The infamous 8x10 Club in Baltimore played host to yet another Saturday night barnburner this past July 25th. Jeff Austin’s bus rolled into town with a new band, an updated sound, and enough energy to light up the whole city. The clean bluegrass tones of local pickers the Highland Hill Boys were the perfect compliment and songs filled the air for all to enjoy.
Hailing from Highland, Md., these “boys” are a tight unit that cranks out some serious music. Boasting multiple vocalist and lead instrumentalists, they offered up a set of music that whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Working their way through the regional music scene these fellas certainly have some something sweet going on. For more information please check out http://www.facebook.com/thehighlandhillboys .
After a short break to prepare the stage for the coming thunder, The Jeff Austin Band emerged promptly at 11pm. After spending 15 years in one of the most loved new age string bands, it seems like Jeff desired a new musical direction. Well, that is something that he has certainly ascertained. Though it has a familiar instrumentation, the members of JAB combine their incredible talents to create something beautiful, yet it is certainly not bluegrass in the traditional sense.
Bluegrass music came to be long ago and over the years it has evolved just like a living, breathing thing. In recent times it seems like musicians are stretching the boundaries of what was once thought impossible of their instruments. Adding distortions, effects, and more complex melodies, many different inspirations have leaked into what we call “grass” today. The Jeff Austin Band may soon be at the forefront of this jamgrass revolution.
With in minutes of taking the stage, every eye and ear in the joint was transfixed on a band that seemed unstoppable. Danny Barnes may be one of the most interesting Banjo players out there. Capable of evoking many styles and tones out of his 5 string, he uses both claw hammer and Scruggs style techniques to create sounds that make you question if he is even playing a Banjo at times. Jeff and Danny have a history of writing music together and when you add Ross Martin on Guitar and Eric Thorin on the bass fiddle it becomes a recipe for awesome music.
The band brought energy. The crowd brought energy. Everybody in the house knew that they were part of something special. At one point Jeff invited everyone to hop on the bus after the show and hit the road with the band! It’s a powerful moment when a crowd affects a band like this. Magic is created, prefect dances moves are achieved, and every beating heart in the building is happy. Please go check this band out as they travel the country playing some of the finest venues and festivals out there. Information on their music, tour schedule and much more can be found at www.JeffAustin.com
One of rock music's quietly powerful geniuses remains both reflective and hopeful.
By Steve Houk
Photo by © Eleanor Stills
With the wonderful life that Graham Nash has had to date, there are many things to be thankful for. Being a prolific, revered two time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is a biggie. Being a talented and respected photographer ain't bad either. Heck, being Joni Mitchell's boyfriend -- he wrote "Our House" after a romantic day with her, and she wrote "Woodstock" after he recalled to her tales of the festival -- well, that should be up there as well, if you ask me.
But Nash is a little more reflective, a little more down to earth, a little more present day with what he is most thankful for these days.
"Breathing. I think that leads to alot of things," Nash told me recently as he was preparing for his summer solo tour. "I like being alive, I like being creative, I feel excellent and I've had a good time with my life and it doesn't show any sign of changing. "
Graham Nash continues to tour with CSN, the legendary band is scheduled to go to Europe this fall. But as with his legendary bandmates, he also possesses the innate need, the burning desire to keep venturing out solo, to always keep establishing his life outside of the three (and sometimes four) headed monster, even amidst the many life challenges even a rock legend can have.
"I've been going through personal turmoil in my life, and I'm loving being able to feel again," Nash reflected with a healthy dash of optimism. "Everything's fine. It's just life, and I'll deal with it as it comes to me. For this tour, I'm going to be playing by myself, but I'm going to have Shane Fontayne playing guitar with me. Anything from The Hollies to a song that I'll probably write that morning. And last October, I had an incredible month with Shane, who is the second guitar player in the Crosby Stills and Nash band, we wrote twenty songs, came off the road earlier this year, went into the studio and cooked those twenty songs in eight days. So I'm bringing [the new record] out in spring of next year, that's only, what, seven months away."
