience that Rhiannon Giddons and her band played. The whole set was fantastic.

Speak Out was another random set I didn’t really know what I was getting into going in. I heard Jay Sweet talk about it on the All Songs Considered podcast. He basically said that after the election he had many artists contact him about wanting to come to Newport this year to be a part of it even if only for a song because of what Newport is and the meaning of folk music. Last year’s festival seemed very political to me. A lot of artists spoke out against Trump and things that were happening at this time last year, so I sort of expected it to be even more so like that this year. Instead it wasn’t at all, and ultimately I was glad for it. I’m so inundated with politics every other second of my life these days, it actually felt really great to disconnect from it all and celebrate through song for a change. Even during a set entitled Speak Out, no one actually spoke in just words. The entire thing was songs. It was artists both again on this year’s bill and those who showed up just to sing a song bringing back old protest songs to help fight another day. Zach Williams showed up again as did Sharon Van Etten and Margo Price who I had not seen around the rest of the weekend. I of course should not have been surprised the Jess and Holly from Lucius showed up during this one too. They have come back to Newport every year since the first time they performed whether they were on the bill or not. I was jokingly making up a Newport bingo card for the weekend and my husband said I needed to put a Jess and Holly sighting on there. He’s not wrong. Listening to them sing O-o-o-h Child backed by the Berklee Gospel Choir and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was another highlight of my weekend.

This year’s closing headliner for the festival was the legendary John Prine. I have heard so many artists cover his song “Angel from Montgomery”, it was a real treat to finally get to hear him sing it. In that same All Songs Considered interview I mentioned, Jay Sweet said that he could not give time to everyone who had asked him to sing with John Prine during his set. A lot of people came out and sang with him including Margo Price, Jim James, Nathaniel Rateliffe, and Jess and Holly. The biggest surprise of all was Roger Waters. He headlined last year and sang a John Prine song during his set. This year he came back to sing a song with John Prine because what even is this festival. How does someone like Roger Waters just stop in to a sing a single song. That’s how special this is. There really aren’t words to convey it even though I try every year.

It was another amazing weekend that helped to restore my weary soul.

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena July 25, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:54 pm

This past Sunday I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena. It’s the third time I’ve seen Tom Petty live, but the first time I’ve managed to stay for the entire set. The first time I saw him was on the Wildflowers tour back when I was in high school. I went with my friends, my sister, and her boyfriend. My sister insisted on leaving before the encore and since her boyfriend drove we all wound up having to leave on her whim. A few years ago I went to one day of the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. The day we went Tom Petty was the headliner, but this time I was the one who wanted to leave before it was over. He didn’t go on until almost midnight and we had an almost 2 hour drive home, so I wanted to cut out before the crowd left and resulted in us spending that long just trying to get out of the parking lot.

I’ve loved Tom Petty for a long time. I always say that my first indication that my love of my music was more shall we say intense and different than my friends should have been that while all my middle school aged friends were freaking out over NKOTB, I was over in the corner in love with Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down”. Full Moon Fever was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Tom Petty is the only artist for whom I owned a box set. And I’ve long said that if I played baseball my walk up song would be “American Girl”. So basically what I’m saying is my love for Tom Petty is long and deep. So I was very excited to get to celebrate this milestone with him.

The opener was Peter Wolf formerly of the J. Geils Band so I found out. My husband was astonished I didn’t know that, but I said I never really cared for the J. Geils Band. There is something about their sound that I find off-putting. That held true listening to his set. I have no idea how many of the songs he played were J. Geils stuff versus his solo stuff because I only recognized one song, but certainly the songs that had that J. Geils feel to them I liked much less than the other ones.

Tom Petty’s set however was A+. It was like it was custom made for me. He did mostly just play his big hits, so it’s not like I was looking for him to dig very deep. However, there were a few pulls that I had hoped he’d play that I never dreamed he would. I have always loved the song “Yer So Bad”. I mean it was a single, so it had radio play but I don’t think it was ever a huge hit so I never really expected him to play it. I was super delighted when he did.

Wildflowers is decidedly my favorite Tom Petty album, and from what I read in his biography by Warren Zanes, which I highly recommend reading if you’re a Tom Petty fan, Tom Petty also views it as his best work. Thus I wasn’t super surprised that in addition to playing a couple of other songs from the album at other points in the show, he did a mini-set of songs from the Wildflowers album in the middle of the show. In addition to the title song, which is probably my favorite Tom Petty song ever, and “It’s Good to Be King”, he also played “Crawling Back to You”. As he pointed out it was a song that was never released as a single and thus something they rarely play. It’s definitely my second favorite song off of Wildflowers and might rank that high among all his songs for me. Until I was singing along with it, I had forgotten that I actually had used some lyrics from that song as my email signature my freshman year of college. I could not be happier that I got to hear him play it live.

