Not so long ago Stop Light Observations (SLO) had just about bottomed out. Two options presented themselves: break up or go up.
Go up the Toogoodoo River, that is, to a vacation home owned by the family of band member Cubby Culbreth, near their hometown of Charleston SC, for some R&R and soul searching. And no, those are not musical genres.
Lucky for us they chose door number 2, Toogoodoo, where they ended up working their butts off recording their latest album, sometimes doing as many as 40 takes of a song before they felt that all was right with it. The result? “Toogoodoo” in homage to the river that brought them back from oblivion, to tell the stories of their Southern heritage, in a moody, dreamy signature SLO sound.
We all know that the longer a band has been together, the more their musical efforts coalesce. That’s clearly the case in this band’s evolution. Louis Diffie, lead guitarist, brings a lot of different riffs and figures to the emotional quotient of each song. In addition to Diffe, Culbreth is the songwriter who supplies guitar, piano and synth, while drummer Luke Withers singlehandedly holds on to the bottom. Finally, vocalist Will Blackburn gives expressive feeling to Culbreth’s thoughts, what they call “the middle class blues,” the sorrows of a man with too much, rather than less than nothing. Come down to SummerSounds and listen to SLO tell us about what they found while they were out soul-searching.
Pre-show music by JR Wolf
Another great thing about Greensburg: You could be living next door to a rock star! Without disclosing where we’ll send the check, when Jim Donovan left Rusted Root to be a father and husband and college professor and percussion teacher and leader and neighbor, he didn’t leave behind that which drove him to music in the first place, but he did seek out the normalcy that, along with a lot other things, made him a Greensburger.
Periodically, if you’re paying attention, you may see a poster inviting you to join in one of his drum circles or workshops, or if you’re walking your dog you may hear him and his proteges making rhythm in St. Clair Park. But generally, he’s just like the rest of us, at the store picking up a loaf of bread, or watching one of his kids in a school activity, or fronting his own jam band. No really, I front my own jam band, don’t you?
Seriously, though, The Sun King warriors are the result of a yearning that Jim’s continued to have after leaving Rusted Root, a yearning he’s indulged slowly but surely, building an album and a band.
Simultaneously he’s taught drumming and percussion at St. Francis University, and lent his skills to the development of drum circle techniques meant to aid persons (kids especially) with disabilities, particularly autism.
Come to SummerSounds and meet the neighbors, musical and non-musical alike.
Pre-show music by Derek & Tim Woods Family Duo
Stax Records, the label for real R&B, home of Otis Redding, Booker T and The M.G.’s, and The Memphis Horns, has been reincarnated these days. Now Stax is the home of Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and their latest signing, Southern Avenue, a hometown band, just down the street from Soulsville, USA. Talk about hometown proud!
When Ori Naftaly came to Memphis from his native Israel for the International Blues Challenge, he felt, almost immediately, at home in the birthplace of the blues. Much like Steve Cropper, Naftaly’s guitar work was just made for Memphis soul, and when he met Tierinii Jackson, he heard the voice that was meant to go with that guitar. He dropped his Israeli blues band, began writing songs with Jackson, and then, they built a band. including Tikyra Jackson (Tierinii Jackon’s sister) on drums, bassist David McKee, and keyboardist Jeremy Powell, and now they’re the fastest rising R&B band around.
Pre-show music by Chris Vipond
As a little girl Carolyn Wonderland (nee Bradford) had unfettered access to her mother's vintage Martin guitar, until the day her mom caught her windmilling away, a la Pete Townshend. Instead of taking her guitar privileges away her mother forbade her from using a pick, to protect the guitar's finish, and the "Wonderland" method of finger, thumb and nail-picking was born. To watch her riffing on her Fender is like watching an octopus, tentacles at work, making a sound that has gained her entrée to the nearly exclusive men's club, Virtuosos of The Blues Guitar.
Among the music legends who have taken her under their wing because of her skills count Doug "Sir Douglas" Sahm, Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel, Mike Nesmith of The Monkees and Levon Helm of The Band and his Midnight Rambles. Not too shabby.
Add in a voice that holds it's own with Ruthie Foster, Susan Tedeschi and fellow Ginger Bonnie Raitt and you've got a whirling dervish of a blues show. Sidemen Cole El-Saleh, keybass and keyboard, and Rob Hooper, drums, who've been with her forever, and you've got a great big trio of a sound. That thing about the blues, that it's the basis for nearly all American popular music forms, is true, and Carolyn Wonderland is one of it's most gifted, rambunctious practitioners. And that thing about red-heads? That's true too!
Pre-show music by Gary Prisby
The trio that makes up The Ballroom Thieves might strike you as spare, especially when you observe that their percussionist's kit is not much of a kit at all, but rather more basic than that of a toddler banging away on the Tupperware from under the counter. But listen up!
