By Chris Clancy
Photograph courtesy of KG&LW management
September 30, 2017
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard frontman Stu Mackenzie has exactly one “move:” at a certain point in a song, usually during the instrumental break, he will bring his guitar up to his chin while continuing to hammer out whatever chord he’s playing, and then, after a couple of seconds, bring it back down. If that doesn’t sound very impressive, that’s because it’s not. And yet, on the handful of occasions when he had occasion to pull this move, at last Tuesday’s stop at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, the crowd went berserk.
Berserk seems to be expected from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (this marks the last time I type out their complete name). Half a dozen security guards manned the entrance, patting each and every ticket holder down, advising them to “act like this was the airport.” Walking past the merch table, one saw signs exclaiming that stage-diving was “NOT PERMITTED.” More security guards lined the front of the stage, their faces all grim readiness, which was weird since the opening act, Mild High Club, sounded utterly anodyne—vaporwave as rendered by “Gaucho”-era Steely Dan. If you told me all their songs were about kites, I would not have been surprised.
But then some long-haired dudes showed up in the midst of Mild High Club’s chillaxed jamming, and the crowd suddenly woke up, whooping and hollering. And then I witnessed one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen at a show: the headlining band started setting up while the opening act continued playing. Mics were checked, guitars were tuned, and the band! Played! On! It was as if the performers onstage had taken into consideration the feelings of the audience, the fact that this was a regular old Tuesday night and at least a portion of the crowd had to get up and go to work in the morning! It was in that moment that I became a KG&LW superfan, and they had yet to play a single note.
About the headliners: KG&LW are a seven-piece rock band from Melbourne, Australia. In their seven-year existence, they have released 11 full-length albums —three in 2017 alone — and toured the globe multiple times, amassing a ravenous following that in the past couple of years has pushed way past the boundaries of “well-kept secret.”
Theirs is a sound that cannot be captured by some quickie genre tag. Yes, “psychedelic” speaks to their mind-altering aesthetic, but KG&LW don’t much traffic in way-out jams. “Garage prog” conveys the scuzzy experimentalism (and penchant for concept albums), but one gets the sense that even the lowliest oftribute acts could play these guys under the stage. “Space rock” covers their debts to Hawkwind and Captain Beyond, but leaves out much of the fun.
And, make no mistake, it’s all in good fun. Not since the Ramones in their hey-ho-day has a band so fearlessly plumbed the depths of stupidity. Cheap-o comic book mythology (see 2014’s “I’m In Your Mind Fuzz”), kiddie folk (see 2015’s “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon”), jazz odysseys (see 2015’s “Quarters!”), C-level gorefests (see 2017’s “Murder of the Universe”), the recreational ingestion of household cleaning items (see all) serve as fodder for KG&LW’s ever-expanding purview.
After Mild High Club played itself off with the rubbery, pastoral “Rolling Stoned,”KG&LW started the show proper with “Digital Black.” That’s when the security guards put on their game faces and the crowd transformed into a sweaty, writhing mass, occasionally squirting a plastic beer cup or puff of smoke at the ceiling.
The band sounded best when diving into their more hard-rock numbers (“Cellophane,” “The Lord of Lightning,” “Rattlesnake”) than on their subtler tunes. The Afropop percolations of “Sleep Drifter,” for instance, were flattened in favor of a single-minded, driving rhythm. It served as a strong reminder of another KG&LW paradox: If you’re looking for blistering guitar solos — figuring that surely one of the three guitarists on hand can shred — you may leave wanting.
The second half of the show was dominated by the masterfully silly “Altered Beast”epic suite, played faster than the recorded version, and without the constant spoken word interjections, which is too bad since they’re half the fun. About halfway through, security guards pulled a crowd surfer down to the floor and escorted him away, and Mackenzie called the proceedings to a halt to ask where they were taking him. Super nice of him I thought, and the the guy eventually made his way back to the show.
Barely taking a breath, KG&LW followed up with “Robot Stop,” marbling in a few minutes of Hawkwind’s “Master of the Universe.” (Always a good idea to pay tribute to the gods.) Things started to slow down after that, led by the mellow, flute-driven “Hot Water.” A couple of the guys from Mild High Club came in from stage left, and everything began to take on a distinct Ariel Pink feel, miles away from the sub-Sabbath riffs of twenty minutes before. The show finished just as it began, with “Rolling Stoned,” and everyone, even the would-be stage divers, filed out satisfied.
Learn more about King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard by visiting kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Pratishtha Singh and courtesy of Upland Brewing Company
November 2, 2017
Upland Brewing Company debuted a specialty line of sours this year at Nashville’s go-to craft beer market, Craft Brewed. Throughout the tasting, I became increasingly elated that these exciting, niche flavours were now available in my local, Tennessee market. I didn’t know sours could be so thrilling—
Love at First Flight
As I delved into each premiered selection, ideas for decadent pairings populated my mind. Doug Dayhoff, of Upland Brewing suggested a rich, cherry compote to complement their Cherry pour. Delicious.
Those pleasant notes of fruity, cleverly-spiced undertones in each sip tell the story of each sour, Dayhoff explained, which always begins with traditional form: wild fermentation, as well as whole-fruit infusion (except for the Hopsynth, whose flavour feeds solely off fermentation — a tale of traditional beer-making wizardry embedded into the science of sours production). But alongside the older-style sours, after the Upland crew began experimenting and nailing down the classic recipes, they then explored working with non-traditional fruits and spices. Needless to say, all of Upland’s sour beers that are made with fruit are made with whole fruits - never juices - as that would produce an entirely different (read: less satisfying) result (think: skins).
Hopsynth: relies only on wild fermentation, however it is surprisingly fruity and full-flavoured due to localized microorganisms during the fermentation process. Hopsynth is a blend of young foeder beers, it is generally 4-5 months old and is heavily dry-hopped — there is no fruit, whatsoever. There are some tropical fruit notes, but they come straight from the yeast. And the “pretty, citrusy botanical aroma” comes from the hops.
Iridescent: a non-traditional, perfectly balanced elixir of apricot and ginger, added during the final stages, both whole fruit and whole root. “It’s what the American craft beer movement has been all about. Studying, learning the rules… then breaking the rules” said Dayhoff.
Cherry: time travel into the Old World with a satisfyingly traditional and pungent cherry infusion, which takes its course over a much longer fermentation process. Its enticing gem-like coloring beams a loud and beautiful red, like light shining through a ruby broach. So bright! The Cherry is a blend of older beers aged on whole cherries, and the beer, overall has less residual carbs, so it has a “thinner feel” on your tongue. This sour was particularly mesmerizing.
Dayhoff emphasized that the time and attention spent to carefully master the existing craft beers in the Upland collection, such as their signature ales and lagers afforded them the opportunity to explore the methodology behind older world traditions, such as sour beers.
What’s in a Sour?
He explained that hundreds of years ago, as people started to isolate yeast and propagate it in order to narrow in on one, specific type of beer, the notable flavours from fermentation actually kicked off much earlier in the process — yeast was exposed to bacteria in the air from sitting in open tanks. “Yeast is the key … (I)t was a multitude of yeasts and bacteria involved, not just a single strain,” he reinforced.
With the modernization of brewing, these open tanks became closed tanks. Dayhoff reminded me that at that time, people did not know that yeast was a unicellular organism. All they knew was to repeat a pattern in their process that returned consistency and quality — “just use a little from the last batch, or use the same wooden stirring paddle.”
Over time, that particular process, which produces what we know as “sours,” disappeared almost everywhere on the planet except for a small part of Belgium and France. By this point, most communities elsewhere on the map were trying to control and develop specific styles. But while sours were slowly decreasing in consumer relevancy, Dayhoff told me that 15 to 20 small Belgian breweries kept these old-style recipes alive by brewing up smaller batches for their local markets. The history of sours was just as exciting as they tasted! Thank you, Belgium—
Eat N’ Sour
Exceptional pairings and enhancements make enjoying a carefully crafted beverage, well, that much more enjoyable! Dayhoff shared some enticing options to go with these now-available sours. He first explained that due to the low pH of sour beers, they work as a wine with food. And similarly, they can break up that fatty, savory film on your tongue, so it resets your pallet. He suggested savory foods and rich cheeses for optimal pairings.
On the other hand, he said that you can enhance a flavor in a dish by pulling from the flavor in a particular sour. For example, the Cherry would join a pork medallion with a cherry compote beautifully. With the Hopsynth, Dayhoff suggested an herbed goat cheese. “The herbal character would be the play on the other end, there.” Note: hops and herbs.
“Sometimes you’re trying to complement; sometimes you’re trying to contrast,” he said, shifting gears. With the Iridescent, “pair it with a piece of apple pie that has ginger in it. That would wake you up in between those bites.”
Behind the Yeast
Upland was founded in Bloomington, IN in 1998. “A very traditional brewery... The first six to eight years — (it had) a very traditional portfolio of a pale ale, a Belgian beer — that sort of stuff. Then I put together a group — it was founded by a friend of mine in 2006, and we came in and bought the brewery. And one of the things I went to the team in place and asked was, ‘What are some of the things — the projects — that you’ve been interested in doing, but the prior owner wouldn’t do?’”
Dayhoff continued, “And there was a group of 20-30 different projects.” But the one that stood out, he shared, was the brewing team wanting to see if they could replicate a traditional, Belgian Lambic style beer — a cultured beer. Just for fun!
“There was no commercial intention (behind producing these sours),” he told me.
But then they realized it was something they could really do differently — “the largest winery east of the west coast” happened to be right up the road from Upland Brewing Company. And this is when I learned about another star player in the fermentation process of sours, the foeder. I realized what he was telling me: That winery up the road would have a lot of foeders available...
For my fellow less-than-experts on beer, I learned that a foeder is a wooden tank in which fermentation takes place, contributing yet more unique flavors due to the bacterias from the wood.
A winery of that scale, he said, had barrels upon barrels no longer in use that could actually be repurposed as foeders for making sours over at the brewery. “Let’s go grab some barrels from the winery and see if we can do this like the remaining tradition of Belgian brewers that do it!” he recalled. It’s a brilliant marriage of concepts because sour beers are known for having a “tart, sour character to (them), which is more wine-y than the rich multi-flavours, which became the foundation of modern beer.”
In 2011, Dayhoff said that they decided to expand the program and build a separate facility after experiencing great results with sours production. I also learned that the microorganisms they used and the type of yeast they used to make these types of sour beers were considered a contaminant to their more commonly-known portfolio beers aka “clean beers.” That’s why they chose to build a different building off site for their “clean beers” and work inside of the existing space with the sours.
In 2015 (and into 2016), they built a 500-barrel cellar to house the sours. And they went from one foeder to 11. For someone who understands more about production than beer, itself, these numbers are impressive for this particular type of beer making.
Dayhoff assured me that Upland isn’t the only brewery brewing up sours from the soul — he mentioned how locally (Nashville), Yazoo’s collection of Embrace the Funk is fermented in foeders and those sours are really fun and delicious, too. In the timeline of rediscovering craft beer, these days are exciting days for sours. Among a handful of breweries offering them, I’d rather venture toward the folks with foeders and whole fruits for the ideal sour.
With full appreciation of the sour-cery involved in bringing to life these special, Old World brews from Upland’s sours, learning about mixed cultures and wild fermentation opened the doors to a wonderland of flavours I was eager to explore from their enchanting selection.
The joy of enjoying craft beverages is tasting the passion in the potion. And much like their trusted craft beers, each glass of an Upland Sours brew is another homage to that sense of satisfaction, with a wild (fermentation) twist.
Upland’s sours have been made available in the Tennessee market at the following locations: Craft Brewed, Flying Saucer, Frugal MacDoogal and Hop Stop.
Learn more about Upland Brewing Company by visiting uplandbeer.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Ram Muragesan, images courtesy of Urban Sadhoos
August 25, 2017
It is a milestone for Indians to host a Bollywood party on a Hard Rock Cafe rooftop in downtown Nashville, TN — on Broadway, of all places. The event is scheduled for this Friday, August 25, 2017. DJ Simz is the featured artist for live entertainment. And tickets are already sold out.
The Nashville-based production team that began hosting specialty Indian cultural events for Music City, USA gave me an exclusive, first-ever, inside scoop about Urban Sadhoos. After all, no one else has ever hosted a Bollywood dance party on a rooftop bar in downtown Nashville, so I was curious about these self-professed “Urban Sadhoos” (or "sadhus") throwing such a party…
Full disclosure: I was a bit wary from their name, but in an effort to not be judgmental, and instead strengthen our community through open communication, I thought I would reach out to them to chat before drawing any conclusions.
“Whether you come from Indian culture, in general, or you have a background of growing up in India like us, you have an inclination toward Bollywood music … Why not host a Bollywood night for people like us who want to have a couple of drinks and dance? Bollywood serves that purpose.”
As an Indian, myself, and with an interest in culture and linguistics, I first had to address the (party) elephant in the room: What did they mean when they juxtaposed the words “urban” and “sadhu?” At first glance, it sounds like a contradiction.
“The name is the most common question we get,” replied Urban Sadhoos.
But the guys told me that to best address this question, we should backtrack a bit—
Though they are collective, Urban Sadhoos has chosen to remain anonymous (as individuals) with this particular endeavour in the public sphere. I asked them what that was all about: "The primary reason for that is when someone in a different city wants to do the same (type of thing) with the same values, we want people to remember Urban Sadhoos the same way everywhere."
“The Indian community is quite settled here already. (Urban Sadhoos) is a newer generation’s approach. We wanted to be a little different but still bring a cool vibe to our shared musical culture. And especially, we wanted to get the latest Bollywood music — just helping share Indian music on a global scale.”
The Urban Sadhoos team is comprised of Indians, born and raised in India, who have recently moved to Nashville. Indians are a diverse people, so there is always more than one narrative — more than one perspective. Therefore, each person’s experience is equally worthy of sharing.
“The first time we did this, people were really excited that someone (finally) did this type of event.”
They also mentioned that they wanted to share Indian music with more than just Indian people. “We also didn’t want Bollywood music to just cater to the Indian crowd. Everybody is kind of attracted to it. Our approach was, ‘We also have music that you would be interested in, so why not come hang out with us?’ So we decided we needed to just host an event, and so that’s how we started Urban Sadhoos."
They weren’t looking to host a traditional Indian event. The Indian Association of Nashville, which is well-established in the Nashville community for decades now, brings a significantly larger, family-oriented experience for the Indian community in Nashville. They host traditional Indian events. And they are fun. But as it goes, there is a time and place for everything, and Urban Sadhoos want to offer something for different times, at different places.
I grew up attending IAN events, and I loved them. I sang bhajans and Bollywood songs. I learned dance numbers for spiritual songs, Bollywood songs, qawwali songs and more. I played antakshari. I played football and basketball with the other Indian kids while our parents drank chai and made big dinners for everybody to enjoy together. Some years, we carpooled together for school. I attended the Sri Ganesha Temple with my parents and Gurdwaras on behalf of my godparents. The list of everyday life’s doings and dwellings goes on. The Indian Association of Nashville gave me an opportunity to explore my roots in a second-nature setting where adults and children shared the same space. Looking back, I feel fortunate to have been “raised by a village,” in that sort of way.
But after returning to Nashville in 2016 (since leaving for college and work in 2005), I would like to see multiple options for an Indian/Indian-American that likes Indian music to have a fun night out with it. After all, the Indian population in Nashville has grown with the city, so shouldn’t we have footprints in multiple arenas around here? As I always say with my own endeavors: It’s not competition; it’s adding something completely different to the mix.
“The whole point for us was that when you go to a club or a musical event that encourages the people to dance… there are certain times that you don’t want to have to take care of your kids at the same time. We all respect and love our kids, but there are times when you just want to let loose — just to relax for a bit. And the only thing that we could think of that could connect every Indian was the music.”
This backstory helps explain the conscious meaning behind “Urban Sadhoos,” I later learned.
“We wanted to pick a name that spoke to us, but also was trending, musically — when you listen to music, (and you connect with it), you get into a trance.”
That “trance” is something we are raised to be conscious of in Indian culture.
“And this pointed us to a sadhu as the inspiration. For us, the deeper meaning of a sadhu is someone who concentrates on something so deep inside that he has the most knowledge about that — about himself — like our passion for sharing song and dance. What we thought with the word ‘urban’ was that we could address the concept of the sadhu in a more accessible way to more people. Because when you say sadhu, people that think it’s old-school…”
However, much like eastern philosophy, in general, the concept of the sadhu is transcendent.
“We want people to be able to have a good time; forget about everything and concentrate on the music and dance with it.”
Thereafter, we discussed some of the challenges that Urban Sadhoos has encountered since they began launching these events. They said, after asking me if they could be brutally honest, “I don’t want to undermine any culture or human behaviour or anything. But Indians, often, the ones that move here, culturally... basically, trying to convince a fellow Indian to spend money on something like this was the biggest challenge. We had to work really hard to explain that you are spending $15 to come relax, just like you spend $20 to go see a movie. We had to work hard convincing them. We had to explain that their $15 goes toward the booking the person who is bringing the turntables — the DJ — costs for getting them to come here, etc. The thing is, no club in Nashville has ever put on a night like this, and (while) there are people doing it in different parts of the country, in Nashville, our events were the first of their kind.”
They are simply looking to share a positive, responsible experience with fellow Indians and others through the beauty of Indian songs and dancing.
They also noted, “We have only hosted three events so far — all with DJ’s — but (down the line) we would like to diversify the talent that we book — bringing different kinds of entertainment to the mix.”
In terms of booking, they said that they have been really lucky and thankful. They said people have been nice to work with, so finding a space for these events wasn’t too difficult. “The venues we reached out to have a multicultural attendance, so that was a good thing.”
Nashville is a more diverse city than a lot of people who haven’t spent much time here (or haven’t explored much) realize. I grew up alongside a pool of immigrant families from all over the world. We lived walking distance from Vanderbilt, where a lot of our parents worked.
One of my favorite moments during this interview was when they told me that they just wanted other Indians to feel comfortable being themselves and having a good time — that there is nothing to feel bad about or get reclusive over. Whether or not drinks are involved, moderation is key in life.
“We wanted to introduce all different kinds of Indians to the venues. Indians do go to bars and stuff like that, but many of them are not really exposed to this kind of culture, as people locally here are, otherwise. In our experiences, many times, they will be more introverted and stick to their own circle, and then going out is a big deal. But we wanted to show that it’s OK to go out, man. Everybody can spend a little money and have some fun.”
They continued, “That was the thing with the venues — we told them that we wanted to introduce a new kind of crowd to them. At first, we were very paranoid wondering if this was going to be a success or not because this has never happened (in Nashville). But there was potential in this market — in this community. So it’s worked out well for us in that way. We’ve been extremely lucky with these venues. But also, being a music city landscape, it was cool for most of them to understand, and Indians are everywhere, so they know us. Indians have been here (in Nashville) for a long time … So for Hard Rock to give up one of their spaces — a rooftop party — on Broadway was wonderful.”
I was also curious about how they curated the talent for the events. “If we are enjoying the music ourselves, then hopefully others will, too. Since we are actually from India, we have gone to various events there, so we have a frame of reference for that. That also helps us gauge the talent.”
Winner of two consecutive Urbanic Battle of the DJ’s awards, Friday night’s Bollywood Night on Broadway will feature DJ Simz, a Delhi-based DJ whose loyal fanbase can attest to the cheerful and thrilling atmosphere he fosters during his sets.
And what do people wear to an Urban Sadhoos event? “There is this incorrect notion that people get dressed in Indian clothes to come out for these particular events. Of all the people who have attended, they just dress like they’re going to a club. A lot of people from different age groups have attended these events. From older to younger — people are wearing western clothes mainly, but it doesn’t matter. The point of this event is to have a proper club night. Unlike other events, this is not a bring-the-kids night out. This is still a cultural show, but this is a night where you can relax in a different way — this is totally different, to be honest.”
However, Urban Sadhoos specially requested that everyone wear white for this Friday night’s party to symbolize unity and peace among all people.
The more I listened to these guys’ story, the more open and excited I became about what they were doing. I was intrigued and inspired that people from a shared background were doing something so bold in the entertainment world for my sweet hometown of Music City.
“We can’t wait to see so many people who come from similar ideologies and this frequency all at the same time … We are really excited is all we can tell you right now.”
As an arts and culture editor, I appreciate the creative, culturally-strengthening vision that Urban Sadhoos is bringing to life for the Indian community in Nashville. And I appreciate the hard work that goes into bringing these ideas to fruition. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to a truly inspiring evening of two of my favorite things: song and dance.
I asked them if there was anything else they wanted to share with people, and they replied: “Dance like there is no tomorrow.”
Preview by Anmol Gupta
Artist features by Liam McCarty
Photography by Mike Diskin, Zoe Prinds-Flash, David Szymanski, Crystal Quinn, Cameron Wittig and courtesy of Beautiful Day Media and Eaux Claires
Images courtesy of Eaux Claires, Sylvan Esso management, Chance the Rapper management and Wilco management
June 15, 2017
Review and photography by Pete Eby
April 24, 2017
Tackling Big Ears is a bit like trying to devour the Great Books with a spork. There’s more than a single route, each offering its own tantalizing, experiential journey. For its sixth incarnation, a sampling of the 2017 festival lineup included: Wilco, Magnetic Fields, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, Carla Bley, Henry Grimes, Mats Eilertsen, Nils Økland, Jóhann Jóhannsson, joined by dozens of other artists from around the world in a genre-spinning maelstrom. Having grown from three days to four, the “choose your own adventure” philosophy of Big Ears offered more recombination possibilities than ever.
Headlining Wilco may have seemed a bit hedge-your-bets, but some of Big Ears’ magic lies in less obviously-billed recombinations. Outside of their Friday performance at the Tennessee Theatre, the weekend revealed the other three-quarters of the Wilco wildcard shows: Jeff Tweedy played with Chikamorachi (Chris Corsano and Darin Gray), while Glenn Kotche accompanied cellist Maya Beiser, as well as Gyan Riley, and then we were treated to yet another solo percussion set by Kotche. While you might catch Wilco at one of a dozen shows and festivals this summer, you’re unlikely to find these kinds of specialty performances that make Big Ears so rewarding.
Our Big Ears adventure took us down some other paths less taken, finding bright sub-stories in the torrent of A-listers and obvious must-sees. Naturally, Shara Nova kicked ass with My Brightest Diamond, and Xiu Xiu performing "Plays the Music of Twin Peaks" was awe-inspiring, adding more magic and more momentum. However, in addition to the lineup's better-known heavy-hitters, we were looking forward to, as we do each time, sharing some more of those off-brand festival experiences with our readers.
One such byway was Oliver Coates’ solo cello performance, which exemplified a classic Big Ears-set experience. As the mid-afternoon glare shown sideways through the windows of The Mill & Mine, a small group of 60 or so decompressed, filling the center-front, joined by others standing around the perimeter in the open hall venue. The crowd — a tasteful blend of youngsters, elders, locals, a few friendly bros that had no idea what else Wilco was up to until this festival, and out-of-towners — listened with intent as Coates worked through his set. The laid-back loungers stayed planted throughout the performance, while the standing edges swirled slowly. Norwegian Jazz aficionado, Jan Ole Otnæs drifted through the crowd. But our crowd of ragtag, un-classical misfits caught the Dylan Thomas quote cue — as Coates moved into Andrew Hamilton’s solo piece “Music for Losers” — that something special was unraveling. Coates followed with an Iannis Xenakis piece of cello-shredding mastery, delivered to an appreciative audience. It was stunning.
Contemporary classical landscapes range from arid, minimalist deserts to cacophonous jungles and often challenge limits. Big Ears has a special knack for demystifying it all through performances like Coates’ — transforming these landscapes into more than approachable. It’s like you’re dancing with the girl before realizing you had the courage to ask all along — it's why we couldn’t wait to see Maya Beiser's “Uncovered” set. We caught Maya’s oh-my-god-so-good sets last year (see SINE's interview with Beiser from Big Ears 2016), and this time, together with Glenn Kotche (drums) and Gyan Riley (electric bass), they played classical recompositions of the well-known rock ‘n roll anthems. Maya described how at one point in developing her musicianship, she thought, “I want to make my cello sing like Janis (Joplin) did” — then launched into a very Joplin-esque version of “Summertime” that grabbed the audience by the neck. And she didn’t let go. Ripping out a white-hot AC/DC “Back in Black” cello solo that had people staring agape, the three rockstars continued with covers of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Zeppelin's “Kashmir” and several more selections from the album. Brilliantly accompanied by Kotche and Riley, each piece on the setlist was thickly rendered and exquisitely delivered.
Naturally, most of our weekend was mapped out well in advance, but it’s fun to go into a show cold, where lack of familiarity with an artist gives you that white slate, sans preconceptions — and then be blown away. Such was the experience at The Standard when Chris Eldridge joined Julian Lage and Aoife O'Donovan for a truly best-of-show folk guitar performance. The single mic acoustic set perfectly highlighted Eldridge and Lage’s duo songs which integrated technicality of perfectly rendered, softly-muted arpeggios with deftly-shredding solos. The superlative flat-picking unison playing of these two was breathtaking. Blending their bluegrass, Spanish and country guitar work together with O'Donovan’s local and fingerpicking style rounded out the trio and gave us a complete gem of a performance. Knoxville has an amazing wealth of top-notch musicians, many who were seated with us this weekend, so it was nice to have even more magic and musicianship visit our home that weekend. We may have gone in cold, but these artists left us fired up.
This year introduced several Scandinavian artists to us and even a few instruments we were unfamiliar with. Emilia Amper’s folk performance brought us the Swedish nyckelharpa, on which she evoked ethereal songs for a lucky crowd at the historic Bijou Theatre. (See SINE’s artist spotlight on Amper.) Norwegians, Nils Økland's and Mats Eilertsen's folk-jazz fusion set at The Standard was a fluid, masterful delivery mixing Økland’s Hardanger folk fiddle with Eilertsen’s superb jazz bass mastery. With deft tuning changes and funky grooves, the set was pure listening bliss. Eilertsen typically composes for ensembles, most recently for his 2016 commissioned album, “Rubicon” for the international Vossajazz festival. Here though, his bass playing and compositional chops were brilliantly highlighted, blending with Økland’s beautiful fiddle work. From traditional folk tunes, through the edges of experimental jazz, the two rendered a set alternating from subdued power through expressive style.
The idea of merging Knoxville’s personality, which stopped being scruffy a good while back, and a music festival of international headliners, is undoubtedly a curious combo, and Ashley Capps might have been the only matchmaker who could pull it off so cleanly. AC Entertainment runs the festival full-pro with best-of-class sound engineering, gorgeous venues and excellent event planning, beautiful artwork and graphics to accompany it all and a red carpet, international billing that's a collection of the best artists many audiences have likely never heard of. Last year, Rolling Stone referred to the Big Ears festival as “the most adventurously programmed music festival in America,” and their accolades continued this year with, “(Big Ears) provides a listening experience unlike any other in America.” Hardly lite reviews, and joined by equally glowing words from “The New York Times” (who last year stated they wouldn’t be attending Coachella or Bonnaroo), this festival will always be understated.
As a Knoxville transplant, this was my third Big Ears, and as I’ve swum through the experience of each, I’ve pondered how Knoxville and Big Ears seem, at times, strange bedfellows — a response to convenient circumstance, which ... just kind of ... happened. Six iterations in, and I continually find that many Knoxvillians have no idea about it. It seems natural to wonder how this fit is the right fit; it’s sometimes perplexing. I have local friends who might drive six hours to see Wilco, but wouldn’t drive six blocks to see them at Big Ears, and other music-lover friends (and long-time East Tennessee natives) who have never attended. Meanwhile, a solid minority of locals remain devout fans of this festival, and throngs of attendees pour in from all over the country and world. So this “strange pairing” scratches my mind each time I’m soaking in the experience, wondering why so few of my music-loving, festival-going, vinyl-collecting friends aren’t there.
Then again, I think how about Knoxville, itself has changed (more than a bit) since 2009, when this Big Ears adventure began. The festival even took a hiatus a few years after coming to life and returned untethered. (You might even say it came back full force.) Since, Downtown Knoxville has come to life with a density of restaurants, half a dozen perfectly-spaced, multi-sized music venues within a few blocks (a comfortable, enjoyable walking distance in this beautiful part of the country) and a vibe that fits the Big Ears crowd quite well. It’s hardly the same place from eight years ago, and I wonder if maybe that gets missed sometimes. So perhaps this relationship isn’t odd at all, and Knoxville is more than a convenient-fit relationship. Maybe Knoxville has always been that place — a rich and colorful arts and music scene that has run deep here for ages, rolling back to its Appalachian roots planted firmly into these East Tennessee hills, and everyone else is catching up. Year after year, the festival lineup bleeds into these mountains.
Big Ears will return to our lovely little town again in 2018. Aside from being an extraordinary, all-sensory experience, I have no idea what else to tell you about what’s in store for next year’s festival until we hear more. In terms of consistency, however, it has never fallen short of pure excellence.
Learn more about Big Ears festival by visiting BigEarsFestival.com.
Humour by Forrest Ferguson
Image courtesy of Parlophone
June 1, 2017
It was 50 years ago today that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," their groundbreaking testament to the efficacy of laissez-faire economics. Widely considered to be The Beatles' masterpiece: the living embodiment of free-market supremacy was voted the greatest album of all time by "Rolling Stone" magazine in 2012. The celebrated historical document is a veritable cornucopia of 'First's.' It was the first album to have printed lyrics; the first album to have a gatefold cover; the first album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year; and, 191 years after Adam Smith theorized that an economic system will regulate itself when given substantial freedom, the first thing to prove that capitalism works.
Coming from impoverished beginnings in the slums of Liverpool, The Beatles' own natural talents, diligent hard work and organic competitive spirit propelled them into unprecedented levels of fame and fortune. Five years after they recorded their first economic treatise "Love Me Do," the band's eighth studio album proved once and for all that they were exalted living gods of capitalist might and majesty and helped usher in the most productive, creative era in human history by inspiring and challenging the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and numerous other capitalist icons.
In honor of its 50th birthday, the actual no-shit-plain-as-day proof that capitalism is a viable economic system has received an exhaustive, commemorative deluxe reissue — definitively reasserting its dominance over all other economic systems. Remixed, repackaged and retailing at $127.99, the unambiguous sound of Marxism being decimated into oblivion is crisper, clearer and more glorious than ever.
