February 20, 2006

Elana James and the Continental Two at Gruene Hall

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 12:30 am

Saturday I drove up to Gruene Hall to see Elana James and the Continental Two.

Although I had seen Elana perform a couple times since the Hot Club of Cowtown stopped playing together, this was the first chance I have had to see her with the new band.

Elana’s playing style is famous, and Beau Sample does a terrific job on the upright bass. Luke Hill also seems to be very talented, although he was playing an electric/acoustic classical guitar and it just didn’t quite have the presence that it needed to fill the room. I imagine he sounds great when playing a hollowbody jazz instrument. The music was very similar to that of Hot Club, and it was difficult to avoid comparing this group with them. Overall I think this will be a really fun group to go see.

Elana had a CD available for sale at the show with the strange title of “Top Secret Illegal Bootleg Sampler.” Buying music that is self-proclaimed “illegal” seemed a little strange, but I had to get it anyway.

Incidentally, I just checked the Hot Club website and saw this:

We are happy to announce that THE HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN will continue to perform a limited number of shows in 2006.

That is great news, as this is one of the few bands that I would actually drive hours to go see. Hopefully they will play a show or two in south Texas at some point this year.

• • •

February 13, 2006

Beaver Creek, Boulder, Robert Randolph

Filed under: Friends,Music,Places — Cory @ 2:08 am

Recently I spent some time out in Colorado, here’s what happened.

Snowboarding at Beaver Creek

 [ Snowboarding at Beaver Creek, CO ] After landing at the Eagle/Vail airport I met up with some mutual friends and caught a shuttle to our place at Beaver Creek Resort. When I arrived at the house I didn’t know any of the other 7 people there, but they were Chris’s friends and everyone was very friendly. We had dinner and played some games until everyone was ready for sleep around 10. Chris arrived later that night.

The next day we hit the slopes. It had been about 3 years since I had last used my snowboard, so it took me an hour or two to get back in the swing of things. Soon I was back on the advanced blues and hitting the black daimonds. I started skiing when I was in the 4th grade, and switched over to snowboarding around the 11th grade in high school, but almost all of my experience is from the mountains on the east coast, especially at Wintergreen Resort. In college Tate and I used to go up there several times a week in the winter, good times. When I lived in New Orleans I flew out to Winter Park, Colorado to hang out with my cousin and snowboard for a few days. I remember thinking then how much more intense the slopes are in the Rockies, and Beaver Creek is no different. (check out the trail maps)

We snowboarded for 4 solid days and after each day everyone was completely exhausted. Usually everyone passed out by 10pm, but one night we took the opportunity to head over to Vail and check out the scene. By the end of the 4 days my calves were a jelly-like substance and there was no way I could think of spending any more time on the slopes. The only thing that kept me going was the excellent food that Katie, Jason and the group prepared each night, although I am quite sensitive to peppers now. We headed out Friday morning, and I caught my flight to Denver to continue the rest of my trip.

Hanging Out in Boulder and Denver

Ken picked me up from the Denver airport around 4pm on Friday and we headed over to his friend Scott’s place to hang out. While we were in Denver with Scott and Jenny we went to dinner at Tommy’s Thai. When we walked in we noticed that everyone was wearing jackets, gloves and stocking caps. It was very cold inside, but the food was worth it. I ordered medium hot Pad Thai and an order of vegetable gyoza, and every bite was excellent. I’m not a huge fan of Asian food, but I could eat at Tommy’s any day. After playing several games of pool and being reprimanded by a middle-aged woman in an “N’Sync” shirt, Ken and I headed up to Boulder where he lives.

The next morning we woke up early and got off to an extremely good start by having breakfast at Lucile’s. Breakfast is my favorite meal and I think its pretty hard to get a top of the line breakfast. There are many great lunch and dinner spots, but few places specialize on breakfast. Lucile’s breakfast was one of the best I have ever had. There were 3 or 4 things on the menu that I really wanted to order, but I finally settled on the New Orleans french toast. It came with eggs, sausage, fresh fruit, and was hands down one of the best breakfast meals I have ever had.

