Jennifer Condos

Recap: Nowhere Else Festival (May 27-29, Nowhere Farm, OH)

IMG_7597I half-joked this morning to my good friend Josh Hurst that Nowhere Else Fest might better be described as a backyard barbecue that got a little out of hand, rather than a music festival in any familiar sense of the term.  Perhaps more generally, one might just call it a celebration of community.

To longtime Over The Rhine fans, particularly those based in and around the band’s home base of southwest Ohio, this community is quite tangible.  As Nowhere Farm and adjacent Nowhere Else continue to take shape, OtR have given this community – along with their loyal brothers and sisters, dispersed throughout the world – a place to gather, eat, drink, listen, converse, sing, dance and celebrate.  This year marked the first time that Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler expanded the scope of this gathering to include many of their friends, who happen also to be some of the most extraordinary artists in the world.

Among this community, I am a bit late to the game, having been a fan for only about half of their quarter century career.  But I was very much a supporter long before their paths crossed that of Joe Henry.  It was a thrill for me when they sought him out to produce The Long Surrender (and re-enlisted him for the follow-up Meet Me At The Edge Of The World), but it has been incredibly gratifying to witness the bond that they have forged in the past few years.  There were many connected dots at Nowhere Else Fest, and many of those connections could be traced back to Joe Henry as much as Over The Rhine.

I am not being coy when I tell you that a thorough daily breakdown would be far too daunting (and potentially boring) to undertake here.  The festival essentially began Friday night with a VIP event that included food, drink and an insanely intimate performance by OtR.  They were, as they were all weekend, joined by The Band Of Sweethearts, which includes Jay Bellerose on drums, Brad Meinerding on guitars, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and Jennifer Condos on bass.  Many of these astounding musicians pulled double-duty by joining The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars (in Brad’s case) and Joe Henry (in Eric, Jen and Jay’s case).  The festival-proper kicked off, bright and early, around 10am on Saturday with a number of events, which included a seminar with master photographer Michael Wilson and nature painter Rebecca Weller, not to mention an emotional reading by Barry Moser from his memoir We Were Brothers.  We were then treated to a lovely kickoff set by OtR, which set the stage for all kinds of incredible musical moments, which would simply threaten to eclipse one another throughout the weekend.  Here are only a few…

IMG_7598Joe Henry:  Acoustic set on Saturday, joined by Levon Henry for most of it.  What more could a JH fan ask for?  How about a Sunday morning songwriting seminar that stretched nearly two hours?  I’m sure I have mentioned many times how generous Joe Henry is with him time, but it was a rare treat indeed to hear his philosophy on songwriting (and life?) in such an incredible setting, nestled as we were in the loft of OtR’s barn, future home to intimate performances, recordings and who-knows-what-else.

Then came his Sunday set, effectively opening for The Blind Boys of Alabama.  Josh and I agreed that perhaps it was the best show we’ve ever seen by Joe – loose, wild, intense and exuberant.  He was joined by Jen, Jay, Levon, and, for a few numbers, by Eric Heywood on pedal steel (“Plainspeak” was revealed to be a loping honky-tonk number).  Then to cap it off, he invited JT and Allison from Birds of Chicago to join him for a smoking rendition of John Prine’s “Storm Windows.”  Who else, but Joe Henry, could reimagine “Storm Windows” as a semi-gospel rave-up, not the least bit unlike the many versions of The Band’s “The Weight” that you’ve heard so many times?  It was, very possibly, the musical highlight of a weekend completely jam-packed with them.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7601 (1)Birds of Chicago:  You will not speak to a soul at Nowhere Else Fest who will fail to rant, rave and tug at your coattail with tales of wonder and revelation, served from the altar of Birds of Chicago.  I will wager that they came into this festival as the relative unknown and left as the band on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Their Saturday set was a reminder that live performance can aspire to something approaching a tent revival, assuming you believe that music is but one of many ways that the Divine reveals Himself to our eyes and ears.  But even if you don’t… Birds of Chicago were simply a force of nature.  Look at it this way:  they have released arguably the best record of the year (Real Midnight, produced by Joe Henry), and easily my favorite song of 2016 (“Remember Wild Horses”), and, yet, I was wholly unprepared for how powerful the band would be in a live setting.  Birds of Chicago are getting ready to hit the summer folk festival circuit, and they will spend most of the summer re-printing t-shirts and CD’s.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7566Over The Rhine:  What.  A.  Vision.  The journey to this festival has been an act of sheer will on the part of Karin and Linford.  One can hardly imagine what they were thinking years ago when this journey began, but the rest of us are the beneficiaries of their foresight, which appreciated their community perhaps more than anyone else.  They played set after set, stunning their seasoned audience each time.  But, of course, OtR fans have come to expect nothing less.  Did I mention that Levon Henry repeatedly joined the band on saxophone and seemed to take his playing to new heights each time?