Only needing to worry about his own music is a relief of sorts for Nash, as it is with anyone who goes out solo having been in a tight knit and often contentious band for decades.
"I've taken such delicate care with the music of Crosby Stills and Nash and all our recordings and all our archives for so long, you know, it's very interesting only having to deal with my music. I'm always the democratic one in the band, I want equal representation from everybody. But having to only deal with the music that I have written is kind of freeing in a way. Really is."
Nash, 73, is a British-raised American citizen, so it makes sense that the basic values of free speech in America would give him joy and comfort, this being the guy who wrote such scathing political anthems as "Chicago", "Immigration Man" and "Military Madness," all songs that in some other countries might have gotten you arrested, or worse.
"I enjoy my ability to speak my mind, which I can here in America," Nash said, with that aura of quiet passion that always is apparent in both his gentle manner and his music. "I'm not so sure that some of the stuff that me and David and Stephen and Neil talked about in this last 45 years would have been allowed in a different country. This is the United States and it has its problems, obviously, but it is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful. The people here want exactly what people around the world want, they want a better world for their children than they had, they want their children to be fed and educated and taken care of, basic stuff, you know?"
Photo By © Henry Diltz
Nash agrees with what his cohort Crosby told me in our interview a couple weeks before, that when all is said and done, people won't remember any of the abuse, strife or struggle, they'll remember the incredible songs.
"Yes, I think it only comes down to the music. No matter what we have done to ourselves in the past, no matter how much we've argued or backstabbed or any of those other silly things that go on when you're in close contact with three or four people for so many years, the most important part of our relationship without question is the music. That's the thing that will live on long after our bodies fall apart."
Although life is still very vital and exciting and productive for Graham Nash, when you ask him to remember his happiest moments as a musician, you can sense a bit of wistfulness the likes of which we all feel about something sometime, as he remembered a magical time with David and Stephen when life was less complicated, it was fresh, and it must have been truly miraculous.
"It was exciting, it was new, it was sunny, and it was friendly. It was creative. We loved each other, we loved each other's songs, and we loved the opportunity that was given to us when we first discovered that vocal blend. Yeah, that's the happiest I've ever been recording, is that first Crosby Stills and Nash record."
Red Wing Roots Festival
Natural Chimneys Park
Mount Solon, VA.
By Kirby Farineau
Natural Chimneys Photo By Milo Farineau
When standing beneath the monumental Natural Chimneys (120 foot limestone pillars and the only remaining evidence that this part of the world was once completely undersea) in Mount Solon, Virginia, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful location for a music festival. That’s just one of many things that keeps people coming back to the Red Wing Roots Festival, an event put on by Harrisonburg Americana group The Steel Wheels for its third year in a row. Since its inception, Red Wing Roots has been an opportunity for festival goers to see a diverse array of talented musicians from across the country, reflecting musical traditions from even farther.
Having attended, myself, each year, I would have to say that Red Wing 3 followed its initial format quite closely, and intentionally. Mandolin player and Steel Wheels member Jay Lapp commented “ Well, I wouldn’t say there have been too many major changes (this year) …..the quality of the lineup has stayed the same, if not, gotten better.” There was hardly ever a gap in the music, thanks to a brilliant stage setup that varied all the main acts between two separate stages that faced each other. When one act finished, the other stage would start up playing almost immediately.
Friday kicked off the event with a lineup including the harmonious Mandolin Orange, as well as the unique blend of Americana and Celtic music of Elephant Revival. The late night for Friday might have been the most exhilarating though, with the The Travelin’ McCourys. Ronnie and Rob, sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, team up with monster fiddle player Jason Carter and bass player Alan Bartram, and to the delight of audience members, Andy Falco of The Infamous Stringdusters. Every musician on that stage in their own right left the audience amazed at sheer musical talent in songwriting and in incredible picking.