Click here to purchase your own copy of the reissue.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Joe Nuñez, image courtesy of Danny Brown management
November 1, 2016
Danny Brown performed in Nashville this month with an intensity and warmth that I've experienced from him at his previous shows, but at this point in his career, he's on cloud nine's cloud nine. So he brought an extra dose of excitement this time around.
I caught Danny for his Exhibition Tour at one of Music City's best locations for hearing great live music, Exit/In. Between the booking, the sound (usually), the size of that space and its comfortable location (a great district with ample parking), it's one of my favorite places to check out live music in Nashville, an observation I make after returning from a 10 year hiatus from this city. Whether packed tightly or sprinkled with attendees on a lighter night, it's always a perfect fit. I was floored when I read that Danny would be performing there this fall.
I will go ahead and say that he did not play much from his 2016 release, "Atrocity Exhibition," which I was looking forward to hearing several selections from live. We actually heard a lot from “XXX,” instead. But the Detroit rapper has never been known for a dull performance, so we were in good hands.
Openers, Maxo Kream and ZeeloperZ got the crowd well-hyped for our headliner. I walked into the tail end of the second opener’s set. After the last opening intermission wrapped up, the beat to "Rockstar" blared from the speakers, and grins of familiarity spread rapidly. Danny came into focus just moments later, and a throng of Nashvillians further lost it because not only was the night just beginning, the rapper's fashion choice hit a high note with locals, too. He's definitely known for his sense of style, but Wednesday night, he walked out in a giant, high-contrast portrait of Dolly Parton's face on his t-shirt, which was complimented by a leather jacket and his signature skinny jeans. His affectionate homage to the fellow Rockstar was every bit as endearing as seeing his fans at his shows (including this one) covered in Detroit gear as a shoutout to his hometown. The legendary Tennessee native, Miss Parton means a lot to this part of the country, so to say we got intimate with Danny over that t-shirt pretty quickly would be true. The crowd roared when he stepped out in the tribute getup, and you could hear voices echoing her name throughout the venue in the midst of wild cheering and joyous laughter.
Speaking of all that joy and laughter, smiling can be contagious, and I would venture to say that smiling might be one of Danny Brown's favorite things to do. Whether he's giving an interview or performing on stage, he's smiling (huge) at least 90% of the time, and this show was no exception. Even while some songs, such as several from “Atrocity Exhibition,” take us through a heavier emotional trek, Danny lifts people up when he's around them. An earlier piece, "Lie4" was next, and that smile grew even wider as he boasted confidently about that income tax swag. His positive attitude is a big part of his warmth, as a performer. It always feels like he's every buddy's buddy when he's up there.
We partied into more tracks, with Danny highlighting several classics from 2011’s “XXX” like “I Will,” “Bruiser,” “Monopoly,” “Adderall Admiral” and “Blunt After Blunt.”
Then he requested, “Nashville, make some (more) mothafuckin noise in this bitch!” in honor of his Exhibition Tour. However, he wandered into more of his Old-er territory next, like “Side B (Dope Song),” “Smokin & Drinkin,” “Break It” and “Handstand” from his 2013 catalog.
Within this vein, of course, he also performed “Dip,” “25 bucks” and “Float On,” back-to-back-to-back. I realized much earlier in the evening that the direction of this setlist was not gearing toward a heavy dose of his newer work.
Thereafter, we heard another classic anthem, “Grown Up,” then he delivered a couple songs from “Atrocity Exhibition” to close out the night.
Danny's audience has notably expanded throughout the years, and his Nashville set this year was another testament to his range of fandom. All walks of life were clearly visible at this show, radiating in their pride of a New(er) Nashville, but by this point, I’m definitely not surprised. He’s open about how he creates works of art from numerous sources of musical inspiration while staying rooted to where he came from. After his set, I checked off yet another splendid Danny show, and I really hope to get down to some of the newer post-punk-inspired beats next time because Danny Brown is an evolutionary wonder, and I love him for it.
Learn more about Danny Brown by visiting xdannyxbrownx.com.
By Jonathan 'Wigs' Ives
Photography by Joe Nuñez
November 21, 2016
GZA performed his classic album, "Liquid Swords" live at City Winery (Nashville) during the 2016 presidential election (United States). Between the unassuming location for this performance and the impending outcome of the election, the night was already filled with anxiety — from everybody, in every direction.
Walking into a Wu-Tang show has a special feeling. There’s an energy in the assembled crowd and an understanding of fellowship amongst gathered devotees. This night was a little different, as the crowd was undoubtedly beginning to process the likelihood of election results. The venue, as nice as it was, had the feeling of entering a banquet hall for a fundraiser or speaking event; it was not an expected atmosphere to hear GZA perform "Liquid Swords."
As his live band kicked off the evening with a rendition of "Apache" by The Incredible Bongo Band, the confusing setting overtook a crowd that wasn’t sure if it was supposed to throw hands up in affirmation or if that would be taken as a cue to the wait staff to bring them another drink.
Shortly thereafter GZA took the stage, which was set for what felt like a musical monologue in a theater. As the sampled dialogue from "Shogun Assassin" drifted through the speakers to start the show, the crowd settled in to see how this whole thing was going to play out. Fortunately, the band added a cool feel with the horns and keys sections doing a great job at replaying RZA’s flipped samples from the original album while Ol Dirty Bastard’s oldest brother, Ramsey Jones held down the drums.
Inevitably, that evening did not seem to hold a vibe that inspired the best out of the GZA (or the rest of us, for that matter). Hand-in-pocket, he sauntered around the stage unenthused, dutifully rhyming his verses. His renditions of fellow Wu-Tang Clan member songs, such as "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" were underwhelming. That track, specifically, seems almost impossible to not sing enthusiastically. It seemed clear that the entire Clan was needed to make this feel complete. Despite the overall feel of the evening, the show was met with a standing ovation from devoted fans who appreciated the experience. It’s a lot like buying an album you know you’ll rarely listen to in more of an effort to complete a collection than actually enjoying the product: No matter what, this performance was a bucket list cross off for many a Wu-Tang fan.
By Ben Allen and Alex Falk, hosts of TEKNOX
June 5, 2017
The spectrum of life and culture in Knoxville, TN (USA) is demarcated by two distinct and divergent endpoints: On one end, we have our rustic aesthetics and a nostalgic appreciation of our past. At the other end lies a different kind of creativity — geared toward futurism — a desire to lead the way in building toward a newer tomorrow.
This spirit of looking to the future has been a unifying force driving techno music since it emerged from an increasingly post-industrial Detroit and newly-reunified Berlin during the 1980’s. The present resurgence of dance music culture in the US has brought with it a renewed interest in techno, with many new entities shaping the cultural landscape of this musical form.
While we contribute to this landscape, the creation of TEKNOX grew out of a more basic desire: to create and host a community event in Knoxville focused on underground music for letting loose on the dance floor. After more than 33 editions of TEKNOX over the course of five years, we feel this approach has worked well. An insistence on lowered barriers to entry has helped the party thrive: free admission, BYOB and extended hours - as opposed to routine visits to bars and venues - mean that people are a little more willing to try something different. For all of this, we extend a great debt of gratitude to The Birdhouse for being a permanent home for fans of techno music in Knoxville.
The aim of each event is to present a high-quality, well-curated musical experience that draws upon local talent as well as regional artists from Memphis, Nashville, Asheville, Atlanta and Savannah. These DJ’s and live acts bring serious heat to every one of these parties, with uncompromising selection and an ear for what moves folks that couldn’t care less about EDM hype. Showcasing this music in such an environment has strengthened the community ties between techno and house creators in the South, in turn fostering respect from global DJ’s, record stores, music journalists and the like.
We invite you to come to the next TEKNOX party at The Birdhouse this fall and spend some time with us on the dance floor. Until then, you can tune in to 103.9 FM (Knoxville Community Radio) every Thursday night from 10 p.m. to midnight (EST) to hear the newly-founded TEKNOX radio show.
Learn more about TEKNOX by visiting soundcloud.com/t-e-k-n-o-x.
By Sydney Osborne
Photograph by Sydney Osborne, video courtesy of Emilia Amper management
April 24, 2017
Within the mix of the entire Big Ears 2017 lineup, Swedish native Emilia Amper grabbed my attention like I was seeing her silhouetted against the Northern Lights with her nyckelharpa. Last year I visited Norway, and ever since, my Spidey Sense tingles at any hint of Ancient Norseness. With Amper on the lineup, I was primed to vicariously recapture a bit of that Scandinavian magic.
This year brought a number of Nordic European artists to Big Ears, but I was particularly fascinated by Amper’s presence—
A lot of these projects at the festival lean toward modern, genre-bending classical, often with a slow pulse and minimalistic drone sounds. Of course I was looking forward to hearing as many of those as I could, too, but Amper and her nyckelharpa felt like a tiny window into the Scandinavia of long ago — the quintessential Old Country that I connected with as a tourist. I wanted to revisit that glacially-carved Land of Alpenglow.
But walking into the Bijou Theatre and seeing Emilia Amper on stage, I realized I may have had some unreal — perhaps even silly — expectations. This is a highly-educated musician from the 21st century playing at modern, contemporary, exploratory music and arts festival. So, I just kept my Big Ears on.
Amper shared some history about her chosen instrument, the nyckelharpa. Its rustic appearance lends it to looking like something that might come from our own backyards, right here among the Smoky Mountains (the Appalachian, southeastern US). But this chordophone has been around since the 1300’s. Picture the offspring of a fiddle and a deconstructed piano: Its body is similar to a fiddle, and the neck has lever-like keys, which when pushed, pull up little hammers to act as frets against the strings. Often called the Swedish fiddle or key harp, the quaint and endearing nyckelharpa has been on the Scandinavian folk scene for a long time.
Amper has her own prolific history with the instrument. At 10 years old, she started playing nyckelharpa, eventually earning higher-education degrees in musicology, Swedish folk music and completing the Nordic Master of Folk program at Stockholm's Royal College of Music. Sweden has bestowed many folk and world music awards on Amper. She’s also been nominated for two Grammys and won the 2010 World Nyckelharpa Championship. And she hasn’t let the nyckelharpa hinder her musical range, either: She’s also played with Persian, Kurdish and Indian musicians, as well as with numerous jazz and rock projects.
As is fitting with the stringed instrument’s Old World history, Amper first played two polskas — traditional Scandinavian folk dancing songs meant for couples dancing — similar to our own hoedowns. In a sitting position, her feet beat out a percussive backdrop to the nyckelharpa. Set to a slow 2/4 tempo, these songs were folksy with a formal structure. Their arrangements, consisting of few chords, provided historic reference to their old age, Amper told us. Their simple construction, combined with minor keys gave an overall homey, yet disquieting feel, like the unknown mysteries lurking just beyond our perception.
Amper said stories tell of original players dealing with the devil, composing such beguiling polskas that their listeners would dance until they dropped dead. She said, “First it was a drone instrument, and you could only play certain keys.” And it is drone-like. Just when you felt yourself getting lulled deeply in, she threw in a lively section to snap you out of it. Maybe, despite knowing the devil's songs, she strove to protect us from that death trance, from losing ourselves too completely. Oh, how perfectly Big Ears.
Nyckelharpists even have their own mecca, Amper proceeded to tell us. Just off the southeast coast of Sweden is Gotland Island. On the island is the Källunge (kyrka), a church which is home to a stone relief of a figure playing the nyckelharpa. This is the earliest known reference to the instrument — about 1350 A.D. Emilia’s nyckelharpa is a more modern version that is less than a 100 years old.
She started her Big Ears festival performance playing a standard nyckelharpa, which is unable to play quarter tones. After a few traditional tunes, Amper brought out her tenor nyckelharpa which can play quarter tones and is an octave deeper. Demonstrating its sound to her audience before the next song, she played several measures ending on a resonant, discordant blend of notes. Enchanting.
Amper talked about the rapidly growing Right Wing wave moving across Europe. In a 2015 TV appearance for Lucia (a Swedish holiday near Christmas), she felt she needed to say something about this without sermonizing on the holiday program. In an effort to connect people across a chasm of failures to communicate, she asked herself, “Who am I intolerant with? Who do I not understand?” which led her to write and perform “Light in Times of Darkness” (Ljus i Morkrets Tid) during the televised event.
She then delivered the piece with her honeyed, alto voice — a capella to start. The audience sat hushed, attentive to the words despite the language barrier. Then Amper added the nyckelharpa, smiling as she played, sometimes closing her eyes. I closed my eyes as well, to let my ears fully hear. The simple melody crescendoed with voice and instrument interwoven. Then she wound it back down with voice only. Amper said this song, rather than being preachy or disapproving "lights a candle because that's what being human is about."
The final piece was a more intricate and upbeat tune,"The Seal." With this song, Amper used her powers to pull us out of the trance she’d put us in. The show had already gone 15 minutes past its scheduled time, and we, the listeners, showed no signs of leaving. I think the last song was her way of letting us down easy... and letting us go.
I was in a hygge* state by this point until the end of the performance. I spilled out of The Bijou into a sparkling fjord flanked with verdant cliffs before it slowly melted away and became Knoxville's historic Gay Street again. Thank you, Emilia Amper for bewitching us with your nyckelharpa (and letting us live to tell others about it).
*Hygge, a 16th-century Norwegian term with a recent comeback; from the Oxford English Dictionary:
A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)"
Preview written by Pratishtha Singh
Artist features written by Liam McCarty
Photography by Bill Foster
May 26, 2016
Since Bonnaroo’s grandiose entrance into the festival scene in the summer of 2002, this magical haven in Middle Tennessee, affectionately referred to as “The Farm” by its devotees, has successfully hosted the penultimate live music and arts experience with increasingly prolific and diverse artists throughout the years, including (but not limited to): Lionel Richie, St. Vincent, Paul McCartney, Frank Ocean, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kanye West, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Die Antwoord, Phish, Reggie Watts, Elton John, Primus, Kendrick Lamar, The National, Tanya Tagaq, Béla Fleck and countless more, in addition to featuring the cream-top of the industry’s rising artists. The festival also proudly spotlights art, comedy, film and more alongside its impressive musical roster.
Carefully curated and produced by AC Entertainment for its 15th consecutive year since its inception, the philosophy of the Bonnaroo music and arts festival revolves around a simple mantra: “Radiate Positivity.” Being able to experience such pure, unfiltered joy on The Farm for this one spectacular weekend in June every year is fueled by its own modest terms and conditions. Between attendees, artists and everyone behind-the-scenes, this festival is ultimately a community affair: an agreement to practice kindness and respect for the greater party experience.
A production of this magnitude requires a sincere effort from all parties to practice environmental consciousness. Every year, responsibly and enthusiastically, teams of volunteers and production staff bring this majestic vision to life. For example, to maximize efficiency, the Clean Vibes company is contracted by Bonnaroo each summer. Incorporating Clean Vibes into its infrastructure is a brilliant production move that allows the festival to leave behind as minimal waste as possible via recycling and composting receptacles and services provided nearly everywhere the thought of trash on the premise could cross your mind. The festival is created, sustained and (partially) taken down year after year — like forces from a mighty trinity, of sorts. Though some installations have become permanent fixtures on the festival grounds, they have been planted sustainably — a lot of thought goes into putting on and taking apart this monstrosity every year. Simply put, Bonnaroo is an overgrown playground — fully-equipped with an environmentally-friendly framework that includes all the playful bells and whistles — only bigger — like a giant water fountain, a ferris wheel, a 24/7 Silent Disco tent and so much more.
Throngs of “Rooers” swarm in by the tens of thousands from all over the world every year. More specifically, this means combining nearly 80,000 festival attendees with four days and 700 acres, while serving up a perfectly mixed elixir of the world’s most renowned artists delivering nonstop powerhouse performances for the entirety of that one chaotic and charismatic four-day weekend. Bonnaroo really is one hell of a party, and it takes place in the middle of the rejuvenating heat and natural beauty of sweet Manchester, TN. Festival-goers are committed to this peculiar experience every year, and those fans are every bit a part of the weekend as the artists! Bonnaroo is known for its vibrant atmosphere because it is also host to some of the most eccentric and diehard fans in the festival community.
Between live music, interactive art installations and numerous other works of stunning artisanship, live stand-up from a Rolodex of prominent comedians, multiple award-winning film screenings (complete with panels and Q & A with their producers and directors), weekend workshops for all walks of life and more, here are just a few of the many gems that we are looking forward to checking out at The Farm this summer:
LCD Soundsystem Atop SINE’s list of must-sees, LCD Soundsystem resurrects from its nearly six-year hiatus. Teasing a new album to be released sometime this year, James Murphy and his crew are embarking on a world tour for Summer 2016. We are lucky enough to have them here in Tennessee for Bonnaroo, so we cannot wait to hear what they have in store for The Farm. This will be a show you cannot miss.
Father John Misty Touring his second studio album, “I Love You Honeybear,” Father John Misty adds a refreshing hint of self-awareness (how ironic, I know) to this year’s lineup. If you are not familiar with FJM, the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman started his solo singer-songwriter career in 2012 with the release of “Fear Fun,” a blues-infused cynical commentary on the music industry and human society, in general. The second installment in the Father John Misty legacy, “I Love You Honeybear” goes even further than its predecessor in its wry outlook on society while solidly delivering his trademark Americana sound. Expect a compelling performance of this album at this show.
J. Cole It is hard to avoid acknowledging rapper and producer J. Cole’s mounting prevalence in the popular music scene. His most recent album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” was the only rap album to go platinum in 2015 and was also the only rap album to go platinum without a guest artist in the past 25 years. With credentials like this, it is safe to assume his concert will be one of the best-attended at Bonnaroo this year. Show up early.
HAIM HAIM’s presence at Bonnaroo is what makes this a great festival. Bringing rising bands to prevalence is something Bonnaroo is known for: HAIM originally played the 2013 rendition of Bonnaroo, and they will be back again this summer. This super-group has been a steadily rising influential band that could use more mainstream exposure for their grandly moving music, alone. The Los Angeles-based trio of sisters knows how to kick some serious ass on stage. Arguably at their best in a live setting, HAIM is right at home here at Bonnaroo, where their chunky chords, solid backbeats and catchy hooks will be more than well-received. Be ready to rock with blessings from these musical goddesses on The Farm this year.
Kamasi Washington This spring, Tennessee’s ambitiously avant garde Big Ears festival featured the beloved Kamasi Washington. And now, he will be back headlining the famed SuperJam® at Bonnaroo this year as an added bonus to performing from his own set focusing on his most recent album, “The Epic” (2015). This record fully lives up to its namesake. It melds incredibly complex jazz themes with undercurrents of hip-hop, making for an album that serious musicians can pore over while everyone else gets downright groovy. Kamasi Washington’s virtuosic jazz chops on the saxophone have guided him to legendary status in the contemporary jazz and hip-hop spheres, and more contemporarily allowing him to explore and freely collaborate with some heavy-hitting peers like Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Kendrick Lamar. Due to Washington’s improvisatory genius, it is hard to know what to expect at his performance this summer, but it will certainly be unforgettable – just as Team SINE witnessed earlier this year at his brilliant set at the Mill & Mine during Big Ears in the lush and lively East Tennessee city, Knoxville.
Tame Impala Tame Impala fills a gap in Bonnaroo’s lineup with an always needed dose of really good psychedelic rock. The band’s overall ethereal sound is meticulously woven in with its relentlessly catchy melodies making it impossible to be still upon hearing any given track. Their live sets demand highly-responsive audience interaction – this is an experience you will undoubtedly regret if you miss it for any reason. And. Of all places, Bonnaroo is THE place to get a taste of this powerhouse! Tame Impala’s breakout album, “Lonerism,” which is reaching platinum-status in Australia, continues to be adored by fans worldwide. And while “Lonerism” is undeniably a gorgeous record, its success pales in comparison to the smash hit of their third and most recent album, “Currents.” Featured track, “Let it Happen” won the APRA Award for best song of 2016 and will likely be on the set list at Bonnaroo this year (fingers crossed). Be sure to set multiple notifications to catch this show.
Vanessa Bayer Music is not the only type of performance art at Bonnaroo. The comedy tent hosts a wide range of comedians each summer. This year, The Farm invites highly-noted Vanessa Bayer, of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. An alumna of the prolific The Second City comedy club, Bayer has also recently appeared in “Portlandia,” “Man Seeking Woman” and co-starred in Amy Schumer’s 2015 box-office hit, “Trainwreck.” A friendly reminder to attendees: Be sure to get tickets for the comedy shows as early as possible. They disappear quickly!
Vulfpeck Vulfpeck’s first full length album, "Thrill of the Arts" (2015) is an unabashed tribute to the golden era of funk. This quartet of University of Michigan graduates grooves in an incredibly tight pocket, forcing listeners to break out their dorkiest 80’s dance moves. Each of their four complimenting LP’s evokes a different flavor of the baby boomer’s favorite genres, from soul to funk so nasty you would swear it was written by Tower of Power. If you want to know what it is like to set foot in a time machine, or just want to relive your youth, check out Vulfpeck this year.
Tyler, The Creator Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator’s solo career is as controversial as it is fascinating. Following the release of his first studio album, "Goblin," Tyler caught a great deal of flak for his use of less than PC language and themes, but it only generated the press he needed to skyrocket to fame, becoming one of this generation’s more prolific rappers. Three albums later, Tyler’s utter fearlessness manifests itself in beats and lyrics that can only be described as "in your face." We're looking forward to Tyler being in our face this summer.
SuperJam® "Heart, Soul, & Spirit - A Tribute to Tennessee:" The title of this year’s SuperJam® foreshadows a rhythmic, passion-fueled performance. With guests like The Internet, Vulfpeck, GRiZ, and Kamasi Washington, Bonnaroo certainly has all their bases covered when it comes to variety of sound. The product of a combination of these supergroups will be astounding. Kamasi’s soloistic genius will add form and function to the perfect groove provided by Vulfpeck, along with electronics from GRiZ, while Syd tha Kyd, of The Internet spits fire. SuperJam® is always an absolute must-see every year at Bonnaroo, summarizing the festival’s performances as a whole by combining the best of the best in one epic finale.
The festival’s 2016 lineup champions diversity of genre and style by staying true to its straightforward philosophy of radiating positivity. These posi-vibes are delivered by way of sensational performance art and audience appreciation. Many artists’ best career performances take place at Bonnaroo. Many fans’ best memories take place at Bonnaroo. We live for the best, and that is why we love Bonnaroo.
See you at The Farm!
Learn more about the Bonnaroo music and arts festival at bonnaroo.com.
Interview by Anmol Gupta and Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Anmol Gupta and courtesy of Cornelius management
September 1, 2016
SINE's questions and Cornelius' responses in this interview were translated from the original English (to Japanese) and Japanese (to English) by Cornelius management.
SINE: Since "Fantasma" is sample-based and you recorded the album alone, how did you translate it from a largely electronically-reliant album into an explosive and stunning set for a live band and performance (like at Eaux Claires this year)? How were you able to stay so true to album? It was genius!
Cornelius: The album is basically sampled based as you mentioned. I just wanted to translate the album as a live version, as close to the album as possible. We did use some of the samples in the backing track that runs along with the visuals. To keep it in sync, we run a click (metronome) that goes to the drummer so we stay in sync.
S: Your US tour was so short! We loved having you here, but what drew you to Eaux Claires for one of your rare stops? And how did you respond to your audience and performance in the States, versus those in other countries? Any different?
C: We were drawn to Eaux Claires because we were invited, and very thankful! There were lots of people that saw the show at Eaux Claires for the first time, since it was a festival crowd. For the headline shows we did in the States, there were lots of hardcore Cornelius fans that came. The crowd was filled with very young kids and old, which is a different crowd - age range - than what we see in Japan. It was very good to see that the audience enjoyed the show. It’s always a blast to see a crowd's response who doesn’t know Cornelius. We think we give them something unique and special.
S: "Fantasma" is a classic component of your discography to so many of your fans. Could you speak a little bit to what about "Fantasma" drew you to transcribe it into a live format?
C: I’ve been doing live performances of "Fantasma" in the past and wanted to see what it would be like to do the show again after all these years. The last performance we did as Cornelius was eight and a half years ago, and that was the Sensuous Synchronized Show, so doing "Fantasma" around the reissue seemed natural.
S: How has the meaning of "Fantasma" changed for you over the past 19 years? Was this reissue more of a revival of this album, or was it more of a personal connection that you had with revisiting it?
C: "Fantasma" is my third album, but it was the first album that was released overseas, so it’s really a big album for me. I released the reissue version of the album on vinyl from Lefse/Fat Possum. The guys at Lefse are huge fans of "Fantasma" and asked for three years to release the album. We finally agreed, and I’m really glad we did. I’m recording my new album now, and so it was kind of a warm up tour to get ready for the new album/tour. And also the fact that the timing just matched together with people inviting us to do this tour. It all just perfectly came together.
S: Would you be willing to share a preview or some insight into your next project? Next tour (States)? Are there any other artists that you've been collaborating with as of late?
C: I’ve been in a band called METAFIVE with musicians such as Yukihiro Takahashi (YMO aka Yellow Magic Orchestra), Towa Tei (Deee-Lite) and Yoshinori Sunahara (Denki Groove), and we released and album in January this year and have been touring in Japan. We’ll be performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in Japan on October 7 (2016) and have a couple more shows left in the fall. Previous to that I was doing another band (producer and guitarist) for a band called salyu x salyu (pronounced salyu “by” salyu). Other than that, I’ve remixed a song for Lush (not released yet) and am working on my new album and hope to be invited to tour again!
Learn more about Cornelius by visiting cornelius-sound.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography courtesy of Samwich Glassworks
February 11, 2016
Sam Meketon’s move to Knoxville is contributing to the city's diverse and developing and fine art. His work was featured in 2015’s edition of the Dogwood Arts Festival here in Knoxville, TN, and we will be seeing more from him in the 2016’s festival, as well. Check out Sam's work in the glass art gallery at the Pretentious Beer Glass Company in the Old City (downtown Knoxville).
SINE: What was your introduction to the world of glassblowing?
Sam Meketon: My introduction was my senior year in high school at a small arts and music affiliated alternative school called The Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. They have a small glass program there that I was able to learn the basics from, from two teachers named Scott Wolfson and Doug Ostroff. After my quick introduction in high school, it was apparent that that’s what I wanted to go to school for, so I began to research different art programs with glass as a major. After a couple visits I came to Tennessee Tech’s satellite campus called the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee. While visiting, I realized that it was the perfect place for me to go to study glass because my professor, Curtiss Brock, is such a talented craftsman and he is willing to share his knowledge with anybody with the desire to learn … also, it’s located on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere on a peninsula surrounded by a lake – it was a good reason to get me out of Philadelphia and into a place where I’d be forced to do nothing but study my passion.
S: Since you are not from Knoxville, how did you hear about the Dogwood Arts Festival, and what interested you about contributing to it?
SM: I heard about the Dogwood Arts Festival from Matt Salley, of Marble City Glassworks – he owns a small, private studio outside of the city. We linked up at the studio because we’re some of the few glassblowers that are in Knoxville, so from a networking angle, it only made sense that we’d run into each other.
As an artist, it’s really important to take as many opportunities as you can to present your work to people, and Knoxville only has a few arts festivals per year, so collectively PBGC, being Matthew Cummings, Thoryn Ziemba and I decided to sign up. Thoryn wrapped up in Knoxville a while ago, and since we have added Everett Hirché and David Wiss to the crew. And we didn’t regret it! We really look forward to seeing all the people that come check out lots of different art going on in Knoxville.
S: What pieces do you enjoy making the most, and why?
SM: I enjoy making a large variety of objects. Throughout my time in art school I was pushed to consistently create new bodies of work. This led to a lot of creative development in my early years as a glass artist … at one point I was infatuated with pickles and made jars and sculptures that revolved around my strange affliction with them. Shortly thereafter I started to realize my love for shapes, form and shadows and began making a series that was based off of that. Now my work tends to take a more formal approach where I find myself in love with ancient styles of different cultures.
S: Will you talk about what inspires you when you are conceiving a design for a piece? How much of it is structured, and how much of it is free-form – or do you leave any room for improvisation along the way?
SM: Most of it is extremely structured. The way that I work is very methodical. I spend a lot of time doing a lot of color prep that allows me to create different pieces and parts that I end up making my most complicated pieces with. I enjoy sketching – especially the more complex pieces, creating them and then spending time sitting with the finished product before I begin my engravings. Some of the work that I do is free form because with glass you have to work with what you’ve got, and no matter how much time I spend sketching or prepping my pieces, they’re always subject to change. I also enjoy the tactile process of sitting with finished pieces before and as I engrave them to figure out exactly how my patterns will work.
S: How can an interested buyer contact you if he/she is interested in purchasing your glass art?
SM: Anybody can email me SamwichGlassworks@gmail.com or stop into the shop at Pretentious Beer Glass Company in downtown Knoxville Monday through Saturday. In terms of custom pieces you can contact me via email, but I am mainly a gallery artist that tries to sell my own personal work hoping that other people will enjoy as much, if not more than I do, the creation of them.
By Anmol Gupta
Album cover courtesy of Jagjaguwar
September 19, 2016
Angel Olsen will be performing at Chicago’s beautiful Thalia Hall for two very special nights: September 27 and 28, 2016. She will be joined by opener, Rodrigo Amarante, a Brazilian singer-songwriter whose famed work includes the theme song of Netflix’s original series, “Narcos,” in addition to his gorgeous 2013 album, “Cavalo,” which turned heads worldwide upon its debut.
Olsen is touring North America on behalf of her September 2016 album release, “MY WOMAN,” following the release of her third full-length LP of the same name. Quite possibly her finest work to date, “MY WOMAN” finds Olsen unremittingly diversifying her musical expeditions by incorporating electronic, pop and even more rock influences into her particular brand of folk, which she has refined to pure excellence throughout the span of her discography.
“MY WOMAN” is a strong follow-up to her strong 2014 album, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” In her new album, however, the artist delves further into themes of longing, romance, heartbreak and independence. These experiences were first introduced in her debut LP, “Half Way Home,” then further developed in “Burn Your Fire.” With 2016’s “MY WOMAN,” we hear an even finer-tuned account of this voyage.