Over The Rhine have ventured into uncharted territory with this music and arts festival, and I don’t envy them their task for next year: somehow conceive an event that matches the power of this year’s Nowhere Else Fest without wholly repeating it.

Or just repeat it – please, just do.

IMG_7508(And, yet, I have failed to mention: workshops with Michael Wilson and Barry Moser, a lovely set by Lily & Madeleine, the always-charming Lucy Wainwright Roche, Levon Henry’s revelatory solo set, the stunning art of Melanie Ciccone.  The candid and touching discussion of music and healing, featuring Jeffrey A. Ward.  And the many lovely family and fans that I met this weekend.)

It was all there at Nowhere Else Fest — see you next year!

 

 

Joe Henry Odds N Ends: Late Spring Edition

It’ll hit 90 degrees in Houston this week, so I figured time was running out to post any Late Spring JH news…

  • As previously mentioned, JH will appear at Over The Rhine’s Nowhere Else Festival over Memorial Day weekend.  You can get a clearer picture of what to expect at the festival’s website.
  • In addition to the new Allen Toussaint record (due June 10), there are several new production projects due in 2016:
    • Chely Wright’s new album I Am The Rain will be released in September.
    • Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins has recorded a new record with JH and will be released later this year (you can pre-order the record from her website to receive it sometime prior the official release).
    • JH’s own website lists a new production from Austrian band Son of the Velvet Rat.
  • Stefan has a terrific new interview with Birds of Chicago, conducted while they were on tour in Europe.
  • JH will appear with Rosanne Cash on June 20 in Los Angeles at an event called Composed: The Intersection of Poetry and Song.  Reservations are closed but you can stand-by for admission on the day of the event.
  • JH will open for Rhiannon Giddens at her date this summer at Prospect Park Bandshell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! series (announcement on May 10).
    (UPDATE:  Sorry, this was from 2015 – my mistake.  But if you are going to be in the NYC area in July, why not check this out?)
  • There is an amazing interview with engineer Ryan Freeland, conducted by Steve Dawson for his Music Makers and Soul Shakers Podcast.  Dawson has also interviewed Bill Frisell, Mary Gauthier and, most recently, Marc Ribot.  (Also available on iTunes)
  • And speaking of Ribot, as you may recall, he and JH performed as a duo at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville (read Josh Hurst’s review of the show here).  You can watch much of the performance on YouTube in four parts (see below).

Big thanks to Stefan Vandenberghe for keeping us updated when I am sometimes slacking off!

Joe Henry & Sam Phillips at Largo (Feb. 21, 2014, Los Angeles, CA)

[Below you can read my thoughts on the (historic?) pairing of Joe Henry and Sam Phillips at Largo at The Coronet last weekend.  You can also check out the recap from Randy Lewis of the LA Times (thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the link).]

I suppose I’ve tried to make it somewhat of a personal tradition to attend a Joe Henry show when it happens to be at Largo in West Hollywood.  The Coronet Theatre is, in my opinion, the finest listening room in the world, and JH has a long association with Largo, dating back to its original club location on N. Fairfax.  These days, it is sometimes the only place where you can see him collaborate with the highly respected (and in-demand) musicians who have appeared on many of his records.

Sam Phillips shares this association – and many others – with Joe Henry, and their pairing last Saturday at Largo was even more natural in reality than it would seem on paper.  These two extraordinary artists share not only common tastes in musicians but simply appear to have been cut from the same cosmic cloth as songwriters and performers.  The audience might have been fairly evenly divided between the artists’ respective (and devoted) fan bases, but their purpose felt entirely united throughout the evening.

The evening featured two shows, both topping two hours.  The first was a sold-out marathon, and the second was a more intimate reprise attended largely by diehards from the first performance.  The sets were similar, though the first likely was stretched a bit longer by the first public performance of JH’s “Sign” from Invisible Hour, easily one of his best and most epic songs.

Highlights from both sets included:

  • Sam Phillips opening each show with Stephen Merritt’s “Underwear”
  • Daughter Simone’s angelic vocals filtered with ethereal echo for “Cameras In The Sky”
  • Sam and Simone’s rendition of JH’s “Stop”, accompanied only by Eric Gorfain’s looped violin parts
  • The transition to Joe’s portion of the show with an acoustic duet on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”
  • The acoustic arrangement of “Trampoline”
  • The touching tribute to both Malcolm X and Nina Simone (murdered and born, respectively, also on Feb. 21) with “All Blues Hail Mary”
  • JH’s rendition of Sam’s “Reflecting Light,” with a melody, according to Joe, “worthy of Nat Cole”
  • The encore featuring all players on Sam Phillips’ “One Day Late”

And, of course, to the surprise of nobody in attendance, the musicians onstage were the true highlight: Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Levon Henry, Patrick Warren and Eric Gorfain.  To those who recognize those names from their numerous collaborations with Joe and Sam, you already know that these players are truly miraculous.

