Sunfest 2017: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

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Ben Harper, with bassist Juan Nelson in the background

In the same way that Florida’s nickname “The Sunshine State” belies its six-month rainy season, so does Sunfest’s name paper over the fact that usually one of the festival’s five days is marred somewhat by bad weather. For the 2017 edition, that seemed to be  Day 2. Right as these headliners were scheduled to take the stage, an angry thunderstorm marched northward, looking as if a torrential downpour was imminent. So the festival management decided to push the start time back by 30 minutes to see if that would save everyone from a soaking.

But the weather of the Florida coast has a habit of being unpredictable, and what seemed destined to be a waterlogged evening turned out to have only a few sprinkles, as all the dark clouds had blown over by time the Californian sextet took to the stage.

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Drummer Oliver Charles

The definition of the word “eclectic” could be illustrated by a picture of singer/songwriter Harper, as evidenced by the set-list for this show. The performance began with a reggae tune “Finding Our Way”, followed by “How Dark Is Gone”,  a song driven by a conga rhythm played by percussionist Leon Mobley with drummer Oliver Charles joining in.

This was followed by “Welcome to the Cruel World”, a blues ballad that Ben performed on a lap-steel guitar, and “Fight for Your Mind”, a funky tune where Ben played his lap-steel through a wah-wah pedal.

Ben’s best-known material was well represented in this set, including “Diamonds on the Inside”, a ballad from the 2003 album of the same name. The gently up-tempo “Steal My Kisses”, from 1999’s Burn To Shine, featured an a capella sing-along and a bass vocal, appropriately enough, from bass player Juan Nelson. Not surprisingly, “Burn One Down”, an ode to ganja smoking, got a big cheer from the audience.

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Bassist Juan Nelson

The best showcase of the band’s instrumental abilities was an extended rendition of “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)”, featuring a series of solos by lead guitarist Jason Mozersky, keyboardist Jason Yates on a Hammond B3 organ, and finally by Ben on his lap-steel/wah-wah combo.

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Keyboardist Jason Yates, with drummer Oliver Charles in the background

After concluding the set with the reggae tune “With My Own Two Hands”, Ben made a point of thanking by name everyone who worked in support of his show — engineers, roadies, even caterers. In all my years of going to concerts, it was easily the classiest thing I’ve ever witnessed, and a suitable post-script to a great performance.

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Now Playing on Type M: The July 2017 Issue

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I Read All Your Books: Christine and Aidan of the acoustic duo Friction Farm

In case you thought the revival of our parent publication Type M for Music was a one-time thing, here’s a new issue that includes the complete Friction Farm interview that was previously published on this blog, and the Day 1 review of Sunfest 2017.

This issue also includes my thoughts on why interviews are a boon to the social life of a journalist, the importance of having an outlet for your writing voice, and what local venue doesn’t have its act together when it comes to selling tickets on the day of the show. Not to mention a brief article about the two North American independence days that includes an explanation of the phrase “2-4 weekend.” So don’t delay, read the latest issue of Type M today…

The Giving Type

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Violinist Ginny Meredith, founder of the music charity Inspirit

“There’s always something… that happens that makes me feel like we’re doing the right thing here; spreading the joy” — Ginny Meredith

The Thursday edition of The Palm Beach Post always includes a supplement called the Neighbourhood Post, containing stories and features for a given part of the county. One regular feature is Meet Your Neighbour, a column which highlights some remarkable individual living in the area. Today, I was pleasantly surprised to see this week’s Neighbour is my friend and fellow musician, Ginny Meredith. In 2000, Ginny founded the non-profit organization Inspirit, a charity devoted to bringing live music to venues where it normally would not be. For the last seventeen years, Inspirit has paid musicians to play in places such as hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers all over Palm Beach County.

Inspirit’s slogan is “We believe in the healing power of music”, something which stems from Ginny’s personal experience. In 1998, while Ginny was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she found that the only thing that helped her get through the situation was listening to music on her Walkman.

Two years later, Ginny went on a ski trip to  Utah, where she used to live with a  roommate named Janna Jenson. Janna had founded a non-profit  in Salt Lake City called Heart and Soul, to provide live music free of charge to institutions such as senior centers and rehab units. Thinking back to how helpful music had been to get her through chemo, Ginny “put two and two together.” Upon her return to Palm Beach, she did some research to see if any such organizations existed in this county. “We researched 50 facilities; we just sent out a mass fax questionaire to… different type[s], like rehab centers and shelters, and asked them, would they find a service like this valuable, and we got an overwhelming response… Just about everybody either faxed us or called us and said, ‘Yes, we would love that! Call us next week!’ ”

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Inspirit performance coordinator Renee Anchondo-Solis (left) and Inspirit board member Amanda Yorke (center) accompany Inspirit performer Noam Brown (right) at a recent Easter Seals event.