Angel Olsen continues to produce brilliant records with sensational lyricism and a courageous exploration of sound. Her knack for strong songwriting headlines all of her compositions, and “MY WOMAN” is no exception: The album’s second track, “Never Be Mine” is a colorful snapshot of the painstaking duality of yearning and heartache, however her reclamation of self is unbridled – and rightfully so. She pulls the song through the phenomenon of love at first sight, then comes to terms with the (inevitably) impossible. Combined with lo-fi guitar licks reminiscent of a 70’s Bollywood anthem, Olsen demonstrates extensive artistic growth by mastering these genre-bending, exploratory compositions.
Several selections from “MY WOMAN” will be performed during her current tour by her six-piece band, with Olsen on vocals, guitar and keys and Emily Elhaj (bass), Joshua Jaeger (drums), Heather McEntire (vocals, keys), Luke Norton (guitar) and Paul Sukeena (guitar).
Angel Olsen’s September 27 show in Chicago is already sold out, so we highly recommend grabbing one of the few remaining tickets for her September 28 show, ASAP, else you will regret missing out on this extraordinary tour!
Learn more about Angel Olsen at angelolsen.com.
By Zack Plaster
Photograph by Bradley Landenberger
November 14, 2016
I don't write show reviews. The last article I wrote was about Sex Week UT.
The solo project started by Natalie Mering over a decade ago has undergone a metamorphosis with the release of “Front Row Seat To Earth.” A stark, solo-synth soundscape transformed into a four-person outfit of multi-instrumentalists creating an overwhelmingly gorgeous, nameless blend of synth, folk and god knows what else makes up the one of a find that is Weyes Blood.
Like many concert goers, I see a show, get drunk, enjoy myself a little too much, and the next day, I piece together the things I thought I liked and disliked. Disjointed thoughts like: "Those pants were really cool, but they kept doing that feedback thing," or "The last time I saw them I remember the drummer being a lot hotter … I wonder what happened." So, to attend a show at my favorite venue in town and sip on a single Miller High Life over the course of the entire set was an experience within itself.
The set started with Mering stepping out from behind her synth and picking up an acoustic guitar to play one of the first songs released under the moniker Weyes Blood, "Cardamom Times.” The rest of the band stood still as she softly strummed this homage to her years of solo-ism.
Weyes Blood took the stage in a simple and sure manner — even during soundcheck, the room felt serene and focused. Mering, standing center stage in powder blue, in high-waisted palazzo pants, lightly swaying, repeating "Do you need me the way I need you?" The show just started, but there was something in the air that compelled you to say "Yes, Natalie.”
The next number, "Diary," the first track from the new album, "Front Row Seat to Earth" showcases a full band, complete with vocal harmonies in an almost Celtic intonation. The sound was richer with the interplay between drums, synth, guitar and bass guitar... and also, much more alien. This surreal sound lingered for the duration of the set and is the most characteristic aspect of Weyes Blood — we don't quite know what we are hearing, but it’s unpredictably fitting all of the time. Mering’s vocals sing tribute to the Other World with graceful switches between a full, rich chest of sound and an airy soprano winding in and out.
The venue itself is an anachronism — beyond comparison, difficult to categorize, perplexing — all characteristics most beautifully exemplified by the show I was at this particular night: Weyes Blood. Printed ephemera from beloved, local letterpress shop, The Striped Light, alongside wax deer heads and images of David Bowie plaster the walls. What I love about Knoxville's premiere dive bar, the Pilot Light, beyond its delightfully diverse and strange programming, is that a back bar adorned with profane cross-stitches and trinkets drunkenly gifted to bartenders is what you get.
Perhaps the most impressive part of a Weyes Blood performance is Mering and her band's ability to not only recreate the album, but reanimate it. I see a lot of shows whose live sets seem to be an imitation of their recordings, but even though Weyes Blood's instrumentals and vocals was technically perfect, there was an untold rendition of the story in each number. Perhaps it is the extraterrestrial nature of her sound that causes us to feel like each song couldn't possibly have been created before, like we are witnessing the genesis of something unheard, every time we hear her.
After a soft and sincere thank you from the band, I exited Pilot Light and took up my regular spot on the street for a post-show smoke. Good shows give you a chance to have fun, but great shows give you a chance to learn; Weyes Blood put on a great show.
Learn more about Weyes Blood by visiting weyesblood.bandcamp.com.
By Bekki Vaden Ottinger
Photography by Hugh Hamrick and courtesy of David Sedaris management
October 24, 2016
If there is a god, she had surely looked down on me because even though I participate in idle gossip and often forget to refill my cat's water bowl, she decided to reward me for all of my remaining good deeds. I was assigned press coverage of David Sedaris' visit to Knoxville this year.
The day of the show arrived. The spouse and I took our seats and the lights dimmed over a packed house. David Sedaris walked out on stage wearing what I can only describe as the most garish pair of culottes I had ever seen. He stepped from behind his podium and showed them off with a bit of a curtsy. "Do you like them? They're made out of the same fabric as blackout curtains in hotels."
Even as he greeted his audience, he had already managed to make us laugh. He jumped right into reading some new material he was working on for a BBC Christmas special. Before he began, he told the audience that he couldn't think of a better holiday topic than death. He launched into what he had titled "Death Knows No Season," a dark-humored piece written as a seven-year-old boy's letter to Santa. In his usual fashion, he marked things out on his paper, editing his own story as he spoke while never skipping a beat: That's one of the best parts of his live performance — you see him in action as he crafts his living, still breathing story and based on the audience's reaction — this letter to Santa is going to be a holiday hit.
After the chortling died down, he began reading a piece he had written about a recent Thanksgiving he had spent with his family at his vacation home (which he calls "The Sea Section") in Emerald Isle, NC. His family members, both individually and collectively, are recurring characters in most of his essays, and all of our favorites were in attendance: his sober sister Lisa, the always charming Amy, his diminutive 93-year-old father Lou and his foul-mouthed brother Paul, affectionately known as "The Rooster." The conversations that take place at these family gatherings make you wish you were a privileged member of their club.
With all the guffawing filling the theatre, his tone soon took on a more serious note as he began telling us of the last time he saw his sister Tiffany, who committed suicide in 2013. I won't tell you the details of that last meeting, lest it appears in his next book, and I spoil it. All I can say is that it was difficult for me to stop the tears.
Sedaris then raised our spirits again, this time, talking about his hobby of picking up roadside trash near his home in West Sussex, Great Britain. In fact, he does this so often, he is known around town as "Pig Pen" and the locals even named a garbage truck in his honor. We practically rolled in the aisles as he recalled a time when he had found a strap-on sex toy on the side of the highway. He thought he might put it in his knapsack to mail to one of his sisters back in the States. He quickly changed his mind. "I knew as soon as I put it in my bag, I would be hit and killed by a car. I imagined what Hugh might think of me upon receiving the last personal effects they took off of my body. I couldn't bear the thought."
Sedaris touched briefly on his thoughts about gay marriage (he and his partner, Hugh have decided not to marry but remain happily coupled outside of the government's blessing). He has been known to say, "We're not really the kind of couple that gets married."
On tour, he always recommends a book to his fans and suggested that we all do ourselves a favor and pick up a copy of "Eileen" by first-time novelist, Ottessa Moshfegh. He described her writing as ugly and creepy – a modern day cross between Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith.
He wrapped up by sharing several of his riotous diary entries from 1982-2016 and holding a brief Q & A, thereafter. Of course someone questioned him about his opinion on the upcoming presidential election. He kept his vote a private matter but conceded that "You can't say pussy on television and become the president. You can either say pussy on tape or you can be President but never both."
When one audience member asked what kind of impression he had of Knoxville, he recalled a time when he had visited, and there was a zookeeper convention taking place in the same hotel he had booked. "I couldn't get enough of these female zookeepers," he laughed. "They were just fascinating, and they were everywhere! If I were attracted to women, I'd definitely want to be with a lady zookeeper."
In fact, he seemed so enamored by his run-in with the zookeeper convention that he didn't really reveal his final interpretation of our little city. But that seems to be his way of doing things; Sedaris doesn't spend too much time opining, rather his talent lies in connecting people and places with his experiences and that is what makes him one of the most beloved and engaging storytellers of our time.
Modern American writer, David Sedaris' stories bring me great joy, and he is the very reason I write today. I always kept journals as a teenager and a young adult, but after having my privacy repeatedly invaded, I trashed all of my journals and stopped writing altogether. For eight long years.
Soon after I ended my 10-year marriage, I spent many lonely evenings with my self. I would put the kids to bed and sit with my thoughts, often with a glass of gin in one hand and a cigarette in the other. My hands had forgotten what they used to do when I sat in the darkness. I was dealing with all the complicated emotions that are served along with divorce papers, and although I was writing furiously, I had no stomach for my imagination. My writing came off as self-important, timid and dishonest: three words that I hope no one would ever use to describe me.
Around the same time, I had picked up several copies of Sedaris' books. I had heard him on NPR, and I wanted more. I suppose I was a little late to the game, but I bought the books and devoured them – my favorite collection of short stories being "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," twenty-two beautifully crafted stories (often pulled from his real-life experiences) that either forced tears to run down my face or elicited the ugliest laughter. I was caught. Hook, line and sinker.
Shortly after, I stumbled upon an interview with Sedaris where he described his process and how he became a serious writer. He too, kept journals and wrote letters, starting only with his hilarious observations. Those peculiar observations turned into funny little vignettes, which eventually gave way to fully developed stories. He was originally discovered reading entries from his diaries in a small New York City club by Ira Glass, host of NPR's "This American Life." He became a regular contributor and the groundwork was laid for his very successful career.
And at this point, for me, I found myself inspired to keep writing more than ever, as a way of life.
After the show, Sedaris made his way to the gallery and generously invited his fans to get their books signed. I had not-so-secretly hoped for this moment, and I came prepared with my copy of "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." He chatted with one fan after another as he ate his dinner. When my turn arrived, I was nervous, but that feeling quickly escaped me because he is comfortable with strangers. You get the feeling that the real David Sedaris probably isn't so different from the persona he presents to the public. My editor had informed me that he wasn’t doing scheduled press interviews because he was in the middle of 40 shows in 40 days, so I have no idea if it’s always easy to be as good of a sport when you’re that busy. But as I’ve read about and experienced him, first-hand to be, he was warmly endearing, and that’s about the nicest thing you could ask for as a die-hard fan of someone’s work.
Thank you, David Sedaris.
Learn more about David Sedaris by visiting davidsedarisbooks.com.
Interview by Sam Genualdi
Photography by Jim McGuire
June 27, 2016
Below is an interview by SINE Contributing Writer, Sam Genualdi, multi-instrumentalist and curator of the ImprovisationaLU music festival. Genualdi spoke with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn at 2016's Silkroad Global Musician Workshop. The interview kept building on itself. Nothing has been paraphrased or left out, so in case there are any Béla and/or Abigail super-super fans, look no further than their in-depth analysis on musical health, below:
SINE: It seemed like this idea of musical health has been on your mind a bit and that that might be a good place to start and to maybe try to dig a little deeper. I also wanted to talk about it because it resonated with me a lot. So I was wondering if you could talk a little more about that and what it means to you right now.
Béla Fleck: OK. That’s kind of a fun idea cause it’s mine (laughs). Everybody likes their own ideas – that’s one of the diseases you can get, as a musical disease. It hurts your musical health – the need to attach to your own ideas.
Well, I don’t know. I have to follow through with it out loud and see what comes out. What makes you healthy in the physical world – with your body? Eating the right kinds of foods and exercising. Those are a couple of things, right? So, how do we apply that to music? Like, listening to pop radio doesn’t help. You don’t feel healthier. It’s like eating fast food. It’s like eating a lot of sugar: It doesn’t give you a lot of nutrition. I mean, there’s exceptions, of course. But I think with music, like a certain amount of regular stimulation – like listening a lot is one of the best things you can do for your musical health – not just getting trapped into “Well I always practice, but I never listen.” Just listening. You get a lot of nutrients from just listening. And listening to things you haven’t heard before. And then also, listening to things you have heard, but listening in deeper and deeper ways the more you listen to it – that brings out a lot of things. The more you understand, the more health you get, the more you understand about music. What else? Like, exercise: Depending on what your goal is, if you are trying to be an improviser, it’s about creating a language that you can be fluid with. Like, if you’re a runner, you need to stretch, and you need to do certain exercises, but you also need to run a lot. You can’t just go running out of the blue – like run a marathon. You can’t run a marathon without training. I mean, this is pretty obvious stuff, but I’m just saying it out loud to see what comes out. What do you guys think about musical health?
S: I guess the first thing that really comes to my mind is sort of like what you said. I like the food metaphor because you can think of the food pyramid, and there are things that you need more of, but then there are the sweets and stuff that are best more sparingly.
BF: But what draws you to those sweets – maybe with music, sometimes, it’s a little different because if you’re trying to follow your muse and figure out what your muse is, you are pulled toward certain things, even if you think that people won’t get it or think they’re that cool or whatever, you have to listen to that, too because there’s nothing wrong with being any kind of musician.
I think about it with me – I’m assessing my musical health, I realize, unconsciously, all the time. I’m like, “Oh, my hands aren’t doing too good” or “Oh I just played a bunch of concerts with The Flecktones, my hands are working really good,” so that part of my musical health is really good. Or, I’m not really listening to anything these days (because) I’m so busy with my life, I’m not really listening to anything, so stimulating new musical ideas part of things from outside of myself – that part of my health is not that good. Maybe your heart is working really good, or your legs are really good, but your brain needs some things, too. I don’t know, I mean, I think everybody can figure out what it means for them.
S: Do you think it changes, even where you are in your musical career – I mean, if you’re just starting out, maybe you need more technical (attention) – just from a basis like that? Maybe someone who has been playing for ten years may not need quite as much technical stuff.
BF: But if you don’t touch base with it once in a while, you will get off track. If you don’t check in with the metronome, you’ll gradually be more and more out of time. If you don’t practice your scales, your fingers will gradually won’t go down. You gotta find some kind of balance. Like, “OK. I couldn’t run for three hours, but I could run for 20 minutes” or “I couldn’t avoid that hamburger, but I did have some greens.” (Laughs.) You can think about it that way, too. At least you keep on. The other thing about it is, you just keep on doing something everyday. This isn’t about musical health. This is just about music. For me, I’m always like “Oh! I’ve only got 10 minutes. Can achieve something? What could I achieve in ten minutes? Well I’ll practice this one little thing for a little while in the airport.” Or “I can work on that tiny little transposition thing…” Always try to accomplish something – not just walk up to a mountain and go, “How am I going to climb you?” In ten minutes, you can’t do it, but if every day, you get something done, that makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere. That helps your musical health, too.
But that’s more like an organizational concept of how you attack your work. When nobody’s telling you that you work from nine to five, and during those hours you’re going to work really hard, and at the end of that day you’re done. When you’re a musician, that’s not happening. You have to make up your own schedule, and some people just don’t know how to do that. We’re not really trained to do that. So, it could go either way: You could be really obsessive and work all the time, and that’s not necessarily healthy, either. That’s not good for your musical health – if you’re around the clock because it doesn’t give your brain and your body the chance to recover. And when you recover and you stop doing things, you often make incredible progress in your sleep. Or, when you step away from it, you have a creative problem, and you’re not getting it, you go to sleep, sometimes the next morning you wake up, and boom, there it is. So, that’s another part of it: knowing when to stop. It’s very free-form, as a musician. Structure, which is great can (also) be hard. Developing your own structure – a discipline to your own practice schedule or your musical life will be a great way to be musically healthy.
But in that, you can have your pie chart, if you really want to get into it, if you don’t do it naturally – if you feel like you’re not naturally getting healthy, then you go, “Wow. In that four to six hours I decided to spend on music in a day … Well, first of all, what are you about to be late for? What gig is coming up in two days that you’re not ready for? That’s a sensitive top of the pie chart. And then further on in there, there’s all the other stuff: long-term goals – “I still can’t play fast enough – I still can’t improvise through these chord changes at this tempo yet. I’m so close, but I can’t. Maybe if I spend a half hour on that or maybe a certain amount of listening, or whatever it is.” You have to prioritize your pie chart. And I think writing it out is a good exercise in the beginning until you start to naturally figure out how to do that. You have to manage your time. You’ve only got so much time. We tend to want to practice the things we’re good at, first of all. Right? It’s the first thing you do as soon as you take out your instrument. You feel like you’re practicing something new, but you’re really kind of doing the same kind of thing you always do with your instrument. You can do a little bit of that, but you gotta make sure you’re attacking the areas that you’re weak in, which are the least fun areas to do. It’s all organizing all your time and your thought process – it helps your musical health, too. So that you feel like you’re moving slowly and steadily toward your goal – that feels really good.
And think about it in terms of dieting and stuff like that: People who are trying to lose weight in America – I mean, there’s obviously a fixation in America – but the people that are trying to do it fast, they burn out and gain it all back and more. But the ones that find the slow, steady pace, like a pound a week or whatever, they have the tendency to have the staying power – it’s a more acceptable lifestyle than this crash-thing. So, with practicing, too, you have to come up with a maintainable style. If you do eight hours one day, and you don’t play anymore that week, it’d be better to do an hour a day for seven days because of the steady progress on your hands. So, some of that kind of stuff is what I think about with musical health. There’s probably some more stuff, if we thought about it.
S: We already touched on this, but it’s easy to talk to about musical health metaphorically with other things in life, such as the food pyramid. But one interesting thing that I thought about after mulling this stuff over is the idea of mental health—
BF: Yes. I was going to say mental health is part of it – I was going to say the same thing. Go ahead—
S: One thing that comes to mind for me, is that, in terms of your mental musical health, maybe if you spend all of your time in the practice room by yourself, you’re never getting to play with other people, and that can drive you musically mad.
BF: And make you a not-great collaborator when you finally do get with people. You don’t know how to play with people. And who do you want to play with? People that are fun to be around. That’s right up there with how good they play. It’s really interesting.
Abigail Washburn: Isn’t it so funny?
BF: Sometimes we end up with these people that grew up in the practice room that haven’t found their personality as people yet. I was totally like that. I’m an obsessive-type, so I used my obsessiveness in my favour. Because I do everything all or nothing. So, I am encouraged by my obsessiveness for progress on my instrument. But it wasn’t always happy.
AW: I was just thinking about how I’ve had to hire bands before to go out on tour with me, and you can see that there a lot, too. Like, who do you want your collaborators to be, right? And, a lot of times, you’ll be thinking about three people. And this guy’s amazing on whatever instrument it is, but maybe not that fun to be around, you know? This guy’s really good, pretty cool. And this guy’s like not the best, but has a lot of things they do well, but they’re awesome, as a person, and I’m probably going to go with this—
BF: And a team-member.
AW: Yeah, and a team-member.
BF: So you’re happy when they’re around.
AW: Probably going to go with the guy that maybe doesn’t do everything that great but is really good at a few things, and you can use those and then they—
BF: But you gotta have a balance, too. Because if you’ve got one of those guys—
BF: …one of those nice guys that gets on the van with donuts – not just about that – but—
AW: Makes everybody laugh—
BF: …gets on the bus and makes everybody laugh in the car or whatever, and there’s a quiet guy, that’s kind of nice.
AW: It’s a balance.
BF: But if everybody’s like super-tense and uptight, then that’s not such a good balance – putting together a team is different.
AW: Depends on what you want and what you want to be around. Some people just like to get in the van and be quiet. They just want to be quiet. They just want a bunch of quiet, introverted people, and that’s fine, too. But I want to have fun. Life is too short.
BF: And your music is a lot of fun, too. Depends on the music you’re doing.
AW: Yeah, that’s for sure.
BF (to Abigail): What does musical health mean to you? Do you like that idea? Does that make any sense to you?
AW: Yeah. I like when we talked about that the other day.
BF: I think we’re on to something. I think we need to refine the whole concept and figure out … I mean it’s pretty obvious – most of it is – but I think if you really thought it out…
AW: I was talking to Eddie (not specified) last night, and we were talking about how, like, “What are you cultivating in your musical ability—
AW: …your musical garden. So, for me, I came into the music late relative to a lot of people, and most of the people I know played a lot growing up. And I came into it in my early 20’s, so I felt quite different from other people in that way – like just the concept of playing music in a band, and playing the banjo at all – it was all so new to me, and so when I started out, I was like, “I’m just going to celebrate if I can actually play in time, and I have a nice tone. That’s what I want, so I can play with people and not be annoying – so I can at least figure out some chords and have people help me. I can maybe sing melody, but that really was, and honestly, continues to be my goal with my instruments. So understanding your goals with your instruments is important. And my other goal is to maintain a mindset and emotional place and a spiritual place where singing comes from really pure unadulterated and divine source – and that takes a lot of work, too. That’s not just obvious. (Laughs.)
BF: If it was, everybody would seek that.
AW: So that takes a lot of my time, you know?
S: What are some of the things you do for that unadulterated source and divine source?
AW: Well, I’m getting to it – as close to it as I can. I try to get as close to that as I can.
S: Are prayers really helpful?
AW: Silence is really helpful.
AW: Feeling everything. Not suppressing stuff. Letting it move through, so there’s space for other things. Getting in touch with my insecurities and my fears and the things that taint and make me afraid to in touch with that space and time within me. Working on that.
I spend a lot of time in contemplation. Béla and I are so different—
BF: I experience everything by doing it. Then I do it wrong, then I fix it. I don’t know what I think or what I want to play until I start playing, then I go, “Oh, that’s what I mean except for this, this and this.” Then I go work on – I have to experience through my banjo. I can’t talk about it and conceptualize. I just have to play it out. Abby does a lot of her stuff in her head or unconsciously, which that’s another part of the musical health: encouraging your unconscious side. That’s really interesting. But Abby does a lot of unconscious stuff because she’s the kind of person who, if she has a deadline, in some part of mind, she’s not worried about getting to it to soon. And then down there, near the end, she’s into this, “Oh my god! It’s tomorrow!” And then something comes out that’s evolved and well thought out and really cool. If I see a deadline three months down the line, I’m working on it the first day I can, and I’m trying to get it done a few weeks early so I can rewrite it a few times. We’re very different that way. But I’ve learned that she comes up with things in that last minute. Part of it’s like fight-or-flight kicking in, but she does some amazing stuff. And she’s actually processing and creating it the whole time, but it comes out at the last minute—
AW: I’ve been thinking about it. Like, when I did my commencement speech, I thought and thought about it. I even wrote some little notes about it for months and months and months. And then a week before I was supposed to give it, I sat down. And in two days of writing, I came up with a 20-minute speech—
BF: Yeah, which was really, really strong.
AW: Thirty. I think it ended up being a 30-minute speech because I had been thinking about, you know? I’m like a person who sits on the wall. That’s how I’m working. (Laughs.)
BF: Yeah. It doesn’t look like working from outside, so I could be sitting here going “Honey, you know you have that thing in two days, right?” And she’s like, “Oh yeah. I’m working on it.” (Both laugh.) And I’m like, “You’re not working on it.” And then out it comes. So it’s a really different process.
Maybe I’m talking about in these terms because we’ve been talking about the feminine presence lately. So, it could be kind of metaphorical to a gestation period. It’s almost like a pregnancy.
AW: Yeah. Yeah, that’s for me. That’s true. I don’t know. A lot of women work different ways, but that’s how I work, for sure.
BF: But I gestate, too. I do. But I have to hear it back and experience it. I have to experience it. I have to do it in my head. Because what I do a lot of times doesn’t turn out … I’m frustrated because I can’t get this overall concept to happen. But if I’m more free about it, and I just start playing then I go dig in – dig around for things that happen naturally – then grow them into something. I’m better at that, I think. But it’s a long slope – a growth process.
The thing about the unconscious I was going to say: I just learned this from the jazz musicians that I’ve worked with, that the greatest playing happens when you’ve done a lot of work at some point, and then let it go, and then you just let it play. And you don’t plan out anything you’re going to do. But you can’t think that fast. For instance, I listened to the Seamus Blake solo on that song last night on that song – it was this perfect jazz-soloing. He’s doesn’t have time to think about every note. It’s coming out of him – his unconscious is supplying all the details because of all the work he’s done in advance. And with improvising, my best nights, I don’t know what I did. If I can’t remember anything I did, it was a good night. If I remember what I did, I’m remembering what I did wrong. I don’t remember what I did right. It’s a flow. So you have to get into this flow. That flow can be true of – it doesn’t have to just be about improvising – it can be about your composing, it can be about your practicing – it can just be performance. You can go to that place even with music that’s not improvised. But part of it is freeing your unconscious to take over, so you’re not talking, you’re not thinking, “OK. How do I say ‘talking?’ OK. T-A-L-K-I-N-G.’” You’re not thinking, “Um. Um. Um. Letters.” I don’t have to break it down to all the separate—
AW: Consonants and vowels—
BF: Letters. So, with the music, I don’t have to break it down to every note. I can just point my consciousness in this direction and it goes there, right? That takes a combination of the conscious and the unconscious. Consciousness is the setup and the training, and the unconscious is doing a lot of the work – doing the heavy lifting, really.
AW: Repetition makes all the difference, to me, in the world. Like with “Sala.” It’s the simplest little tune, but we did it like 20 times or something just yesterday. For me, that was so I didn’t have to think when I got on stage. That when I got on stage it was like, “This is what it is.”
BF: Yeah. We just did it.
S: You ran the arrangement 20 times?
AW: We were also collaborating on how to change the arrangement most of those times, too. So there was process happening, too—
S: Well, I really appreciated how collaborative you were in that process. You just came with the tune and the words and the chords and then together, and the dance, also—
S: And then together we stitched it together—
BF: That’s very much Abby’s process.
AW: That’s kind of my process.
BF: She definitely leans on everybody around her and spreads it around. I’m a lot more controlling: I get an idea, and I’m like “We gotta try this. We gotta try that.” Try this, hen I’ve got everybody trying to do what I had in my head, which can be good or not, but in other situations—
AW: That’s great, too.
BF: I’ve been learning a lot more from Abby about that. There’s a lot of good solutions. There’s not just one solution, and you thought of it. This goes back to what I was talking about earlier, like when you think your own ideas are the best. You’re automatically wired to think yours are the best because they’re coming from yourself, and you want them to be the best. And letting go of that is really—
AW: You think women are wired that way? I’m trying to think. You do?
AW: You do? I don’t know if I immediately think mine are the best ideas. I think I immediately want to know what everybody else thinks. Not that I think everyone is like that, but I’m just bringing it up.
BF: Well, I always came up with the idea that music is art, so like, with a painter, you don’t have a focus group sitting around talking about whether he should use blue over here or not – it’s like a person’s expression—
AW: Oh yeah.
BF: So, when you’re with a group of other people, how can it be everyone’s expression? Is there a leader? Whose expression is brining these people together and shaping them? Or letting them go? Just makes a different piece of artwork – they’re all good. So, with something when there’s no right and wrong, how do you decide process? Every situation is different. Sometimes, you got a genius guy who’s telling everyone what to do, and it’s great. It’s great because there’s a true vision. They see it from the beginning. It’s all right here. They gotta get it out—
AW: You’re like that a lot.
BF: I think about Edgar Meyer, where every single note is written out—
AW: Every single note, right.
BF: Yeah, I’m sometimes that way.
AW: Sometimes. You’re a great collaborator, too.
BF: With the Flecktones, I always tried to get everybody to play the song – I wouldn’t tell them anything I was thinking. I would just let them play it from complete scratch before I said anything because once you have somebody telling you stuff, you can’t think of anything yourself anymore. Now you’re stuck trying to get their vision out, and it wipes your vision out. So, you have to start out by letting people have their own ideas, and then after they’ve had their fresh run of it, and have been creative with it, then you can say, “I really think that’s an F chord.” Then it doesn’t take away their freedom at that point. At that point, they’ve had their fresh run with it and have their reaction to which they’ll never lose, either. That works pretty good.
S: Another thing that just popped into my head as we were talking about this and coming back to the mental musical health – have either of you found that music has been a catharsis for you, and if so, in what way has it been helpful? Because I think music can be a really powerful tool for actual mental health for a lot of people, myself included.
BF: Definitely. (To Abigail) You want to go first?
BF: It’s an NPR show where they interview people about deep stuff.
AW: A really good show. A great show. They interview, like, one of the best-known rabbis in the world and then the Dalai Lama and then someone high up in the Catholic church, so can be religious, but also it does—
AW: Us. (Laughs.)
BF: She (interviews) a lot of people. She does a lot of different things.
AW: But she said it because I was talking about singing that coal mining song that I did the other night, but Sarah opened “Gunning Rope (?),” and I was just in tears, I had just watched a documentary about Sarah Ogan Gunning. There’s this great documentary group in Kentucky called Appalshop, like “Applachia.” They make films, and have since the 60’s, and they have all these amazing elders that play music in the mountains there. So they made a documentary about her (Sarah Ogan Gunning), and they found older footage. They didn’t do the footage, but they found footage and put it all together. And it was the story of her family living in this – they showed her in her actual hut she lived in with her family, and holes in the roof, and (it) talked about how her mother and her baby starved to death.
BF: And her husband died.
AW: Of black lung. And I just, for a few days, every time I’d think about her, I would weep, you know? It was just so sad, and it really just connected into whatever suffering I needed to feel, too. And then I started singing the song, and I started being able to get through it without being sad – too sad – and then I started to feel strength in it, like, “Wow. This woman went through all this, and she still lived to tell these stories through songs, and she went on to be a big part of what we would probably today call a civil rights movement.” In the 1940’s, she was trying to get all the African-Americans in the area together with her – with Native Americans – to rise up against the people that were keeping them down. I mean, she wrote songs about that. They aren’t my favorite songs – that’s why I don’t sing them, but this is one of my favorites, “Come All Ye Coal Miners” because she’s singing from a wife’s perspective. She was just a phenomenal woman that rose above all of this loss and suffering to share with people.
Anyway, I sang it for Krista Tippet on the show, and then she said, “Song is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Because it’s like a container where you can put all these feelings.” And I was like, “Yes! A song *is* like a container – you can put the feelings in there. You have to process it before you can put it in, but you gotta process it, then you turn it into whatever soup you want, then you put it in there, and you get to put it away when you’re done singing. You, know? It’s not like I have to keep suffering for Sarah Ogan Gunning because I sang that song. I get to put it back on the shelf, and then pull out the next one. I just think it’s a really great way to think about it.