I will admit that each time I’ve spent all morning on a plane from Texas to LA (usually with a turnaround the next day), I’ve wondered if it would be my last such trip.  Of course, humility should render the answer unknowable, in any case.  But so long as I have any say in the matter, I’m sure you’ve guessed that my answer is: no, probably not the last.

Early winter Joe Henry update

First, apologies for the light blogging.  I suppose it’s time to crawl out of the woodwork and pass along some of the recent happenings in JH’s universe.

Many thanks and kudos to Stefan for keeping the flame burning in my absence and holding down the European front.  He’s been tireless in his efforts, and much of what you’ll read here I heard about from his blog.

  • In that spirit, be sure to check out Stefan’s interview with JH regarding his passion for vintage guitars.
  • Stefan also first tipped me to JH’s production work on a marvelous new Christmas record by Irish artist Caitriona O’Leary called The Wexford Carols.  For this fascinating collection of nearly forgotten Christmas folk ballads, she is joined by Rhiannon Giddens, Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash.  What a beautiful and surprising holiday collection.  It is available only as an import stateside, but it available in the U.S. iTunes store.
  • Speaking of beautiful Christmas music, Over The Rhine have released their new collection Blood Oranges in the Snow.  Though JH lends no production to this one, frequent collaborators Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Eric Heywood hold down much of the musical support for the album.  And nobody does Christmas music quite like OtR!
  • The first exciting JH production news for 2015 is that Bettye LaVette will release her new album, Worthy, on Jan. 27.  It features that talents of Jay Bellerose, Doyle Bramhall II, Patrick Warren and Chris Bruce and will available as a deluxe edition with a live performance DVD (pre-order regular edition here, and deluxe edition here).
  • Big, big live performance news for 2015:  JH and Sam Phillips will join forces for two nights (Feb. 21 & 22) at Largo in West Hollywood.  They will share the stage – and a band – for the two evenings.  I’m pretty sure names like Bellerose and Condos will be involved (tickets for Feb. 21, Feb. 22).
  • As a reminder, JH will also have a string of live performances in January.
  • Nell Robinson recently released an interesting CD that was produced by JH at Garfield House.  Rose of No-Man’s Land is Robinson’s tribute to her family’s long tradition of military service, woven together from letters and reflections by her Alabama family.  Ramblin’ Jack, Kris Kristofferson and John Doe all make guest appearances.
  • One final related note… Jay Bellerose continues to be a go-to player for most of T Bone Burnett’s projects.  Therefore, it will come as no surprise that his percussive stamp is all over The New Basement Tapes’ Lost on the River.  Jay can also be found (shyly) in front of the camera for the accompanying Showtime documentary about the project (previous notes on this project here).

Joe Henry at Largo at The Coronet (June 21, 2014)

IMG_4614This was my third Joe Henry show at Largo in Los Angeles, and if you’ve ever attended one of these shows, you know they are something special – a hometown show in front of a rapt audience, including many friends and family.  Saturday evening’s performances – an early acoustic solo set followed by a full band show – were no exception while also being quite exceptional.  The chance to see two unique performances in one evening is rare enough; to see JH perform with some of his most trusted allies – Patrick Warren on piano, Levon Henry on sax and clarinet, Jennifer Condos on electric bass, Jay Bellerose on drums and percussive racket and Greg Leisz on acoustic guitar and lap slide guitar – is nothing short of amazing (not to mention increasingly rare due to the demand on these players’ schedules).

Naturally both sets featured many songs from the new release, Invisible Hour.  JH was bristling with energy, humor and confidence during both sets, an impressive feat considering he’d played the night before in San Francisco.  Largo audiences are simply the best listeners I’ve ever encountered at any venue in the United States, and I can’t really tell you anything about this show that isn’t obvious by my description so far.  It was announced that Joe would sign CD’s after the show, and true to form, he sprung into the courtyard mere minutes after walking offstage to greet a sizable number of friends and fans.  I said a very brief hello and goodnight, and I imagine that he was there until the early morning hours, friendly and courteous as always.

