Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Crosby, Stills & Nash: Carrying On After All These Years

Carry on, love is coming, love is coming to us all.

"It looks like my class reunion," I said.

"Yeah, except you don't know anyone," my son laughed.

We were in the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, far from my Tempe, Arizona HS alma mater on that May 16th.  Middle age was everywhere. Pot bellies and love handles. Balding or graying heads.  Wrinkles. Tie dye shirt, pony tails, and other hints of the 70s emerged also.  I practically apologized to my son for bringing him to hang out with all these old people. "I know their music," he noted.

I sneaked a peak at the band's recent set lists before the show. Previous concerts had featured a two-part set with 24 songs.  This would be a longer concert.

The moment the band walked onstage, applause broke out and the crowd rose to their feet. "Really?" I thought.  We were in one of the most luxurious and exquisitely beautiful theaters I've ever stepped inside, with burgundy velvet plush, padded seats and my generation wanted to do this concert on their feet?  Except for a few acoustic solos in the second set .... yes, they did. The exhaustion of my extensive NYC jaunt that day was showing.

Hearing the opening song, "Carry On," took my breath away. If the song remembers when, they took me back to junior high and high school with hits like "Our House,” “Southern Cross," and "The Road to Marakesh".  Their distinctive, classic harmonies were as compelling as they were over 40 years ago, even though at times, not surprisingly, they sounded like grandpas. And with good reason: all are in their 70s.  

The acoustic portion of the concert featured new material. "As songwriters, we'll fossilize if we can't sing new material," they explained.  Captivating and melodious but unlikely to see the top of a chart.  The show finished with "Wooden Ships" and they treated their fans to “Teach Your Children” and “Judy Blue Eyes” for the encore.

I can't remember what time the show ended, but it was plenty late.  All I could do was shake my head and say "wow."  Unbelievable they are still in the game.  We sauntered to the exit with a throng of others singing "do do do do do."  Outside, a downpour of spring rain awaited us.

A few comments about Brooklyn's Kings Theater. It's exceptionally beautiful, with every corner adorned with ornate and luxurious decor.  The building was once a Loew’s movie theater.  After being shuttered for years, it reopened in its repurposed state in February 2015 and is a great tribute to those who refurbished it.  The staff was very friendly and accommodating.  If you ever have an opportunity to hear a concert at Kings, you should go.  It's a breathtaking, one-of-a-kind venue.



James Bay: Not Holding Anything Back (Including the River)

Hold back the river, let me look in your eyes
Hold back the river, so I
Can stop for a minute and see where you hide 
Hold back the river, hold back

Nothing can hold back the rolling current of James Bay's rocking raw talent.

And yet ... I almost I didn't go to his May 8th concert at the Depot in Salt Lake City.

After listening to his hit "Roll Back the River" about 25 times on YouTube, well that was the deciding factor.  

His timeless, soul soaked music spoke to a throng of screaming, first-big-concert high school faces downstairs. And it was standing room only for those in the "over 21" audience bar area upstairs at The Depot in Salt Lake City.  

Perhaps those of us old enough to remember heard hints of Bruce Springstein.

There was an audible gasp the first time Bay said a few words in between songs. His characteristic British accent and deep voice warmed me.  

James Bay opened with “Collide” and mesmerized to the finish. His set was replete with songs about love, relationships, life.  “Move Together,” “Scars,” and “Let It Go” suggested he’d lived more seasons than his 23 years, as he rolled through the Depot.  An old soul perhaps.  And to my delight, he wasted little time on chatter, in spite of his charming voice.  What wasn't to like?

The Depot holds approximately 1200 people. Ive seen it more crowded, but it was mostly full, upstairs and downstairs, a hint that James Bay can command generations of fans.

As I was doing my usual review-review, I noticed he got panned by a Brit newspaper, The Guardian. Ouch.  Blasted in his own backyard for being nothing special, he was characterized as “balladeering by numbers.”  Pretty sure America will love him.  In fact, we already do. His new album, “Chaos in the Calm” debuted at number one on the albums chart by March 30th and his smash hit single “Hold Back the River” is consistently in the top 20 singles.  I'm speculating we will be seeing him again soon on a U.S. tour, and … most likely at a much larger venue.  Whatever the “formula” is, it works.  Enough said.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bottlerock 2015: Practically Perfect In Every Way

Intel Stage

I'd never been to Napa Valley.  I'd never been to a major rock music festival.  I'd never heard many of the nationally touring bands on the Bottlerock lineup.

In some ways, perhaps, I was a wide-eyed festival virgin from a smallish music market, experiencing thrill of a first-time when I showed up on Friday morning for Bottlerock 2015.  I'd buy into that cynicism myself, but I've seen and blogged about dozens of major concerts, festivals, and other events.  I saw the 2002 Olympics up close and personal.  I've attended a smattering of world figure skating competitions.  I've volunteered at outdoor concerts with attendance upwards of 20,000.  I've gone to large, themed festivals in New York City, where they really know how to put on a show.  So maybe all of that gives me credibility.  I can only hope.

