Strings & Sol Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Sunday Feature - Greensky Bluegrass Poolside Set
One of the more unique and certainly special aspects of this year’s Strings & Sol had to be Greensky Bluegrass’s poolside set on Sunday afternoon. The band had gathered in the cupolaed gazebo in the middle of the pool with countless inflatable rafts of varying types and themes bobbing around them holding up fans gathered to hear some incredible string band music, cocktails in hand. The setting was perfect with the sun high above overhead, warming us all but not too hot. The pool itself was blue and sparkling and refreshing and it was packed full of S&S Family ready for some Greensky. The band opened things up with an excellent cover for them, “American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad. There was a surprisingly good sound emanating from the speakers and drifting out over the pool and towards the sea as Paul Hoffman crooned and beckoned us all in with his singular voice. They rocked this one pretty hard, throwing down some seriously fine solo work throughout. Paul nailed down some excellent mando a couple of minutes in which was, in turn, answered by Anders Beck on dobro. What a complementary duo are those two! All of this was underscored by the ever-present notes of Mike Bont’s bold banjo stylings, a sound I listen for in all their numbers. What an opener for such a unique set as this! It was hard to get past just how decadent this all seemed. The amazing staff of the Now Sapphire coming around with drink after drink, GSBG throwing down some awesome newgrass, a gorgeous day in a tropical paradise? We were all pinching ourselves for fear of dreaming this all up. A very nice “Top Gun Theme” teaser opened up the next song, “Dustbowl Overtures”, a lovely and balanced number really showing the ensemble sound of Greensky in fine fashion. While they do some mighty wonderful soloing, they also make one helluva combined sound and texture, throwing down some collective jams that will have your jaw dropping and your feet dancing. Mike Bont did have a particularly nice solo in this one, however, stepping briefly out of the ensemble sound and right back into it so deftly. The next two songs were a combination right-left hook that hit us all square in the happy. They first played “No Idea” which they then took directly into the Beatles’ “Help!” simply killing both songs summarily. But, as fate would have it, you can see and hear for yourself!! Please enjoy!!
See what I meant about the perfect setting? Definitely not your normal bluegrass ambiance, right? Yet one more reason that S&S is so very special to so many people. A bit down the set they gave us a phenomenal cover of the James Gang’s “Walk Away” Phoff just destroying the vocals under that warm Mexican sun. The central jam of this one was pretty amazing, with Dave Bruzza showing some serious chops on guitar, no doubting that man is a monster on his instrument. Mike Devol, laying down the facts and just the facts on his baller ass bass also served as chief harmonizer to Hoffman, helping create a delightful vocal texture between the two of them. The ending jam was nothing to shake a stick at, either. On and on and on it went, Beck’s dobro singing out to the joy of all listening, Bont’s banjo omnipresent and awesome. Are they just the best bluegrass band for covers or what? I would argue a very hearty “yes”. Especially after that one. One fun trivia note: they got their lighting designer, Andrew Lincoln, to come do vocals on “Feelin’ Alright”…and he was fantastic. Go Lincoln! Talk about a crowd pleaser! Finally, they closed everything down with Paul Simon’s “Gumboots”. Damn, what a show! What a special treat for all at hand. And, judging by the amount of fun everyone had, to include the band, I would say the experiment was a grand success! Bravi to the fine fellows from Kalamazoo, MI!! Bravi, indeed!!
