Saturday, August 27, 2016

music festivals: Isle of Wight 1970

The Doors

The Who

The Moody Blues


In 69-70, I was still under a certain amount of somewhat liberal parental guidance: liberal, in that I was free to trek to a local Blind Faith concert, but not so  free that I could stake out an event like Woodstock or the Isle of Wight - that would take another 2 or 3 years, by which time I was freely hitchiking up and down the East Coast at risk of life (more than once)

In retrospect I do  wish I had been a year or two older - so that I mgiht have gone to Woodstock. Most of my stars were in line - except my age. Similarly, I think I have always had a back-of-the-mind hankering to "do" the Isle of Wight Festival/Concert. This need probably stems from the 1970 festival rather than the more recently revived but similarly ostentatious iteration.

For about 2 years, the Isle of Wight festival (back in 68 or so) was a work in progress. The Isle isnt highly conducive to the likes of "flea-haired" hippies : the indigenous are  mostly folks with yachts and large yards, rather sedate and preferential to their 5 o'clock tea types. So much so that they ended up putting a kibitz to the whole thing after the over-board '70 program.

But it's the 1970  program that earned its reputation., Granted, since the chow came back on line in the early 2000s, there have been many many bug time acts: the Stones etc, etc. But again, it was and is the 1970 program that remains the name of legends.

It is probably instructive to look at Jimi Hendrix's too short frestival sojourm: Monterey Pop, 69 Woodstock and then 70 Isle of Wight as indicagtive of the times and of his trajectory
Not the best of venues or circumstances (the operators lost big-time money/ the sound system and stage setup were apparently pathetic), I would have to assume that it was a combination of the alignemtn of the stars (hippie speak for just plain good karma) and a pretty damn good selection of artists.


Music Festivals: Lollapalooza, 1991

My first great music festival was Lollapalooza, in 1991. I imagine most people my age would count one of the early iterations of Lollapalooza as their first real experience with the joyous carnival experience of multiple stages and a host of musical acts.  Lollapalooza wasn’t the first, but it was a pretty epic experience and helped touch off the alternative music revolution.

It was a pretty cool day, under the hot July sun in a giant empty field in Fairfax, Virginia. Jane’s Addiction, led by the festival’s founder Perry Farrel, caped the day with what remains one of the most epic sets I’ve ever seen, complete with semi-nude dancers in suspended cages. Coming Down the Mountain sounded a little like what I figured the Second Coming will: thunderous, earth-shattering and transformative.

The next summer’s festival and line up was even better—it was the first time I saw Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, sparking a life-long love affair with not only the Seattle Sound, but with Pearl Jam in particular. Eddie Vedder started off the set hidden in the crowd while the rest of the band got on the mic and play-acted at wondering where he was. “Hey, where’s Ed?” “Anybody our singer?” To which Vedder replied by sprinting through the crowd, leaping the barrier and vaulting onto stage. My sister was closer to the stage than I was and Eddie ran right by her, brushing her shoulder. I was jealous, so jealous. But, man, what a set.  They opened with Once, did Hunger Strike with Chris Cornell and added a tag of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion to Alive.

Of course, like most of my festival experiences, I don’t recall all that much too clearly. All day in the sun, youthful exuberance and stupid bravery: who really does remember what happened at festivals? I went and looked their set list up and it was a nice walk back through not only that day, but al lot of my memories of the 90s and all the great festivals I got to see. Lollapalooza lots its edginess within a few years: its uber-commercialization is a well-known criticism of the gathering’s history.  But for the first few years, it was amazing: a truly diverse gathering of multiple genres and fans. Crossover defined, to be sure.

I haven’t been to Lollapalooza since 1995. I’m glad I got to see Sonic Youth. I regret seeing Courtney Love and Hole…It’s funny: in 1991, at 19 years old, I felt like I was in the only place I needed to be at a festival (I’ve written about the amazing experiences I had at the ‘HFS Festival—a uniquely DC rite of passage). Festivals were not just music, but a kind of tribal gathering, fueled by music and a million other beautiful distractions and vices. But, one of the saddest realizations I came to as I got older and left college was this: When I went to a festival, I started to feel old. I felt out of place and uncomfortable and I started skipping big shows that only a few years before I would have been totally at home. I think the last big festival I went to was the Tibetan Freedom Festival at RFK Stadium in 1998.