After breakfast Ken showed me around the Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder. There were all kinds of interesting shops and stores, and I picked up a few CDs from Bart’s CD Cellar. After a few hours of this we headed up to the foothills and walked around for a while. By this time we were ready for a late lunch so we headed back down to the city and stopped by Foolish Craig’s for a byte to eat. Once again the meal was incredible. I ordered their chicken salad sandwich and a Raspberry Frambozen and all was at peace. We walked around for a while longer then headed back for a break.

My friend James Taurman recently moved to Fort Collins, CO which is about 45 minutes north of Boulder, so I called him up when I got to town to see if he had plans. James drove down to Boulder to meet up with Ken and me at the Red Fish Brewhouse for dinner. We all ordered one of their Pilsners and I thought it was quite tasty. (I originally order their “Badonkadonk Brown,” but was disappointed to hear that they were sold out.) The meal was pretty good, although my previous three meals were a hard act to follow. James’ suggested that we head down to Denver to see Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Fillmore Auditorium. Danny told me that Robert Randolph put on an excellent show at last year’s ACL Fest, so it sounded like a good plan to me.

Robert Randolph at the Fillmore in Denver

When we arrived at the Fillmore Auditorium there was a large gathering of people around the ticket window, but we were still able to get tickets. I thought the Fillmore was actually a really cool venue, with the blacklight-fueled purple chandeliers and the sunken center area. We were only there for about 5 minutes when a man on the center of the stage started making some incredible electric sounds. It sounded like a guitar, but the man did not appear to be playing a guitar. Then I finally realized that it was Robert Randolph and he was making these sounds on a pedal steel guitar, an instrument almost exclusively used in country music. But here he was playing it in funk/soul/blues music. Insane!

The show lasted about 2.5 hours, with about the last 30 minutes of that being a 4 song encore. These guys can really jam, as several of their songs lasted 10-15 minutes each. They are also great showmen. At one point in the show Robert started pulling people from the crowd and giving them an electric guitar (a PRS, btw) for them to play leads on. Two different white guys jumped up onto the stage, but their skills weren’t quite on the same level as the rest of the bands. Around that time the band also had about 25-30 girls from the audience come on stage and dance with them. But of all the stage tricks they had, the most amazing was when they started swapping instruments. At first Robert went back to play drums, while the drummer came down to play the pedal steel. Then Robert went to bass and the bass player got behind the drums. Then there was more swapping with the keyboard player until they all finally swapped back into place. The crazy thing was that each one of them did a fantastic job on each instrument, they are all extremely talented.

Without question this was the most high-energy concert I have ever seen, and I see a fair amount of music shows. Whenever he wanted to Robert would make the pedal steel screen and the entire room would be just buzzing with energy. This lasted throughout the entire show too, I have no idea how the band members can sustain it without any break other than the 3 minute gap between the show and the encore. In addition to their own original music they covered a few older songs including Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”, Bobby McFaren’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” All in all, it was an excellent show and I would highly recommend checking out this band.

Wrapping it up…

Sunday morning Ken, James and I had a really good breakfast over at the Buff Restaurant in Boulder. Afterwards Ken and I bid farewell to James and then headed towards the Denver airport, where I had the only negative experience of the whole trip.

I arrived at the airport at about 12:45pm (an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of my flight), waited in line at the United Airlines counter for 30 minutes, and when I finally made it to the front I was told that I could not check my luggage and snowboard since the flight was scheduled to leave in less than 45 minutes. It was actually around 42 minutes before the scheduled departure time, and she told me that she didn’t care that I had waited in line for 30 minutes, only to miss the checkin deadline by 3 minutes. I had checked-in online the night before, I only needed my baggage to make the flight. I told her that the baggage could come on a later flight if necessary, but she wasn’t interested in making a deal. She put me on standby for the next flight to San Antonio, which was at 7:30 and told me there was almost certainly no way I would make it, as the flight was already overbooked. Thanks, lady. After talking with several other people for the next hour and a half I finally ended up in front of a man with a brain and the will to get things done. He immediately told me to ignore what everyone else had told me, and that he would put get me a seat on the 7:30 flight, which is exactly what he did. I asked if there was anyway that I could tip him, but he said no and quickly asked to help the next person. Rock on, dude.