Read the Palm Beach Post profile on Ginny here, and for more information on Ginny’s organization, please visit the Inspirit website

p.s. I joined the Inspirit board earlier this year and I am currently planning a concert to benefit Ginny’s organization as a way to commemorate a milestone birthday in September. Stay tuned for further details, but for the time being, remember the name Five For Fifty

California Meets Boston… On The Beach

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Ambrosia lead singer Ken Stacey fronting the band at Sunfest, Sunday, May 7th, 2017

A little less than two months after playing to thousands at Sunfest 2017, California group Ambrosia will playing in a few hours in a more intimate venue:  Boston’s on the Beach in Delray, starting at 8:00 p.m. This band first started in 1970 as a progressive-rock outfit but achieved its biggest commercial success later that decade with a string of soft-rock singles such as “Biggest Part of Me”, “You’re The Only Woman” and “How Much I Feel.”

Opening for Ambrosia this evening is another soft-rock staple, John Ford Coley, best known for his hit ballad “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight.”

Standing-room tickets are still available at the club tonight, but all other seats have been sold out.

 

Interview: Friction Farm [Part III]

 “That right there makes the whole album worth it.”

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“Is that a train behind the photographer?” Friction Farm guitarist Aidan Quinn and bassist Christine Stay in the cover shot for the album Every Mile Is A Memory

[Typist’s Notes: This is the third and final segment of an interview conducted with acoustic duo Friction Farm, and it’s being published not a moment too soon. The interview, conducted Feb. 2014, centered on the album I Read Your Book, but as of July 1st, this will no longer be the group’s latest, since its newest release, So Many Stars,  will be coming out then.  

If you need to catch up on the previous segments, here are links to Part I and Part II ]

I. Library Gigs

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Christine and Aidan performing for the Central Florida Folk Society at the Winter Park library, April 30th, 2017

“I think it’s nice to take music into a different place than it normally is”

Type Writer: I know you’re about to play the Boca library, and didn’t you play a library up in Orlando as well?

Friction Farm Guitarist Aidan Quinn: Orlando, yep.

TW: Are there going to be any more book-oriented gigs after this?

Friction Farm Bassist Christine Stay: We played our local library in Spartanburg; it was a nice gig. And we’re doing one in Lake City [, Florida]. I felt like [playing in libraries] was a good fit, obviously, because people who like books are in there. I just think it’s nice to take music into a different place than it normally is.

II. Reading

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Christine and Aidan in the back cover photo for I Read Your Book

“It’s not just about occupying your time while you don’t have any tv to watch.”

Aidan:  I think [playing gigs in libraries] reinforces the idea of the… CD because what it’s about is, reading isn’t just about reading. It’s not just about information. It’s not just about occupying your time while you don’t have any tv to watch. It takes you places. And each of us will be inspired differently, or be influenced… differently by what we read. Particularly when it comes to stories, or things that are folk-related.

When you think about it, music is the same thing. The way you hear a song, the way I hear a song, it makes us think two different things. Sometimes two different strange stories.

Christine: I feel like that’s more true of a book than a movie or tv show because you have to create the imagery in your head, so that works a different electric channel in your brain.

Aidan: We know that music makes people feel different ways. You know, the same song, somebody’s gonna get up and dance,  and somebody else is gonna start crying. It’s different [ways to] interpret that story.

We [were playing] in a public library, and this young girl, maybe 12, 15, came up to me and said, “I’m gonna read that book; what is it called,  the one about ‘Normal’ ?” So I explain it to her, and she goes, “I’m gonna check it out right now.” I said, “I’m sure they have it here.” So she’s like, “I need to read that; I need to know what that’s about.” So hopefully we’ll inspire folks to read.

Christine: And that right there [makes the] whole album worth it.

III. The Laundry Cycle

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Longtime Farmhands might decipher the hidden pun in this photo

“I never knew that till anybody pointed it out.”

TW: I just remembered one more question I had, to do with “I’ve Got A Secret.” That song’s supposedly about the Higgs-Boson particle, and physics and all that stuff, but there’s a good deal of laundry-related content in that song…

Christine and Aidan: [laughing heartily]

TW: … and it makes me think of “The Ballad of The Lone Sock.”

Christine: Oh, man…

TW: Is it safe to say that we know what you’re doing when you do housework? [laughs]

Christine: This is so funny, ’cause a friend of ours from North Carolina said, “Oh, I was so glad to find the laundry reference in the new CD too.” I didn’t know what she meant, but all four of our CDs mention laundry in one of our songs. And I had no idea that was true.

Aidan: So now every once in a while, we’ll do The Laundry Cycle, which is the four songs [of ours] which reference laundry.

Christine: “Washing Machine”, “The Lone Sock”, “A Good Apartment” and “I’ve Got A Secret.” They all mention laundry, or something to do with laundry.  I never knew that, till anybody pointed it out.