BF: For me, it was just the music in general – an escape from my parents’ split up, I wasn’t a super happy kid, and something about where, my family’s great, but I was very oppressed by everyone’s energy. But when I found the banjo, it became my hiding place, and then I put all this energy into it that actually freed me up to go away from situations that made me feel kind of oppressed. And a lot of it might have been in my head in the first place – my brother was very/kind of intense, and we would fight all the time, and my mother was very sad for a long time, and I was very sensitive, and I felt traumatized by things when I was a kid, even though nobody was doing anything wrong. But when I got into the music, I just found – I would just play all the time – eight hours a day – as much as I could play, and it gave me some place to put my energy – whatever you want to call it. So, for mental health-wise, having that focus point brought me out of all of that, and I grew up through high school playing in bands. I think what I’ve discovered currently, is that if I don’t play for a while, I get a little bit weird. I get a little bit – I don’t like myself very much. I tend to start not being very happy. And then if I go play, go out for a weekend and play some shows, and then I come back, it lets this energy off of me that’s negative energy that goes away. I can be normal, and I can be a human being. But if it goes too long without that outlet, I can get kind of dark and negative. It’s weird. I think it’s letting the hot air out of the kettle before that thing explodes. Not that I’m an explosive personality, but in terms of not just feeling super happy, not playing a certain amount … and musically, I feel in healthy place. I feel healthy as a human being. And if I’m not, I feel guilty. I feel like I’m living up to my potential. I just don’t feel like I’m living right. I know my hands … If I haven’t been playing the banjo, I haven’t been playing enough for my hands to go to the right place, my pick’s going to make all kinds of clicks and pops when I play – because when you don’t play for three days, you don’t play very well, no matter who you are. You’ve heard that Segovia thing, where he said if I don’t play for one day, I know. If I don’t play for two days, practice. If I don’t practice for one day, I know, if I don’t practice for two days, my collaborators know. If I don’t play for three days, everybody knows. And I feel like the banjo is like that. It’s very unforgiving instrument because your timing has to be perfect, or you notice it. You’re hitting metal on metal – picks on strings – that touch that it takes to hit them and not make clicks and pops and make it a warm sound – you have to be doing it all the time. And just the technique on the left hand – fingers going down in the right place for the stuff that I do, which is pretty intricate. (If) you’re not doing it, it goes away. It comes back in a few days if you go back into the practice thing, so where Abby could not play for a couple of weeks, and pick up her banjo a day or two before the first show and be fine, I wouldn’t be. I need to be playing as much for my mental health, as my technique.
S: To tie everything back around to everything we’ve been doing here this week – and I think a lot of this is probably already in there, but what advice would the two of you have? I think all of us have had a magical experience, and (we’re) trying to carry that forward to the rest of our lives.
BF: Well, the listening part of it is what I think about with something like this because there’s so much information, that you can’t take it all in. This is like a buffet, where there’s so many offerings, you’re not even sure, really, if you like everything. You take everything, and you put it on your plate, and you try everything, and you go, “Ooooo! That’s interesting.” But you don’t really know what is going to be your favorite food yet. It doesn’t happen the first time. So, I think listening. Like, the things that interested you – going out and finding the music and making it a part of your life so that it starts to influence you and become part of your personal soup of musical thought. And don’t stop. Look around until you find something you actually can be passionate about. Like, “Wow! I love that!” Find something like that that you love. Maybe it’s Tibetan. Maybe it’s Chinese. Maybe it’s Malian. Whatever it is, make it part of your listening library that you allow to influence you. I think that would be a great thing – like if you came away from this and said, “Wow! I think about these teachers … I love Bruce Molsky! Let me go figure out what’s the best record of his that I can put into my world so that I never think about him again— ” No. Now, he’s part of my awareness. All these people are either going to have great records, or funnel toward you the great music of their country. And having that be part of what you listen to. And share with people as part of being a global musician. Be aware of it. There’s a lot of good music out there. If you’re ever running out of inspiration, look around the world. There’s no excuse for not being inspired. You can walk away from this like there’s no excuse. Because you just saw this tiny little chunk of people that showed you different parts of the world – the world is way, way, way, way big. There’s great music happening *everywhere,* so that’s some good stuff.
AW: I think I would want to say – because I think that’s great, just being able to listen and let that have in influence in everything that sticks with you.
Review and photography by Anmol Gupta
September 6, 2016
About a quarter of a mile south of the Eaux Claires festival grounds, the Chippewa River ebbs and flows against lush banks, creating the perfect atmosphere to recede and dissolve into what inspires an impressive catalog of revolutionary music-makers: Nature.
This is Eaux Claires.
Unlike any other festival in the United States, Bon Iver’s hometown legend, Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner have, in its second year, established Eaux Claires as one of the most innovative and inspiring festivals in this country – not only for the production’s meticulously curated lineup, but an overall high-sensory experience, literally infused by the power and beauty of nature. They have mastered placing great music in the middle of a forest-filled dream-scape by building the spectacle inside of beautiful and breathtaking Eau Claire, WI. During this festival, I was convinced that this placement might be something like Vernon’s home inside of home. And on the Dessner side of things, The National rocker seemed to be 10 places at once throughout the weekend, jumping around from stage to stage whenever needed to round out the sound or just to watch their festival come together. These guys were so emotionally invested in this production, it is no wonder it was a perfect weekend.
As with any music and arts festival, a majority of the hype is obviously fueled by its lineup. However, Vernon and Dessner have created a festival that clearly exemplifies the harmony of a full-on music and arts experience with a strong, but maybe unfamiliar-to-the-masses lineup.
Just two years deep, Eaux Claires has raised its own bar and expectations for festivals around the world: In its brilliant nature-conscious setting, they booked everyone from James Blake to Vince Staples to Eighth Blackbird to Erykah Badu to Bonnie “Prince” Billy to Jenny Lewis … and numerous other gods and goddesses of the music world (including themselves).
Arrival, Day One
Upon check-in, I was welcomed by a friendly Wisconsin-warmth. I proceeded to walk through a fantasy-esque forested trail to get to the actual festival entrance – a gorgeous installation made from a metal frame that was wrapped in a yarn-like material to mimic the grip of living vines. I quickly realized that I was lost in some kind of teleportation. The seemingly simple, logistical act of entering any festival grounds can whisk a person away from themself, pulling them into a completely different mentality and psyche. And when constructed thoughtfully, such is the case with Eaux Claires, a festival’s welcoming nature can set the tone for the entire ride.
Bryan Devendorf, of LNZNDRF (also drummer of indie-rock gurus, The National) captured this particular phenomenon as a performer during our interview with him at the festival (stay tuned for SINE's full interview): “Why worry about a show? This (Eaux Claires) is the perfect place to relax,” to which he later added, “but I am kind of worried … but a relaxed kind of worried.” While performance anxiety can be an inherent part of any artist who shares their experiences publicly, finding a comfort zone within that anxiety-ridden headspace and physical space isn’t always an ideal situation. But at Eaux Claires, everything is an ideal situation – for artists and attendees, alike. This special festival utilizes the raw beauty and coziness of its location to gently usher in an unfettered, relaxed ambience that extends its blissfulness into a two-day festival extravaganza spanning a comfortably-packed Friday and Saturday full of music, storytelling, visual art and more.
I wasn’t able to truly grasp the beauty of Vernon’s and Dessner’s genius until I began the 10-minute trek up a small hill to the festival’s four dome-like, tented stages (three of the eight total stages): The Kills, The Dells and a silent-disco installation, known as The Burns. The trek was surrounded by a canopy of the forest with a path between two fields that felt more like a winding pathway to Narnia. While the vast, open-field characteristic of a festival is definitely present at Eaux Claires, this niche production takes a conscientious approach to its setting with such a magnificent build up, drawing attention to the serenity of the river and its surrounding greenery, rather than trying to distract from those elements, as (unfortunately) seems to be custom at many other (larger) festivals. For example, on one side of the trails at Eaux Claires, there was a nine-foot wooden contraption that emitted a droning pulse throughout the weekend, overlaid by sounds of the forest: woodpeckers, crickets, the occasional wolf’s howl...
After walking into more ambient hypnosis, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to enter that mysterious orb emitting the droning pulse – it was an enclosed spherical installation on the ground, made up of several pyramid-shaped pieces. Eaux Claires had already exceeded whatever expectations I had set forth, and it had only been an hour since I had checked in.
The inside of this wonderland also housed a chaise-style bed, which was surrounded by enormous speakers cleverly camouflaged by burlap. Lying down in this chamber was an experience. My eyes closed without conscious thought as soon as my back felt the surface, and almost instantly I felt a soaring sensation, as if I was perched in a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the forest and its meditative soundscape. Eaux Claires was breathtaking!
After my initial expedition just to get to the music, I made it to The Kills stage and caught a solid chunk of Prinze George, a pop-rock band who just released their debut LP, “Illiterate Synth Pop.” Though they were early performers, they managed to get an audience of festival-ready music-lovers hyped for the weekend ahead.
Then I headed over to The Dells stage, the largest tent-stage at the festival, for a highly anticipated set by Anatomy and Crescent Moon, the hip-hop duo who perform as Kill the Vultures. They shredded the first 2016 performance of that stage to a seemingly familiar crowd, which pleased me greatly on multiple accounts. Hands down, Anatomy takes the trophy for most chill producer I’ve ever seen at a hip-hop show: He performs cross-legged, sitting on a table and *occasionally* nods his head. Crescent Moon, however, brought the other half of their dually-charged forces to the performance by surfacing the entire stage, sliding from corner to corner and frequently making direct eye contact with his audience. He delivered a high-energy show with the precision of a natural wordsmith. I caught up with the duo a little after their set, and they unsurprisingly maintained a similar balance of energy during our chat. (Read our full interview with Kill the Vultures.)
Eaux Claires’ diverse lineup continued with one of the best indie-folk performances I’ve ever seen (or might ever see). Irish singer-songwriter, Lisa Hannigan brought the festival masse to The Kills stage for a quasi-premiere of her new album, “At Swim,” which she performed alongside the record’s producer, Aaron Dessner. Hannigan’s lilting singing, combined with instrumental versatility swept away her audience, taking us on a musical catharsis that is less prevalent and cherished in live music today due to a generally impatient audience, especially in a festival setting. But her set was a testament to the cosmic power of what great music can do to anyone who is willing to be still and soak it in, unfiltered. Hannigan’s performance was another excellent kick-off for more Eaux Claires shows ahead.
Walking away from The Kills stage was an experience in and of itself: While a smaller festival can lend itself to noise-bleeding more easily than other larger, more spread out festivals, the layout of the stages at Eaux Claires was perfectly placed – the minds behind the festival’s production unit did a marvelous job keeping sounds from the stages as isolated as possible with a well-planned schedule, and it was a success – a thoughtful operation, indeed!
As I walked further away, I was lured toward a symphonic, tubular display. Metal pipes were screwed into a board, and there were buckets of wooden dowels for attendees to join one another in an a dreamy composition. There was a point where the ringing from the pipes blended like granules of raw sugar swirled into piping hot tea with Hannigan's smooth vocals – what we heard from that interaction was something like the soundtrack of a big dream we were dreaming together. And the aural imagery was just as pleasant. Several moments later, I was even further past that display, and there was another point of focus – a moment of clarity – where the pipes snapped into the foreground, and Hannigan’s voice disappeared into a faint memory carrying over the sound of our delicate, à la carte notes.
After quickly grabbing some food, I rushed over to The Staves, who were performing a perfectly harmonious set with yMusic. The collective was playing both The Staves’ (older) songs, as well as more recent pieces by yMusic, which the sisterly trio sang elegant renditions of their favorite folk songs over. For me, this set was just one of many striking highlights of the familial culture of festivals, in general: The Staves were showing up all over the festival with surprise sets – singing with Jenny Lewis and Bon Iver, as well as fusing their genius with the Day of the Dead festivities later in the weekend’s schedule… and a lot more.
Following The Staves’ and yMusic’s uniquely satisfying collaborative performance, I headed to the Vince Staples show. This Long Beach legend is always sure to draw excited crowds wherever he plays. I was lucky enough to experience a “Summertime ‘06” show while covering Bonnaroo for SINE this year, and although at a significantly different venue, Vince brought the same level of intensity and fire (literally, it was lit on both accounts) to the Eaux Claires audience. Alongside his DJ, Joey Fatts, Vince sparked a new chord with festival-goers by hyping them up with his hits, “Norf Norf” and “Jump off the Roof.” Vince has been a festival staple this season, and rightfully so. He can bring a crowd up from low-energy vibes, as well as enhance an existing, party-thriving vibe. Vince delivers musical perfection every time he takes a stage, and his Eaux Claires performance was no exception – maybe it was even more special because of this festival’s secret ingredient: Location, Location, Location.
Next up was Bruce Hornsby performing “The Way It Is” playing on the main stage, Lake Eaux Lune. After 15 minutes of some real throwback from the Grateful Dead collaborative legend, I realized I was too far removed, generationally, to fully appreciate the set, so I rerouted to focus on my initial plan for my Friday afternoon time slot: I headed back to catch LNZNDRF, the experimental, rock-electronic trio of the Devendorf brothers, Scott and Bryan, and Ben Lanz (of Beirut) -- however, they performed as a quartet for their Eaux Claires set with Aaron Arntz (also of Beirut). The band, covered in bleached denim, performed some masterful psychedelic improvisations that they seemed destined to play together – it was only a matter of time until this collaboration formed, whether spontaneously or not. Then, they brought up the Dessner brothers, as well as, in the words of Ben Lanz, “an army of guitarists” to help out. Magnificent. It was during these moments that guest appearances went from being a surprise to being somewhat expected – another feature that set this festival apart from others: Every other act was bringing up someone or another, resulting in gaping mouths and loud cheers from the crowds. This particular sense of community – gifting the audience and artists with such surprises – has become a necessity for festivals in this day and age due to everyone’s exposure and accessibility to the many worlds of music, and Eaux Claires has taken it several steps further in the right direction.
Another show-stopping performance came from James Blake, who took to the Flambeaux stage for his set. This smaller, more intimate stage lit up with muted purples and blues and illuminated each falling raindrop in the evening’s forecast. In a trio setting, Blake played through hits from all of his albums in awe-inspiring fashion, keeping the crowd still, silent and emotionally charged for the entirety of his performance. Near the end of his set, the crowd was anticipating a live version of “I Need a Forest Fire,” but “unfortunately, they couldn’t get a rehearsal together,” Blake’s manager told us. Even so, James Blake and his band still scored a touchdown on a rainy day.
Moments later, Bon Iver’s set picked up right where Blake’s left off. The rain had lifted just minutes after Blake wrapped up, and the audience, already spoiled from being serenaded into the night sky, made the walk to the Lake Eaux Lune stage to witness a magical performance by Bon Iver. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, they performed the debut of their most recent album in its entirety, “22, A Million” to a crowd that quickly went into shock. It was a phenomenal performance. And of course, The Staves made an appearance, as did a wall of saxophones, and maybe, just maybe, I heard Yeezy coming in with a little auto-tune. (It was Yeezy – this was later confirmed.) What we witnessed was an indescribable performance of “22, A Million,” but that was not the album, of course. The actual recording of the album, expectedly, will be quite different, and it will be interesting to have listened to the live rendition of this masterpiece before listening to the recorded release.
Bon Iver’s set fully captured the experimental nature of the Eaux Claires festival – not just in the actual compositions they played, but in the sense that they, too, were debuting a new album for the festival audience, in the same vein as Lisa Hannigan, Moses Sumney, Francis and the Lights and the So Percussion/Shara Nova collaboration from their Saturday afternoon set. Being able to play new music for a festival audience is clearly a byproduct of what Vernon and Dessner have curated and cultivated. Feeling safe to explore new music with an audience can be a daunting task for an artist, but it can also be a uniquely satisfying experience for everyone involved, in the right setting, under just the right circumstances.
Though night had already fallen, day one of Eaux Claires was far from over. Cornelius’ set (which was quite possibly my favorite show of the weekend), was yet to come. He was set to perform a reimagined version of his 1997 classic album, “Fantasma,” and all I could think about was what kind of karma I had earned to witness such a miracle. In the 15-minute transition between Bon Iver and Cornelius, the centerpiece of the festival – an electric organ enclosed in a towering wire sculpture – came to life. Purples, greens and blues were glowing loudly through the wire contraption – a beacon of the festival. It offered baroque organ compositions in between acts, exuding other-worldly feelings – something like a nonsensical, avant-garde baseball game. Whoah, but exactly.
As the organist wrapped up, Cornelius’ stage was drawing a large projection screen draped over the front of the stage, sparking mutterings of curiosity from people all over the festival. Though the audience was much smaller than I had expected (no more than 150 people, I estimated) at the start of the show, in Japan, any Cornelius show, especially one of a full performance of “Fantasma,” would have the potential to double Bon Iver’s or James Blake’s crowds. And still, Cornelius played through his entire album in remarkable fashion, flawlessly translating his brilliant samples into a live band setting by actually singing and playing the samples from his album, such as “God Save The Queen” (originally by the Sex Pistols).
My mentality overnight had shifted completely. I knew this festival would be something different, but I didn’t realize how out-of-body it would feel – more so than any other festival I had ever attended. However, after experiencing only one day’s worth of the magic and wonder that the festival had to offer, I was eager to get back onto the grounds for the next and final day of the festival – one that would feature headlining sets by exceptional artists, such as Erykah Badu and Beach House.
As soon as I approached the grounds, everyone's phone buzzed with a notification from the Eaux Claires festival app – Bon Iver was selling exclusive 12” singles of two extended versions from the new album for FIVE DOLLARS, so I made sure to get mine – a perfect souvenir from this magnificent weekend.
Opening the day’s music was Sō Percussion, along with Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond), playing a brand new, unreleased project called “Timeless,” which she told us was inspired by pure and simple, love. It was a gorgeous performance, and at the end of the set, Nova shared a beautiful sentiment about the inspiration behind the album release: “Time is relative, but love is a constant.” The percussive rock elements from genius-ensemble, So Percussion combined with Nova’s electric vocals and smooth guitar resulted in pure bliss radiating from the Lake stage throughout her set.
An hour later, gospel legend Mavis Staples and her kickass band took the same stage and enchanted the audience as she’s (in her own words) “done for 66 years.” Bringing up electric soul sisters from another mister, Lucius, Staples confidently highlighted her influence on every artist at the festival, contemporary and classical – something Phil Cook also recognized publicly during his set. Alas, she closed out with compatriot Bruce Hornsby with their joint hit, “Celestial Railroad.”
Then I headed over to the peacefully secluded The Creek stage to catch Eighth Blackbird, who were treating festivalgoers to endless chamber music throughout the weekend, including “Murder Ballads,” a recomposed compilation by Bryce Dessner featuring the legendary Bonnie “Prince” Billy; “Learn to Fly,” by David Lang and “Down In The Willow Garden,” a folk set that also featured BPB. The moving orchestration was set in one of the most intimate settings I’ve ever attended, fully living up to the ensemble’s namesake. The wooden stage was draped in flowers and vines, and it was perched on a hill, overlooking a small lake. Each note carried numerous audiences during the weekend through tales of sorrow with almost nonstop performances.
Later in the evening, Erykah Badu knocked listeners off their feet, even after a 35-minute wait. All I could think was, “All these people complaining. You better call Tyrone.” When she took the stage, Badu’s fantastic band/combo vamped her instrumentals, taking fluid solos over one another, demonstrating mind-blowing musicality and sheer talent from everyone on stage. Miss Amerykah performed 14 buttery songs, mostly from her latest mixtape, “But You Caint Use My Phone,” as well as classics, like “Window Seat” and “Afro Blue.” That night, we were all blessed by one of the most powerful humans, ever: raw, unapologetic and free.
Francis and the Lights closed the festival Saturday night, playing through his brand new album, “Farewell, Starlite!” which energized the crowd like there was a day three ahead of us. Surprisingly, the second smallest stage at the festival proved to be the perfect venue because that set was able to be both intimate and LOUD. He could not have closed out the festival on a higher note, until he brought out Chance the Rapper (!!!), who had just headlined Summerset, to perform the 79th Street rapper’s track, “Summer Friends.” I was waiting for a chance to see Lil Chano at Eaux Claires – I was almost expecting it after he tweeted something unrelated earlier in the day that signaled his location was, in fact, Eau Claire, WI. (Not to mention he surprise-visited Bonnaroo last year, too.) I was floored that his surprise appearance was with Francis and the Lights. Then, as if the performance wasn’t already the most magical dance show in history, Justin Vernon also made an appearance, and Chance, Vernon and Francis all performed “Friends,” the hit single Kanye West lauded as his “favorite song of the year (2016).”
In only its second year, Eaux Claires surpassed anything I could have dreamt of it being. Although almost half of the size as its first year, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, along with the entire Eaux Claires team put on what I deemed one of the greatest musical experiences of a lifetime. As any spectacular festival manages to do, Eaux Claires removed festivalgoers from the expectations and welcomed attendees from all over the world through a life-changing experience to be hailed for years to come.
From my own perspective, going to this particular festival alone could not have been a better life-decision for me – I had heard other members of Team SINE talk to me about the magic and mystery of the avant-garde, Tennessee-based, internationally-booked music and arts festival, Big Ears, and I felt that this might be something similar. But for a festival whose largest stage is on a parking lot, Vernon and Dessner have expanded Eaux Claires into the surrounding forest, creating an immersive experience for all 20,000 of its intimately invested attendees within the fantasy-scaped woods of jaw-dropping Eau Claire, WI. In being set completely outdoors, there’s some serious magic to setting that kind of backdrop to a lineup of these guys' liking. You can bet I'll #ReturnToTheRiver next year.
Learn more about Eaux Claires at eauxclaires.com.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photograph by Rich Gilligan
March 30, 2016
SINE: In a traditional setting, it is very difficult to define one’s own sound or brand, but somehow you have done it. Can you talk about how you have brought new flavor to a style so set in its ways?
The Gloaming: Our music, even in its most traditional manifestation, is based on improvisational expression around simple repeating forms. In some ways, recorded music and the dissemination of culture in this manner arguably had a deadening effect on the natural, playful creativity inherent in our music as typified by, say, the likes of Micho Russell and Willie Clancy to name but a few. Our task is to renew this relationship with a sense of free play in the music and to additionally harness trance like attributes inherent in a music that is structurally simple and operates on the basis of variations within repetitions (a sort of minimalism arguably).
S: A great deal of your music seems to be your own interpretations of traditional Irish melodies and slow airs with your own stylistic changes. Can you speak to how you have made these tunes your own?
TG: Our approach to the selection of tunes is crucial as a first step and I feel that we habitually go for ones that have ingredients of simplicity and a mixture of emotions, a certain wistfulness, a certain nostalgia or sadness or reflectiveness. We go after big songs from the tradition, too like "Slán Le Maigh." These offer huge opportunities to showcase our muscle as an ensemble and anchor us to the tradition in a way which appeals to us. Being aware of the past is a powerful perspective in music making such as ours which allows us to access colors and shades of aesthetic choice that are not commonplace now but are no less beautiful for their obscurity.
S: Each of you brings your own voice to the group; how did each of you come together to create The Gloaming?
TG: Many of us have known each other for quite a few years: Martin and I since our teens, and Caoimhin is an old friend of mine, too. Denis and Martin have, by now, a long and very successful history of music making. Martin was largely instrumental in bringing the names together including the deeply insightful choice of Thomas Bartlett. Thomas is the outlier in this sense, but what he brings is imbued with all the possibility of the bigger country, the wider perspective if you will as well, of course as his unusual gifts as an arranger and accompanist. I always get a sense of a landscape opening up to, a panavision wideness and clarity when Thomas plays our music, something I have not heard from any other musician I've worked with. It brings to my mind a musical territory existing somewhere between Reich and Copland.
S: Could you speak to your musical, and possibly cultural, influences that have led you to this point in your musical careers?
TG: We've always said that apart from our own personal histories with and within the tradition we have inverted so much of our lives in that what joins us more, still, is the kind of music we've been listening to outside the tradition over the years. That too is seminal to the calibration of taste and aesthetic choice. In my own case it's a patchwork with everything from Eno to Dylan, Mahler to Keith Jarrett, Joni Mitchell to Nina Simone. We grew up in a cocoon of music, some of us, but it's surfaces were permeable and I had an ear keenly tuned to the music speaking to me from the outside my whole life..
S: Your sound is one of a kind at Big Ears this year. Even though you are the only Irish band here, are there other artists you’re excited to see this weekend?
TG: The lineup is wonderful, and it's just great to be a part of it. If I had to choose I'd love to see Laurie Anderson again and hear John Luther Adams and Bryce Dessner's pieces and Vijay Iyer. Also, I'm a fan of Olivia Chaney’s music. But there is so much to choose from. Looking forward to catching as much as I can.
Learn more about The Gloaming by visiting thegloaming.net.
From top to bottom:
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 48" x 36"
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 48" x 36"
3. "Light Places"
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 60" x 36"
4. "Finish Line"
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 30" x 24"
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 40" x 30"
6. "Merciful Heavens"
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 8' x 6'
Paint and pigment transfer on canvas, 8' x 6'
Learn more about Zach Searcy, mixed media artist and curator of Zach Searcy Projects (ZSP) in Knoxville, TN by visiting zachsearcy.com. All pieces featured in this sampled collection are original pieces created by Zach currently held at the ZSP gallery.
By Andrew Abrams
Photography by Conor Clark
October 21, 2016
Since its grand opening in March 2016, The Mill & Mine has taken Knoxville by storm, first debuting the space for Big Ears performances earlier this year, and more recently hosting heavy-hitters, such as HAIM, Passion Pit and Sylvan Esso. In the near future, this inspiring venue will welcome the Canadian electronic group Purity Ring, as well as Phantogram. Among the incredible acts they have already managed to bring to Knoxville, The Mill & Mine recently hosted the French electronic artist (and band), M83.
Vocalist, Anthony Gonzalez is the frontman of this musical experience. M83 began as a duo: Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau. Since 2001, M83 has released seven beautiful albums and two magnificent soundtracks. Then, after the group’s second release, Nicolas took part in a different musical journey. Currently, M83 is comprised of (pictured in order in slideshow): original member, Anthony Gonzalez and Jordan Lawlor, Kaela Sinclair, Loïc Maurin and Joe Berry.
In 2010, M83 came out with a universal breakthrough track, “Midnight City” from the album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” which received platinum certification in both the United States and France, as well as silver in the UK. According to the popular streaming service, Spotify, the song has over 208 million plays since its release.
For the 2016 set in Knoxville, TN, the crowd was first graced with the presence and performance of an opening act by the name of Shura. Also known by her full name, Alexandra Denton, of Manchester City, Shura is a far lesser-known act than M83, however also notably praiseworthy. Her style is very downtempo and calm, yet fully rejuvenating. On stage, Shura is not alone – she is joined by drums and guitart.
As the lights went down, Shura and her band walked into the limelight, instantly striking a deep bass note. She grabbed the microphone and warmly greeted her new crowd from Knoxville, introduced her band members, informed us that this is only their second show with M83 and immediately kicked the show off with her newest album’s title track, “Nothing’s Real.”
The room filled with a funky bass line and Shura’s smooth, clear vocals. She asked how we liked the new song. The room, then engulfed in loud cheers, responded enthusiastically.
As their roars subsided, the next song, “What’s It Gonna Be?” started. By the last song, “White Light,” the crowd had fully warmed up to Shura and her band mates. After a powerfully perfect closing, Shura said goodbye to Knoxville, and told us that she hoped to be back very soon. We do, too!
After a short intermission, the lights dimmed down for the last time that night. Unlike Shura, M83 blasted the crowd with an instant burst of the first notes of “Reunion,” the sensational track from the 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” As the song ended, the crowd cheered, and Anthony greeted everyone. Then the band lead into their most current hit, “Do It, Try It,” a personal favorite. As they flawlessly recreated the track, colorful lights were dancing everywhere in sight.
As the night progressed, we heard “Steve McQueen” and “Solitude,” and the crowd remained floored. Toward closing, the band brought out “Go!” another hit from their newest work, “Junk,” which also happens to be featured in the popular Xbox racing game, “Forza Horizon 3.” Once the song ended, there was a slight pause, just long enough to leave room for curiosity. This split-second silence brought about the most anticipated song of the night, “Midnight City,” unarguably the band’s most popular track, ever. Fans erupted with praise.
Even after the track ended, the energy lingered. When the last song, “Outro” came to a close, fans cheered loudly as the band came to the front and took their bows before parting ways. Not only did they exit the stage, they left a crowd hungry for more. “One more song!” the audience chanted for what seemed like an eternity. Just as we all thought there was no chance of -one more song- the band quickly emerged from the darkness, once again for what everyone had been waiting for ... But this one was in French. For this reason, I’m not sure what the song was called or what it was about, however it was a beautiful track filled with an incredible piano melody and astounding harmony between the two vocalists with graceful guitar accompaniment. It was an overall five-star evening, in my eyes (and ears).
Learn more about M83 by visiting ilovem83.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Fernanda Carpenter, Bill Foster and William Wright
July 25, 2016
The July Dilemma: Pitchfork or Forecastle?
For the past decade, if I go to a festival in July, I go to Pitchfork. The lineup, year in and year out, appeals to most of my taste, blending old favorites with up-and-comers that other big festivals don’t have a pulse on yet. I always championed the size and layout of Pitchfork, with stages in close proximity and easy accessibility to maximize the number of bands you can catch, which is a big reason why it has always been my favorite, but then...
Five years ago, when Knoxville’s AC Entertainment signed on as co-producer, I became curious about the Forecastle music festival. Founded back in 2002, Forecastle is well-known in the festival scene for basically having grown out of founder JK McKnight’s backyard. Every year, my most trusted music friends sang the highest praises of this waterfront festival in Louisville, KY, but it always falls on the third weekend, same as Pitchfork, aka my steady July girl. However, last year, I was asked to write some original music for a Forecastle promotional video. In the process, I watched a ton of amazing footage from past renditions of this festival, and I decided I couldn’t miss it for yet another year: 2016 would be my year to find out who was the real festival treasure on this third weekend in July.
Goodness, I wish I had a few of those Chicago summers back.
Logistics 101: Forecastle Sets the Class Curve
Forecastle is, at its foundation, an incredibly well-structured festival. For starters, the venue, Louisville Waterfront Park, is a uniquely functional spot for a multi-stage event, such as a festival of this caliber. It draws an average of 75,000 attendees per year, though you don’t feel that at the park. But the venue, overall, feels smaller and more intimate because it is partitioned in such a way that you never feel crowded. For example, the three main stages are partitioned by waterways, and each one is backed up against the Ohio River, making for gorgeous backdrops, regardless of who’s on stage.