I’ll probably avoid United Airlines from now on, just as I have done with Northwest for the past year. Sometimes the lower price just isn’t worth it.

Overall, I had an excellent trip and it was great to see a few old friends and make some new ones. Oh, and Boulder has topped San Francisco in my list of most awesome cities. I didn’t think that would be possible, but The People’s Republic of Boulder is one extremely cool place.

• • •

February 9, 2006

Dave Alvin at Casbeers; The Greencards at Gruene Hall

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 7:38 pm

Last Thursday and Friday I had the opportunity to see a couple of really good music acts, so of course I had to go check them out.

On Thursday Dave Alvin played at Casbeers. I had never seen him play before, but earlier that week Chris had sent one of Dave’s songs to me and after hearing it I decided I couldn’t miss the show. Incidentally, I had also never been to Casbeers so I was up for checking out the place I hear so much about.

I showed up a little after 9, pulled up a seat at the counter and ordered a couple of their famous enchiladas. A few minutes after I got there Dave went on stage and announced that an old friend of his would be playing on harmonica, along with the lead guitarist. This was great because I enjoy small shows much more when there are no drums. The music was excellent, and Dave played several bluesy acoustic tunes that made me want to go home and pick up my guitar. At several points throughout the show Dave brought the music to a stop and held the crowd at complete silence until he fired it up again, it was really something to see. Before I left I picked up a copy of “The Great American Music Galaxy” by Dave and The Guilty Men.

The next night I headed up to Gruene Hall to see The Greencards. The last time I saw them back in September they put on an incredible show, and Dennis Ludiker and Sarah Jarosz came on stage and to play with them. I remember that it was one of the best performances I had ever seen.

I told David that he needed to see The Greencards, so Johnny and I met up with him at Gruene for the show. The band was already playing when we got there, and as expected they had the crowd energized. After a couple of awesome fast-paced bluegrass tunes they played their snappy Italian instrumental called “Gnocci.” They did this song last summer when I saw them, and I wish I could find a recording of it because its fantastic. Soon afterwards they announced that a special guest would be joining them, and I had a feeling that I knew who it was going to be. Sure enough, Sarah Jarosz was there with her mandolin. They played 2 instrumentals, and then Sarah sang a tune as well. They decided to play one last song before she left stage, and as it turned out they picked my favorite traditional bluegrass song: Cherokee Shuffle. Swapping leads from Kym’s mandolin, Eamon’s fiddle, Sarah’s mandolin and Robbie Gjersoe’s guitar, it was one of the best versions of Cherokee Shuffle that I’ve ever heard. All in all, it was an excellent show.

• • •

February 4, 2006

My Latest Instrument: The Dobro

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 2:21 am

I received my first guitar as a birthday gift from my parents when I was 8 years old, and although I learned to play several parts of songs, I didn’t really get serious about it until I was 12 or 13. I played guitar for several hours just about every day from the time I was 13 until 18, when I went to college. At college I still play a lot, but there were plenty of other things to do as well, so my guitar skills did not quite get the same amount of attention as they previously had. [ My Gibson Hound Dog Dobro ]

Around my senior year I started playing again, but it didn’t seem as exciting. I wanted to try something new. So one day I was in Richmond with my roommate Andrew and we stopped by Guitar Works, which was my favorite music store. I checked out several guitars, and then I noticed the mandolins. I knew a little bit about mandolins, as Gramps would put on a show every Sunday afternoon (when he wasn’t burning up the strings of his Martin). I bought a mandolin that day, and I ended up having a blast learning how to play it. It was like starting all over again, and there were so many directions that I could go in. This was the beginning of my fascination with other instruments, and I’ve since bought a second mandolin, a fiddle, a harmonica and, of course my Taylor guitar.