Leftover Salmon - Keller & the Keels - Railroad Earth
Sunday Funday had arrived in fine form, the third day of the festival where we all hit our respective strides and really began to settle into the pace of the fest and the vibe of the Now Sapphire. It was Discograss Day at S&S, too, as fate would have it and some people embraced the theme from the very beginning of the day, afro wigs and disco ball necklaces could be seen everywhere all day long, increasingly so as Sunday drew on towards sunset and Leftover Salmon’s main stage show. I arrived a couple of songs in, food having taken immediate precedence lest I fall down dancing. You know how it is. Hard to line everything up just right all the time…but we still try. The band had sounded pretty damn amazing from where I sat stuffing my face, so I knew to be ready for an incredible show in progress. Well, I knew to be ready for that anyways. I mean, we’re talking about Salmon here! I walked up to the band steaming along to “Gold Hill Line” with Drew Emmitt on lead vocals. A quintessential Salmon song, “Gold Hill” rocks as much as it string bands. With Vince Herman on back-up vocals and tearing things up on his guitar, Drew sounded amazing as ever, his voice so suited to this style of music. Certainly an excellent selection to make my entry to. They followed this up with “Liza” a crowd favorite to be sure. So many folks dancing in the sand to the setting sun singing along in full voice, enjoying life to the extreme. It was a rather magical sight to behold. Vince was up on the mic for vocals on this one, backed by one of the best bands in the business. Erik Deutsch and his fantastic keyboard skills punctuated the entire song with a few solos and riffs here and there adding his distinctive spice to the madcap musical gumbo that is Leftover Salmon. Andy Thorn laid down quite the solo himself on his trusty electric banjo, really showing off his great skills on the instrument. Great, great version of this song…really tropical and apropos for this setting next to the sea. A bit down the set they gave the crowd a great Little Feat cover in the form of “Gimme A Stone” of which we snagged a recording just for you, my friends!! Please enjoy!!
Jeremy Garrett (The Infamous Stringdusters) joined the band for the next tune, “Bolin Creek” which was pretty damn hot I must say. A sizzling fast instrumental, everyone had their chance at soloing and doing it well. So much music packed into such a relatively short amount of time. Vince destroyed things on guitar summarily handing things off to Garrett whose fiddle was on fire that afternoon. Erik took the reigns on keys and shredded for a hot minute until trading off to Andy who needed to melt a few faces, apparently. What a rush! What a ride! Seriously fine musicianship all around, to a man. And that jam in the middle?? My goodness! So many thanks as a result, to be sure. Cheers to Jeremy Garrett for joining in the fun! Further down the set a ways we were treated to the rock fusion thrill ride that is “Better” as they brought things to a close. Syncopated and rolling along like a freight train, this song hurtled into the evening sky and rained down upon the crowd like a silver light of music and joy. Erik Deutsch laid down some nasty, nasty stuff on those keys of his dominating the melodic scene for a stretch. Damn, can that man play some keyboards! Alwyn Robinson was killing it on the skins, throwing down beat after beat like a multi-armed beast specially-designed by a secret project to be a true master of the drums. The man is a machine, it’s true. Greg Garrison’s bass came shining through the texture a few times rooting the song back down lest it fly off the tracks. Love watching him play — always enjoying himself so much. And how couldn’t he be? The song came cruising to a halt to the instant applause of everyone gathered in front of that special stage on the Mexican beach. As usual, Salmon had put together one baller ass show for us, perfect for the tropics and the festival itself. And they really threw down, too, bringing their A game to the Now Sapphire and to that very stage. So much praise to heap upon these gentlemen…for the unique style of music they bring to the world and for the joy they spread daily. Bravi, fellows, for a fine, fine show! Cheers and thanks!
After the traditional two hour break, music resumed after dark with Keller Williams and the Keels on the main stage. Always a fun show as well, I was glad that they were all three hereat Strings & Sol, you know, to give it that extra edge. The opened up with Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, an old favorite amongst fans of this trio. Talk about a powerhouse of musicians, too! Keller? Larry Keel? And Jenny Keel? Suffice it to say you get a whole lot of music for your money with these guys. Keller was on his mandola for this set, allowing for Larry to take full control of the guitar lines for the night. And, with Jenny on her stalwart bass laying it down one amazing note at a time, we couldn’t lose! “Crater in the Backyard” came next, that tongue-in-cheek song about a huge hole in Keller’s back yard and what it might become. Familiar territory once again for Keller fans. They all sounded phenomenal from where I was in the sand, dancing with my wife and friends. So many notes from Larry, I mean just so many. That man’s guitar really gets a workout every show, right? And Keller, goofing around with the vocal lines, as per his wont. The man surely has a sense of humor. A bit down the set, we recorded the S&S version of “Rebels” for you here, hope you enjoy!!!