TW: I’m getting rusty with my Friction Farm knowledge: I forgot that you had a song called “Washing Machine.” I think I thought that, but then I thought, “No, that can’t be right” because Kate Bush has a song called “Washing Machine” as well.

Aidan: A-ha!

TW:  She went years without recording anything, then the first album she put out after fourteen years had a song called “Washing Machine.” It’s like, “What have you been doing, Kate?” [laughs]

Christine: [upbeat] I like laundry; it’s a good [time] to think.

TW: [laughs] So any future laundry songs?

Aidan: … Now that the pressure’s on?

Christine: Not intentionally, but I have a feeling they will just crop up, because I didn’t know they had already happened.

TW: How about a laundry concept album, now that you’ve done books? “How To Wash Your Clothes” ?

Aidan: [laughs]

Christine: [laughs] Well, I feel like we need a sponsorship.

TW: Maytag?

Christine: Yes: Maytag, Tide…

TW: GE?

Aidan: GE makes good appliances. [Maybe] we can get them to sponsor us for a nice apartment-sized washing machine.

TW: There ya go. I think that’s gonna be it; thanks, guys…

Christine & Aidan

 

 

 

Sunfest 2017, Day 1: The Strumbellas, Snoop Dogg, Weezer

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Frontman Simon Ward and bassist Darryl James of folk-rock group The Strumbellas [Photo by Empress K of Reggae Reflection]
The Strumbellas

This award-winning sextet got my Sunfest off to a pleasant start, with a catchy folk-rock sound reminiscent of The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. Formed in Toronto in 2008, the Canadian character of the band showed in its opening-night show.  After performing “End of an Era” and “We Don’t Know”, guitarist-frontman Simon Ward encouraged American violinist Isabel Ritchie to sing the next number “Rhinestone”, since she was back in her home country.

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Violinist Isabel Ritchie [Photo by Empress K]
The quirky stage patter, sprinkled liberally throughout the set, seemed reminiscent of that of Canadian pop-rock juggernaut Barenaked Ladies.

 

 

 

The band has spent the last year touring in support of its third album, the April 2016 release Hope, and singles from that release were featured prominently in the Sunfest set, including the latest, 2017’s “Young and Wild.” Last song of the set was the group’s biggest hit “Spirits”, which front-man Simon turned into a joyous sing-along.

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[Photo by Empress K]

 

Snoop Dogg

Snoop with Dancer

As night fell over the West Palm waterfront, a haze of “smoke” rose over the Tire Kingdom stage, accompanied by a bone-shattering bass soundtrack. But before the legendary gangsta-rapper took to the stage, a couple of trailers were shown on the screen: one for Snoop’s new album “Neva Left”, and one for a movie bio on the late Tupac Shakur, “All Eyez On Me”,  with a soundtrack featuring collaborations with Snoop and his late fellow West Coast rapper. “Neva Left” was released May 19th and includes the single “Lavender”, which was released earlier in the year with a controversial Trump-as-clown video. The Tupac movie was released on June 16th.

When Snoop did make his entrance, his flashy accessories included a large diamond-encrusted pendant of the word “Cold” in cursive writing, Elvis-like sunglasses and a gold microphone.

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The rapper was also accompanied by two energetic dancers and his mascot, Nasty Dogg. Snoop’s set featured some of his better-known collaborations, such as “P.I.M.P” (recorded with Fifty Cent) and “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” (with  Dr. Dre). It also included what could almost be the rapper’s theme song, “Gin and Juice.”

 

 

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Weezer

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Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo

Like Snoop Dogg, this alt-rock quartet is another returning Sunfest headliner, having previously played the festival in 2010. With the  band logo (best described as a flying ‘W’)  in lights behind the drum kit, the group’s performance featured songs from its 2016 release, yet another self-titled effort that has received a colour-coded nickname,  in this case The White Album,  like the legendary self-titled Beatles’ release.

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Weezer logo

“Thank God for Girls” was both the lead-off single and biggest hit from this album, but in addition to playing that, the band also played its latest single, “King of the World.” Of course, the set-list included a number of the band’s rocking classics, such as the eminently singable  “Beverly Hills”,   “Island In The Sun”, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and  “Say It Ain’t So.”  But Weezer saved its best for last, ending a two-song encore with its biggest hit, 1995’s “Buddy Holly.”

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Music for The Longest Day

A newscaster just reminded me that today being the summer solstice, it’s also the longest day of the year. So what better way to commemorate that than by listening to an extended version of The Lotus Eaters’ “First Picture of You”? This New Wave single, with the lyric “First picture of you, first picture of summer”  was a hit in 1983 for this Liverpudlian group, and the subject of one of my earliest (and most popular) posts on this blog. But YouTube being YouTube, the video I linked to in that post got taken down, and none of the replacement clips of that video seem to be of good enough quality to not make you feel like you need an eye test. So try the link below instead, and enjoy today’s installment of the long, hot summer…