While spare, Devin Mauch gets everything and more from that kit, bringing both the bottom and the melody, under and over Calin Peter's cello and Martin Earley's guitar. Then they layer on two and three part harmony vocals, and songs both powerful and celestial spring forth.
Watching and hearing their decided evolution on YouTube reveals a group that has gone from being a vehicle for Earley to a true collective, from Peters being a replacement for a former cellist to coming to the forefront on vocals, a bundle of nerves and a glorious voice, and from Mauch being back where drummers belong, to inching forward to join the frontline, melodically and vocally and physically alike.
I imagine this growth and experimentation with styles and substances will continue, right up until their date with SummerSounds, when we'll hear the latest iteration of Thieves.
Pre-show music Josh Starrett
Sometimes YouTube is like finding a box of old home movies. At the outset, the Monbacks, on jittery, handheld cell phone videos, captures a bunch of frat boys mixing between old R&B chestnuts and blue-eyed soul/rock. In one video two Dads join their sons onstage and add to the enthusiasm, if not the talent, of the whole mess. It's obvious throughout that they love music, and later it's obvious that music is loving them back.
The Friedman twins and their old high-school buddies have endured, sustaining themselves with gigs in and around their native Norfolk VA, with dive bars and clubs, where all they really had to do was play the first three chords of "Midnight Hour" and everyone in the joint, including the bouncers, was up and dancing. After college things got more serious and their music got mo' better, and they stretched their wings up and down the eastern seaboard, and stretched their musical ambitions with original compositions, and an EP. Once they had enough songs and enough arrangements they met up with the young, but legendary, producer Matthew E. White and landed a deal with YepRoc Records.
They've grown considerably genre and talent-wise, but there is still no disguising that at heart, they're still what they started out to be, a kick-ass garage rock/ blue eyed soul group, horn section on the side, immensely energetic and entertaining, just what the frat house and the Concerts in the Park ordered.
Pre-show music by Adam Fitz
"Tied down to no particular form of music, we could do whatever we wanted." Richard Wright, a founding member of Pink Floyd
They were the very essence of progressive, or prog- rock, the progenitors of King Crimson, Yes, ELO, Renaissance and other nearly forgotten bands, yet they are the third most successful rock act in history in terms of sales. Their beginnings were beset with great difficulty and tragedy, mostly related to the severe mental illness of their original leader, Syd Barrett, yet their music has endured, still being used for planetarium constellation and light shows. Other than The Beatles, they may be the next most "Tributed" bands out there. If it wasn't for progressive rock The Palace Theater might have to close their doors.
I, for one, can't understand such success, anymore than I can understand quantum physics or how Dr. Who became a woman. Oh, well, so much for the impenetrable.
Trivia question: Where does the name Pink Floyd come from? They were two Piedmont blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, favorites of Barrett.
Get out your albums or 8 tracks or cassettes or compact discs or iPods and start boning up on some of the most bizarre and obscure lyrics ever. September is only a summer away, so get with it, for the singing along, intelligently, you know, cause Pink Floyd is on the way, as soon as this record is over. In a while. Or not.
Pre-show music by Crawdad Joe
Tusk, the business end of an elephant, rhino or walrus, somehow became a song and then an album title for Fleetwood Mac, and then their most iconic video, featuring the USC Trojan Marching Band.
Tusk, the Fleetwood Mac Tribute Band, is another story altogether. Next in a long line of outstanding tribute acts that we’ve presented, these ersatz John and Christine McVies, Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood sound-a-likes are your chance to put Rumours back on the turntable and relive the 1970’s when you’re in your 70’s, 60’s or 50’s, back when the rumours were about which of the band was dating which, rather than just napping together, like now.
Fleetwood Mac started as a British blues band, in the 1960’s, when Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie left the John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to form the Mac. (Poor John Mayall: Over the decades he’s been “left” by Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Jack Bruce, Robben Ford, Harvey Mandel, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, John Almond, Sonny Landreth, Aynsley Dunbar, Keef Hartley and Sugarcane Harris, just to name a few.)
They transmogrified (always wanted to use that word in a sentence) into a pop band in the 1970’s and 1980’s, probably filling up more stadiums and arenas than all the Roman gladiators and Oakland Raiders put together. And they’re still out there, competing with all the tribute bands and making more money than can be printed. Think of that when we pass the pig!
TUSK, on the other hand, is plenty great in their own right, and they love when you sing along.
Pre-show music by Ellie Lee Oldfield
Talk about a contradiction in terms. In the video for his song “I Was Drunk” Mike Zito is the poster child for the addict/alcoholic musician: down, out and ready for more. More heartache, more neglect of family, more blues. On the other hand, in other videos, he’s the proud papa of Zach Zito, his shredding son, who sounds more than ready to go into the family business.
