Avett Brothers – Bojangles Coliseum April 9, 2011

I can remember standing in the offices of the editor for the local Alternative Weekly paper and saying the following: “I know this will not win me any points, but I just don’t get the Avett Brothers.”

That was a little over a year ago, and since that time I have attended two shows by the Concord based Americana/Bluegrass phenomenons.

Let me go ahead and eat crow.

Part old time tent revival, part festival rock atmosphere, part family reunion with talented kin… all these things would be apt descriptions of the feelings of an Avett’s show, especially this homecoming on April 9 at Bojangle’s Coliseum in Charlotte, NC.

Arriving on stage after a blistering set from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the Avett’s core trio gathered around a single condenser microphone like a radio show of old and serenaded the hometown audience with the John Denver classic, “Back Home Again.” The smiles on the faces of both Scott and Seth Avett were merely reflections of the joy that would be found on the faces of the sell out crowd for the next two hours.

I could easily fill this space with a set list and review of the performances, but to me- the whole Avett thing, and what is causing them to grow at  an exponential rate is more than their songwriting and abilities. It is the sense of community and belonging that they allow their audiences to experience. I say this not to take anything away from the songs, some of them like “Murder in the City” are simply beautiful and brilliant in their simplicity and truth.Others are also, simply- fun.

But the sense of being a part of something is the true experience of an Avett’s show. When I mention the family reunion above- I mean it. You truly get the feeling that those guys up there, are only on stage as a formality- they could just as easily be sitting around picnic tables filled with fried chicken and devilled eggs. Sure they have a bit more talent than Uncle Joe and his kids, but there is not a sense of separation between the audience and the crowd. The “thank yous” that are given out after each song are as sincere as the hug you receive from that second cousin you do not remember ever seeing before. The Avett’s have earned the position they are in, and have mastered the art of inclusion amongst their fans, yet they present none of the holier-than-thou attitudes found in most attainers of  newfound fame.

Rarely am I moved at a rock show, but when the majority of the audience raised their hands to the sky (much like those having a moment of spiritual release at a baptist tent revival) during the refrain of “I and Love and You,” I could easily imagine these guys having a altar call, and like their fellow hometown boy, Billy Graham, having 90% of those in attendance coming forward to profess their faith.

Faith that rock may not be dead, it just might be led by a banjo and cello.

Cheap Trick- April 2008

30 years.

That is how long I have been a fan of the band Cheap Trick. 30 years.

It was 1978, late summer, and I was a 10 year old kid living in Tupelo, MS. WTUP was the rock station in Tupelo, and when we were not listening to my older sister’s castoff 45’s, my brother and I had the radio on. It was during that summer that I heard the words, “ I want you….to want me,” followed by the classic drum pattern that blasts into 3 minutes of pure pop bliss. It was around this same time that I decided I was going to be a rock singer.

Fast forward to high school, Cheap Trick was not cool and neither was I. But I had every one of their tapes in my car…and if you got in the car, you were going to hear them.Even more annoying to the same brother I mentioned before- you were going to hear me- singing along at full volume.

20 years.

That is how long I have been a practicing musician. 20 years.

Around the same time Cheap Trick was having a resurgence with their release of Lap of Luxury, which contained a #1 hit with “The Flame,” a top 5 hit with “Don’t Be Cruel,” and a top 40 hit with “Ghost Town,” I bought an electric guitar and jumped on stage with some local cover bands.

Over the next couple of years, I started and quit my first couple of bands, played several hundred shows in every dive in North Carolina and learned how to sing.

10 years.

That is how long it has been since I released my first cd. 10 years.

1998, and Cheap Trick had just released a return to form, self-titled cd.It contained no hit singles, but it put the music world on notice that Cheap Trick could still deliver the goods. That same summer, the band I was in was making little ripples in the Mid-Atlantic region which would never grow into full grown waves….oh well…didn’t kill the love of the music.

The point in all this is that throughout my musical life there has been a constant. In this world of careers lasting no more than the life of one song, Cheap Trick has been plugging away, making music for people like me.In a career that has taken them from clubs to stadiums to clubs again, Cheap Trick has kept going. Thirty years in one band? Has to be for the love of music…a love I share.

Last night I had the privilege of seeing them play in High Point, and by my count that is around the twentieth time I have seen them. Each time takes me back to that 10 year old in Tupelo hearing “I want you to want me” for the first time.Each time makes me thankful that I can go out and do the same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale.

I started out to write a review of the show and changed course. Here is that review for you- Cheap Trick in their 50’s is better than 99% of the bands who are now in their 20’s. Their influence is huge, not only in sound but in attitude. They are never flashy, but always consistent.

Thanks to Cheap Trick for 30 years of tunes.
Thanks for allowing that 10 year old to still live in me.

Bleu- Namm Summer 2009.

Sometimes stories just write themselves.

I set out to write a review of Summer NAMM, which took place last weekend in Nashville. I thought, “what better to write about than a musician at one of the largest musical instrument trade shows?”But, like I said, some stories just write themselves.

I guess I should explain.

