Strings & Sol Festival 2015

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Introduction

     You’d think that it having been my second Strings & Sol would make it all the easier to write about this singularly wonderful and wonderfully unique festival held for the past four years along Mexico’s Mayan Riviera coast.  You'd think that, right?  It would seem just the opposite is the case this year after returning from four magnificent days of some of the world’s finest string band music played to a delighted multitude whose dancing feet sent sand a-flying, the crystalline, sugary beach proving the perfect surface on which to boogie down.  Strings & Sol just gets so much so right as a festival it is hard to pick just what to write about for fear of transcribing the whole thing into an article entirely too long to read.  From the very resort itself (the absolutely lovely Now Sapphire with its incredible and highly attentive staff) to all the organizations represented (Strings & Sol, Cloud 9, and Positive Legacy) who worked so tirelessly to put on the most supremely awesome festival possible everything was top notch at every turn.  The setting was tropical and magical throughout with playful birds and coy coatimundi clowning about the palms and lush underbrush as you walked towards the flour-white beach and to the music.  The music was the finest the grass world had to offer that weekend all in one place and time.  In short, it is one of the very best and best run festivals out there at present, hands down.  I would highly consider this festival for your future endeavors if you can make it — trust me, saving up for this one is not only worth it, it makes it more than worth it in the first couple of days.  Unless you hate impossibly good music, that is.  Or the beautiful beach.  Or the gorgeous ocean.  Or flowing fonts of endless beverages of your choice.  Or all your best friends dancing to badass bluegrass.  Stop me when it all starts to sound too good to be true.  A thousand thanks go out to all those who had a hand in making Strings & Sol 4 so fabulous this year — your hard work was very much appreciated by all of us in attendance!  And a thousand thanks to all the musicians who played their hearts out for us all each and every day — your passion and commitment to your art is a joy to experience and behold, a treasure through and through!  And, speaking of music, I think we had better get to it, what say you?

Vince Herman & Larry Keel

Vince Herman & Larry Keel

Thursday Highlights

Yonder Mountain String Band - Leftover Salmon - Sam Bush Band (Late Night)

     Yonder Mountain String Band was first out of the gate to welcome us all to this festival on the beach and I can’t think of a better way to get things started.  Jumping out onto the stage with some good friends (Larry Keel and Tim Carbone) they ripped things apart with a monster “Traffic Jam” as their first number.  Larry Keel took this opportunity to throw down a particularly nasty solo on guitar which was answered by Tim on fiddle.  Nothing like Yonder plus their buddies…seems to always make for a wall of incredible sound.  And then there was the ridiculous fiddle duet between Allie Kral and Tim Carbone that Jake Jolliff answered with his own unreal playing.  And then, wham!  It was over.  Wow, what a way to get things going!  Then we got a great little cover with Allie on lead for us for “Bad Reputation” which the band approached with a lightness and playfulness.  They followed this with quick and fun “I Know You Rider” and then “Night Out”.  The dark and dusky “Saint in the City” came after featuring each member of the band on their respective instruments throughout the song.  They took this directly into “Landfall” then right back into “Saint in the City” with Ben on lead vocals.  Adam had a sizzling hot solo on guitar during the second half of “Saint” and, not to be outdone, Jake responded with a face melter of his own on mando.  The light and lively instrumental “Up for Brinkley’s” was next up in line featuring Mr. Jolliff on his magic mandolin — why not take a look and listen for yourself? 

Pretty amazing stuff, no doubt.  How does he do it folks??  The world may never know.  After “Another Day” that contained a very nice banjo solo work from Dave the band invited some more guests out to share the fun with them, this time Larry Keel, John Skeehan (Railroad Earth), and Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass), for a lengthy and crazy good “Pass This Way” into “EMD” back into “Pass This Way”.  Again, though, why not take a look and listen? 

Later on down the line to finish this fantastic opening set for S&S 4, the band landed on a hot “All Aboard” into “New Dusty” back into “All Aboard” with the indomitable Allie Kral taking lead vocals to spearhead this ever-expanding jam of theirs.  I was talking with Ted Atwell, Yonder’s awesome lightning guru, about “All Aboard” at the festival and we agreed that each and every subsequent time the band plays it, the song just keeps getting better and better and better.  And this time was no exception!  Epic jam through “New Dusty” back into “All Aboard” — all the requisites one looks for in worthy and worthwhile musical experience.  What a way to get us all ready for some Leftover Salmon to come!