After playing around with alternate tunings I became more interested in playing with a slide. I knew what I needed to do, I needed to buy a dobro. So last Sunday I added another instrument to my collection, I bought a Gibson Hound Dog Dobro on eBay. I noticed it on Saturday and saw that it was starting at a great price, set to end at around 3pm on Sunday. I watched the auction and ended up winning it with 3 seconds to go. Best of all its almost brand new and I got a terrific deal on it.

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to play with it yet, but so far its been extremely fun. I just love the bluesy-steel sound that this thing makes. After I had played around on it for a little while I noticed a hole for a cable on the bottom of the dobro. I couldn’t believe it when I plugged it into my amp and it was also electric/acoustic, woot! Anyway, you can bet I’ll be spending plenty of time learning how to play this thing.

Recently I’ve been giving more thought to trying to put together a (mostly) acoustic blues band.

• • •

January 25, 2006

Fun with Alternate Tunings

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 1:05 am

For the past few days I have been trying to figure out how to play the lead to Eleven Hundred Spring‘s “Long Haired, Tattoed, Hippie Freaks,” specifically the acoustic version from the “A Straighter Line” album. Chris Claridy, the lead guitarist on the album, plays a “dropped D” tuning in the song and the lead is one of my all-time favorites. It’s pretty fast too, but I think I’ve got it worked out.

So tonight while the guitar was tuned down I began playing around and I came up with some interesting sounds. Then I remembered learning Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and “Friends” when I was back in high school, and that each of those songs used an alternate tuning. I googled around and came up with the tunings: D, A, D, G, A, D for Kashmir and E, G, C, G, C, E for Friends. After re-learning Kashmir I tried to come up with something else, but wasn’t much happening. DADGAD is a pretty difficult tuning.

However, the open C tuning used in Friends is actually really easy to play around with. After re-learning Friends I grabbed my glass slide and came up with some pretty cool sounding blues riffs. Dobro’s are normally tuned to open chords and I used to pick on my dad’s dobro when I was younger, so this was somewhat familiar. Then I began just playing around and I was surprised at how easy it was to play in the open C tuning. I ended up with a few really good sounding blues/country leads that I can’t wait to work into a song.

On the subject of music, I am considering getting a Taylor 412ce in the next few months, so if anyone is interested in buying my Taylor 414 please let me know. I bought it new in the summer of 2004 and its still in great shape, and comes with a nice hardshell Taylor case. I’ll give you a great deal. :)

• • •

January 19, 2006

The Weary Boys at Gruene Hall

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 11:27 pm

Last month Chris asked me if I had ever heard of The Weary Boys, which I had not. So when I saw that they were playing at Gruene Hall on Sunday evening I had to go check it out.

When I arrived the fiddle player was tearing it up, in the good way. I watched him play for a while because I had never seen anyone play the fiddle quite the way that he was. He seemed to just prop the fiddle up against his body and lazily slide the bow across it. For the first few minutes I watched him, I couldn’t figure out if the sounds I was hearing were actually coming from his fiddle, something just didn’t seem right. But sure enough, he was playing it and it sounded great. After that they played a song titled “Big Red Fella,” which was a lot of fun.

Normally when I go see musician perform I expect there to be a few songs I’d rather they skip. Musicians like to experiment and try different things, and sometimes the result isn’t always appealing. This show was an exception, I really enjoyed every song they played and I stayed through the encore. The music was part bluegrass, part blues, part gospel, part rock and part cajun. I was able to get video of three songs, the first of which I have not yet identified so if you recognize it please let me know:

They were selling CD’s for $10 each, and when I picked up 2 the girl offered to sell all 4 to me for $30, so I agreed and grabbed a t-shirt as well.

The Weary Boys will be performing at The White Rabbit in San Antonio next Friday night.

• • •

January 1, 2006

Looking Back at 2005

Filed under: Books,Events,General,Music,Places — Cory @ 12:58 am

2005 was the year that I decided to give the whole blogging thing a try, and so I thought it would be a good idea to put together this list so that I will be able to remember some of the things that I did over the course of the year.

The Places I Visited in 2005

Along with lots of trips to Austin and a couple visits to Houston, I did a reasonable amount of traveling this year.