I do a lot of freelance design work, and one of my clients is a guitar company based in Nashville, TN named Waterstone Guitars. In fact, I am their “Director of Marketing,” or at least that is what my business card says. Since Summer NAMM was in Nashville this year, it was a no-brainer for us to have a booth. As we are also celebrating our 5th year of business, it was also fitting to hold a celebration, so we did just that. We booked three of the best independent artists out there- Bleu, Miles Nielsen and the Nines to play an Open House celebrating our five year anniversary. I will not bother you with descriptions of the artist’ music- do yourself a favor and look them up. You will not regret it.

The story begins with the NAMM show.

Saturday morning, not even 30 minutes after the doors open for NAMM, I was approached by a young blind guy named Kevin Reeves, probably 25 or 30 ( that’s right, I said young…) asking if we were holding an Open House with Bleu performing, and if he could attend. He explained that he had been waiting five years to see Bleu live (Bleu’s last official solo release was 2003’s REDHEAD.)  Kevin also told me how much of an inspiration Bleu’s music had been to him personally and as a musician.
Of course, I told him to come out and bring his friends with him, enjoy the trade show,  and said goodbye.

An hour or so later, Bleu and his manager stopped by the Waterstone booth to say hello. I mentioned that Bleu’s biggest fan had stopped by, in that smart ass “ Your biggest fan stopped by” kinda way.  We had a small laugh, and I forgot about it.

Nine hours later and we are in the midst of an Open House gone awry. Our PA had stopped working correctly in the midst of our second act- an excellent band, the Nines, from Toronto. Like the pros they are, they entertained in spite of the technical issues, but things were getting questionable for pulling off one more act- Bleu. The nines finished their set, and we scrambled to make something good come from the PA.

We got through two songs, and then Bleu, who plays guitar in a non-standard tuning, broke a string, and dropped a guitar. When it rains it pours…The monitors also quit working.
But rather than just call it a day, Bleu decided to play a true acoustic set- no amplification. He moved to a smaller riser in the room and we gathered our chairs closer to hear him.

About a third of the way through his second acoustic song- I heard the sound of two voices, Bleu and some incredibly great backing vocal. Guess who?

That’s right, Kevin Reeves, sitting at the front table, with a smile that I will see for years to come, and singing perfect 2 part harmony with his favorite recording artist.
At the end of the song, Bleu exclaimed, “ I don’t know who that guy is, but he knows my tunes and can sing his ass off.” And a truer statement has not been uttered.

As the show progressed, Kevin sang along with Bleu- no complaints from anyone.
Open House- salvaged.

It was my pleasure to introduce the two guys after the show, and it is now my understanding that Bleu is going to have Kevin sing some backing vocals at another show in Nashville later this month.

The NAMM show was a success- I saw a bunch of guitars, a bunch of people, and Waterstone made a bunch of contacts. But what I will remember about that trade show had nothing to do with the trade show at all.

What I will remember is that I was able to play a part in one guy getting to sing with one of his musical inspirations. What musician doesn’t dream of playing with the artist they admire the most?

What I will remember is the feeling that got me into music in the first place.
It was not guitars, meeting rock stars, or putting out cds.

It was the dream.

clay

www.myspace.com/bleutopia

www.myspace.com/milesnielsen

www.myspace.com/ninespop

Btw- It turns out that Kevin Reeves has a free cd available for download on his site at: www.kevinreeves.net

In a better world, this guy would be famous.

She & Him at the Cat’s Cradle 8/08

Movie star, musician and beauty play Cat’s Cradle

  

Zooey Deschanel, star of such major motion pictures at Almost Famous, Elf and The Happening, played with her band She & Him at the Cat’s Cradle on July 28. (photo by Clay Howard)

by Clay Howard 

We all know at least one. That person who is good at pretty much everything they try. And good at a level that makes them money, not just “entertaining your friends” good. Zooey Deschanel is best known for her roles in major motion pictures such as Almost Famous, Elf, The Happening and numerous others. She has established her career by being the everywoman, the cute girl next door that guys would love to date. Perhaps a bit quirkier girl next door, but you get the point. 

I don’t know anything about Deschanel’s path to movie stardom, but it led directly to me seeing her perform with her band, She & Him, at the Cat’s Cradle on July 28. The band was formed after she met indie artist M Ward while he was covering a Richard and Linda Thompson song for one of Deschanel’s films. 

Enough background…. My earlier statement about someone who is good at everything should have already tipped you off: The girl can not only act, she can sing and write a great pop song. She & Him: Volume One, the collaborative release from Zoey Deschanel and M Ward, contains 13 tunes that range from ’60s girl-group pop to Tammy Wynette-style ballads to stripped-down soul. The sold-out show at Cat’s Cradle showed a band fully adept at pulling off this wide range of styles. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the show was the power of Deschanel’s voice. While the CD contains performances that sound like she is holding back, her live performance was sheer energy. The simplicity of her songs, both in statement and arrangement were perfectly complimented by her strong and unpretentious vocals. 
A few highlights of the show were the singles “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” and “This Is Not a Test.” I always enjoy watching a band that is having a good time, and during these songs it was obvious that the writer was still enamored of the tunes, bouncing and smiling through the performances. This said, there was honestly not a point that I felt moved to take a break and visit the bar, as is the case with many concerts. The joy of performing is obviously still alive with She & Him. Oh yeah, I generally hate those people who are good at everything. 

Guess I’ll cut this one a break… until she writes a novel. Then it’s over.