Another major advantage to this waterfront venue is that one-third of the grounds are underneath I-64, providing massive shade. Under I-64 is a fourth stage, Ocean Stage, reserved for rap and EDM shows that tend to draw physically higher-energy crowds than the other stages. This stage also cleverly uses I-64 as a shield so that artists under the bridge can use lasers and intense light shows without affecting buildings and airplanes – a common problem with city festivals.
Additionally, one of the waterway partitions between stages is actually a shallow, tiered swimming pool, where festival patrons can take a dip to fight the July heat. The bridges over the swimming area can get quite congested during transitions between bigger acts on the two main stages, but considering how congested most festivals are, this is easily forgiven. Honestly, any level of congestion, in exchange for a visually stunning swimming area, is worth it at your summer festival. And equally important, another upside to this festival’s logistics is its parking situation. The festival grounds are just one block away from the KFC Yum! Center, which offers all-day parking for only six dollars. By itself, the KFC Yum! Center can accommodate 22,000+ people, which is nearly one-third of the capacity of the average Forecastle draw. Couple that with the other garages and the multiple free lots along the Waterfront Park, and you have a shockingly functional plan for parking for this three-day party.
Forecastle's accommodations were also strategically excellent, with ample restroom facilities in every direction, a centralized area for food vendors, and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were available in thoughtfully located areas, so there was no long walk or wait, no matter what you were after. It is surprising how many festivals fall short on this obvious area of hosting thousands upon thousands of people, year after year. In fact, this might be the most impressive aspect of Forecastle – its layout and accommodations are a reflection of the festival’s truly intelligent design.
From an operations standpoint, partnering with festival juggernaut AC Entertainment is, hands down, your best bet. This was illustrated early at Forecastle this year: Inclement weather (read: lightning) in the greater Louisville area culminated as the first performers were getting into their sets, but the festival team was all hands on deck for safety and party-preservation. I’ve been witness to a number of weather emergencies at concerts and sporting events, and I have rarely seen a staff execute a faster, more organized evacuation than the one at Forecastle. Extra gates were opened to prevent bottlenecks, and the festival staff utilized both social media and public address to keep ticket holders up to speed on the developments. When Forecastle notified the crowd that the delay could last up to two hours, frustration was expressed by some festival-goers, but the majority of attendees happily took advantage of the surrounding parks, bars and bridges since weather conditions remained overall dry. And no one had to miss a single minute of the live performances they were set to see.
Since the weather delay was ultimately much shorter than predicted, and the re-entry drill was almost as seamless as the evacuation, no bands were cancelled – they were only pushed back by an hour. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but those types of scenarios at events as big as Forecastle can be pure chaos, and if handled improperly, they can destroy an attendee’s festival experience. (Read the reviews.) However, in this case, beyond the rain delay, the entire weekend was impressively punctual. When paired with the abbreviated size of the park, things being on/off stage so reliably on schedule makes it possible to catch far more than you might at other larger events.
There were very few things to complain about at Forecastle 2016. Sure, it would have been nice if the bands and acts weren’t quite as common to other festivals. For example, many of the acts this year could have been seen at a number of other festivals, such as Shaky Knees. That’s one thing that always felt like a bargain in these types of scenarios. And in regard to festivals like Pitchfork, they’re good about booking a lineup that isn’t necessarily reminiscent of your other summer options.
That said, it is understandable that you can only book the acts that are on tour for summer shows. Therefore, many of the lineups are the same because those are the bands that a big, city-fest crowd is likely to shell out the money for. So, beyond that little bit of predictability in the lineup, it was hard to find ways to negatively critique the Forecastle music festival. The peculiar venue and the manageable weather (and procedure), in combination with a collective good mood, eclipsed any minor, inevitable flaws in the landscape of an event like this.
Booking-related predictability aside, the 2016 Forecastle lineup was as diverse as it was pleasing, and it lived up to the standard set by previous years. The festival, like so many, maintains its steady audience by balancing genres, offering an equal amount of red-letter, veteran headliners with rap and EDM for the younger set and a bit of everything in-between. Though well-worn, the array of headliners this year was an entertaining trio of festival giants:
If you go to festivals, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see The Avett Brothers, Alabama Shakes and Ryan Adams, your slightly exotic third festival headliner. But regardless of the predictability-factor, all three of these acts were incredibly solid performances. For some, Adams’ performance was triumphant among the three, but if we had to pick a top headliner, it would definitely be Alabama Shakes: When you see Brittany Howard play, regardless of how many times or in what environment, there is an undeniable feeling that you’re witnessing an artist that will resonate long after the band has come and gone, and their Forecastle show was no different. The Alabama Shakes featured a refreshing mid-set appearance by local symphony musicians from the Louisville Orchestra, taking their well-oiled show to a whole new level and providing the spark of unpredictability that the festival needed at the top of the bill. This was my fourth time seeing the Shakes, and they were better than ever.
There were too many moments and performances at Forecastle to cover each one individually, but here are the ones that stuck with us after three days packed with drinks and decibels:
GLASS ANIMALS Trip-hoppy Oxford rockers Glass Animals have had a busy run of tours in 2015 and 2016, supporting their debut “Zaba.” The band’s after-dark set at Forecastle was the first show of their current American tour, but you wouldn’t have guessed it watching them. The band looked loose and well-rehearsed, and they were joyfully interactive with a crowd that was surprisingly informed of the band’s lyrics. Fans were singing/screaming along with many “Zaba” selections and screaming for selections from their upcoming sophomore album, “How to Be a Human Being.” Singer Dave Bayley made several trips into the audience to intensify what was already a pretty intense party. Glass Animals was easily one of the most fun sets of the weekend.
GHOSTLAND OBSERVATORY This was an interesting choice for a city festival. I’ve seen Ghostland Observatory, and if you’ve seen them, you know how reliant their show is on an extensive amount of strobes and lasers. While some electronic acts lean too heavily on production, Ghostland has always been somewhat of a gold standard, in my opinion, of balance between heavy (but show-appropriate) levels of light madness. The only hang-up involved with booking this group for a city festival is that even with the bridge as a shield, the band had to seriously abbreviate their production. Forecastle provided the bands that performed at the under-bridge stage with an array of LED panels for graphics and light effects, but for a show like Ghostland, it was simply underwhelming. The duo was as enthusiastic as ever, and if you hadn’t seen them at full-bloom, this show probably hit just fine. Limiting a light show is certainly worth it, with respect to not making planes or cars crash, but as a long-standing fan, it also made for a show that didn’t remotely live up to the sensory overdrive of a typical performance by these guys, from my previous experiences.
BULLY A band I was not aware of, but was immediately in love with, was Nashville’s fuzzed-out alt-rock outfit known as Bully. Other members of Team SINE were introduced to Bully at Bonnaroo earlier this summer, but they were new to me. I have no doubt that this band has already had more than their fill of 90’s grunge comparisons to acts like Hole and Veruca Salt, but I hope they embrace it. They put on a show with all the visceral firepower of those old grimy rock bands, but with just enough polish, which is common for these Nashville bands – appealing to a slightly more mainstream festival audience. At the core of the band’s immediate appeal is band leader Alicia Bognanno, whose howl and growl stuck with me for the rest of my time at the festival … and afterward. The band already has a full slate of dates through the fall, including shows supporting the Descendents. Whether you have grunge nostalgia or not, Bully is more than worth your time.
DANNY BROWN When the Forecastle lineup came out, I knew that there was one show I would not miss, and that show was Danny Brown. I had seen the Detroit rapper twice before, and it is always an incredibly rowdy party. In the time since my last Danny Brown experience, his success and standing in the landscape of popular culture have swollen and expanded many times over. To put it simply: Danny Brown is an enormously high-profile rapper now. And that’s where things get a little complicated for the festival – the stage under the bridge essentially served as an annex for the rap, EDM, etc. acts that seemed to appeal primarily to the festival’s teen/college attendees. Unfortunately, Danny Brown is way too big for the space they put him in. But don’t get me wrong: This stopped no one – Danny’s show was crazy. All of his shows are crazy. But, for the only time during the weekend’s events, it felt uncomfortably crowded, and I felt further away than I wanted to be. Danny Brown belonged on one of the larger stages, without question. I supposed that there was the question of whether or not the festival was reserving the main stages for acts that didn’t fit the rap/EDM billing found under the bridge.
But alas, he delivered another scorchingly excellent set, mostly blended cuts from his most recent album, “Old,” one-off singles and a couple selections from his upcoming new album. Danny seems to finally be moving on from leaning on fan-favorite cuts from his now legendary mixtape, “XXX,” which catapulted him to fame. I can understand the thought behind keeping the higher-energy rap and electronic acts away from the other slightly tamer stages, but Danny and the crowd deserved a little more festival consideration in this instance. If you’re going to book an act on Danny Brown’s level, you have to just bite the bullet, and put him on the stage where he makes the most sense, relative to his status as a pop culture icon and *very famous* rapper.
JAZZ CARTIER Another awesome surprise at Forecastle was the early fire brought by a Canadian rapper called Jazz Cartier. Cartier kicked off the under-bridge stage on Saturday, and a large, young crowd gathered for what would be one of the weekend’s most explosive sets. Not that any festival is light on artists going into the crowd, but the audience was so tightly packed for Jazz, that he literally walked across the top of the audience at one point. I was new to this rapper, but his energy, enthusiasm and ability to whip his crowd into a frenzy was enough to keep me at the stage for his entire set.
The bottom line with the Forecastle music festival is: If you enjoy shows, you have to go. It is an exceptionally fantastic event, down to many of its smallest details. This festival is intelligently choreographed as a peak live music experience for those lucky enough to attend. I regret being so late to the Forecastle party, but I’m happy to finally know that the rumors of its excellence are, in fact, true. The verdict is in: I’m already looking forward to the next Forecastle.
Learn more about the Forecastle music festival at forecastlefest.com.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photography courtesy of Vulfpeck management
June 9, 2016
You can thank Vulfpeck for bringing a tasteful dose of minimalism and funk to Bonnaroo this year. We wanted to talk to these fancy, funky party gurus, who will also be featured in the festival's annual, beloved SuperJam. SINE talked to Jack Stratton (keys) before their performance tonight. Don't miss their set at 8:45 p.m. tonight, and don't miss them during the weekend's -always epic- SuperJam!
SINE: You have an incredibly nostalgic sound in a very niche pocket that merges so well with modernism and minimalism. What influenced you to play with that old-timey feel that you do?
Jack Stratton: I saw the Funk Brothers documentary ("Standing in the Shadows of Motown") in high school, and got into that style of recording with the rhythm section, and a few other documentaries have come out about "The Wrecking Crew" and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and I'm a big fan of that whole culture. It seemed like the most fun and sustainable way to make records, so it was those documentaries. And then, of course, prior to that, loving those records.
S: What is different about playing live versus a recording setting?
JS: They're fairly different even though we just play live in the studio — just the psychology — it's a funny thing as a drummer. The bigger the outdoor space, you just hit harder. Even though it's mic'd up, it doesn't make a difference. So we just kind of react to whatever the playing situation is. If it's a big thing like this, or it's a show — just trying to be good at each one of those. Trying to approach them in whatever would work best in any situation.
S: Your latest release, "Flow State" — what is that? It's totally from out of left field, and it's great. It's completely different than "Thrill of the Arts." Can you speak on that a bit?
JS: Well, we just did the show yesterday in Chicago, and it went really well. The concept was that we had done "Sleepify" which was silent, and then we played free shows, and now we did "Flow State" which is the resonant frequency of the earth — tone—
JS: Yeah, Schuman. And at that show, we paid everyone. It ended up being a dollar when they left. I couldn't have predicted how good that felt — being able to pay people to come to our show (laughs). It was incredible.
S: What can we expect from your performance tonight, with all these different ideas you've explored and new stuff you've released?
JS: We want to nail the live stream. That's very important to us. I think it'll be a good way to approach it. These clips — someone will tend to rip it, and then they'll put it on YouTube, and then it becomes kind of another video for the band. So we're going to try to nail it — kind of stack the set early on versus building up to it ... I don't know...
JS: So yeah, just trying to nail it.
S: You're also playing the SuperJam. That's really cool! I assume you're excited to play with this crazy, wide array of artists like Kamasi Washington and GRiZ, etc. What do you think you bring to the table with that juxtaposition of of all the different artists?
JS: Well, our bassist, Joe Dart is incredibly versatile and can instantly make something "feel good." That's what he brings, as a bassist. So he's a real asset to any jam situation. Then, of course, Woody (Goss) has an incredible ear. He can kind of learn stuff in real time. Theo (Katzman) plays every instrument in a rhythm section and can sing. I bring positive energy (and keys). That's what I bring. And Antwaun (Stanley)'s here, which is a treat for anyone coming to the SuperJam.
S: Are you planning on sticking around and checking out some other artists' shows? If so, who are you excited to see?
JS: I'm excited for our friend in BØRNS, who is playing after us — he's from Michigan. And I want to check out the Judd Apatow stuff, pretty much a lot of the comedy, then I guess the larger (musical) acts like Father John Misty — I've never seen him — and Tame Impala.
Learn more about Vulfpeck by visiting vulfpeck.com.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photograph by Reuben Cox
March 30, 2016
Andrew Bird is scheduled to perform in Knoxville, TN for 2016's Big Ears festival. Friendly as always, he was nice enough to give us a few minutes of his time shortly before arriving in Knoxville. SINE wanted to remind you not to miss his show!
SINE: You seamlessly blend genres, innovating all the way. What inspirations have influenced you to be the musician you are today?
Andrew Bird: Some people say music is math, but I'm definitely not in that camp. It has always been messy and intuitive and defied method. I go through periods of being a listener and a student, but more important are periods of not listening to anything but the mix that's inside me.
S: What are your non-musical influences? These could be books, visual art, etc. They might also be more unexpected things, like bird watching or frying up some eggs.
AB: Walking in an unfamiliar city; not knowing where I am or how to communicate; the sound of unfamiliar languages; different cadence and tempo. On the same tip of hearing language as music and different ways of speaking or thinking: authors Saul Bellow, George Saunders, and Primo Levi.
S: Stylistically, your albums have been quite diverse. Records like “Armchair Apocrypha” and “Hands of Glory” are more folk/country oriented, while “I Want To See Pulaski At Night and Echolocations: Canyon” air more on the side of solo classical (to speak very generally). What can we expect with your new album coming out on April 1st?
AB: It's a dense album. Groovier and more visceral than any before it, a bit like "Armchairs," but with much tighter songs.
S: How do you feel playing in different settings (i.e. different groups, locations, etc.), and how do you let it affect your music?
AB: That's where the "Echolocations" project began — seeing what frequencies a room wants to hear and composing around that. I've always had an almost physical response to tone. Maybe it comes from being carsick in the Smoky Mountains as a kid and hearing pedal steel on the radio, or maybe hearing the icy reverb of an 80's snare in the back of a Camaro in high school. I'm so tuned to these things it can drive me to the brink, but the upside can be ecstatic. I used to go into empty auditoriums and churches and try to make the rafters resonate sympathetically. There's a cool feedback loop where the environment tells you what to play and the music affects how you experience the space.
S: How does the size and energy of a festival shape your music as opposed to smaller, more intimate performances?
AB: I'm not a big fan of brute force and broad gestures, but I like the challenge and the drama of playing for a large crowd without using cheap tactics. I rely on the human scale gestures, and my songs have strange dynamics and false endings that don't fit the mold. I want to crack the code and kill it in the festival realm, not just pat myself on the back for being too artistic for the masses.
S: Who are you excited to see this weekend at Big Ears?
AB: I saw Tony Conrad at Lounge Ax in Chicago 20 years ago, and it made a huge impression on me. I’d like to hear what he's up to. I’m also excited to see Bonnie “Prince" Billy and Yo La Tengo. There’s so much I want to see. It's unparalleled.
Learn more about Andrew Bird at andrewbird.net.
Interview and photography by Anmol Gupta
August 13, 2016
SINE talked to Anatomy and Crescent Moon of the mind-melting, hip-hop duo, Kill the Vultures just moments after their brilliant set at the second annual Eaux Claires. We dived right into discussing the spirit of this special festival:
S: ...And is there anyone that you guys have seen and particularly enjoyed so far?
Crescent Moon (one half of Kill the Vultures): Yeah! Vince Staples for sure was on the list.
S: Did you make it?
CM: I just caught the tail end; yeah... I was doing another (collab) set...
S: Were you here last year?
S: Yeah, me neither.
CM: Did you see the Vince Staples set?
S: Yeah, I was backstage for that shit. It was really… dude, he’s crazy. (Laughs) Boundless energy all the time.
S: So what did you guys think about playing Eaux Claires? Are you digging the setting -- the crowd and stuff?
CM: Yeah, it’s been a really nice vibe so far. I was tellin C that I’ve seen and had (in the) past, negative experiences with festivals, you know, a festival show, in general, I’m not excited about, but I’ve heard only good things about Eaux Claires. And obviously, just the people involved with it -- it was just, very exciting to get the offer, and yeah, thus far, today has been nothing but a really positive experience. It’s a really artist-friendly… you can tell that the people who put it together want creative people to have a good time, and you both create a format where fans of that music or creativity can enjoy it, as well.
CM: That’s a pretty rare, difficult feat to pull off, you know?
S: What do you mean … What kind of negative experiences?
CM: (Laughs) Well, haha, um yeah, I used to do a lot of backup work and hype man shit, and I would just end up on different festivals that were just not my particular genre of music, anyway, so artistically, it wasn’t fulfilling. And then this festival is very nature-oriented. They’re very thoughtful about that, and the contrast to that in my experiences is you roll up into a giant parking lot. (Laughs) It was hard to really enjoy anything. Everyone has their own past shit; I clearly needed to get out of my own fucking bubble and go to a great festival, and I’m glad I just did that.
S: So you guys are a duo that pushes a lot of boundaries, “industry-wise,” so to speak. Do you ever feel pressure to stay constricted, or have you had plenty of artistic freedom up to this point?
Anatomy (one half of Kill the Vultures): It’s funny. There were a few years that were kind of like that. Where people were just like “What the fuck is this?” It felt like there was some weird energy toward that. Like ‘this doesn’t fit into the right categories or whatever,’ and now it feels like everything is getting so torn down and built up and remixed in so many different ways, it doesn’t even seem weird anymore. It seems like there is no such thing… Like, I was just watching the Vince Staples shit; I think some of those beats were like Clans Casino … You know, you’ve got some new-wave rock shit goin or whatever, so to me, it’s almost like, rather than giving in and trying to make some easily definable shit, we stuck to our guns, and now it makes more sense to people than it did before now that everybody’s tearing down the boundaries a little bit.
S: Absolutely. Do you ever think that part of that just comes from your own evolution, as an artist? Kill the Vultures has a style that is all yours.
A: Part of the choice to not (be) cut-out?
CM: (Yeah.) Same kinda thing, we stuck to our formula. We’ve been in previous groups together where I think we might have tried to stay within the lines a little bit more, and I think the intention with Kill the Vultures was a little more of “Let’s not pay attention to what we’re ‘supposed’ to do or not do” and just make sounds and reflect (on) where we are at that present moment. So like, with each album, it represents, distinctly, where we’ve been.
A: And, too, as far as the evolution thing, the set we did today, for example, like three quarters of the set were new songs. And the other quarter were from 2004, and to me, they’re all part of one continuum. From the beginning, up until now, rather than trying to find our sound or where we fit in, we were exploring within our sound. Instead of thinking “Oh, we want to do this type of rap or that type of rap,” we just committed to what we were doing. Instead of worrying about those questions, let’s worry about what kind of rhythms we wanna have on the song, what kinda fuckin harmonies… what kinda lyrics... You know what I mean? To me, that’s part of… commit to a sound, then evolve within that... that might be a nice way to go, rather than constantly doing the… sort of the Madonna thing... where you’re like, right now I’m a club musician (laughs), but in 2 years… in ‘93, I’m a grunge musician. (Laughs)
A: But (also), whatever’s in at that time!
CM: Aw, you dissed Madonna. (Laughs)
A: Nah, I think a lot of people do that -- where people like that, where a lot of rockers are adapting to the style of each time. Like what genre… like, “Is club music in now? I’m going to do my version of club music.” I think that can be a cool thing, but I think that’s a different thing. Like this is the type of shit we do, and we’re going to keep doing this type of shit, but we’re going to explore other musical territories, so you don’t have to be limited within that. And with lyrics… there’s so much with... just words.
S: You’ve been compared to Run the Jewels more than once. Have you ever thought about taking the Mike? What do you guys think about that?
A: No! (Laughs)
CM: Might have to. (Laughs)
S: Like an ultimatum.
A: No, I think the… I’d be more likely to produce an experimental jazz record than to rap on one of the Run the Jewels albums… (Laughs)
S: Yeah, alright. In a similar vein, what about a Madvillain-vibe? Maybe that, moreso?
A: I hear that more than Run the Jewels.
S: I mean, obviously you’re in a much different musical space than those guys, but is there some influence there?
A: I don’t think it was an influence, to be honest. The first Kill the Vultures came out at the same time as the first Madvillain album, so, it wasn’t like we heard it and did that. That being said, after we put it out, we heard their shit, and we were like, this is fucking dope. So we definitely appreciated their shit. I don’t think it had any affect on our shit, but I like it a lot.
S: Your most recent album is not explicit, at all. And it’s fantastic. Was that a specific goal you guys were going for?
A: Like, with explicit lyrics?
CM: There’s no fuckin swearing, then?
S: No, there’s none.
CM: Holy shit. That was an accident.
A: We need a reissue where we’re just like, “FUCK!”. (Laughs)
S: (Laughs) Yeah, just on every song!
CM: Yeah. “We about to kick this shit off motherfuckers. Drop. Kick. You.”
A: I’ve been listening to a lot of De La... And they don’t swear, either. I mean, a lot of my favorite albums are super-explicit, but there’s something about that De La thing. Like, whatever happens outside of the recording booth… (but) there’s stuff in the recording booth. Like, there’s one thing to say a swear word out loud, but it’s another thing to write it down and deliver it or whatever.
CM: Yeah. It wasn’t a conscious choice. You understand?
K1: Yeah. (Laughs) It’s surprising. (Laughs)
Listen to and learn more about Kill the Vultures by visiting killthevultures.bandcamp.com.
By Anmol Gupta
Photography by Liam McCarty
June 22, 2016
Full disclosure: I was one of SINE’s few staff writers that had never attended this magical monstrosity, “Bonnaroo” before this summer, so here is my wide-eyed take on Tennessee’s beloved annual summer music festival, which attracts tens of thousands of devoted attendees from all over the country and the world, year after year...
Regardless of how many forum posts or Reddit threads you pilfer through until the big weekend, you cannot be prepared for the undertaking that is the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The Farm awaits its attendees in all of its indescribable glory — not to mention the festival was celebrating “15 Years of Magic” this year, so there was no way, really, to be prepared for this blowout occasion.
Thursday afternoon, a few hours after arrival with SINE photographer, Liam McCarty (thankfully, a Bonnaroo veteran) and scoping out the tremendous festival grounds, we met up with Jack Stratton, of Vulfpeck for our first interview of the weekend. Stratton is the keyboardist, bassist, drummer and guitarist of the band’s tight, funk-rock rhythm section. (Check out our interview, here.) As we learned moments before the show while talking to Stratton, a boisterous set was the band’s plan of action for their show to kick-off the festival.
I was exceptionally thrilled to see Vulfpeck on this year’s lineup (one of Bonnaroo’s specialties is its attention to detail, with respect to booking mind-blowing artists). After not being able to get enough of their LP, “Thrill of the Arts,” I could not wait to hear them live and see what else they had in store. Showcasing their individual talents, as well as those of featured comrades, like the show-stopping, Antwaun Stanley, Vulfpeck collectively stole Thursday night with a team of super-musicians and set the bar so high, that in the words of fellow festival artist, J. Cole, “you gotta get Obama to force the Air Force to find it.” Intense only began to scratch the surface of this power-packed festival performance. The band traded instruments throughout the set, with each song maintaining a solid, airtight groove that typified this year’s Bonnaroo: Almost every ensemble (and solo act) that weekend was so present in the moment — really connecting with fans. Bonnaroo was clearly a mutual experience, for artists and audience, alike — I was learning, quickly.
Vulfpeck’s set was followed up by Marian Hill. Described as a mixture "between Drake and Ella Fitzgerald,” Hill sustained Bonnaroo’s first night, ensuring an awe-inspiring weekend, erasing any doubt of the weekend’s commitment. The unlikely pair met in high school during a production of "The Music Man," where each played one of two leading roles: Marian Paroo and Harold Hill. Among all of the excitement, the chemistry between them traveled off the stage and into the crowd. Neither myself, nor Liam knew of the duo before seeing them at Bonnaroo, but we were sure to make note of this excellent festival discovery. That live set was persuasive enough to dig deeper into their body of work — their new album "Act One" was just released yesterday (June 23, 2016). By the way, in addition to Marian Hill, Bully was also a phenomenal festival find, who SINE will be diving into with coverage from later this year. (See our Forecastle Festival review, featuring Bully's performance.)
After a late night of thrills and festival wonder, I (surprisingly) had no problem waking up early on Friday morning. Maybe it really was all those “good vibes” that happy attendees were conversing about from the moment I stepped foot into Centeroo that Thursday afternoon. And maybe not, but I was up and ready to Roo, again, for what it is worth. Tennessee was treating me kindly, though the heat was merciless. But as the Sun provides, nonetheless, Friday was here: The day I was looking forward to most had crept up on me, and I was going full-steam Bonnaroo, almost immediately.
Friday’s treat-after-treat extravaganza was sampled by fans at This Tent: Ibeyi, Kamasi Washington, Vince Staples and Tyler, The Creator played back-to-back-to-back-to-back shows, with an hour or so in between. To launch the upcoming set of performances on this heavy-hitting stage, Ibeyi warmed up the Bonnaroo crowd with a passionate, Afro-Cuban, soul-infused hip-hop set, and the twins’ connection presented some rich evidence for telepathic communication. While controlled by emotions as they played with flawless rhythm and crisp harmonies, more and more Roovians were drawn toward the duo’s show as their set progressed. I have found that these really are the best kinds of festival shows, regardless of which festival you are at.
Later, the ingenious Kamasi Washington and his band, The Next Step, came out, full force. SINE checked out the masterful saxophonist at Big Ears a couple of months ago, so unsurprisingly, we witnessed an almost-preview of the highly anticipated SuperJam® coming even later in the evening. Throughout his set, Washington guided the sardine-squished crowd of That Tent by way of an aural experience — completely transformative, showcasing every member of his enormous band alongside his own individual talents: everything ranging from smashing drum conversations between the band’s two phenomenal rhythm wizards, wailing keytar solos, or just Kamasi being Kamasi. Everyone in the crowd was either jumping up and down or gaping, eyes unflinching, in awe of the dashiki-draped, saxophone demigod and his mystifying band. Then, as if Washington and The Next Step were not enough, he threw it back to Big Ears 2016 and brought out his dad, jazz musician, Rickey Washington to rock out on woodwinds with the band, giving his listeners a clear connection to his personal roots and his foundation, as an artist. This show was definitely a beaming highlight for celebrating the festival’s very special 15 Years of Magic. Cheers, Bonnaroo.
Thereafter, Vince Staples did not disappoint, either, but I had to stand from afar to enjoy for a much-needed breather. Then I headed over to the main stage — the What Stage — for J. Cole’s heavily-hyped set. Naturally, Cole brought a full-blown show for the festival. His latest release, a live recording, demonstrated his affinity toward live shows as he announced his now double platinum album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” The sheer power and energy he brings to the stage is frantically gripping. So, add the visuals, whether the boldface “Dreamville” logo, the fractal patterns, or giant 50-foot waves, and J. Cole’s show blew any other hip-hop show at Bonnaroo 2016 out of the water, for me. Utilizing a full band to the max to accompany his performance, he brought it up and cooled it down ... and even brought out surprise-guest, Chance the Rapper to perform “No Problem” off of his new mixtape, “Coloring Book.”
Equally noteworthy: the 79th St. legend was an undercover hit at this year’s festival — Chance was not a scheduled artist on the festival lineup, but, as a true messenger of the #RadiatePositivity mantra (as witnessed by his compelling recent album release), he brought even more joy to The Farm this year. From pranking the Bonnaroo staff by stealthily running off with their Snapchat-designated iPhone, to his surprise DJ-set in the Silent Disco tent, Chance’s own name played no coincidence in the fact that he was there to celebrate Bonnaroo’s 15th anniversary of spreading festival magic.
Just when it felt like Friday at Bonnaroo was wrapping up, French electronic rock solo-act, M83 brought the energy right back up to mid-day heat with a vivid light show and hard synth melodies off of his new album, “Junk” and his best known album, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Honestly, I wish that M83 had a later slot, but even still, as Gonzalez and his band shredded the hits, people were going nuts. Foolishly, I had not predicted that this show was going to be such a milestone highlight of my weekend, but as is Bonnaroo tradition (apparently), I was blown away by yet another show — yet again. It got me and the ~15,000 people at his show into gear for the dance party ahead: LCD Soundsystem.
Literally on the cutoff of M83’s last song, LCD Soundsystem took the What Stage and the Bonnaroo crowd on another surprise adventure. Fans swiftly charged toward James Murphy and company, who rocked a perfectly structured setlist — each track moved fluidly, as if it were part of a compilation of its own album, and the energy kept building, starting with “Us v Them” and flowing right into “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” Like any concert, they saved their hits (“Losing My Edge,” “Home” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”) for the eager crowd. After their five-year hiatus, I did not know what to expect from LCD Soundsystem, but it surpassed any expectations I was stupid enough to have. It cannot be called a “comeback” because Murphy never “left.” At the climax of the evening, “Dance Yrself Clean” was going hard live on stage and fireworks filled the sky, and much to everyone (including Murphy’s) surprise, he voiced: “That’s not our gear.” Their set finished with a powerful, visceral performance of “All My Friends.” In my naivete, I thought, ‘Surely Friday is over.’ Nope.
Tame Impala’s Late Night set, one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend, was a fresh breath of fire, capping off a perfect Friday night at Bonnaroo. Rolling through psychedelic rock anthem after another, these genre-challenging pioneers, while playing a shorter set than anticipated (almost an hour and a half instead of three hours … So, much shorter … What gives?), gave Bonnaroo the second wind necessary to face the rest of night. Up until then, I had only heard and read that it is these (the Late Night) shows that keep the festival’s energy alive past the layman’s hours.