Andy Falco Photo By Milo Farineau
This left audiences buzzed and ready to go for headliner and Texas country star Robert Earl Keen. Besides being an expert songwriter, and fantastic lyricist, Keen carried a certain presence that made it hard to break away from his every word. He was confident, bold, and had the audience in a stir by the end of his set. Red Wing concluded its fantastic opening night with a late late night set from The Brothers Comatose.
Robert Earl Keen Photo By Milo Farineau
The Judy Chops, opened day two with a set of mountain swing, followed by fantastic bluesy and groovy bass playing from seven time IBMA award winning Bassist of the Year Missy Raines & The New Hip, as well as some simply masterful guitar playing from Stephane Wrembel. What came next I can only describe as a jaw dropping display of all female harmony from Sarah-Sarah-Aoife, a remarkable collaboration between Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek fame, accomplished solo artist Sarah Jarosz, and Crooked Still singer Aiofe O’Donovan. The trio delivered a performance that carried the audience from uproar of adoration to complete silence for focused listening and back again.. Their closing song , a stomp-clap solely-sung exquisite tune left the entire audience with goosebumps and open mouths as they surrendered the crowd to their hosts The Steel Wheels.
Whether it was the four part harmony, or Trent Wagler’s solo singing, The Steel Wheels have some of the most distinct and tight vocals on the Americana scene. They are also all brilliant players, and have immense talent when it comes to their songwriting. Song after song, The Steel Wheels delivered beautiful sounds that were hard not to dance to. Though they were not without their emotional moments. There were plenty of tears in the audience as they played the bittersweet song that the festival takes its name from: Red Wing. The finale had to be one of the highlights of the night, as Trent brought out the band’s signature “Gospelator,” a stick with bottle caps and washers to jingle, with a rubber stopper on the bottom to lay a beat. As they lay their instruments down, the band took to a single microphone, and sang their hearts out to one of their most distinct and soulful gospel tracks, “No Rain in the Valley” to close their set.
Chris Thile Photo By Milo Farineau
Only The Punch Brothers could have followed that set, and follow they did with their incredible musicianship and vocal stylings. Chris Thile, band leader and mandolin player extraordinaire, was particularly physical that night, playing like a man possessed. Their music is just as infectious as his smile as he danced along to his playing. Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen provided the late late night entertainment for those revelers still riding the wave from those earlier performances.
Sunday morning opened with “a fun tradition to start.” Says Lapp, “We wanted to put something on with a nice quasi-gospel feeling. Sometimes we have some special guests up on that and sometimes we do our own thing,” Nothing like coffee and the Steel Wheels beautiful vocal harmonies.
The Steel Wheels Photo By Milo Farineau
The final headliners for the fest were The Wood Brothers, who played a jaw dropping blend of Americana music with elements of blues, and even some jazz stylings. The band’s sound was defined by harmonies, explosively aggressive bass playing, and wonderfully odd drumming. At one point the drummer pulled out an instrument that appeared to be a drum set adapted into a guitar! For a solid five minutes Chris Wood abandoned his position on bass to rile up the crowd with a high energy dance. They also played crowd-pleasing covers, most notably “Ophelia”, by The Band.
Though just when people were starting to come to terms with having to go home, audiences were treated with the sound of a final goodbye from The Steel Wheels who invited everyone to try to sing along with the chorus of the eponymous Red Wing.
With that, Red Wing Roots ended, and multitudes of first time attendees and festival veterans alike were left to walk back to their campsites and cars. With the natural chimneys, in all their beautiful history behind them, they were left with memories of the weekend of beautiful performances just as strong and solid as the chimneys themselves, and dreams of future Red Wings to come.
New Impromptu Town Mountain Recording Project Announced
To Honor The Grateful Dead in the year of the band’s 50th Anniversary
The band will record "Town Mountain” renditions of two of their favorite Grateful Dead songs
Photo by Jamie Shepard.