The rest of the show was basically a string of hit singles spanning from the opening song they played, “Rockin’ Around (With You)”, which is the first song they ever recorded up through his most recent single from 2014, “The Forgotten Man”. It was one giant sing-a-long for 2+ hours. It was so much fun and was exactly what I was hoping for in the show.

I don’t know if he’ll stick to it or not, but I did read going into this tour that Tom Petty said he suspects it will be his last big tour. When he chooses to play live it will be some one off shows in smaller clubs. If this does wind up being his last big hurrah, he’s going out on a hell of a high note and I’m glad I got to be there for it.

 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion July 1, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 5:27 pm

Last night I finally got the chance to see Jason Isbell play a show in Maryland. This is the fifth time I’ve seen him live, but oddly the first time in the Baltimore area. The other times he has been at Merriweather he was opening for other bands, and I gladly would have gone just to see him open but I was out of town both times I’m aware of. I actually traveled home from Cape Cod on the day of this concert specifically so I could go to it. I’m very glad I did because it was a great show as always.

Normally when I go to Merriweather I just get lawn seats, but when I bought the tickets I thought I was going to have to drag my husband to go with me. I figured he would be marginally less grumpy about it if we had actual seats in the pavilion. Luckily I found a friend to go with me, so he was spared. The couple of other times I’ve sat inside of the pavilion I haven’t scored seats nearly as close. We were in the right center section about halfway up, so definitely the closest I’ve ever been to the stage at Merriweather. I appreciated actually getting to see the stage for real instead of through the screens for a change.

The Mountain Goats were the opening band. They are one of those bands that I feel like I should like, but I just don’t. I always hear people on NPR music going on about them, which generally means they should be in my wheelhouse, but I had never heard anything by them that inspired me to look into them more. I thought maybe seeing them play would ignite some sort of passion for me, but it didn’t. I didn’t really care for most of the songs they played. So I guess the Mountain Goats are just not for me.

Jason Isbell is, however, very much for me. I’ve been meaning to write up something about his most recent album, The Nashville Sound, which came out a couple of weeks ago. With all the traveling I’ve been doing I just didn’t get the chance. Since they played the majority of the songs from the album I’ll just roll my thoughts on it in here. That way everyone just has one post to ignore instead of two.

Jason Isbell’s last two albums were credited just to him, but the new album brings the return of his band The 400 Unit. It’s a much more rock driven album than Southeastern or Something More Than Free. Since they’re touring promoting The Nashville Sound obviously they focused on playing songs from it, making it a much more rock focused concert than some of the other shows I’ve seen.

Even with the move back to his more Southern rock roots of his Drive-by Truckers years the songs are still incredibly soulful and full of poignant lyrics that drill right into your heart. A good number of the songs on the new album seem very focused on our political times from “Cumberland Gap” and “Last of My Kind” looking at life in small towns and the way people there feel as the world changes around them to songs like “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” that grapple with waking up in a world where people actually voted for Donald Trump to be president and wondering how that happened and coming to terms with white privilege as a white man. There’s also “Anxiety”, the song they opened the show with last night, which really has nothing to with politics but speaks very much to my anxious personality that is only be exacerbated by this political morass we’re living in.

Also from the new album they played “Something to Love”, which is one of the more folk country songs on the album as opposed to the more rock driven stuff. Also in the non-rock genre from that album was the first song of their encore, “If We Were Vampires”, which is the most heartbreakingly beautiful love song you’ll ever hear. It’s all about cherishing the one you love most of all because you know of the limited time you have with them on this earth. As someone who constantly tells my husband that he is not allowed to die first, the lines

“Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind”

kill me every time I hear them.

The rest of the show was a mix of songs off of Southeastern and Something More than Free as well as “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change” from his time with the Drive-by Truckers, which he has played at every show I’ve been to so they seem to be standard in his set. “Cover Me Up” was beautiful as always, though I noticed that the cheers for the line “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff forever this time” seemed much more muted than I’ve experienced in the past. I suspect he’s starting to gain more followers that aren’t as familiar with his backstory. I was also very happy that they played “The Life You Chose” because it’s my favorite song off the Something More than Free album and they didn’t play it either of the previous times I saw them after that album came out.