Musicians I Saw in 2005

This year The Hot Club of Cowtown broke up, which was a major bummer. But Elana has a few things going on, and Whit and Jake are performing with some others as Whit Smith’s Hot Jazz Caravan. At Jazz Fest and ACL Fest I saw a lot of other little bands, but I can’t remember the names.

The Books I Read in 2005

As usual, my interests over the past year are reflected in the books I read. I almost always cycle through 4 topics: physics, economics, sociology and literature. In 2006 I want to finally finish reading Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Random Stuff in 2005

Overall, it was a pretty good year. Made some new friends, spent time with old friends and had a lot of fun.

Happy New Year!

• • •

December 15, 2005

Terry Allen and Friends in Los Angeles

Filed under: Friends,Music,Places — Cory @ 1:40 am

A few weeks ago I discovered that Terry Allen would be performing his “Dugout III: Warboy” for three nights in Los Angeles. I’ve been trying to see Terry Allen for a while, and since he does not perform very often I thought it might be a good idea to check this out. I knew that Chris was out in L.A., and I figured he might want to go as well. A few IM’s later I had tickets to the show and my flights booked.

Chris picked me up from LAX last Friday afternoon, and apparently he can now read minds because as soon as I hopped in his jeep he asked if I was hungry for In-n-Out Burger. I had just spent 3 hours on a plane, mostly thinking about eating at In-n-Out Burger, so yea, perfect. Mmmm so good!

That evening we went to the “rooftop bar” at The Standard hotel. This is an open air bar on the top of a high-rise hotel in downtown L.A. There is a pool up there, and these big red pods shaped like giant Hershey’s kisses with waterbeds in them. It was a pretty cool place to hang out, and there were some sweet views from up there.

Later that night we met up with Chris’s friend, the Dread Pirate, and headed over to Cozy’s to see Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. These guys were a lot of fun and put on a pretty good show. Also, it was interesting to see the SoCal rock-a-billy crowd, it must be pretty rough being stuck in 1952.

Saturday afternoon we went down to Hollywood Boulevard. While walking down the sidewalk we passed by Richard Pryor’s star, who had died earlier that day. There were people there with cameras taking pictures of the star with flowers on it.

Saturday night was the event I had been waiting for: Terry Allen’s “Dugout III: Warboy.” After a sushi dinner at R23, Chris and I headed over to the REDCAT theater to catch the show. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was some sort of theatrical performance that included Terry’s wife, Jo Harvey Allen, as well as Lloyd Maines and Richard Bowden, but beyond that I wasn’t sure. As it turned out, the show consisted of Jo Harvey telling a story based on Terry’s parent’s lives, while the three musicians performed the soundtrack of original music. This might not sound that interesting, but let me assure you, it was incredible. Not only was the story extremely fascinating, but the music was pure Terry Allen and was excellent.

Afterwards we headed out to Tommy’s Burgers for a late night snack. Before eating at Tommy’s I thought that Chester’s made the world’s messiest chili-cheeseburger, but now I know I was wrong. Tommy’s burgers are served from a stand on the side of the road, and you do not even have the option of ordering a burger without chili — like the bun and the meat patty, its part of the experience. About 15 napkins later I realized that I had been defeated, so I called it quits.

The trip was quick but it was a lot of fun. Thanks again to Chris for letting me crash there and showing me around the city.

• • •

November 27, 2005

Dale Watson, Jason Boland and the Stragglers

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 2:25 am

I love to go out and see musicians perform, and around here that almost always means going to a Texas dance hall. The only problem with trying to see musicians at a dance hall is, well, the damned dancing. I like to be able to see the pedal steel player tear up the slide, discover what chords the guitarists are playing, and try to learn something by watching the fiddler. When there are all these people spinning in front of the band, getting in the way and generally being annoying, it completely takes all the fun away for me. But whatever, they are there to dance and have fun too.