For updates from the road and further tour dates, please visit facebook.com/TownMountain,twitter.com/TownMountain, & instagram.com/townmountainbluegrass.
7/1 Wed - Red, White and Bluegrass Festival - Morganton, NC
7/4 Sat- Heart of Waverly Bluegrass Festival - Waverly, AL
7/10 Fri - Music Fest n' Sugar Grove - Sugar Grove, NC
7/11 Sat - An Appalachian Evening at Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center - Robbinsville, NC
7/12 Sun - Concerts for A Cause - Pittsboro, NC
7/18-19 Sat-Sun - Northwest String Summit - North Plains, OR
7/23 Thu - Liberty Theater - Watonga, OK
7/24 Fri - Southern Sound Concert Series - Oklahoma City, OK
7/25 Sat - Saxon Pub - Austin, TX
8/1-2 Sat-Sun - Sioux River Folk Festival - Canton, SD
8/3 Mon - Monday Night Concert Series - Sioux Falls, SD
8/6 Thu - Thursday Night Live - Courthouse Square - London, KY
8/7 Fri - Cosmic Charlie’s - Lexington, KY
8/8 Sat - Bluegrass in the Park Folklife Festival- Henderson, KY
8/13 Thu - Thursday Night Americana Series in Washington Park - Cincinnati, OH
8/14 Fri - Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. - Milwaukee, WI
8/15 Sat - LarryFest - LaFarge, WI
8/16 Sun - LarryFest After Party - Bangor, WI
9/2 Wed - Creative Alliance - Baltimore, MD
9/3 Thu - Iron Horse Music Hall - Northhampton, MA
9/5-6 Sat-Sun - Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival - Brunswick, ME
9/12 Sat - Mountain Song Festival - Brevard, NC
9/18 Fri - Americana Music Festival - Nashville, TN
9/19 Sat - Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival - Morehead, KY
JEFF AUSTIN, THE SIMPLE TRUTH,
2015 ON YEP ROC
A genre-blurring solo debut with Danny Barnes, Ross Martin, Eric Thorin and
Cody Dickinson, the Royal Horns and special guests
BOULDER, Colo. — “This is it. This is the band. We’re here and we’re focused,” singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Jeff Austin says with glee. He’s referring to his handpicked ensemble, the Jeff Austin Band. The group features long-time collaborator Danny Barnes on banjo and guitar, guitarist Ross Martin, bass player Eric Thorin, and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars on percussion.
The Simple Truth, the group’s 2015 debut solo album and Austin’s first recording for Yep Roc records, is no simple affair. His legions of fans have long known of Austin’s eclectic musical influences. Here, instead of familiar jam band motifs, listeners will find hints of power pop, country ballads, bluegrass and rock. Assisting the band is an array of acclaimed guests including Todd Snider, Jenn Hartswick, Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee and Sarah Siskind.
Austin began recording the demos that would comprise The Simple Truth with Nick Forster (of eTown and Hot Rize fame) in December of 2013. In March of 2014, the group spent around ten days recording the bulk of the album’s tracks. Though the Jeff Austin Band is a new project, Austin is quick to point out that each member had a rich history of collaborating onstage and off.
“When I did Jeff Austin and Friends shows,” he remembers, “Eric was always the bass player. I love great solos but if a band can move at the same rhythmic pace, I get off on that as much as anyone else. Eric and I move at the same pace as each other.
“Through Eric, Ross came into the fold,” Austin adds. “They’ve been playing music together for 20 years. So when we all got together, that’s what hit us.”