I saw Jason Isbell tweet earlier in the year that he was going to take a year off from playing festivals and just play venues where he could headline and do a real full set for his fans. I very much appreciate that decision. I am tired of the 8 billion music festivals that exist these days. Pretty much it seems like musical acts are caught up doing nothing but traveling from festival to festival for 6 months out of the year these days, so if you don’t happen to have a music festival near year or can’t/don’t want to pay to go to one then you’re out of luck to see anyone. Plus festival sets are always short. You’re lucky if you get a full hour. I very much love that I got see Jason Isbell play a full two hour set last night with a crowd of people who were there to specifically to see him.

Having that full two hours really did change the dynamic of the show from the previous times I’ve seen him. Two of the times were in fact short hour or less festival sets at the Newport Folk Festival. Last year he was supposed to headline the show I was seeing, but then they moved the show to a larger venue and added Chris Stapleton as the headliner. Technically I think they were supposed to be co-headlining, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like Jason Isbell was the second opening act for Chris Stapleton, who the crowd was definitely there to see. I did see him headline at the 9:30 Club when touring for Southeastern, so he did have a slightly longer set there but was also sick at the time and probably at that point figuring out what his stage personality was going to be like as someone performing newly sober. He definitely did not do a whole lot of between songs talking during that performance either.

Last night with the full two hours it seemed like he felt like had room to breathe. He joked around a lot, he told stories to intro songs, he repeatedly expressed how grateful he was to be there and how much he doesn’t take it for granted. He also introduced every member of the band no less than three times to make sure we knew it’s not just about him up there, but every member of the 400 Unit too. I very much love how much you can tell that he just loves playing music and is appreciating every second of where he is right now. And also the best moment of the night when he started talking to his almost two year old daughter, Mercy, who I then realized was standing just off stage for part of the show. Isbell is married to Amanda Shires who sometimes plays fiddle with the 400 Unit and when they are touring together they bring their daughter along. It was a very sweet moment as was watching him pick up his wife and carry her off stage in giddy happiness at the end of the night after they closed out with a lit performance of The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”. It was a wonderful show as always.

 

Joseph at Rams Head on Stage June 13, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:25 pm

You might recall that I named Joseph’s album I’m Alone, No You’re Not my favorite album of 2016,┬áthat I wrote about how much I love their song SOS (Overboard), or that when I saw them open for Lucius back in December that I said I couldn’t wait to see them headline a show. Ok, let’s be realistic, you remember exactly none of that. But I did in fact say all that right here on this very blog.

Last night I did get the chance to see them as a headliner at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis. Rams Head on Stage is one of those seated venues that is tables with optional dinner and drink service. Because Baltimore earns its nickname of Smalltimore I wound up seating directly across the table from someone I used to be in a book club with, but haven’t seen or talked to in a couple of years.

The opening act was a band composed of two brothers aptly named The Dupont Brothers. Since Joseph is a band composed of three sisters they joked about it being a brothers and sisters night. The had sort an etherial folk music sound. They reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who. They were good entertainers and I wouldn’t mind listening to them play live again if I happened to be somewhere they were, but I’m not sure I loved their music enough to keep track of them otherwise.

Joseph was everything I anticipated they would be based on the short set I got to see them play last year. They were super energetic and really commanded the room. Often times I find seated venues, especially ones like this where tables are involved and there’s not really any way for people to stand up to create generally low energy crowds, but they had the crowd super pumped and into the show. Their harmonies as always were amazing. Last time I saw them I said I was disappointed they didn’t play “Blood & Tears”, but I understood because it was such a short set. I started to get a little bit worried that they somehow weren’t going to play it during this show either since they didn’t play it until pretty close to the end of the set list, but they finally did and was probably my favorite part of the night.

Joseph is scheduled to play at the Newport Folk Festival. Normally since I had just seen them I would choose to see someone else that they’re up against instead. In this case, they put on such an amazing show that they cemented a spot in my Newport schedule. They now join the rank of bands who I immediately want to see again as soon as their show is over. I can’t wait to enjoy them with a Newport crowd.

2017-06-12 21.05.46

 

Neil Diamond’s 50th Anniversary Concert in Baltimore June 11, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 5:00 pm

When I was 11 or 12 (I don’t know the actual age, but I was in 6th grade so it was one of those two) my parents took me to my first concert. It was Neil Diamond. That concert obviously set off a long love of live music. So I couldn’t resist going to see Neil Diamond on his 50th Anniversary Concert Tour.

I also saw him about 11 or 12 years ago at the Verizon Center in DC. He definitely wasn’t as spry as he was even back then. Dude’s 76 though, so I’ll cut him a break. It’s impressive that has enough stamina to get up almost every night and perform for 2+ hours. His voice is still great, so won’t be too concerned with the somewhat lackluster theatrics. That’s never what I’m at a concert for anyway.