How was it?  In a word: fantasticfunmarvelousunbelievablewowzaawesomeamazing!!!!  From the first hour we set foot inside the venue and throughout the festival, we found ourselves in awe.  It sounds a bit naive to say everything about the trip and the festival were amazing and far exceeded our expectations, but truly that was the case.  Here are a few things we loved about Bottlerock 2015:

Organization. Team Bottlerock was extremely thoughtful in planning and almost flawless in execution. This was probably the largest large scale event I've attended besides the 2002 Olympics, and it came off with near Disney level polish. We had to wait in line outside the venue on the first day, but once inside we were welcomed with signage, services, a helpful staff, gourmet food and beverage vendors, accommodating common areas and even free granola bars and non-stop water bottle refills. Parking was a bit of a hike but we got in to the lot easily, and, more importantly, our exits at the end of long days were met with only minimal delays. Suffice it to say, the careful organization made it possible for us to have a truly great time and first festival experience.  Porta-potties were cleaner at the beginning of the day than at the end, but they were attended to throughout each day, we never had to wait long, and we appreciated the hand washing sinks.  Since we both have been involved with recycling through Utah's Green Team, we were continually fascinated by the abundance of recycling bins and ongoing sanitation services at Bottlerock.

The Vibe. I'd heard the term "festival energy" and sort of dismissed it. But I have to acknowledge there's a huge difference between the energy of the band the crowd the venue at a concert, even a huge venue, and what we experienced at Bottlerock. Light years of difference. Electric. Concert on steroids.  Unrestrained. Indescribable. Unforgettable.

The Weather. We were treated to overcast mornings followed by blue skies, warm sunny days and scarcely a cloud in the afternoons. Nights were cool enough for sweaters and light jackets.

Napa.  The people and businesses of Napa were squarely behind Bottlerock.   This three year old festival, which struggled financially in its first year, appeared well funded by the wine industry. We wondered how many bottles of wine were consumed ... and what a beautiful town. On day two, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a picturesque vista, and we realized why people come from so many places to visit Napa Valley.

Security. At any large scale event, there is a need for a carefully constructed security plan.  Security were positioned throughout the venue to deal with any crowd control issues that might have arisen, but we never saw anyone misbehave.  While we felt protected, never did we feel constrained from enjoying ourselves, and dancing or standing close to the stage when crowd conditions permitted. There were no power hungry ushers to suppress or control the crowd at this gig. The security were there for one reason alone: public safety.

Staffing, Vendors, Service Providers. The remainder of Team Bottlerock was friendly and engaged, helpful, courteous, enthusiastic, and extremely energetic. They chatted us up and were excited that we came from out of state to attend.  There were dozens of vendors offering such delicacies as Garlic fries topped with crab. Grilled cheese with pulled pork. Bourbon maple ice cream. Pear beer. Wine from dozens of vineyards.

The Festival Fashions.  I probably snapped over 100 pictures of the varied colorful and creative outfits worn by festival goers.  Every fifteen minutes.  This is a separate topic unto itself consisting mainly of pictures.

Stage Hopping. Bottlerock had five stages including the culinary stage and we hopped or ran among them. Two of the stages and surrounding viewing areas held tens of thousands of people. The others were a bit smaller but more than adequate for several thousand people. We didn't quite refine our stage hopping routine  til the second day, but it served us well because we saw many groups on days two and three.

So. Much. Fun.  Besides the Music. Giant chairs to sit in, dancing to music on headphones, meeting and talking with people (most everyone was very friendly), photo booths, and a few large scale art installations all topped off the fun.

The Lineup. Last but not least, did I mention three days of non-stop music????? Team Bottlerock assembled an unbelievable array of brand name and emerging artists. Avett Brothers.  American Authors.  Imagine Dragons. Awolnation.  Robert Plant.  Capital Cities.  ZZ Ward.  Foster the People.  Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds.  No Doubt.  Trampled by Turtles.  Cage the Elephant.  My prize was being near the stage for Imagine Dragons and Awolnation. Although this post is not a technical review of any performance, we heard amazing sets.  Over thirty bands in three days. Seventy-five bands were on the lineup, so we didn't even see half.

The only complaint -- if I have one -- is that we had to commute about twenty miles each day to get to the festival.  We ended up staying in Benicia mainly because the closer options were twice as much or more by the time we made our hotel reservations.

As we walked around each day, we found ourselves amazed at and delighted by every detail and we wished our concert loving friends in Utah had been able to join in the fun. Maybe next year. The pre sale tickets are already on sale ......... I might or might not have purchased some.  ;)

The pictures don't even begin to tell the story.  There will be more as soon as I win the fight with Google Plus, if that's possible. Meanwhile, enjoy.