(Hardly) Sleep, wake up, repeat: Saturday, for me, was overall more “relaxed,” actually — although the SuperJam® later at night definitely demanded a lot of energy. My day started out with The Internet, a trip-hop band based out of LA, with Odd Future members, Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians. I was looking forward to hearing them live. The band seemed overcome by their own drive — at times, feeling foreign, in element. However, when it came to the foundation of good music and a hard party, they kept the audience dancing, and Syd’s poignant lyrics cut across the throbbing band — the material and delivery remained solid throughout their set. E for Excellent.
Quickly after The Internet’s set, I headed to Judd Apatow and friends. To the annoyance of comedy fans around me, I am not a huge Judd Apatow fan, but I do appreciate his approach to raw humor. (Admittedly, I have never even seen "Pineapple Express.") However, I showed up to the 4:45 p.m. show with an open mind to check out Apatow for myself, along with Vanessa Bayer (“SNL,” “Trainwreck” and “Despicable Me 2”) and Pete Davidson (SNL). A tear-jerking surprise tribute to Garry Shandling from Eddie Vedder and Apatow blew me away — even as someone unfamiliar with Eddie or Pearl Jam’s music. As a result of that portion of the evening, I felt more open to fishing through Apatow’s (and Eddie’s) work upon my reflective return home.
After a brief recharge session, I ran to catch Miguel’s set, which was a no-brainer. The passionate, provocative hip-hop singer/songwriter brought sexy samba into Saturday evening. The concentrated act, like all stellar shows, encompassed riveting visuals with rock-solid accompaniment for his silky voice to flow over. Add in yet another (albeit a forshadow-able one, by now) Chance-appearance with a cover of Biggie’s “Juicy,” and that is a wrap.
Miguel’s soulful set was the perfect quasi-opener for this year’s SuperJam®: “A Tribute to Tennessee.” The Kamasi-led ensemble was truly that — an ensemble. They effortlessly swept through cover after cover of legendary music, opening with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Getaway,” and into Parton’s classic, “Jolene,” (a perfect tribute to Tennessee), then Aretha Franklin’s “Never Loved A Man” and even Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback.” This SuperJam® was even more beautiful than I could have dreamed.
As a visiting non-native, I found Tennessee to be a gorgeous part of the United States and the most blissful landscape for a festival of this mass. “A Tribute to Tennessee” was really getting to me, and the highlights from that SuperJam® set made up that once-in-a-lifetime ensemble as they mastered a cover of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Then we were exceptionally delighted by the incredible — INCREDIBLE — jazz-rock-funk, passionate encore finale of Kamasi’s own “The Rhythm Changes,” which had the audience in hysterics. It was my first Bonnaroo, but I could tell this festival drew in something especially unique.
Sunday turned out to be, overall, my favorite day. While still a blistering-hot 98 degrees, the fantastic folk-rock sets from Kurt Vile, Father John Misty and Sara Watkins’ bluegrass only turned up the heat on that farm.
My favorite act of the day had to be Kurt Vile and The Violators: The carefully-structured setlist sandwiched his radio hit “Pretty Pimpin” in between several other crowd-pleasers, such as “I’m an Outlaw,” “Jesus Fever” and “Freak Train.” At his press conference before the show on Sunday, Kurt’s wisdom and philosophy glimmered through — drink in hand — he was the epitome of Pretty Pimpin’. His approach to performance struck me: “Basically, the way I get better is I have to screw up in front of thousands of people,” he said. As a performer, and even a writer, the impending dread and fear of having this “failure,” even in front of a handful of people is paralyzing, so it was inspiring to hear such a figurehead of a genre take such a nonchalant, even grateful, perspective on screwing up publicly — in this case live on stage. On such a hot day, the band just chilled out, but even as a fan and all, I still did not expect it: His set was an out-of-body experience — scorching on the outside, cool at its core. Kurt’s closing sentiment at the press panel before the performance embodied the band’s attitude toward any expectations: “We might not be good tonight, but we probably will be.”
Near the end of that set, I went for some late-weekend exploring and trailed backstage to touch base with the long-awaited FJM. The former Fleet Foxes drummer performed a most well-balanced showcase of his solo-music — hit after hit, ballad after ballad: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” then “Funtimes in Babylon” and then hit ballad, “Bored in the USA.” It was all mixed and matched like a perfect seasoning blend with some fire — which he made sure to provide — flames crawled out into the audience, much to the dismay of the security, who seemed to be fearing for his safety. The literal heat from it all — the weather, the fire and FJM — had me, but he roped us all in tight before a grand closing, complete with an insane ensemble moment of crashing drums and other-worldly effects to open his last track, “The Ideal Husband.”
There was so much more that I saw and experienced during this magical mayhem celebrating the 15th year anniversary of one of the United States’ largest music and arts festivals, and I feel we did a good job of keeping you all posted in real-time during the festival via Twitter (@SINE_media). For example, along with the rest of our well-balanced musical platter, we checked out The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam®, which was also a reining wonder. Believe it or not, Ed Helms has brought this beautiful, annual festival tribute to bluegrass and roots music to The Farm for four years now. During one of the press panels, in terms of producing the festival's Bluegrass Situation SuperJam®, Helms explained that "it's a lot of spontaneity — just grabbing people and figuring out what we're doing. It keeps everyone on their toes and really fun, and the results are a bit unpredictable and kind of wild." Music festivals, especially larger ones, struggle to replicate the intimacy that comes with smaller, theater-style shows and concerts in hall settings, or even local bars. However, experiencing the festival as a Bonnaroo-virgin and a writer to live and tell, there I felt it contrary.
“Radiate Positivity,” the Bonnaroo proverb plastered all across The Farm, did not truly affirm itself to me until I was on my way back to Wisconsin. It was more than an event theme: Each attendee seemed to feel responsible for one another’s experience. As cheesy as it may seem at first, radiating positivity really sticks, not just with me, but with many festival goers from all walks of life that I got to speak with. In the four-day city of Bonnaroo, the “cold” or “unkind” stigma associated with our fast-paced lives vanishes, and the bustling, 80,000+ person metropolis fosters an honest and highly-functioning sense of community. The melting pot that is Bonnaroo defines the unification of love music. The quintessential middle-school teacher comes to mind: “Leave your problems at the door.” All societal burdens, pressures and expectations fall away, leaving just you, the music and the Tennessee sun. Sounds good to me.
See you next year, Bonnaroo.
Learn more about the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival at bonnaroo.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Mamiffer: Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner
March 28, 2016
SINE caught up with experi-metal duo, Mamiffer before 2016's Big Ears festival in Knoxville, TN. Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner take us further into the process that results in, what is, Mamiffer:
SINE: Have either/both of you been to Knoxville before? Is there anyone in particular that you are looking forward to checking out from the lineup for the Big Ears festival?
Faith Coloccia (1/2 of Mamiffer): We have never been to Knoxville before. We would be interested in seeing Big Brave, Anthony Braxton, Andy Stott , Sunn O))) and Philip Glass, although sadly we miss seeing most of them due to our touring schedule.
S: Even though you two had collaborated on various projects in the past, what drove you to Mamiffer, particularly — to work together so closely with it? What was it like for you, Aaron to join Faith in her vision with Mamiffer after playing the role of a leader in bands for many years prior?
Aaron Turner (1/2 of Mamiffer): I needed some time to adjust to being a supportive player, as it was definitely a new thing for me. Though it was a challenging transition, it was ultimately very rewarding. As a result of being directed by Faith and adhering closely to her vision, I've been learning to approach to approach my instrument in ways I never would've discovered on my own. I've also developed much better skills in terms of critical discourse and giving/receiving feedback. I would say that appreciable maturation as a player and collaborator has occurred for me directly related to joining Mamiffer.
As far as how we came to work together so closely, it was a fairly seamless transition. Faith and I had known each other for years prior to me becoming a full fledged member of the band, and that shared history made it easy to work together collaboratively. Initially I was just a guest on the first full length, and then as our relationship grew stronger, I started playing live with Mamiffer consistently. Simultaneous to that, Faith began writing the second album and we started integrating my contributions into that early on in the process. Being together outside the band made our relationship as creative partners stronger and more intimate – again, something else that was new and very welcome for me.
S: Can you talk about some of the inspiration behind the soundscapes you create for Mamiffer — both of you? What sparks those streams of consciousness, so to speak?
FC: Many inspirations for our soundscapes come from everyday sounds that people relegate to the "background." I hear these sounds as harmonious and like to bring them to the foreground through imitation or "field recording." Sounds of appliances, ventilation systems, generators, running water etc. The sounds are enhanced by the faulty technology I use to capture the sounds, like a hand-held cassette recorder. The tape drop out and unintentional clicks of the record button function as compositional tools and markers of space/time.
In mimicking sound, I try to do so with my intent or vision of "seeing a sound in space." On "Mare Decendrii" we mimicked the sounds of train horns passing the apartment we used to live in. The sound would come from far off, become closer and then recede into the distance, creating an arch of sound, a bowed shape in the night. On the new record, I wanted to interpret the sounds from "Space Weather Radio Station." This is a live-feed of objects entering the earth's atmosphere that you can listen to on the internet and meteor echoes. When a meteor enters the earth's atmosphere it makes the most beautiful plain song, sometimes a mournful cry, like a calling sound. With the concept of this new record, I wanted to capture this lonely listening: a communication "from heaven" falling into "the body" of the earth.
S: How does the fusion of ideas from each other and the other guests that you all work with come together, since collaboration is huge part of what you guys do? How are some of those ideas birthed, and how do they grow?
FC: Collaboration is very important to our process, especially the experience of friendship and learning from the beauty of differences. Like-minded life visions are always revealed in the process to some extent, and travel/experiencing someone else's environment are important to the process, also. New sounds and methods from the collaborators inform ours, and the challenges of creating with others brings good results and can offer constructive criticism and critique so that we don't get comfortable or repetitive. The lack of predictability is very important to what we create.
S: It seems that the visual art is every bit as important as the music, which makes sense because they embody and carry one another, experientially. But what is that process like — how does fusing sound/video/photography/etc. come together, conceptually for you two?
FC: All of these elements come together chaotically at first. I have interests and questions, dreams, and what I have been reading and thinking about, and I tie all of these ideas together into a central theme over a long period of time, usually over about two years. Sometimes I can't see the connection between all of the ideas/inspirations until the record comes out, although I always know it will work out, and that following this process is always rewarding. What seems like chaos to me at first is usually intent, I just have to figure out how all of the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Every recording or artwork is a question I am trying to find the answer to, and the process of working with music, visuals and video reveals this.
S: How has it been starting and running SIGE Records for six years strong together? It seems everything has been going well with that, but has that aspect of production influenced your artistic freedom with your music or made it more challenging due to the various demands of business?
AT: Running the label was initially a choice of necessity -- we wanted to be able to release our own records in the precise way we envisioned them. This is not always possible when working with another label -- you often end up making concessions to what the label can do or what they expect of you. We wanted to be able to release our work free from of these restrictions. Additionally, we often didn't have the luxury of having a home for everything we wanted to release, so it made sense to just do it ourselves instead of trying to convince someone else that our work was worth pursuing.
Initially, we planned on just on releasing our own recordings ... and then we started noticing how many amazing works by our friends, collaborators and colleagues were without homes. We opened the door to releasing work by other people -- mostly people we've collaborated with directly or intend to in the future. We thought this set of parameters would help us keep the label at a manageable size - but it soon gathered more momentum that we were anticipating and we're now finding ourselves at a juncture where we really need to dial it back. Though the gratification of being so deeply involved with our own releases and some truly amazing albums from others is profound, it's also been a hinderance in terms of having time for our own creative practices and a life beyond our work.
S: What are some current projects you guys are working on outside of your U.S. tour this year? Are there any surprises in store for 2016 that we could gain a little insight on? Any surprises for the festival?
AT: As for surprises: we are playing one new unrecorded song at the festival this year, as well as three songs from the record "The World Unseen." For the rest of 2016, we are recording another collaboration with Finnish band, Circle and a new Mára record, as well as releasing the 2015 Mára record "Surfacing" on vinyl through SIGE Records. SUMAC has a new record out in July and is touring the US. Both Mamiffer and SUMAC are touring Europe this summer.
S: What have you guys been listening to these days? What have you been reading most recently?
Both: Listening to: Space Weather Radio Station: spaceweatherradio.com. Reading: "Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras," edited by Gloria E Anzaldu, "Tool-Being" Graham Harman," "The Newly Born Woman" by Hélén Cixous and Catherine Clement
Learn more about Mamiffer at mamiffer.bandcamp.com. Learn more about SIGE Records at sigerecords.bandcamp.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Ellen Hyrka
June 4, 2015
St. Vincent has already swallowed Earth’s subconscious.
Annie Clark aka St. Vincent has been capturing audiences with riveting albums and performances since 2007 with the release of her first studio album “Marry Me.” Around 2011, her sound experimentally transformed, and her most recent 2015 self-titled album, “St. Vincent,” instantly caught the attention of every long-standing fan and first-time listener. Her provoking lyrics, in their perfect brevity, marry galactic, melodic compositions.
And so begins our journey into yet another one of her stunning performances in Knoxville, TN at the Tennessee Theatre. Strap on your moon shoes, Knoxville because she went somewhere out of this world that night and took the whole city with her. Violinist of Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld opened her set with the accompanying drums of Jeremy Gara. Neufeld's mastery of control on her violin completely smoldered the venue before the evening's headliner took the stage.
St. Vincent opened with her unforgettable classic, “Marrow.” That night, wardrobe called for her body to be snugly encased inside of a fitted black leather one-piece ensemble, hemmed at three-quarters, just past her elbows and just below her knees. The bodysuit was tastefully printed hollow with a wavy netted-pattern from being tied together – skin peeking from her pale limbs. Her makeup was focused around a dramatically thick brow that was clearly visible from every seat within the venue, paired with a simple, but bold, reddish-pink lip. Glamorous and confident, she commanded the venue all night long, and rightfully so. To top it all off, bits of her show were accompanied by the fragile, robotic choreography of Annie-B Parson.
Proceeding to perform more tracks from her latest album, “Birth in Reverse” was the second song of her set. An electric shock instantly raced through the theatre as the speakers roared with conviction. Enchanting and compulsive lighting complimented mantling harmonies and glowing vocals. We were all on board and ready to go wherever she wanted to take us. Our hands were pressed together in applause and praise throughout the evening. As a whole, the audience handed over its sanity in exchange for her blessing. Chaos and clarity became one.
As a live performer, St. Vincent is deliberate in her use of space. She takes full advantage of her multi-dimensional canvas: sound and setting. She artfully stomped across the entire stage for the rest of the night shredding away with her particular style of fingerstyle guitar – she has previously mentioned that she incorporates elements from a variety of personal musical influences, ranging from her adoration of Mark Hollis to various angles of experimental jazz to Mali-infused riffs (as heard in the hook for "Cruel" – she once compared its sound to that of Ali Farka Toure’s fingerstyle riffing) and anything and everything else. And while she notably riffs away, her sometimes emotionally agonizing, sometimes uplifting lyrics pull you in closely, and there you are, face-to-face with yourself … again.
Later, when she played chart-topper, “Cruel,” its powerful echo rumbled the theatre into a diffusing trance. Then she treated the audience to some of her older tracks like “Chloe in the Afternoon” and “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood,” which were performed every bit as powerfully as her 2015 selections for the night, but the one oldie, and goodie, that brought heightened drama to the theatre that evening was “Teenage Talk,” and maybe, appropriately so. Rest assured, everyone in the theatre was safe – Clark made sure to make that and her gratitude for the security officer who caught her fall (his head, a buffer between the speaker and anything else in sight) clear on Twitter shortly after the show – but yes, Knoxville witnessed some brave theatrics from St. Vincent Sunday night. Not uncommon to her performances, she consumed the stage – including the speakers on it. After high-jumping and mounting herself up, her grip loosened and she fell back with the now-toppling speaker, her lyrics mirroring her fall – she literally fell into her performance, sweeping the audience with her. She dragged herself to center stage and lay still until droning back into the microphone. After a meditative pause, she sprung back out of her body. What had just happened was a fascinating improvisation of live art. Though not calculated, her solution was perfect.
Her art both sounds and moves simultaneously – it is no wonder that for the past few years, she has been gaining momentum with growing audiences. She is an incredibly relatable storyteller. Her name has been all over mainstream and indie music charts worldwide. St. Vincent stays true to her soul and her medium – she is such a powerful and creative communicator that her singles have brought to life a recent lull within an even larger spectrum of listeners: In February 2015, she was awarded Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
In being a highly-skilled musician and full-on master of performance art, there is a madness she delivers and, in turn, demands. On Sunday night we were all in a room together feeling provoked and elated. As a fan of her work for the past few years, her music has continued to trigger my own spatial inquiries. She dreams in the future.
But that madness she delivers and expects is only slightly chaotic. St. Vincent answers the questions we are all, always, asking ourselves, about ourselves. On Sunday, she answered, in part, by somehow introspectively chatting to us, Knoxvillians, between some of her songs. After endearingly mispronouncing “JFG,” our “local coffee can” (her words), she proceeded to talk of a precarious child that would not stop going back to the JFG rooftop, hoping the JFG coffee cans tied to their arms would aid in their mission to fly. And although we fall every time, "...we get up, we get up on that roof … failed without misery … and we never give up hope that we will eventually fly." She talks of flying quite a bit at her live shows. But she was particularly open about how she felt connected to this city.
St. Vincent is no stranger to Knoxville, TN. In 2010, she performed at our internationally-acclaimed modern-classical/experimental Big Ears music and arts festival, stating “This is the most amazing lineup in a festival I’ve ever been a part of.” During that weekend in Knoxville, she shared the bill with Vampire Weekend, Terry Riley, The National, The xx and many others. She does not hold back her affection for Knoxville. St. Vincent wears her heart completely inside out for Marble City. She even spoke to us in our own language, quoting some of her favorite words from beloved literary king, Cormac McCarthy: “You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.“
Since her Big Ears performance, she has also performed at Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre a couple of times. Her Knoxville audience is an emotionally invested group of individuals, so while she commands us while we are in her presence, we command that she continue to return to our city.
Onward with the night's show, temperatures in body heat shot up as hearts melted and more songs were sprinkled between what sounded like excerpts from motivational poems and love letters she had written to Knoxville:
“You soared off into that Tennessee Sky, and you fell hard. You were scabbed … But you get back up.”
St. Vincent wrapped up the night with two beautiful songs for her encore, “The Party” and “Your Lips Are Red.” As I left the show thereafter, I felt good. Sunday night, many questions were answered, and many questions were posed – all with movement, sound and a challenging bucket of thoughts to unscramble from breaking it all down. Some call that inspiration. Whatever this mysticism may be, we all know one thing to be true: We WILL fly someday.
By Hannah Cather
Photography courtesy of Dale's Fried Pies
November 21, 2014
One day, Dale Mackey decided to make 800 pies.
"That's my record of pies fried in one day, and I actually did personally fry all of them," she said.
A fried pie champion, Dale and her independent efforts have stapled her into Knoxville’s food scene. For the past two years, Dale has taken her wooden stand and hand pies to different markets and venues, sharing pastry joy with customers.
These fried pies are to be enjoyed sans silverware: The stand offers no forks or knives. Pie eaters nibble through the top point of the semicircle's crust to reveal either a sweet or savory filling. Dale's menu ranges from apple and peach to macaroni and cheese to green chili chicken. Local college student, Maddie Smolko tried an apple pie at Remedy Coffee once, and the taste hasn't left her since. "I loved the flaky pastry, and the apples were fresh and savory," Smolko said.
While there are both classic and experimental flavors, one has yet to make the cut. “I’ve been trying to do a banana pudding pie, but because of the consistency of the pudding once you fry it, it’s really drippy. I can’t crack that code, but I really want to.”
Dale claims it is a dirty secret, but her preference for savory pies is perfectly acceptable.
“I love the more kind of weird, savory flavors. I’m a really big fan of the curry sweet potato [pie], and I have a sausage or pepperoni pizza pie – I eat way too many of those,” Dale explains with a chuckle. “Left to my own devices, I tend to the more savory ones.”
So, why is Dale making fried pies in Knoxville? Dale relocated to Knoxville in 2008 to be with her now-husband with intentions to return to her hometown, Chicago, within a year or two. After six months, she decided she was in love with this city, so here she stays, in Knoxville, TN, running her outstanding fried pie business.
Dale's pie preoccupation, however, can be traced back to her childhood days. She regularly used her mother's pie dough scraps to make miniature jam-filled versions.
"The BuzzFeed thing, I didn't even know I was going to be on it until someone posted it on my Facebook," Dale said. "I was like 'Oh, cool!'"
Her following includes regulars such as a woman who purchases ten pies every Wednesday and a gentleman who orders a peach pie and an apple pie every Saturday morning. Dale estimates half of her customers are returning customers.
"I wouldn't be able to tell you their names, but I can tell you what they'll order," Dale said. "I'm really bad with names, and I feel like I have a little bit of a disadvantage because people remember my name because I'm literally wearing it on my shirt … There's only so much you can fit in your brain, man."
Despite fluctuations in sales that vary based on factors, such as weather, Dale's Fried Pies is expanding. A food truck should be coming soon this fall, which means warm pies in the winter, and a permanent, private kitchen in the works.
So far, the little pie stand has seen cities like Nashville and Atlanta, but Dale wants to take them further. "It would be fun to bring [my pies] to where I'm from because I have a lot of friends and family who want to try them," Dale said. "That would be a long drive hauling that stand all the way to Chicago. I don't know if it'll ever happen, but it's a dream."
Learn more about Dale's Fried Pies at dalesfriedpies.com.
Interview by Sam Crawford
Photography by Emory Hensley, Warren LaFever and Nief-Norf
March 28, 2016
Knoxville-based contemporary music ensemble, Nief-Norf, led by Andy Bliss and Kerry O’Brien, will be performing for 2016's Big Ears festival. SINE was looking forward to catching up with this musical splendor:
SINE: How did Nief-Norf really start? Who comprises "the team?” And how the heck did you come up with that name?
Nief-Norf: While Andy Bliss and Kerry O'Brien were both undergraduates studying percussion (around 2002), a group of older graduate students introduced them to the moniker “nief-norf.” Used as onomatopoeia for weird sounds, these words “nief-norf” expressed distaste. Often these graduate students would hear something a little funky or strange coming from the practice rooms ––maybe something by Ferneyhough or Saariaho –– and they’d say, “Oh, you don’t want to play *that* –– that is nief-norf.” One day, Andy and Kerry secretly confided in one another, “I think I *like* nief-norf,” and soon after, the group Nief-Norf was born. Although it started as a performance ensemble in Lexington, KY, Nief-Norf is now a multi-tiered contemporary music organization, and today we call Knoxville, TN our home, where Andy teaches at the University of Tennessee’s School of Music. The organization includes an administrative staff and a flexible roster of musicians that can range from a duo to much larger chamber works, depending on the project.
S: What drew you to the world of contemporary music, initially? Can you recall some of your earliest experiences in listening to and/or performing works that you feel somehow cultivated your interest in new music, or at least expanded your sound world?
N-N: Some of our earliest interest in contemporary music was sparked by the Bang on a Can composers. While we were still in school, Kerry played Julia Wolfe’s “Lick” on an undergraduate recital and Andy performed David Lang’s “Cheating, Lying, Stealing” on a graduate recital. Then in June 2007, Andy and Kerry drove out to NYC for the 24-hour Bang on a Can marathon, which included an unforgettable sunrise performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” (the performance began at 4:30 a.m.!). Since those early experiences, our influences have broadened significantly, which you can hear sampled on our Big Ears shows or at our annual (nief-norf) summer festival. Through creative programming, we aim to engage with a broader swath of contemporary music, from works with complex notational schemes to open scores that require significant interpretation.
S: Minimalism seems to play a recurring role for your group, in terms of the music that you promote, curate and perform. How would you describe this compositional style, particularly in relation to Nief-Norf’s aesthetic?
N-N: Yes, we have played and studied a great deal of minimalist music. As percussionists, our chamber repertoire is much less developed than many other chamber ensembles (string quartet, for example), and minimalism is a substantial part of our catalogue. In fact, we’ll be playing Steve Reich’s raucous 1970 work “Four Organs” late Thursday evening at Big Ears. Other than minimalism, many other styles of music carry equal importance for us –– the music of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis quickly come to mind, for example.
Beyond performing minimalist music, we are also invested in the scholarship that surrounds it. For instance, we’ll be hosting an academic conference on minimalism –– the next Society for Music & Minimalism International Conference on June 7 –– during our annual Summer Festival, for which we’re already starting to scheme up ideas.
S: On a musical level, what else inspires you (e.g., certain artists/musicians, certain sounds, other elements of culture and media, other environments, etc.)?
N-N: Honestly, the Big Ears festival has hosted many of our influences and inspirations (like Buke & Gase, Dawn of Midi, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and many more). We listen to groups like Wilco and Sylvan Esso. Many of us have experience performing various non-Western musics, such as Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian styles (rhumba, samba, maracatu) as well as the steelpan from Trinidad and Tobago. We’re very excited for this week at Big Ears, which is jam-packed with artists and groups that inspire us.
S: Can you share a bit about your upcoming performances at the 2016 Big Ears Festival? When and where is Nief-Norf action going to be happening, and who are the composers you’ll be featuring?
Thursday, 3/31 at The Square Room (10:30 p.m.)
Judd Greenstein, “A Moment of Clarity”
Anna Thorvaldsdottir, “Aura”
Edgard Varèse, “Density 21.5”
John Luther Adams, “Dark Wind”
Steve Reich, “Four Organs”
Friday, 4/1 at The Square Room (12:30 p.m.)
Alvin Lucier, “Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever)”
Julia Wolfe, “My Lips From Speaking”
John Luther Adams, “Four Thousand Holes”
Elliot Cole, “Postludes”
Saturday, 4/2 at The Sanctuary (11 a.m.)
Morton Feldman, “Crippled Symmetry”
Sunday, 4/3, Ijams Nature Center (12 p.m.)
John Luther Adams, “Inuksuit”
Nief-Norf is organizing and participating in a performance of John Luther Adams' “Inuksuit” at Ijams Nature Center. Artistic Director, Andrew Bliss is co-directing the massive outdoor work along with Steven Schick.
S: What’s up Nief-Norf’s sleeve for the rest of the year? Performances? Workshops? Other special events/engagements/collaborations?
N-N: We are currently hard at work programming this summer’s 2016 nief-norf Summer Festival which takes place June 7–20 this year (2016) in Knoxville. Most of the concerts take place on the University of Tennessee campus, as well as downtown Knoxville. The festival features around 50-60 performers, composers and scholars from around the world who come together to collaborate on a wide variety of projects. These projects include landmark works in the contemporary repertoire, new compositions written for and premiered at the festival, the promotion of music by emerging composers through our Call for Scores and an academic conference on this year’s topic, “Astro-Bio-Geo-Physical Music.” The festival is an open, inclusive environment –– not only for new music buffs! All concerts and lectures are open to the public, and we encourage folks to come out to our festival events.
Beyond June, we are currently working on recording an album and will continue to host the Knoxville rendition of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” the first Friday in December each year. We always love “Unsilent Night” because it offers a chance for us to perform alongside our audience in the downtown streets of Knoxville.
S: Can you give us a glimpse of life beyond the music? When you are not teaching, practicing, preparing or performing, what might we find you doing? Do you ever make intentional decisions to momentarily “avoid” music or musical thinking?
N-N: Each performer within Nief-Norf would answer this question rather differently. For instance, Andy’s version of relaxation involves watching some baseball and spending quality time with his family, but, with a 3-year-old son, he’s found that there’s “no such thing as silence” (h/t, John Cage). Kerry, on the other hand, ducked out of last June’s nief-norf Summer Festival to attend a silent retreat, and she returned to the festival to immediately perform Steve Reich’s “Four Organs.” She’s still recovering from the juxtaposition.
S: In consideration of this year’s Big Ears Festival, the rise of local restaurant-tourism and the anticipated coming together of festival foodies, what, in your opinion, are some of the gastronomic “goldmines” of the Knoxville area? What are your favorite local eats and drinks –– your culinary go-to’s in K-Town?
N-N: The food and drink scene here in Knoxville is fantastic! The Stock and Barrel bourbons and burgers bar is one favorite, and we also love the Casual Pint and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern. Also, there’s a killer new donut shop called Makers Donuts. You’ll likely find us on Friday evening of Big Ears at the Beer & BBQ Party at Knoxville’s The Standard, hosted by Goose Island. (Since both Andy and Kerry are Illinois natives, we’re excited that their Bourbon County Stout will be on tap!) Between Big Ears shows, there is a good chance you’ll find us at these places, so please stop by and say hello!
From top to bottom:
Acrylic and oil on canvas, 10" x 8" (2015)
2. "Ian's Plate"
Acrylic and oil on canvas, 18" x 24" (2015)
3. "Courtesy of MZH"
Acrylic on canvas with glitter pom-poms, 16" x 20" (2015)
4. "Portrait of Two Artists"
Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 36" (2015)
Mixed media on canvas, 20" x 16" (2014)
6. "El Girasol"
(One carnitas, one chorizo), acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30" (2015)
Acrylic and oil on canvas, 48" x 44" (2014)
8. "Something Good"
Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 18" (2014)
9. "Easter Day"
Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 18" (2014)
By Pratishtha Singh
Tour poster courtesy of 100 Watt Horse
December 10, 2014
Pilot Light, one of Knoxville's most treasured music venues, welcomes Atlanta gem, 100 Watt Horse. The venue that keeps giving: For Day 10 of Advent-ure this holiday season, check out Atlanta indie-rockers, 100 Watt Horse at The Pilot Light. Tonight. Doors open at 9 p.m. $5.
There are very special venues in Knoxville, TN that are actively supporting multi-dimensional growth in the American music scene, whether featuring national and/or - in Pilot Light's case - international acts. We start off our first SINE online feature by sharing our appreciation for one of our favorite music venues in this city, the Pilot Light. Then college radio insider, Jake White fills us in on tonight's headlining band, 100 Watt Horse. White is a featured co-host on both GOLD STANDARD HIP-HOP and Gramophonia on 90.3 FM, WUTK The Rock.