At that last concert I was actually surprised by the number of twentysomethings that were in the crowd. The age level was decidedly higher at this show. Granted I’m over a decade older and so would be any of those twentysomethings. I still felt this show skewed older because I didn’t feel like I saw very many people even in my age range. Most everyone I saw was closer to my parents age, which is obviously Neil Diamond’s demographic.

And Neil Diamond does have a following. I heard a number of people around us talking about how many times they had seen him live. And there were definitely some old ladies having some feelings during certain songs and when he flashed up certain pictures of himself in younger years. He used a lot of really great old home movies and concert footage from his career as a backdrop during certain songs, which I thought was really great especially since the tour is celebrating his 50 year career.

He sang most of the songs I wanted to hear and pretty much played all the big hits. I was a little worried that he wasn’t going to play America, which is my favorite Neil Diamond song probably because it’s the first Neil Diamond song I can remember knowing. But it was the final song of the encore. As an American flag image showed up on the screen the crowd went wild because they all knew it was coming. And of course the singalong that was Sweet Caroline was lots of fun. It was a great show to celebrate the long career of an American music icon.

2017-06-09 21.08.21

 

Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger at Merriweather Post Pavilion May 25, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:05 pm

Last night I went with my friends Lindsey and Andrew to see Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I missed Bon Iver the last time he was through these parts a number of years ago, so I was excited to finally get to see him live. I got even more excited when they finally announced that his opener was going to be Hiss Golden Messenger, who I also love.

Even though I love both them and was very happy to be able to see them both, in my mind I found them to be somewhat of an odd musical pairing. Hiss Golden Messenger is kind of Southern jammy guitar rock while Bon Iver is whatever Bon Iver is. Wikipedia offered up the genre of folktronica, which I’m going to go with. I expressed my thoughts about how I felt they were an odd concert fit on Twitter and Hiss Golden Messenger actually responded saying they’re all friends. And ultimately after the concert I decided there’s a lot more common DNA there than I really thought. The auto-tuney, more experimental music especially of more recent Bon Iver kind of overshadowed the guitar of it all, but seeing it all live on stage last night made the guitar stand out more to me.

Hiss Golden Messenger was great. I really enjoyed their set. It felt like the music I needed for where I’ve been lately. Their jammy folk rock is well, my jam. I feel like I’m carrying around 800 lbs of anxiety at all times, and I find Hiss Golden Messenger’s music so soothing to my soul. Just sitting there and listening to them jam out was a kind of bliss. My friend Lindsey said their music is perfect for a super hot, sticky summer day and she’s exactly right. Their song “Saturday Song” was one of the inspirations for the Spotify playlist I have called Chill Summer Songs for exactly that kind of it’s too hot to move summer weather. Having that weather instead of the gray, damp, cool weather we did have was the only thing that would have made it more perfect. They played a good mix of stuff from their new album and older albums. Their attempt to create a sing-along to “Heart Like a Levee” fell very flat. Sorry guys, you’re just really not a sing-along kind of band, but I still love the song even if their sing-along idea didn’t work out for them. As we hopefully finally head into warm summer weather I highly recommend giving them a listen.

2017-05-24 20.02.33

Normally when I got to Merriweather I get lawn seats, but for this concert I decided to spring for pavilion seats. My reasoning was two-fold. One I slightly overestimated how popular Bon Iver was. I don’t think the show sold out, although it was decently full. When Merriweather really sells out, I feel like they way oversell the lawn for the amount of space there is and I hate dealing with that especially if the weather turns out lousy like that one Mumford and Sons concert I was at. So thinking Bon Iver might be a sell out situation, I decided I wanted a seat that was actually mine. The other reason I wanted to be inside the pavilion was because I knew his show would be heavily reliant on lights and you can’t really see that very well from the lawn. I was completely correct on that, so I’m glad I made the choice to sit inside the pavilion.

Bon Iver’s set was very heavy on songs from the new album, 22, A Million. In fact he/they played it pretty much straight through from beginning to end before throwing in a handful of songs from other albums at the end. We still got “Holocene”, “Calgary”, and “Skinny Love” which I was happy about. My favorite was “Skinny Love” in which Justin Vernon stayed out on stage solo with a guitar lit in a single spotlight and played. The crowd, which had stayed seated for the entire concert rose to sing along. It was beautiful, and one of those perfect concert moments I love.

2017-05-24 21.31.51