Yonder Mountain & Friends

Yonder Mountain & Friends

    Salmon.  Main Stage.  Strings & Sol.  Bring it.  Leftover came out to take over where Yonder left off, ready to incite a near riot of joy with their perfectly unique style of string band music.  And, having the likes of Sam Bush on fiddle and Jay Starling join them on dobro from the get go, life was going to be good all around as soon as they started playing.  And none other than Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aereoplane” to get things started, too!  I must admit, I really, truly love this song.  I love Hartford’s original and I love Salmon’s version.  And I indubitably loved this version.  Sam and Jay just added so much with their particular instrumental mastery.  Another perfect opening selection from a fantastic band.  They kept the ball rolling along with “Liza” next up which ended up showcasing just about everyone on stage by the song’s finish.  Of note would be Starling’s excellent dobro stylings and Andy’s banjo badassery.  What about Sam’s fiddle finery?  Well, yes, I must admit there was plenty, plenty of that as well.  A very appropriate tropical-tinged selection for our Riviera Maya setting — nothing but fun after the setting sun at S&S!  “Western Skies” was up next featuring Drew Emmitt on lead vocals not to mention some sweet mandolin work from the same.  Alwyn Robinson had this incredible drum solo during a long a lengthy jam that followed “Western Skies” — it was one hell of a breakdown to be sure with everyone taking a moment to lose their ever-loving mind while playing their instrument like a maniac.  Entertaining?  You betcha!  The oh-so apropos “Gulf of Mexico” was up next for us in the musical pipeline for the evening.  This one was at both times album perfect and filled with live-show attitude — that perfect mixture of all the right things for a supreme music experience.  Add into that a remarkable Andy Thorn banjo solo and you get precisely what you want!  After “Gulf” came the Andy Thorn-led and dominated “Colorado Mountains Evermore” with Sam Bush on fiddle and Jay Starling on dobro.  This one was really special, my friends…such good music.  But don’t take my word for it: 

Later on down the line we got a madcap “Let’s Give a Party” (but, let’s face it, which version of this song isn’t madcap?) which drove the assembled crowd to an appropriate frenzy.  So much fun.  So much madness.  So much perfect.  Later still we were gifted with a Strings & Sol version of “Mama Boulet”, with Vince changing lots of lyrics to suit the fest and atmosphere.  A blistering, and I mean blistering, hot “Midnight Run” came after with Drew on lead vocals.  Vince had a smoking guitar solo in this one as well as pretty much everyone else on stage.  Hard drivin’, fast pickin’ of the finest caliber, my friends.  Unbelievably great music.  Then the band decided to tear “Keep Drivin’” into tiny little jammed-out pieces in front of our eyes and ears — the band was on fire that night.  According to Vince before they began, this is the song that “got the girl”, aka helped him to get his new wife to marry him.  What a sweet story.  And you have to love Strings & Sol for all the background that comes your way as a result of being there.  It’s always nice having Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival join you onstage on washboard as well.  A musical treat to be sure.  “Two Highways” followed with Drew on lead and also featuring a great solo from Sam on fiddle followed by a monster, monster electric guitar solo from Drew.  All of this to the metronomic, funked-up backdrop of Alwyn on the drums.  Incredible version of this one.  Silas Herman (Gipsy Moon), Jake Jolliff (YMSB), and Larry Keel then jumped up on the stage to join in their fun times and to accentuate ours.  Andy Thorn led this super-dupergroup with “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” (made famous by Janis Joplin) and it was epic.  So much soloing.  So much face melting.  So much singing along.  So much freaking fun!  So much interplay between those three mandolins, too.  Truly spell-binding.  Just the smiles on their faces as they traded off, style to style, method to method, man to man.  Really interesting from an audience standpoint.  After so much wonderful, they closed things with a raucous and riveting Drew-led number featuring so many guests and so much hard drivin’, fast pickin’ it was almost over before we all knew it.  One superbly great show from a superbly great band.  There really isn’t much more to say.  Accept that it was so awesome as to render me speechless.  So I had best get to Sammy and his band, right?

Leftover & Friends

Leftover & Friends

    Late night in the palapa was about as fun as fun can get each night.  And the first night was precisely that with the Sam Bush Band.  People embrace the weirdness of the night with all sorts of dress and costumery from a mere speedo to being dressed in “Dumb and Dumber” tuxedos and everything in between.  It was a party atmosphere to be sure and the music of Sam Bush certainly drove that home in spades.  He and his band sounded incredible all night, featuring nothing but hard drivin’, fast pickin’ with drums to provide that boom and crash.  A notable selection from his setlist was a rock’n’roll fire hot version of “Midnight Rider” which sounded, in a word, badass.  Andy Goessling (Railroad Earth) and Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) both joined in for this one and it was pretty damn awesome.  They even managed to work in an “I Just Want to Celebrate” tease into this one.  “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” was another fine selection from their rep that evening, or should I say morning.  Probably one of the best versions of this song I’ve ever heard.  Such incredible musicianship.  Sam and his band really brought down the house, certainly making it hard to even consider going to bed afterwards.  Too much goodness down in the soul.  So many thanks to the Sam Bush Band for providing the perfect bookend to a fabulous evening of music at Strings & Sol 4.  And tonight was only the first!!!

Sam Bush Band

Sam Bush Band

Be sure to stay tuned for Friday’s fun!

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