So what is behind the door for Day 10 of December? We sat down with 90.3 FM's Jake White to learn more.
Tonight's headliner, 100 Watt Horse, is from Atlanta, GA. They are rolling through Knoxville in support of their recent tour, “Everyday Is Field Day," and they are traveling with band buddies, The Loneliness Monk. White mentioned that both bands are a raging testament to the emerging indie-rock scene in Atlanta, which is currently gaining fierce momentum throughout the country. White noted, "100 Watt Horse is frontman George Pettis' second project. Earlier this year, he performed with his previous band, Wowser Bowser at Hopscotch Music Festival and opened for Hundred Waters. Wowser Bowser was also named The Blue Indian’s "Band Of The Month" in August (2014)."
Pettis has shared some marvelous work in the past, but it is not just his previous band that is getting all the hype. 100 Watt Horse also has a vibrant sound, but it moves in a slightly different direction than what he has done with Wowser Bowser in the past. White adds, "The music he's compiled with his current band (100 Watt Horse) has come together really well, too. He's good at weaving really neat sounds from different modes of inspiration into really beautiful songs. With this being the first release for 100 Watt Horse, I feel it’s safe to say he's not stopping there. This band is already catching on pretty fast, and if you have the opportunity, this is a really good time to catch a live show from this guy!"
Traveling with 100 Watt Horse is the softly chaotic echo-rock of The Loneliness Monk. The current tour has been a great success for both of these bands. It is an unpredictable but colorful pairing. The Loneliness Monk brings a shivering ambient rock to their glow-y psych-rock tracks. It is really interesting stuff, and you will just have to get lost in one of their chill-ectric live shows to feel the deal, I believe.
The night will open up with local indie-rocker, You Just Don't. (Update: Check out our interview with YJD's soloist, Josh Manis.) The October 2014 release of his electro-rock album, "When Summer Turns To Fall" instantly received excellent feedback from critics and listeners both nationally and overseas. We are feeling a good 2015 is in the cards for You Just Don't, so you should really hear him perform live tonight, too!
The Pilot Light is an intimate venue in downtown Knoxville in which you will hear and see the best music the city's locals and outsiders have to offer; the kick-ass space showcases exceptional talent. Some bands that play there are well-known acts passing through, stopping just to play inside that little music box, while others are lesser-known bands offering surprisingly satisfying sets. Throughout the years, artists from all over the world have openly expressed that the Pilot Light is their favorite venue to perform at in Knoxville. A very distinct and memorable engagement develops between artist, audience and venue in that magical little space carved into the Old City. Sometimes shows are announced weeks in advance, but often, they are on-the-spot surprises. This month, consider these surprise shows little treats in your Advent-ure calendar. Enjoy what's inside, and be merry at the Pilot Light.
For more information about 100 Watt Horse, The Loneliness Monk and You Just Don't, check out:
100 Watt Horse
The Loneliness Monk
You Just Don't
Interview by Jeffrey Chastain
Photography by Ray Coco Smith and courtesy of Ray Ray Sunshine Films
March 23, 2016
Jeffrey Chastain, SINE staff writer and host of WUTK's (90.3 FM, Knoxville) "Focus on Film" radio show, sat down with Tim K. Smith, director of "Sex and Broadcasting," to talk about his experiences in process, contrast and development.
SINE: What attracted you to the story of WFMU?
Tim K. Smith: I started out as a fan of WFMU and their unique programming. There was truly nothing like it on the air when I first started listening in the late 80’s, in terms of their wiliness to challenge the listener and experiment with the format of radio. Over time, I became intrigued by their resilience. Challenging non-commercial cultural institution tends to flame out, or they “mature” and morph to survive. WFMU didn’t. So, the story of WFMU is an underdog story, and how it has survived became the big question of the film.
S: How does WFMU differ from commercial radio stations?
TKS: As one of the DJs says in the film, “Comparing WFMU to commercial radio is like comparing ‘People’ magazine to ‘National Geographic.’” That’s pretty accurate, although it’s more like a National Geographic where R. Crumb has gone through and drawn on all the pages.
It should also be noted that WFMU differs greatly from most non-commercial radio stations. They are not an NPR station. They are not a part of a college or some other parent organization. They refuse all underwriting (a nice way of saying commercials on noncommercial radio stations) to help pay the bills like virtually all public radio stations do and they receive no strings-attached money. They mainly rely on listeners for their funding. So this makes them very vulnerable every year, but it also makes them very free, and you can hear it.
S: What do you think of the current state of radio programming?
TKS: Ninety percent of commercial radio sucks. There is some great programming coming out of a handful of powerful NPR stations that have used the podcast format to massively broaden their reach. And the internet, in general, has blurred the lines of what is radio. WFMU has certainly been at the forefront of much of that, with their massive show archives going back almost 20 years.
What is disappointing about most radio is that it has lost the sense of place. It used to be, you could get in a car and drive across the country, and as you lose and gain stations … you would hear what America sounds like, regionally. Now, that is much harder. It all sounds the same, both on the commercial and noncommercial side. With most NPR stations, big chunks of their programming are just rebroadcasting what comes out of New York, Washington or Chicago.
S: WFMU station manager Ken Freedman is responsible for the station's signature, eclectic programming. What was it like documenting Freedman, and what did you take away from experience?
TKS: Just to correct your questions a little – Ken has two influential shows on the air, and he is responsible for keeping the stations signature and eclectic programming alive, but there was a long tradition of freeform radio that came before him at WFMU. He is the keeper of the flame.
I was honored that Ken and the station let me into their world. As a filmmaker, I walked away from the experience inspired. It’s hard to make documentaries, but it is a whole other kind of persistence and drive that is required to keep something as unique as WFMU alive.
S: “Sex and Broadcasting” is your directorial debut. What challenges, if any, did you encounter during the film's production?
TKS: I shot most of this film by myself, doing both sound and camera, so the biggest challenge was keeping myself on track. For the first four years, I was funding it out of pocket and shooting in between work. There were many days when I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” Then there were other times when the sense of responsibility to other people’s stories became paralyzing. I wanted to tell an entertaining story, but I also wanted to get it right. So, after many personal crises, the film was completed. (Haha.)
S: The Big Ears festival, in collaboration with The Public Cinema, is presenting “Sex and Broadcasting” as part of a retrospective of Matt Grady's Factory 25. What are your thoughts on Grady's distribution model?
TKS: I can’t speak to his “model” per se, because I don’t think that it’s a business model that shapes Factory 25. Factory 25 is extension of Matt Grady’s good taste. In that way, it is very similar to WFMU. If there is a model, it is simply the hope that others will love and care about the films that Matt has taken under his care as much as he does. I am just grateful that “Sex and Broadcasting” is one of those films.
By Sam Crawford
Photography by Sam Crawford and courtesy of Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music
June 30, 2015
I get off at Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan and take to the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden Atrium – an impressively large, glass-ceiling atrium overlooking the Hudson River. Already forgetting how much “I hate mornings,” I quickly remember that today a concert is taking place inside of this gorgeous establishment. I pick up a program and glance at the cover – the concert is to last approximately 10 hours. TEN. HOURS.
I open the program and read the very first line: “The world of music is big, beautiful, joyous, noisy, shimmering, fast, still, loud, soft, edgy, delicate, in-your-face and above all, inextricably transporting…”
Welcome to the Bang on a Can Marathon – an all-day (and sometimes all-night) annual concert series of inventive and adventurous new music – as casual and relaxed as it is epic and exacting. But it is just one piece of an organization that, for the last 28 years, has been turning the world of contemporary classical music on its ear.
Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe founded Bang on a Can in 1987. They were three highly distinct (but like-minded) composers who met in graduate school whose music was “neither here nor there” and needed some sort of aesthetic home, if not a physical one. For these composers (and others who came before and still others who will come after), the most basic and universal themes or materials become the groundwork for sonic works of art defying expectations of genre, instrumentation and style. This is classical music with a bad attitude. Think: pulsing, repetitive loops – or long, cool stretches of sound – intertwined with the spirit of rock, punk, funk, grunge, avant-jazz and more exploratory sounds.
Heavily inspired by the minimalist works of American composers like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass (as well as the radical Dutch composer, Louis Andriessen), Bang on a Can started as a wild, “let’s-just-see-if-this-works” kind of idea – a “marathon” concert of music from the now and the recent past – a no-frills artistic experience to be free of charge.
The first New York-based Bang on a Can Marathon (presented on Mother’s Day, 1987 at an art gallery in SoHo) consisted of pieces by little-known (or even unheard of) emerging composers paired with the work of living masters. The group’s inaugural curated concert was filled with music that inspired them personally (as well as those in attendance, ultimately), featuring works by Iannis Xenakis, Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, John Zorn, Igor Stravinsky and Milton Babbitt, among numerous others. But something was different here: the presentation was unflinchingly bold – it did not look or sound like classical music. It did not feel like classical music. By all accounts, this was a brazen musical event – lasting around 12 hours and offering zero program notes – with a meticulous focus on the selection as much as the sound. The tense “hush” of the concert hall was gone, replaced instead with the communal buzz of a Manhattan art space filled with people who were cool-tempered, curious, open and patient. This atmosphere seemed to awaken something in music listeners of a certain ilk, and it definitely brought differing musical camps, and thus diverse, audiences, together.
In 2015, it is still happening. Bang on a Can has grown from a one-day concert event phenomenon into a well-established non-profit organization and new-music collective. Today, in addition to the Marathon, this multi-faceted contemporary classical music group is made up of components such as The People’s Commissioning Fund (a membership program to commission emerging composers), the Bang on a Can All-Stars (an ensemble of six players who tour to major festivals and concert venues around the world each year), Cantaloupe Music (a record label) and the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA (a professional development program for young composers and performers led by today’s pioneers of experimental music). More recent initiatives include Found Sound Nation (a new technology-based musical outreach program) and OneBeat (a revolutionary, post-political residency program in partnership with the U.S. State Department that uses music to bridge the gulf between young musicians from America and those from developing countries). The collective also has a newly hatched means of reaching new audiences with Asphalt Orchestra (Bang on a Can’s extreme street band), re-contextualizing unusual music via performances in transit.
On Sunday, June 21, 2015, the 28th Bang on a Can Marathon ran like clockwork. The first couple of pieces came around noon from Crossfire Steel Orchestra, Inc., a jubilated, multi-cultural steel pan ensemble kicking off with composer and ensemble member Kendall Williams’ original composition, “Down Seven,” as well as his arrangement of Lord Nelson’s “Ah Goin’ An Party Tonight.” The bright, celebratory, rhythmic rush of these beautiful, metallic drums huddled together, released a perfectly balanced palette of light and dark timbres into the space. The sounds seemed to leap to the top of the sky-lit atrium like the crackling flames of a tribal fire. This group was utterly fantastic, and they returned later in the day (during their 2 p.m. set) to perform Williams’ “Rehearsals” and “MisConception,” much to the audience’s delight.
Additional pieces in the mid-day set included composer Tristan Perich’s “Surface Image” (for solo piano and 40-channel 1-bit electronics) and Lainie Fefferman’s “Tongue of Thorns” (written for and performed by the New York-based electric guitar quartet, Dither). Undoubtedly best heard in more intimate settings, Perich’s “Surface Image” was nonetheless chilling and arresting, with a staggeringly awesome performance by Bang on a Can All-Stars pianist, Vicky Chow. Chow drove home clustered, melodic pulses and arpeggios amid the backdrop of 40 individual speakers, each connected to its own microchip and serving as its own musical line of crunchy, flickering electronica. Inspired in part, by The Velvet Underground, composer Lainie Fefferman gave electric guitars new voice in the equally gnarly and sensual sound world of “Tongue of Thorns,” wherein the performers of Dither seemed to suddenly transition from a whisper to a long, drawn-out roar on their instruments.
And then more music. I was struck by the opening of this set – where Florent Ghys, the young, expressive double-bassist from France, performed selections from his second full-length album from Cantaloupe Music, “Télévision.” Ghys played his bass with undeniable charisma and a bit of sultry savoir-faire, leaning over and into the instrument, dancing with it, the way a world champion ping-pong player might lean over the table with a knowing smile during a match. Following Ghys, listeners were treated to a world premiere, “Wilder Shores” by composer LJ White and beautifully and thoughtfully rendered by the Portland, Oregon-based collective, Third Angle New Music. Also featured here was the bodacious and fun-loving Asphalt Orchestra, serving up some raucous and punk-ish musical energy from Pixies’ debut album, “Surfer Rosa” (1988) with three songs re-imagined for marching winds, brass and percussion.
The closing of this set introduced the Bang on a Can All-Stars, performing four selections from one of their more recent recording projects, “Field Recordings.” Co-commissioned by Bang on a Can and the Barbican Centre in London, “Field Recordings” is an ongoing multimedia project currently featuring 18 commissioned works by different composers incorporating some sort of “found” sound element within the piece. Composer and Bang on a Can Co-founder/Artistic Director, David Lang, describes “Field Recordings” as “…a kind of ghost story. We asked composers from different parts of the music world to find a recording of something that already exists – a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody – and then write a new piece around it. And so they did."
Offering a sample of this series at the Marathon, Julia Wolfe’s “Reeling,” Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Hz,” Anna Clyne’s “A Wonderful Day,” and Todd Reynolds’ “Seven Sundays” were the tracks du jour. Each filled with its own unique blend of infectious rhythm, delightful whimsy and – one way or another – soul, these pieces provided a tip-of-the-iceberg showcase of the All-Stars’ supreme talents: Ashley Bathgate (cello), Robert Black (bass), Vicky Chow (piano), David Cossin (percussion), Mark Stewart (guitars) and Ken Thomson (clarinets).
Highlights from the 4 p.m. set included Dutch pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama’s exhilarating and meditative performance of composer Somei Satoh’s “Incarnations,” Third Angle New Music’s return to the stage for the New York premiere of Julian Day’s “Quartz,” a reprise of Asphalt Orchestra (this time careening through Eastern European sympathies with pieces by Bulgarian clarinetist Ivo Papasov) and a wrap-up with the incomparable Grand Band – a fiery ensemble of six (count them: six!) pianos – performing composer Paul Kerekes’ “wither and bloom.”
Six o'clock brought with it the dynamic, highly imaginative chamber group So Percussion, giving it all they had and then some on Bobby Previte’s “Terminal 3” (featuring Nels Cline on guitar) and “Terminal 4” (featuring the composer himself on drums). At one point, in full bravado, So Percussion member Josh Quillen took center stage and expertly cracked a whip in one hand while brandishing a maraca in the other. It was pure musical “bad-assery,” if I ever saw it. The six pianists of Grand Band then returned to bring us Michael Gordon’s cacophonic “Ode to La Bruja, Hanon, Czerny, Van Cliburn and little gold stars … (or, To Everyone Who Made My Life Miserable, Thank You)” – a dizzyingly surreal tribute to the composer’s memories of piano lessons and exercises. And Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Cyro Baptista, with a little help from his friends, brought the set to a glorious end with a full-blown “hybrid” jam session, spun with jazz and Latin influences galore, on “Forró for All.”
The final set of the Marathon began at 8 p.m. and featured a programmatic pairing of pieces that could hardly be more different from one another. First, the audience heard the gorgeous world premiere of “Cloud-River-Mountain,” Gordon, Lang and Wolfe’s collaboration with Lao Luo (a.k.a. Robert Zollitsch – a masterful German-born composer/producer and an important voice within contemporary Chinese art music) and his wife, Gong Linna (a Chinese fusion singer whose vocal style blends ancient Chinese singing traditions with the nuances of pop and Western experimentalism).
As the day faded into night, the 2015 Marathon’s grand finale left even the most seasoned of listeners positively stunned, if not pained (at points). Bringing the entire event to a wildly screeching halt was composer Glenn Branca conducting his own electric guitar ensemble on “Ascension Three,” a shockingly loud and jarring work consisting of six movements with individual titles such as “Lesson No. 4 (Grow A Fucking Brain),” “Twisting in Space” and “Cold Thing (La Belle Dame sans Merci).”
The music rallied, screamed and soared here. Across the audience, you could see more than a few fingers (or even cupped hands) plugging the ears of their owners, not so much out of intolerance as pure instinct. Even some of the most “seasoned” experienced listeners could hardly withstand the sheer intensity and volume of electric guitars chugging away in hyperdrive for well over an hour. It was completely over the top, which is – in effect – completely Bang on a Can. From the first strike of the steel pans that morning to the last thunderously ripped chord of the Branca that night, the Bang on a Can Marathon once again gave audience ears a relentless (yet remarkably well-paced) workout and, for a moment, a minute, an hour, a day – woke us the hell up.
For more information on the Bang on a Can marathon, visit bangonacan.org.
Poem by R.B. Morris
Overview by Pratishtha Singh
Photograph by Bill Foster
March 10, 2016
R.B. Morris shared this selection, "Fort Sanders," with SINE in our 2016 Big Ears festival booklets. He was also a featured performer at the festival, highlighting the region's rich history in the arts, as Morris is Knoxville's official Poet Laureate, a legendary singer-songwriter and playwright, unofficial James Agee historian, among endless other descriptors. East Tennessee's footprint is several parts R.B.
Fort Sanders is a historic neighborhood in Knoxville that has been home to some of the area's most renowned artists, receiving both local and international acclaim. It is also where Morris spent his childhood, and later, several years of his adulthood. He recounts place holding prominence throughout a lifetime of memories:
Look! Here's the old neighborhood
of my second childhood
Even then I was dreaming
my days and singing my nights
and talking in my sleep
Even then I sat on old walls
in nostalgic airs of reverie
my body like a tree
rooted in the hillside
Even then I was climbing stairs
to knock on doors
where voices called to me
as I wandered absently
down alleys and lanes
reading the stone walkways
like pages folded out
and fastened to the earth
It is place that founds me
It is hill and river
It is the water under the bridge
The grass that's greener
It is the view of the mountains beyond
and the memory of the sea
Regardless of which medium he is channeling, R.B. Morris communicates with the heavy, heartfelt rhythm of East Tennessee. Some of his acclaimed books of poetry include “The Mockingbird Poems” and “Early Fires,” alongside releasing breathtaking records such as “Rich Mountain Bound” and “Spies Lies and Burning Eyes.” It is even more profound that the Big Ears festival features performances from brilliant Knoxville artists such as R.B. Morris, Black Atticus, the Ampient Music collective, Yasameen Hoffman-Shahin, and many other artists from the vibrant local arts community in which the event is set. In addition to international performers of all sorts, the festival also spotlights local wonder and charm by showcasing and nurturing the city’s rich arts community with featured performances throughout the weekend. It is quite fitting that Big Ears happens right here in Knoxville … where “it is the view of the mountains beyond” that stirs our minds and whispers into our hearts. This place will never leave you.
Learn more about R.B. Morris by visiting rbmorris.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by ioulex
March 22, 2016
Internationally-renowned superstar, Maya Beiser beautifully incorporates various elements of the digital sphere as a classically-trained cellist. Her willingness to explore beyond conventional wisdom with her cello has allowed her to soar through her career with numerous multimedia projects all over the world, as we later discussed.
This year, for the first time in Knoxville, TN, she will be performing for the Big Ears festival. In addition to hearing her play all weekend long as a soloist, attendees will also get to experience Beiser under the influence of composer, Philip Glass (live) and many other visionary artists the festival weekend has in store.
SINE: Have you ever been to Big Ears and/or Knoxville?
Maya Beiser: No. This is my first time. I’m very excited!
S: You have traveled the world performing cello. What do you think of such a wondrous weekend happening in East Tennessee, of all places?
MB: Well (laughs), I think it’s great. Even though I haven’t been to Big Ears, a lot of my friends have been and lot of my colleagues and other artists. I just think it’s such a great festival. I’ll be able to tell you more about my impression of East Tennessee after I’m there. I’m very much looking forward to it.
S: Can you talk about what it’s like playing cello as an instrument on the forefront of a composition? Like, what are some modes of inspiration for channeling that instrument to really stand out, for you?
MB: I think that in many ways for me, the cello is sort of a vehicle to express my art, and what’s wonderful about this particular instrument is that it’s so versatile. Its range … It lends itself to so many different possibilities, and my interest has always been finding new avenues … breaking boundaries, finding unexpected places with the cello — with my instrument. I’m especially interested in this sort of friction, this sort of connection and what happens when you connect the acoustic human, human quality of cello with electronics. I think that … something happens in that realm that really interests me. It’s an amazing instrument. The sound of it is like nothing else to me, and that was the thing that attracted me to the instrument from the beginning.
It’s interesting because at this point, I’ve [disconnected] myself from the instrument, so when I play, it all becomes one. And that’s the really cool thing about [cello] for me.
S: How is playing music for film different from a lot of what else you play and write, or is it? The span of your work is (tastefully) all across the board.
MB: I’ve played those big Hollywood films, and that’s a different process because usually, the normal practice, [is where] the music comes in at the very last [moment]. So the film is done, and you come in at the moment where the film has basically already been cut, then you present it with, depending on how things are … You have a particular scene and then you create the music to work with the scene — either to accentuate a particular narrative or emotional element or just to create background, just depending. Music has such a powerful impact with films.
But in the case of what I do in my performances is kind of the other way around … which is the film and the visuals are created for the music. Sometimes it’s an integrated process where it’s all created at the same time. It’s a collaborative thing, and actually, I love that the most, where everything springs from the same place, and you just keep moving in those directions, and see what happens at the end. But it’s a very different process.
In the case of “Just Ancient Loops,” Bill Morrison created the film — cut the film — to the music, so it was literally the reverse, which is the music was recorded and created first, and cut the film to it. For me, it’s never about just playing with a film like the way you think of music accompanying film. I always think about the film or the visuals creating a particular environment for the performance, so it’s a just another way of creating art. The music is in the forefront in many ways, and all these visuals are integrated — it’s an interpretation of the music. And it’s just one interpretation. In Bill Morrison’s film, there is sometimes, some kind of narrative, but what appears to be the narrative is not the actual narrative, and a lot of it is about deteriorating images. Really, the narrative is what the audience brings to it, so it offers an environment for the audience to dive into it. I like to play that a lot.
S: Your approach to your one album of cover songs pretty intense — and I mean that in a good way. Your interpretation of rock music, you mentioned, is immersive, not aggressive. Evan Ziporyn did a great job with (re)arranging those songs on “Uncovered.” Can you talk about what that process was like?
MB: Evan and I have been working together for many years, and we were in a band together called Bang on a Can, so we’ve known each other pretty well. We learned each other’s sensibilities and I asked him to work on this project with me because I just knew he would get what I’m after.
S: Yeah, you guys have been pals for a while. I bet this was a really fun project to work on together!
MB: It was! We kind of did it a song at a time. Each song, to me, on this record has a really important meaning behind it. Each song [reflects] something that happened to me … at some point in life where it happened to me. I didn’t want to do just do randomly selected (covers). They’re all really artists that I felt (strongly). And also, it was about artists that I thought would be really interesting to cover in that way — to find a new way.
S: Like a reinterpretation.
MB: Yes. To reinterpret. To reimagine what they did. Because, you know, when you do an instrumental cover, it’s a very different thing than when you cover a song, and you actually sing it. It’s really about the purity of the music — obviously, there’s no lyrics … It’s about stripping it to its core with the music, on the one hand. On the other hand, it lets you explore either elements in that music that were not explored as much during the original song. So we recreated it, we created these new compositions, in a way, from those original pieces.
It was a super-fun project to do because for once, a lot of it, for me, and often is, it’s often about the discovery of different songs that I could produce within the cello. A big part of it is finding the electric guitar sound on the cello. I mean, obviously if I was covering Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Kobain … I gotta find that, and that was really great. The cello can really sound like a wailing electric guitar in heartbeat. All you need to do is put a guitar fuzz box on the cello instead of processing it. So, you’re there. The other thing was finding the human voice and how to put all of that together because a lot of those songs had a lot of flairs of cello and just building it from the bottom up and finding the right balance — finding that overall sound was what a lot of it was about. So yeah, it was a lot of fun.
S: Yeah, I noticed “Uncovered” was comprised of classic (rock) tracks, but they are still very personal (rock) songs, in terms of narrative. It's foolish to deny the power of classic rock.
MB: (Laughs) Yes, all very personal songs! It was so fun!
S: The nature of Big Ears weekend is delightfully unpredictable. It’s filled with surprises. Could it be safe to say that we might catch a surprise collaboration? That kind of happens here, sometimes … I know you’re going to be busy performing all weekend, though. You are already performing in so many sets, I know...
MB: Well, first of all what’s great is that I am there for the whole weekend. I’m playing opening night, Thursday night, with the [Knoxville Symphony] orchestra with this wonderful Philip Glass concerto, and then I’m there until my own show, which is Saturday, but I’m actually staying until Sunday.
S: Very good!
MB: Yeah! I am up for it! (Laughs) Literally, everybody there this weekend is an incredible artist. Anything is possible. (Laughs)
Learn more about Maya Beiser at mayabeiser.com.
From top to bottom:
1. "Barriers" tour schedule
Flyer, Sharpie on paper, 8.5" x 11" (2015)
2. Print for "Barriers" tour
3. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
4. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
5. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
6. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
7. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
8. Installation from "Barriers"
Austin, TX (2015)
9. Installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
10. Installation from "Barriers" at Omni Commons
Oakland, CA (2015)
11. Dan with his installation from "Barriers" at the Amity Building
Bryan, TX (2015)
Dan B. Hood's "Barriers 2015: A Pop-Up Art Exhibit" toured across the United States and Canada from May 20-July 27, 2015. See more from the "Barriers" pop-up tour at dbhood.com/barriers. He is a senior in 2D studio art at the University of Tennessee's School of Art. Learn more about the rest of Dan's art at dbhood.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Tobias Akerboom, Heung Heung Chin, Antti T. Nissinen and Sun Ra Arkestra management
Videos courtesy of Cantaloupe Music and Jazz Night in America
February 18, 2016
I promised myself that unless Björk AIR’d 2016, I was all done with Big Ears. But it was a lie. They immediately called me on it, and I surrendered to the constant delivery of my favorite festival. Big Ears has my number, and I guess it always will.
The 2016 lineup may be the most compelling yet, as the Big Ears festival continues to evolve and mature into a creature that is not only still growing and expanding its field of artists, but one that is also home to what has become an impressive society of music’s greatest creatives. Artists like Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and many others continue to return to Big Ears to cross-pollinate and collaborate. This year will be no exception. Here is a quick run-down of what we feel like you cannot afford to miss this year:
John Luther Adams (Artist in Residence) If you are not familiar with JLA, which social media suggests that many of you are not, then you may have been nonplussed when he was unveiled as the 2016 AIR, while previous years had been substantially splashier composers. But even one toe in the pool of experience and acclaim of Adams will show you that he is every bit as Big Ears-worthy as the rest. The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, through his compositions, showcases his deep relationship with nature in his music, in a wild, chaotic, beautiful way that sets his voice apart in the landscape of modern composers. Do not miss his work being showcased by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on Thursday. JLA will also be showcasing his immersive, hypnotic "Veils and Vesper," which will be performed all three days of the festival in the former sanctuary of the First Christian Church.
An Evening with Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson A total Big Ears move. These two BE alums will be collaborating for the first time in North America, and for only the second time ever (the only other show was in Italy). The odds of this show happening close to Knoxville again are incredibly low, so you cannot miss this mind-meld between two modern giants.
The Sun Ra Arkestra + Marshall Allen For our money, this is the most exciting legendary artist on the festival. Many folks may not have even known you could still experience The Sun Ra Arkestra, myself included. Leading the ensemble is one of the greatest experimental multi-instrumentalists in all of music, Marshall Allen. Come, pay your respect to the late, great Sun Ra, and liberate your mind with his Arkestra.
Sunn O))) Fog. Cloaks. Drones. A mountain of amps. Go see the gods of evil drone magnificence deliver some slow-motion terror, Sunn O))).
Kamasi Washington If you haven’t taken the time to process Kamasi Washington’s automatic classic, “The Epic,” do it immediately. The 3xLP was a regular on 2015 “Best of” lists, and deservedly so. Washington, who has also appeared on Flying Lotus’s “Your Dead!” and Kendrick Lamar’s grammy-nominated “To Pimp A Butterfly,” is quickly cementing his place in the historical jazz landscape.
Ikue Mori Fans of the NYC’s 1980’s "no wave” scene likely have this show marked. Ikue Mori was the drummer in one of the keystone’s of the no wave scene, DNA. Since then, Mori has been a constant presence in the experimental music world, especially for her work with avant-garde super hero, John Zorn.
Bedroom Community Led by Icelandic super-producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, known best for his work with Bjork, Thom Yorke and Brian Eno, Bedroom Community is otherwise a Who’s Who of Big Ears alums, including Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and Ben Frost. This project is rarely active, so this gorgeous, chilly show is not to be missed.
Lambchop Every year, in varying degrees of saturation, Big Ears rolls some beloved, influential –what you might call comparatively "conventional" – bands into the mix. Big Ears has hosted everything from classic bands like Television, to the futuristic shredfest of St. Vincent. And 2016 offers some relatively strong options in this vein, like the palatable magic of Andrew Bird and widely beloved Yo La Tengo, but if we are recommending one relatable band show at Big Ears, it is Lambchop. The first time we experienced the 30-year veterans was at Merge XX and the show has resonated with us ever since. Branding them an “alternative country” group, as they have been so many times, is far too narrow (though we do prefer their original billing as “Nashville’s most fucked up country band”). As one of independent music’s most dynamic and long-evolving presences, Lambchop is a Big Ears must-see, especially if you have not seen them before. BONUS: Though details are still taking shape, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, who has done collaborative work with Yo La Tengo in the past, is scheduled to revive that collaboration on Saturday at Big Ears. If so, this is will also inevitably be a festival highlight.
Lou Reed’s “DRONES” Heavily rumored to have been long-targeted as an Artist In Residence for Big Ears before his 2013 death, Lou Reed’s spirit will finally reach the Knoxville festival in the form of a sound installation/performance art piece, titled “DRONES.” Appropriately, Reed’s vision will be delivered to festival-goers by two of his closest: Lou’s long-time guitar tech, Stuart Hurwood will lead the installation for “between 3-5 hours” on both Friday and Saturday of the festival, and Laurie Anderson, avant-garde legend and Reed’s wife from 1992 until his passing, will be curating a program of musicians performing live with the DRONES.
See you at the festival.