I suppose I belonged—the bands were still mine, so to speak. Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Pearl Jam—all the music I’d grown up to. But, I just didn’t belong. Not anymore. I wasn’t that young, I wasn’t in college, I didn’t have my gang of hoodlums I was used to making merry with for hours on end, desperately joyous with the flush and promise of youth, young blood flowing free like some kind of miracle wine, moved by music, solid and sure as a rock…No, sadly, I’d passed some unseen, unknowable, certainly unrecognizable line from youth into adulthood and rather than surrender to the kind of careless and wild abandon I’d known, I was busy thinking of the things that I felt adults had to think about: rent, or quitting smoking, or waking up with a hangover and going to work…cliché as it gets, and about as maudlin, but true nonetheless. Like I said, the Tibetan Freedom Festival was my last big show. But, I’d prefer not to look at it as an end to my youth but   a start to a more refined era. I still go see Pearl Jam, I still rock, I’d like to think. I just do it in better places, with a more select crowd…

So, no specific song to talk about here, so I will share this track, a live recording of Pearl Jam doing Even Flow at the Colorado stop on the Lolla tour, Summer 1992.

Rock on, be you young or old…

Friday, August 26, 2016

Music Festivals: Newport Folk Festival 2012-Dawes

Dawes: A Little Bit of Everything (Live from Newport 2012)
[purchase the album that this song is on]

I have written about the trip that my wife and I took to the Newport Folk Festival back in 2012 a few times. It was our first time there, and it was a great experience, despite the fact that we got rained on both days. At a festival often identified with Bob Dylan, it was fitting that a hard rain did fall, and we unsuccessfully sought shelter from the storm, as we waited for our ship to come in and take us back to our hotel.

But I haven’t written about the moment at the festival that I remember most strongly. It was not a pleasant moment, and I’m willing to bet that my wife will be surprised when she reads this.

I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, and for a while before our Newport trip, I had not been happy at my job. Despite that, I stuck through it, because the pay wasn’t bad, and I had settled into somewhat of a rut—sort of like the one that Nick Lowe wrote about in “Rocky Road” (“The rut I was in had once been a groove”). By the time we went to Newport, the end was in sight, and I was looking for a new gig. I actually spent a good portion of my post-festival Newport vacation reviewing deposition transcripts using the Panera Bread’s free wi-fi (which was better than the hotel’s) for a summary judgment motion to try to stay in the senior partner’s good graces, to keep the paychecks coming in. I did a good job, I think, and I ended up creating a 45 page statement of undisputed facts from my Newport work. We lost the motion, and the trial (which I helped prepare for, but which took place as I was basically out the door.) So, as we were enjoying our time in Newport, I was very uneasy, because I didn’t know how long I would be staying at the firm, and had no alternatives, other than the risk of starting my own law practice.

One of the bands that I was excited to see at the festival was Dawes, a band that seems to have recently evolved into essentially the Newport Festival house band—supporting other musicians who don’t always travel with backup musicians, and often having other performers sit in with them. In fact, that is one big way that Newport differs from the other festival that we have gone to (and which I have written about), the hopefully-returning-in-2017 Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival. Although it does happen at Clearwater (seeing Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood sit in during each other’s solo set was a highlight, and there are other examples), it seems like more of a regular thing at Newport for people to play with each other. This adds a feeling of camaraderie and friendship to the music, and you get to hear interesting, often unique, combinations (like this great version of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” by My Morning Jacket, with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, from the 2012 festival, that I missed waiting for a ferry to get us out of the rain).

Dawes’ sound is often compared to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1970s—CSNY, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, etc., with a bit of Band thrown it. And I also have to believe that they also were influenced by the Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt/Jayhawks alt-country sound and artists like Ryan Adams. In keeping with their debt to the great confessional singer-songwriters, their lyrics often plumb emotional topics, which is certainly true about one of my favorite Dawes songs, “A Little Bit of Everything.” The song has three vignettes: the first, focusing on a man planning to jump from a bridge, not for any one reason, but for an accumulation of things, the second about an older man in a buffet line, musing over his life’s disappointments while deciding what to eat, and the third features a woman writing invitations to her wedding, and explaining to her fiancé why she was working so apparently humorlessly on the wedding planning. As the song’s writer, Taylor Goldsmith, explained in an interview, “each verse would provide the phrase with new meaning. In the first verse, it’s used to describe why life’s unlivable, in the second, what it takes to forget, and finally, what matters most about love.”

So, I’m sitting there, watching Dawes, getting toward the end of a great first Newport day, very much enjoying their set, when they launch into “A Little Bit of Everything,” in the version you can hear above. And the next thing I know, tears are streaming down my face. Was I identifying with the suicidal guy who was feeling overwhelmed? With the old guy at the buffet thinking about “when his bright future had left him”? Or the woman who reassured her fiancé about the power of finding the person you truly love? Clearly, it was a little bit of everything, but it affected me so profoundly.

I recovered, though, both at the festival, where we went on to see Amy Helm, Patty Griffin and the beginning of My Morning Jacket before we evacuated, but also professionally. I played out the string at my old job, and in March of 2013, I opened up my own practice. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been struggles, but I’ve learned an enormous amount and have never enjoyed being a lawyer as much.

That all being said, I still get emotional when I hear this song, which, I guess, shows that Mr. Goldsmith knows what he is doing.