What a night for music, huh? It really was lovely, the rains of the previous night having abated. They followed “Rebels” with a personal favorite of mine: “Breathe”, taking things at a quick clip, Keller picking away on his mandola. It was a fast version to be sure. Larry kept up in fine fashion, adding his own bevy of notes to the mix. Jenny, like a sentinel, was there keeping things grounded and providing some lovely harmonic vocals. What a jam in the middle of this one, too! Get down, you three crazy music folk!! Seriously, fantastic. A little Eagles cover was in the works that evening as well…“Seven Bridges Road” was a nice surprise in the set. True to form, they sped this one along, nailing the three part harmonies, Larry’s signature gravely voice counterpointing those of the others. The Eagles certainly never did it like this! Further down the set we got a great version of The Dead’s “Loser” — what a treat in a sea of musical gifts that weekend. “Last fair deal in the country,” indeed! It was interesting and fun and really nice to look around to see so many people singing along, this song so familiar to so much of the S&S Family. Moments like that are ones that make me love our community all the more. Finally, they finished things off by taking things directly in to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” catering to this author’s every whim apparently. It was, and I quote my voice notes, “badass”. And it was, believe you me. I really do love that version of an old staunch favorite of mine. Pink Floyd and I go way back so, for Keller and the Keels to take me there as a send off from their phenomenal set? Crazy good! Thanks to Jenny and Larry Keel and Keller Williams for a delightful set of gritty, funny, amazing music! Always look forward to seeing them again…always will. iiGracias, amigos!!
Rounding out the evening on the main stage was a show with Railroad Earth. Walking into a sea of sequined jumpsuits, afro wigs, bellbottoms, and other Discograss related accouterment, I began that evening a few songs in with The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” a favorite song of mine for a long time. And I do dig RRE’s version of it, this one especially. It just fit with the setting so well and jived with the experience in so many great ways. Todd Sheaffer was on lead vocals for most of the song, relating the sad tale, trading off with Tim Carbone from time to time. Great harmonies during the choruses as well — really fine singing work there. No doubting the extent of the talents of this band. Andrew Altman led things in for the next song on his bass, giving us some funky stylings to counterpoint John Skehan and Andy Goessling’s mandolin playing. “Walk Beside Me” sure started out with a groovy intro, the fellas kicking it a little on the edgy side of things themselves. Todd rocked the vocals in very fine voice all the while shored up by this mighty ensemble. And there was no mistaking the sound of the double mandolins. Made for quite the musical texture. Down the set a ways came a huge drum intro from Carey Harmon, the living metronome. It set the tone well for “Butterfly and the Tree” which the band launched into, adding their instruments to the drums and creating a really lovely musical landscape. A lively tune for sure, this one had us all dancing in that magical sand, grooving along with Railroad. Up next, they played us a great version of “The Hunting Song” with Goessling on penny whistle and banjo, Altman on electric bass, Carbone on some light percussion, and an octave mandolin in Skehan’s grip. The whistle in Andy’s adept hands added a very haunting quality to this mellow, yet intense song. What a fantastic sound this one had tonight! Then, they took this directly into “Spring-Heeled Jack” for a double-barrel of fun kind of of night. It was pure excellence. A bit later on in the show, they sped things up again with a rollicking rendition of “Bread and Water” inspiring yet more dancing out of our exhausted feet and legs. Todd nailed the lyrics down like a champ while the rest of the band summarily killed it all around him. Quite a great bit of fun — I love it when this band steps it up like this! The amazing banjo solo from Goessling about a minute in would have had you falling in love with that instrument all over again. Carbone was white hot on the fiddle, doing what he does best for all of us there present. And we were very thankful for it! They finally ended up closing everything down with “Every Grain of Sand” choosing a mellower way to finish the night. Such an energetic show! So many great songs on the setlist. The weather had been perfect as had the surroundings. What more could we have asked for? As we all began to clear out and head to late night with Danny Barnes, the tones of Railroad’s delightful show rang through our heads, making us all smile with the remembrance of it all. An ovation for Railroad Earth, if you please! Mighty fine, gentleman, mighty fine, indeed! A supreme round of thanks to all of RRE and their staff and crew for another incredible night of music in Mexico! And there was still one more day to go!!
Monday’s action coming at you soon, friends!!