Tonight I drove out to Bracken, Texas to the Hangin’ Tree Saloon to see Dale Watson. I had never been to the Hangin’ Tree before, but as soon as I entered I could tell this was not going to be a place for me. The main room was long and narrow, with Dale and his band playing at one end at floor level. There was a buffer region between the band and the tables, and as you can guess, it was packed with dancers. I stood as close to the front as possible to try to watch the musicians, but every few seconds someone in a cowboy hat would say “‘scuse me, pardner” and I would have to reposition for them to squeese by. I stayed for a few songs and decided that it would probably be best to just cut my loses and head out.

I remembered that Jason Boland and the Stragglers were also playing tonight, out at Floore’s Country Store. I arrived out in Helotes around 10:15 and it was perfect timing because the band started playing about 45 seconds after I walked in the door and paid the cover.

Several months ago I bought the Straggler’s recent album, “Somewhere in the Middle.” I really liked a few songs on the CD, especially “If You Want to Hear a Love Song” and their cover of “Hank” by Aaron Wynne of Eleven Hundred Springs. Jason also has a terrific singing voice, along the same lines as Waylon Jennings.

The first hour of the show they played songs that I had never heard, which was ok, and the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. The only thing that seemed a little out of place was the fiddler. I am not sure if he is a recent addition to the band or what, but his fiddle leads didn’t quite match the rest of the music. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the fiddle is one of the most difficult instruments to master, but he took the lead on several occasions when it would have been best to let the pedal steel shine. This is a common problem.

Anyway, after an hour or so they finally played “Hank” followed by “If You Want to Hear a Love Song.” While it was great to hear each song performed live, neither sounded quite as good as the album version. I stayed around for another song, bought a t-shirt and headed home.

I think Jason and the gang probably have a shot at becoming something big. They’ve got that true Texas Country sound, and they definitely look the part.

• • •

November 26, 2005

Slaid Cleaves at Cheatham Street Warehouse

Filed under: Music — Cory @ 5:37 pm

Tuesday night I drove up to San Marcos to see Slaid Cleaves perform at Cheatham Street Warehouse.

It had almost been a year since I last saw Slaid when he performed at Floore’s Country Store. The most memorable thing about that show was his cover of Don Walser‘s “Rolling Stone of Texas.” So when I found out that Slaid was returning from his tour and would be playing at Cheatham Street, I had to check it out.

This was my first trip to Cheatham Street Warehouse, and although I was willing to drive that far to see Slaid, I thought the $12.50 cover was a bit much for a Tuesday night show.

When I got there Graham Weber was on stage and there was already a nice little crowd. I had seen Graham’s name on music calendars, but had never heard him perform. He sang some nice songs that he had written, although I would probably blush if I had to even read the lyrics to some of them (like the one he wrote for his wife on their anniversary, very nice though :) ). I particularly enjoyed the speed-singing songs that he did. (Graham: come on, get that website going!)

After Graham finished up there was about a 10 minute break before Slaid took the stage with Michael O’Connor and Ivan Brown. They opened up with “Drinkin’ Days” and “Horseshoe Lounge” before Slaid promised to play some new material. He mentioned that recently he had been playing songs that his friends had written, and at that point they played a song by Michael. I wish I could remember the name of it because it was excellent. After several more songs they played “Horses” and as Slaid began yodeling I remembered his Don Walser cover at Floore’s, and I thought about requesting that they play “Rolling Stone of Texas.”

As “Horses” came to an end a train passed by and they joked about playing a “train song.” Then Slaid started telling a story about performing songs by his friends, and he mentioned Don Walser. At this point I knew he was going to do it, but I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to pull out my camera in time. However, I was able to start recording about 10 seconds into the performance, before the singing started. It’s not high quality, but here’s 2 minutes and 48 seconds of Slaid, Michael and Ivan performing Don Walser’s classic:

After they finished “Rolling Stone of Texas” they decided it was time for a break. By this time it was almost 11pm and I had close to an hour drive ahead of me, so I decided to head home.

It was great to see Slaid and the gang perform again, I had almost forgotten how terrific their music sounds when it is live. According to his website, there will be no shows from January through mid-April, so you may want to check out one of his shows soon. Sunday afternoon shows at Gruene Hall are my favorites, so I am definitely planning to be at his show there on December 18.

• • •
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