I’ve tried to recall the general setlist from my bleary-eyed memory (please send me corrections and omissions if you have any).  I’ve denoted the songs as follows – *both sets, +acoustic set, ^band set:

  • Odetta*
  • Eyes Out For You*
  • Believer (new song described as a cross between “Amazing Grace” and “Let’s Get It On”)+
  • Sparrow*
  • Invisible Hour*
  • Grave Angels*
  • Swayed*
  • Monkey (piano)*
  • Our Song (piano)+
  • Lead Me On+
  • After The War+
  • God Only Knows (piano)+
  • Plainspeak*
  • Progress of Love^
  • Stop^
  • All Blues Hail Mary (really awesome – probably my fave of the night)^
  • You Can’t Fail Me Now^
  • Every Sorrow^
  • Unspeakable^
Encore – acoustic set:
  • Trampoline (with 14 yr old Charlie Hickey – really beautiful)+
  • Kindness of the World+
Encore – band set:
  • Plainspeak*
  • Slide^

And, of course, JH and Levon are back on the road this week, starting with The Birchmere in D.C. this Tuesday.  Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion will be joining him, and they are well worth catching as well.

UPDATE:  Fantastic review from The Hollywood Reporter.  Full setlist included in the article.

Wild Edges: A Recap

(Apologies for the relative lateness of this post, but as you know – since you are reading this post at the new site – I’ve been a little busy with the move of the blog.  Thanks for your patience and thanks for checking out the new blog location. – DK)

Wild_EdgesJosh Hurst – a friend and occasional contributor to this blog – joked this past weekend about how he personally “willed into existence” last year’s collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots, two acts for whom he is very passionate.  One could make a similar observation that Wild Edges – a commissioned performance of original songs from Joe Henry, Over The Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids – might have likewise been the result of subconscious prayer and wishful thinking from Josh, myself or any number of fans of these intertwined talents.

Setting aside the complete uniqueness of the event (over two nights at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center), one could conceivably worry that the endeavor would look better on paper than it would sound in execution.  It is, after all, a tall order for artists to compose and perform original music, never heard in public in any format, and connect it to the ears of an expectant audience.  If anticipation was already high, the stunning and intimate setting of the Hayti certainly raised the stakes.

All that said, however, it will surprise few readers of this blog that I and – judging from their exuberant reaction – nearly everyone in attendance walked away from the two nights with all expectations met and exceeded, not to mention souls and spirits nourished and renewed.  The premise was to connect selections from the Great American Songbook – which in this context was represented by inspirations such as “Delia’s Gone”, “The Needle and The Damage Done”, “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most” and many others – to the new songs.  Those connections were occasionally explicit but mostly provided springboards for the compositions, which, according to Henry, would have to “fight it out in the streets,” just like any other songs.

And fight they did; though in these capable hands, they mostly floated like butterflies while occasionally stinging like bees.  Almost every song had something unique to offer.  Henry’s “The Glorious Dead” certainly sounded like something lifted directly from his own songbook, but, as Linford Detweiler pointed out, sounded like “an unearthed hymn.”  “Dangerous Love” was a swinging tune on its own merits, but Levon Henry’s wicked saxophone solo that capped off the performance wrenched it off its foundations.  Both evenings opened with “Los Lunas,” which was as perfect a song as I’ve heard Karin Bergquist sing, underpinned by Kenneth Pattengale’s lilting pedal steel.  Joey Ryan had several standout performances, and his voice proved to be a key ingredient on many of the evening’s songs.  Ryan reliably provided dry comic relief in between more than a few of the songs.

The cast was superbly accompanied by Henry regulars Jennifer Condos (bass) and Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion and assorted noise), along with Levon on clarinet and saxophone.  The performances were packed with musical highlights but certainly his contributions were among the most indelible.  Likewise, Pattengale no doubt shocked the audience with his vast reserves of instrumental talent, which included impressive work on pedal steel, dobro, electric guitar, accordion and piano.  The number of participants ranged from two (when Pattengale accompanied Bergquist with his soulful piano on a tune only played during the second evening) to all participants, with all points in between as various cast members left the stage briefly.  Unsurprisingly, with this batch of talent, the arrangements never threatened to overshadow or suffocate the songs themselves.

The proceedings were recorded by engineer Ryan Freeland for possible future release, and after two nearly flawless presentations, one should anticipate that little will prevent that from happening.

Followers of these acts are most likely the type of music fans who hold dear the notion that music is more than mere entertainment and can occasionally achieve transcendence.  My guess is that all who bore witness to these miraculous two nights of music walked away with that assumption both intact and fortified.

Here are a couple of reviews from the local North Carolina press:

Wild Edges anticipation builds

Duke University's Independent Daily has a little more backstory on this week's Wild Edges performance at the Hayti Center in Durham, as well as some information on what may happen with the live recordings.

Also, check out Karin and Linford's photo feed for some behind-the-scenes pictures of this week's rehearsals.