Austin’s connection to Danny Barnes, the famed Bad Livers banjo player and now avant-garde “barnyard electronics” experimenter, goes back even further. It’s hard not to hear the album funky down-home title track without hearing the hallmarks of Barnes. “Danny and I have been playing for at least ten years,” Jeff says. “I remember in the mid-’90s working on the radio in Champaign, Ill. They had all these cassettes in the studio room and I had just found bluegrass music. I heard the Bad Livers and said, ‘That’s the kind of bluegrass I like.’ There was a darkness there, a different tone to it. It sort of changed the way I thought bluegrass had to be played.”
“When I hear this music,” Austin says of The Simple Truth, “I hear Danny’s sensibility on it. You’re looking at 20 years ago, when a twenty-something-year-old kid working radio heard something and the switch was flipped. And now he’s standing right there, creating this music with me in real time. The simple fact of that is pretty mind blowing for me.”
Austin’s rock leanings can be found on the album’s opener, “What the Night Brings.” “We recorded that all together, live, there was something about that take,” he says. “It was played in a bluegrass style for so long, but that’s how that song was originally intended. The hook that rolls through it, the big drum, the big electric guitar … this is how it sounded in my head all along, for years. It was a moment of making this statement as clear as possible.”
Siskind’s impact, in particular, can be heard throughout the project, from the tender “Falling Stars” to “Over and Over,” a tune Austin co-wrote with the famed Nashville songwriter. “She changed everything,” he says of Siskind. “To say I’m a fan of her songwriting is a terrible understatement. She’s done something that I’ve only seen John Prine do, where gender has nothing to do with it. The emotions are straight across the board.”
Austin initially connected with Siskind thanks to a bout of writer’s block. He contacted the esteemed singer-songwriter via email when he couldn’t wrap up “Over and Over.” “I had chords for that song for over a year,” he says. “I had the beginning of the first verse, too. I was stuck and I was completely landlocked. “I was driving somewhere, listening to Sarah’s records and I said, ‘I think I know what I need to do.’ I typed out what I had, I made her a demo and a couple of days later I opened my little digital mailbox and there were a couple of emails from her.”
“It was absolutely lovely,” Austin says of her contribution. “ It took me a half day to recover from it, it was that strong of an impression. Over the course of a week, it was there. I thought, ‘Holy crap, we just digitally wrote this song together.’”
Siskind not only co-wrote the heartfelt “Over and Over,” she eventually contributed vocals to the album. Austin is excited that in 2015 she’ll even be opening and playing with the Jeff Austin Band. “I have this dream in my mind of her and Ross and Danny playing triple electric guitars with Cody on drums and me with a shit-eating grin, standing behind them all,” he says with a laugh.
Despite all the collaborations, Austin is quick to point out that he’s not letting go of his famed mandolin (an exquisite Nugget mandolin handmade by luthier Mike Kemnitzer) anytime soon. You can hear its chords on the album’s rock inspired opener and throughout the album. “On this record you notice that the mandolin is scattered about,” he explains. “I wanted to sing these songs without worrying if I have to do a solo here or figure out a riff for this part. I wanted to sing songs the best I could, tap into a lot of emotions that I haven’t ventured to in a while.”
It’s hard not to notice Austin’s enthusiasm for the new project. “As the primary writer and singer, my name may be attached to the thing, but this is everybody’s band,” he says. “To see the work these guys are doing on a nightly basis, embedding themselves and the dedication to work, it’s ridiculous. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
The work continues...
These words have never rung more true for Jeff Austin.
After almost twenty years of live creation and endless joy seeking...Jeff has returned to the scene with a new found sense of passion. Sharing the stage each night with a band of like minded adventurers...Danny Barnes (banjo), Eric Thorin (bass), and Ross Martin (guitar)...he attacks each performance with a fire and desire to move and shake everyone in sight.
Every show stands as a statement.
A statement of music...
A statement of connection...
A statement of just how joyful each moment can be.
From note to note...song to song...these musical warriors set out to turn each ear in a way never heard before.
The path is set.
The energy is undeniable.
Because with each new step the Jeff Austin Band takes...
The work continues.