Long in recovery, Zito maintains a blog for himself and others working on recovery, sharing his insights and trials regarding his disease. This while spending as much as 300 days a year on the road, supporting his family, working on his skills, being a bluesman. When he gets to Greensburg he will have played night after night after night and go right on for more. Not all glamour, is it? Just the way it is. Every song he writes and sings and plays bears the hallmarks of this life of a bluesman. His voice and guitars are well-worn, and his lyrics are realistically reflective of that experience.
He’s one of the founding members of The Royal Southern Brotherhood, the closest thing that modern blues has to a supergroup, but he’s withdrawn from that venture for now, in order to maintain his killing floor schedule, to provide for his family.
If you want the blues, musically, not actually, then Mike Zito’s your man
Pre-show music by Jay Wiley
Performing hundreds of shows a year has helped Washington, DC's gypsy punk brass band hone their sound, while injecting it with a healthy dose of funk, soul and eclectic grooves. Black Masala is all about having fun!
From start to finish, from the “Get Down” to the “Get Out,” from the Bam to the Boom, this is the band that will sample a broad range of genres, from Gypsy to Balkan to Bhangra to Bounce to Funk and Beyond (and maybe Beyonce), never bringing it Down and always bringing you Up.
What’s great about today’s young musicians is that there are no borders to their musical creativity. They are as prone to explore the Middle East as the Mid-West for musical forms, and just as likely to be bringing it home with New Orleans street echoes or wang-dang-doodle from Chicago.
While diversity is a big part of what makes Black Masala a great band, more importantly, they’re a whole lot of fun live. Besides the band and the beat and the strong vocals of Kristen Long there’s the dancing, theirs and ours.
“I Love You Madly” is their current recording release. I guarantee, you’ll love them right back!
Pre-show music by Jason Joseph
No branch of the armed services does the military band quite as well as the Navy. They have full marching bands and pop bands in every part of the U.S. as well as in overseas posts all over the world. It almost seems that the main qualification for service in the Navy is the ability to play a musical instrument.
Rhode Island Sound is an R.O.C.K. Navy band, performing covers of contemporary and classic rock and pop, while in their regular white uniforms, rather than “The Pirates of The Caribbean” costumes they might prefer. Otherwise they might be mistaken for the Rolling Stones but for the fact that they’re all at least 60 years younger than the Glitter Twins, et al.
I scoured the World Wide Web, found their secret military videos and I can attest that they are indeed very good, unique and entertaining, and if the audience requests, they’ll do a killer “Anchors Aweigh.”
Rock and Soul
We originally planned to present Color Palette, an esoteric DC band, on this date. Due to a freak accident which involved hoverboards, bongs, and concealed guitars near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (DC, not Greensburg,) several band members, enroute to a Grand Jury hearing, suffered sprained toes and will not be able to perfrom their signature speaker dives. We have released them from their onerous SummerSounds contracts and returned their firstborn ... but only because we were able to book this killer band called The Commonheart! This could be the show of the year. The Judge writes:
St. Paul (Janeway) and The Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats are at the vanguard of the revival, but not far behind are The Commonheart, featuring Clinton Clegg on the Big Voice, a Monongahela native with a name out of Mayberry. At Three Rivers Arts Festival, Commonheart opened for The Bones and gave Janeway a run for his money, vocally and physically. Austin TX and SXSW were a great launch pad this winter for this consummate soul band from SteelTown and we expect Greensburg and SummerSounds to be their booster rocket. It’s high time!
Pre-show music by Free Donuts
Country AND Westermn
Round up a country band and an early R&B group with three lead vocalists, weave in a hefty amount of vocal harmony and witty turns-of-phrase, and let ‘em rock out like The Band. Sitting At these crossroads sits roots music mavericks Western Centuries, a band as skillful in their musicianship as they are innovative in their writing. With upbeat, barroom dance numbers, lilting, introspective tunes of heartbreak, and everything in between, they strike an oft-strived-for, but rarely achieved, balance between genre-busting experimentation and thoughtful continuity.
Comprised of Seattle-based country musician Cahalen Morrison, jam band veteran Jim Miller (co-founder of Donna the Buffalo), R&B and bluegrass-by-way-of-punk rock songwriter Ethan Lawton, pedal steel player Rusty Blake, and bassist Dan Lowinger, Western Centuries are clearly a diverse bunch. After years of performing in prominent roots duo Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, Morrison formed and led the band Country Hammer, made up of members who have mostly crossed over into Western Centuries.
Pre-show music by Andy Gregg
Pre-show music by Henry Bachorski