Learn more about Big Ears festival by visiting BigEarsFestival.com.
By Jeffrey Chastain
Video stills courtesy of The Public Cinema
March 24, 2016
Jeffrey Chastain, SINE staff writer and host of WUTK's (90.3 FM, Knoxville) "Focus on Film" radio show, sat down with filmmaker, Paul Harrill who is also a founder of Knoxville's microcinema, The Public Cinema.
The story behind The Public Cinema: Conceptualized and billed as Knoxville’s “microcinema,” The Public Cinema is Knoxville’s progressive, community-oriented film series founded by Paul Harrill and Darren Hughes.
“Our guiding principles basically are to bring the best of contemporary, international, experimental, and American independent cinema that wouldn’t play in Knoxville otherwise,” Hughes said.
Harrill is a filmmaker and University of Tennessee professor, and Hughes is a film critic and communications professional. The two collectively oversee operations of The Public Cinema, including curation of the film program.
Harrill and Hughes have known one another for twelve years, and Hughes says that, while his and Harrill’s taste in film don’t “overlap perfectly,” the two share a “certain sensibility” regarding film.
Since The Public Cinema’s inaugural spring 2015 film program, Harrill’s and Hughes’s shared sensibility has introduced Knoxville audiences to ambitious, and by Hughes’s own admission, often challenging films.
“We’re very intentional about straddling that line between what we think audiences would want to see and what we think they should see,” Hughes said. “We’re proud, so far, of the balance we’ve struck between those two desires.”
Highlights of the The Public Cinema’s film program have included Sean Baker’s innovatively film “Tangerine,” Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa’s dreamlike “Horse Money” and Guy Maddin’s equally bizarre and enchanting “The Forbidden Room.”
While several of the films presented by The Public Cinema may challenge audiences, Harrill and Hughes have ensured that all of the films – which are presented at partnering venues Scruffy City Hall, the Knoxville Museum of Art, and the Pilot Light -- are free and open to the public. The two have also managed to ensure that filmmakers receive proper compensation for their work.
“We’ve worked with a sponsor and a local arts donor so that we can keep all the screenings free, while at the same time paying the artists, paying the distributors, and doing everything above board,” Hughes said. “To do it legally and to pay the artist with the money that they deserve requires a little bit of funding, which we’ve been fighting for.”
By keeping the films accessible to audiences, Harrill and Hughes hope to strengthen Knoxville’s film community.
“We see (The Public Cinema) as a service to a community that we really love. We’re both tried-and-true Knoxville people, and we see a great opportunity for this kind of programming.”
Developing a Partnership With Big Ears: Big Ears’ collaboration with The Public Cinema this year will bring festival-goers a diverse, expansive lineup of films curated by Harrill and Hughes.
The partnership between Big Ears and The Public Cinema first developed as Paul Harrill was making early arrangements to secure a screening of “Heart of a Dog” for The Public Cinema. After Big Ears Festival producer AC Entertainment announced Laurie Anderson would be returning to this year’s festival, Harrill and Hughes contacted AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps.
“This (announcement) gave us a real incentive to collaborate (with Big Ears) because we said (to Capps) ‘Hey, we’re already talking about showing “Heart of a Dog”. Do you think there’s any chance you can ask Laurie about doing a Q&A with us?” Hughes said.
Capps agreed, and a partnership was soon established between Big Ears Festival and The Public Cinema.
“Ashley invited us in and we started basically pitching ideas and figuring out how to pay for it and how to make it happen.”
The resulting lineup includes over 30 hours of programming, including a screening of the critically-acclaimed “Heart of a Dog”, followed by a Q&A with director Laurie Anderson, a retrospective of Matt Grady’s film distribution company Factory 25, and a 35mm screening of Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s “kaleidoscopic” 1972 film, “Space is the Place.”
Additional film programming includes the premiere of Indian-born filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul’s installation “Modes of Faltering” at The University of Tennessee’s downtown art gallery (Gallery 1010), as well as avant-garde filmmaker Jodie Mack’s presentation and performance of “Let Your Light Shine,” a collection of five textural, visually striking short films.
Learn more about The Public Cinema by visiting publiccinema.org.
By Pete Eby
Photography by Pete Eby and Pratishtha Singh
April 3, 2016
John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" was performed on April 3, 2016 at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, TN by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, regional percussionists and the University of Tennessee's School of Music students for the grand finale performance for Big Ears festival.
We amble in a perfect Knoxville spring day, exploring open spaces as John Luther Adam's composition, "Inuksuit" fills the landscape -- performed by dozens of wandering percussionists. Instruments of paper, wood and stone open -- wind and rain.
Patterns of sound, unrestrained, flowing through the contours of Ijams Nature Center.
Blowing conches join.
Finding hidden concert halls in the trees.
Watching sound roll across water.
Balancing uncertainties of observation.
Layers of rhythm, textured by the landscape, a David Attenborough narrative about songbirds echoes in my mind.
Goodbye Big Ears.
By Wil Wright
Photograph by Crystal Booker
September 23, 2014
Nearly two decades since his classic 1996 hit single, "Pony" topped Billboard's R&B/hip-hop charts, the dynamic career of Elgin Baylor Lumpkin, known to the R&B world as Ginuwine, continues to creep its way through popular culture. Eighteen years, nine top-ten Billboard charting albums and countless AMA, Soultrain, BET and Grammy nominations later, the slow-jam veteran found his way to Knoxville to perform at the Tennessee Valley Fair. We sat down with him before his show. It went like this:
SINE: You are from Washington, D.C. and you are named after another Elgin Baylor from D.C. – correct?
Ginuwine: The basketball player.
S: Have you guys met?
G: Nah, not yet! [Laughs.]
S: What originally sparked your interest in music?
G: I don't know, man. I always liked entertainment … and entertainers. I used to be in the car with my mom and she'd listen to Jackie Wilson, Nat King Cole, Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan. I used to watch her watch stuff like James Brown, dancing on TV, and I thought, "That's nice!" Then Michael Jackson came along, and of course I was a big fan of him, and of Prince. Around that time, when I was a kid, breakdancing was very popular, so we started breakdancing. It eventually faded out, but I still liked being in talent shows and being in the limelight, so we changed our breakdancing crew into a singing group. We didn't really know if we could sing or not, but we would just mimic New Edition, The Jackson 5 and Force M D's, and people said "Y'all can sing! y'all need to stick with it." Throughout the years, I just continued to sing and continued dance, but the night I saw Michael Jackson do “Motown 25”… that's when I knew this was what I wanted to do.
S: But your actual rise to fame – did it feel slow or abrupt?
G: I don't think nobody's rise is quick. Everyone has a story. To you guys, it might feel quick, but to them it seems like a lifetime. I got discovered in 1990 by Devante Swing from Jodeci. He told me he was doing a label and he wanted me to be his first solo artist. Of course, I agreed to it. I quit my job and moved up to New York with them.
S: What was the job you quit?
G: I had three jobs. I was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was working in the mailroom at this place called Neighborhood Reinvestment, and I also did construction, canvassing for my step-dad on the weekend.
S: Wow, quitting those jobs must have felt great.
G: Well, not a first … because I really wasn't making no money! But, just to be around those fellas and to just experience the things that stars experience, at a young age and so early on … I wouldn't give that up for the world.
S: And they hooked you up with Timbaland?
G: Yeah. Timbaland was one of the producers in Devante's crew. He was just going around the country picking up artists that he thought would be great, and he did well. He got me, he got Missy, Magoo, Tweet, Playa, and he got Static [Major]. Rest in peace. So, he definitely had an eye for talent.
S: You have kind of an intense female fan base. You ever get any weird gifts?
G: Gifts? Nah, not gifts. Not besides panties getting thrown on stage. There was a girl already in my room once when I checked in. I'm not sure how she got in there. I didn't get her in trouble, though.
S: You have had a long, consistent career. It seems like a lot of artists that have a major hit, early in their career, like you had with "Pony," tend to have their careers eclipsed by their hit.
G: I was scared of that.
S: The guy from Warrant said he could shoot himself in the head for writing "Cherry Pie." [We both laugh]. What was the key to not being overshadowed by your hit and staying consistent?
G: Man, to tell the truth, there's no blueprint. It takes a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, having a great ear for what you do, and having a great team around you, at the time, to guide you in the proper way. There's a kid in the studio right now, as we are talking, who believes what he or she is doing is a smash, but it's not necessarily a smash. We never know what it takes. I was just coming up at the right time, with the right crew, the right music, and with the right sound … and it worked. I was very scared, because I had always heard of the "sophomore jinx." I knew I had to either out-do or match the first one, and then I'd be good the rest of the way. We came out with "What's so different," I was like ehhh…the reception was cool, but not what I thought it would be. Then, we came out with "So Anxious" and it was done. I had conquered the sophomore jinx. It was a wrap. I was legitimate, instead of flavor of the month.
S: I really dug into your catalog to get ready for this interview, and it seems like some of your best stuff is kinda lost in the deep cuts. "Glaze in My Eye" [from 2005's “Back II da Basics”] sounds like a hit to me.
G: Elgin and a lot of the other CD's that I did have a lot of songs that I wish could've came out. That's what I'm trying to make now, kinda like Puffy made “[We Invented] The Remix.” I want to make something called "The Lost Tapes," or something like that, and make videos and put out the songs that I wish had been singles, for the people who supported those songs. I've got a camera crew now, so I'm just gonna do that.
S: In the digital age, you can really just do it yourself.
A few bangs on the door signaled that it was time for us to leave. We headed to the less-than-half full Chillhowee Park amphitheater, to get situated for the show. A DJ in all white began to prime the crowd with an appropriate mix of 1990's R&B, occasionally breaking in with "Where my 30+ ladies at?" which drew a heavy response. After the amphitheater began to fill with fair-goers, the DJ asked, "Where my 40+ ladies at?!" drawing an even larger response – illustrating the staying-power of Ginuwine. In fact, the crowd seemed to be a blend of every conceivable age group, including kids who were probably too young to enjoy the impending grind-fest. Finally, as the bleachers slowly became filled, Ginuwine took the stage, dressed in all white, flanked by two back-up singers, also dressed all in white. They launched into a set that lasted just short of an hour, perhaps partly due to Ginuwine's confession that he was recovering from a cold. Nevertheless, the set was high-energy, pulling songs from throughout his nearly two-decade catalog, showcasing Baylor's still-impressive voice, and still-intact dance moves. In the middle of the set, the energy dipped when the show shifted into a medley of popular pre-recorded songs, including a few by Michael Jackson. During the MJ numbers, Ginuwine declared "Without this man, I wouldn't be here," echoing what he told us in the interview before the show. Predictably, the two biggest reactions came from the two smashes: first, 2003's booty-institution "In Those Jeans," and of course, wrapping up the night with "Pony," during which, G let the crowd and back-up singers take vocal duties and instead walked through the audience and connected with people, which was weird, but a nice touch. Then the music was over, though Ginuwine spent the remainder of the night meeting fans and taking pictures. After such a long, dynamic career, he seemed to still enjoy the limelight as much as he did in those 1980's D.C. talent shows.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Michael Pitz and Sarah Williams
Sunday, March 6, 2016
The Badd Hatt’rs is a rock group that originated from friendships formed at Beaumont Magnet Academy by Brendan Donnell Pitz (age nine, vocals and drums), Sam Pulsipher (age 11, bass), Oliver Schwed (age nine, guitar) and Will Senter (age 10, vocals and keys). The band will be performing on March 25, 2016 at Relix Variety Theatre in Knoxville, TN for the Beaumont Rocks! event. They will be covering classic tunes by Weezer, AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine and The Beatles.
The Badd Hatt’rs bring an untethering energy to their live performances. Do not be an ageist – this will be a show you should not miss. As I write this, I hear them practicing “Back in Black” in the room next to me, and I like their version more than the original. These cover songs serve as building blocks for youth in rock, but their interpretation of the classic tracks is far from stale – the contrary, in fact.
I am highly anticipating their March 25th show. They assured me that originals are forthcoming, but since they are just getting in the groove as a newly-formed band, they would rather play songs for audiences that they have nailed down fluidly – they want people to engage, and sing along.
I have been sitting in on some band practices by the Badd Hatt’rs recently, and I felt compelled to share their story because I have watched them grow as both friends and musicians. Their sound is marvelously cohesive and highly-spirited for such a freshly-formed collaboration, so I strongly encourage you to check these guys out at Relix this month because before you know it, they will be sold out performances.
SINE: How long have you guys been playing together?
Will Senter: Since last year!
Brendan Donnell Pitz: Uhhh…
WS: About a month. About a year.
I’m thinking to myself: Huh? How long? Then they burst into laughter. Then they try to focus, which admirably results in little clarity:
Oliver Schwed: Seems like a month.
Sam Pulsipher: Yeah, seems like a month.
(Seems like? What does that even mean?)
They have actually been playing together since last year … I know this because their parents told me. In all fairness, Oliver did not join until about four months ago, but it did not seem to bother the kids that they had no idea how long they had been jamming with each other. Or they did not care. Either way, I appreciated that aspect of their seemingly jumbled response the more I reflected on it after the interview.
S: What made you guys want to play music together?
SP: Well, you know, when I went to Beaumont Rocks!, and I saw people play, I was like, ‘Wow. I want to be up there one day.' So.
BDP: And the reason I’m doing it is because he (points at Sam and says) let me.
SP: Nahhh. It wasn’t like that.
S: Like, he encouraged you?
S: Very cool.
OS: Someone was the original guitarist, and he had a piano that was tuned to a guitar, but he became a safety patrol at our school, so I just went in place of him.
Oliver Schwed is more than just a substitute guitarist. He has been playing guitar since he was three years old. His fancy fingering skills mirror the way he articulates his words when he speaks: very clear, very precise. Oliver is meticulous, by nature. He plays with control – never superfluous. He unfolds with charm the more you get to know him. He plays his music similarly, bringing an unexpectedly pleasant dose of crisp control – all from a nine year old.
WS: I just wanted to play with my friends. (Smiles) I just wanted to have fun. (Smiles harder, then shouts...) I DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE GOING TO BE IN BEAUMONT ROCKS! I just thought we were going to be a band…
His voice fell dull as he trailed off.
BDP: Yeah you did!
WS: Fine. I did.
Why the playful hypocrisy? Will is a well-versed actor and dancer, as well as a musician and singer for the Badd Hatt’rs. He brings an intensely dramatic, bold energy to the band as both power-vocalist and king of the keys. This kid constantly radiates kindness and excitement. It is no wonder that the triple-threat lights up stages, whether he is performing as a musician, an actor or a dancer or all of the above. Will Senter is a three-headed thriller.
S: What did you guys decide on for the band name, anyways?
All together: BADD HATT'RS!
WS: It used to be Kudzu (then they found out that was taken), but then it was Stuck in a Closet (referring to the overflowing foam-filled closet that was inside of their original band room). Then it was Titan.
BDP: It was Titan Thrasher. No! Titanium Thrasher. Then it was Stuck in a Closet…
WS: Then it was “Brendan in a Closet.”
Heavy silence hits hard. I have no idea if Will is serious, but that is hilarious anyway. The silence breaks, and we all laugh hysterically.
BDP: Yeah! It was totally “Brendan in a Closet.” Then it was just the Badd Hatt’rs.
S: What show are you guys preparing for, and what are you going to be playing?
BDP: We’re going to be playing Beaumont Rocks!, and we’re gonna be playing…
THEN THEY ALL START SHOUTING ALL THE SONG TITLES AT THE SAME TIME.
WS: Can I talk here? Can I talk here?
BDP: Let’s let bossman talk here (points at Sam).
SP: (Explaining to his bandmates) For a thorough explanation, we can’t all be talking at the same time here.
Then he looks me straight in the eye:
SP: Alright, we’re playing Beaumont Rocks! at a venue called Relix. Bands play, and these are the songs we’re playing, in order: “Buddy Holly” by Weezer, “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and it came out in 1980, uh … “Take the Power Back” by Rage Against the Machine.
Sam Pulsipher’s fine-tuned focus explains how he is able to keep the Badd Hatt’rs in sync. No matter what obstacles the band may be collectively trying to work through, Sam is able to solidly carry his band mates by delivering steady, carefully-mastered bass lines. He is a pleasure to listen to on bass and to be around, in general. He is very observant and thoughtful, as well as spunky!
S: Why did you choose oldies for your upcoming Beaumont Rocks! show? And why those songs, specifically?
BDP: Because they’re awesome. We were going to play original songs at first, but then we decided it wasn’t good…
S: When you’re starting out as a band, it’s helpful to have something to work from.
BDP: Yeah. And these covers are pretty good. But next year, we’re still deciding if we’re going to do covers or our own songs…
SP: I mean, the main reason these songs appeared is because we had a vote.
BDP: Yeah, yeah, more like that.
S: Who are some other music influences – old and new?
SP: My influences from this band are actually very different from what I am influenced by … in general, thrasher, metal, Metallica. I have been very influenced by Robert Trujillo – kind of a cross between funk and metal, kind of … very complex. And also Paul Gray from Slipknot is also very good with backing up guitars.
BDP: Um, this cool band now – that’s twenty one pilots...
BDP: Seriously, dude? I like Weezer, yeah, but the twenty one pilots band, their drummer, it may seem simple to you, but like, if you’ve ever heard “Heavy Dirty Soul,” what he’s playing is actually really hard, and I want to be challenged like that some day, and I want to be able to play like that. He’s awesome.
OS: Um. Coldplay and Weezer.
SP: And three more influences: Tom Araya, of Slayer and the bass player, Dave Ellefson of the band Megadeth and, uh, gosh, and the bass player for this other (metal) kid-band that played Bonnaroo (in 2015), Unlocking the Truth.
S: What else inspires you guys, as musicians, outside of just music? Where else in life do you draw from for creative direction?
SP: Well, the reason I started music is because I suck at drawing.
BDP: I don’t just play music. I do other things. I play soccer, video games, I like to do art, I also like basketball, football, baseball, biking...
Brendan Donnell Pitz is a multi-platform artist. He enjoys painting, drawing, building projects and more, in addition to music. As a drummer, he is a joy to hear because his strengths as a multi-tasker really stand out. As a vocalist, his range is quite impressive. On songs like "Hey Jude," you can really hear the notes tucked into the hills and valleys of his voice. Brendan is an excellent drummer, and he seamlessly complements the musical stylings of his bandmates.
OS: I don’t know that anything else inspired me other than music because that’s pretty much … I started playing guitar when I was three.
S: What’s the “funnest” part about being in a band?
BDP: SMILING! Not.
SP: No. There’s other things.
WS: Just being in a band.
BDP: When everything sounds good, we give each other high fives, hugs … “Buddy Holly” goes good. Well, she (referring to me) just heard some of our songs, and I’m pretty sure she likes them. (I do.)
WS: Well, I get to be at my friend’s house with my friends EVERY week – it’s like a play date every single week.
S: Good call.
BDP: AND WE GET TO PLAY SOMETHING CALLED SOUL CALIBUR!
S: So maybe Soul Calibur is an inspiration.
SP: It’s a break-time fave.
S: What’s the most challenging part about being in a band?
OS: Um, most of the stuff – some of the stuff, like solos and just knowing where to be in the song is pretty hard for me because some of the songs I’ve never really heard that much.
BDP: OK, well the hardest thing for me is that we’re all pretty much 10, 11 and nine year olds, so we argue, and that can happen occasionally. Well, it DID happen. But we don’t do it anymore.
WS: We hated each other. So sometimes we never agree, but sometimes we do agree, and that turns out to be our good practices. Back then in the 1980’s, when we were not even born, every single band wasn’t…
Will trails off, realizing he’s not sure where he was going with that.
WS: Well, we didn’t exist.
Good point, kiddo. But I like your insight.
BDP: The best part is dealing with these guys faces.
SP: The best part is working together.
S: Explain the dynamic of teamwork and why it’s so important. What have you learned about teamwork in the process of forming and developing a band?
SP: I’d say the dynamics of it – I mean based on the first year, year and a half of us being together was pretty much just yelling at each other and figuring out that we did have a chance of auditioning for Beaumont Rocks! Then it really started putting some fire-power into what we were doing. So, I’d say the dynamics are often motivation.
WS: Well, basically the dynamic of teamwork is not only fun, teamwork is friendship and it’s sometimes annoying, but ya know, we have fun. It’s helpful because if we didn’t have any teamwork, Oliver here would want to play … (whispers to Oliver) … What’s your favorite song of all time?
Oliver is caught off-guard.
WS: ...I would just want to play J. Roddy all the way.
OS: “The Sweater Song” by Weezer.
S: I heard you guys are working on your first album. Is that true? If so, can we learn a little more about that?
WS: Yes! We are working on our first album!
BDP: (Referring to the album art) We’re all going to have pencils with erasers. We’re all going to be looking sad.
WS: March 25th. We are going to be performing. It’s going to be great. Peace out.
The Badd Hatt'rs have built a strong sense of comradery amongst one another, and you can hear that when they play together. At the core of the Badd Hatt’rs is friendship – an excuse for the kids to spend time together and allow creativity to bounce freely between each other.
Beaumont Rocks! will be held at Relix Variety Theatre in the Happy Holler neighborhood in Knoxville, TN. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. Family-friendly. All ages welcome.
By Jeff Blank
Film still courtesy of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films
June 9, 2014
This article was initially about a Daniel Kitson, a brilliant Scottish comedian that has embraced the DIY mentality that so many early pioneers of punk rock music made famous. It was about the way that he has intertwined music, absurdness and a general “either like what I do, or fuck off” sensibility into his stage shows. That is what this article was SUPPOSED to be about.
Then, Rik Mayall passed away at age 56.
If you’re not familiar, you should be. He was known here in the states as the slender ginger in the titular role in "Drop Dead Fred," where he played an endearing, ill-mannered imaginary friend that was a walking fart gag with a heart of gold. I saw that movie when I was just a young lad, and I still think about a booger joke from the movie on a regular basis — and I’m 35 now. (It was a really good booger joke.) Mayall was perhaps best known as one of the creators and stars of BBC Two’s "The Young Ones," an offbeat sitcom about four roommates in a rundown flat that set the stage for the irreverent, buck-the-system kind of comedy that you can find in comics like Kitson. What truly set the show apart was the insanely violent, silly writing that seemed to be more for the players in the show than the audience itself — a concept that worked out for the best. The show also had the mark of being the only show to feature bands such as Motörhead, Madness and The Damned in almost every episode (a result of a BBC budgetary loophole that allowed the show to be made). The introduction to "The Young Ones" was a huge influence for me — like a punk rock version of fellow Brits' Monty Python, it taught me that silly can not only be smart, but it can highlight the problems that society chooses to turn a blind eye to — a concept that carries through into my own standup and writing.
To say that he was influential would be an understatement. There’s something about someone using anarchy as a rule for their art form that should inform us all. Art is expression, regardless of the medium, and to see someone present it with such an unfiltered, unabashed crudeness is truly remarkable. From the punk rock of the 70’s and 80’s to the modern street art of artists like Banksy to the cutting rants of late comedian Bill Hicks, art in any form is supposed to have the freedom and fire to point the finger at society’s wrongs. Rik Mayall succeeded in doing so, armed with talent, arrogance and toilet humor. When a comedian forces an audience to think about things from an alternate perspective, things that they normally try to ignore, it creates a spark in society that’s hard to extinguish. Even when that spark is a booger joke. A really, really awesome booger joke.
Again, this was supposed to be about Daniel Kitson … about the way he disdains the assumed practical rules of standup comedy ... about the way he makes audiences think about things without them even noticing that he’s doing it ... about the way he is able to sell out virtually every performance, relying on the body of work he has created as both the primary promotional tool and the middle finger to “the system.” In a way, it still is. There is always a need for someone like that. The kid with moxie — the thorn in the establishment’s side. The torch must be passed for every generation, and Rik Mayall was surely one of those bearers, and I’m sure Kitson will be, as well. The fire that great artists start burns for a long time…
...and it takes more than a fire truck to stop Drop Dead Fred.
By Curt Landrum
Photography by Kara Smarsh, Michael Stewart and Tyler Stewart, courtesy of AC Entertainment
August 8, 2014
This year, Forecastle Festival marked its 12th year of success. Headlining 2014: Outkast. Beck. Jack White. And as the brainchild of JK McKnight, past acts of the nautically-themed blowout music and arts festival have included more magic of the like: Wilco, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Flaming Lips, De La Soul, Devo, Girl Talk, Sleigh Bells, GZA, Del the Funky Homosapien ... And the list goes on. This festival has truly become one of the heavy-weights in the summer festival scene, and it has enjoyed increasing success since Bonnaroo impresario Ashley Capps and his promotion company, AC Entertainment, jumped on board in 2011.
Interestingly enough, the original promoters of Forecastle had asked Capps if he had any interest in helping produce the event a few years before AC stepped up in 2011. Capps graciously declined, but a few years later, an undeterred McKnight personally drove down to Knoxville determined to recruit Capps and would not take no for an answer. Since, Forecastle Festival has continued to increase in popularity and attract massively popular headliners and buzz-worthy up-and-comers. Now familiar with the experience myself, I can confidently tell you Forecastle was fantastic. I would definitely suggest folks check it out next year and every single year after. Between this year's headliners, the rest of the artists in the lineup and the gorgeous waterfront, it was an all-around spectacular weekend, in brief.
The festival grounds were located on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Louisville, KY. The waterfront provided the stages with a picturesque backdrop for the weekend's signature nautical-themed festivities. A mini cruise ship was planted between vendors and stages with lifeguards and shimmying mermaids in the hype zone. A predictable setting, indeed, it offered a welcoming pleasant and festive vibe as we set foot in. Then, wishfully, a cool breeze would roll right off of the river.
I was feeling great on all accounts. Our mission for the first night was Outkast. Show review: they were amazing. I then wondered how the rest of the weekend could come anywhere close to touching the glory of what we had just witnessed – what we got to be a part of.
Day 1: Outkast Master Class
The ATLiens Are Valedictorians at Forecastle 2014
I did not feel like most of the crowd was as moved by this performance as I would have thought. I realize this was not somewhere they thought they would be, musically, as performers, but I never got to see them live, so I was ecstatic. I expressed my confusion for the audience’s lack of enthusiasm in an immediate post-show review. (See below: "2 Dope Boyz Get Their Saddle Back.")
The stage goes black, and a spotlight focuses on a red curtain covering a giant cube in the center of the stage. The "Stankonia" flag is projected on the curtain, and it lifts to reveal the ATLiens inside a clear cube. It begins to rain and the beat drops for “B.O.B.” My editor grabs my arm and digs her nails in. No mercy. Pure excitement.
Dre glides across the stage dressed in a black flight suit that has the words “obviously oblivious” in large lowercase white lettering on his chest. He has on a white wig, white-framed Wayfair sunglasses and classic black-and-white Chuck Taylor Low Tops. He flashes his billion dollar smile to the crowd. My editor’s knees get weak. I help her stand up. Hearts swoon, and women everywhere need a fresh pair of panties. Yep, at 39, for Mr. 3000, some things never change. Big Boi stands pat in the center of the stage, also staying completely fresh in the game, rocking a NASA-inspired space suit and shorts combo with black-and-white striped skull socks and green and gold Air Jordans. Yes. The fashion is very important. This is Outkast, and every aspect of what they represent is a statement in the evolution. We are meant to break norms – onward to the music.
Big Boi opens his first verse with a fury and bravado that brings my arm hairs to attention. Each song that follows opens my skull up and pours a fresh dose of "No Fucking Way" on my brain. With their live drums, bass and horn section accompaniment, complete with two righteous back-up singers and DJ Z-Nyce, they are the best live hip-hop act not named The Roots.
They tear through “Two Dope Boyz,” “Gasoline Dreams” and “ATLiens.” They follow it up with a five song "Aquemini" medley featuring “Skew It On The Bar-B,” “Rosa Parks,” “Da Art of Storytellin' (Pt. 1),” “Aquemini” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” And the whole time 3 Stacks is roaming the stage as far as his microphone cord will permit. At one point, during “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” Dre is literally 20 yards in front of us looking out into the crowd, singing and rapping his ass off. Sleepy Brown strolls out ready and looking extra fresh, wearing his patented silk pajamas. Breathe dude, breathe! Then Big Boi asks, "How many of y'all have heard of Jesse Jackson? … What about Janet Jackson? … What about Blanket Jackson? … OK, OK. What about … MRS. JACKSON?"
Obviously, the crowd loses it, and people are jumping up and down as the familiar sounds of “Mrs. Jackson” are thumping out of the stage speakers. People from every direction can be heard singing along to the chorus, and the giant stage cube has images from the “Mrs. Jackson” music video projected onto it.
André leaves the stage, and Big Boi begins a three song solo set featuring “Kryptonite,” “Ghettomusick” and “The Way You Move.”
Big Boi leaves the stage and Dre comes back for his own four song solo set featuring "The Love Below" tracks “Vibrate,” “She Lives In My Lap,” “Prototype” and “Hey Ya!” Dre recruits some ladies to come on stage during “Hey Ya!” for energy and embellishment. They were bubbly but had no idea what a Polaroid was ... Needless to say, they did not shake it like one.
Big Boi returns to the stage and starts to giggle and attempts to articulate a thought. No such luck, as the idea escapes him like the breath from his lungs. No matter, it is time for the grand finale and Benjamin and Patton proceed into a four song refrain from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, featuring “Hootie Hoo,” “Crumblin' Erb,” “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” and “Player's Ball.”
We had to expend that energy from Outkast. So we decided to scope the nightlife. Still giddy from what we had just seen, we were definitely too tired to sleep, so we met up with some Knoxville friends that were also at the festival. They were at The Connection, which was literally a maze/nightclub —
intentionally. It was essentially a life-size fast moving Rubix Cube – several bars and wild lights and more in every direction. We caught a drag show as well as some terrific performers that seemed to be presenting a cross between krumping and old-fashioned break-dancing. It seemed this dance group was unfamiliar to many in the audience, but you could tell it did not faze them. Both the drag and dance sets were great shows. It was the perfect nightcap dose of entertainment. With day two ahead of us, we headed back to our gorgeous stay in the historic Old Louisville district, just a mile from The Waterfront. I highly recommend you go see, eat, and stay in Old Louisville if you are ever in Louisville, KY.
Day Two: Saturday
On Saturday afternoon I walked straight to The Soul Rebels, who were performing on the Mast Stage. My editor chose to catch the vocal excellence of Knoxville native, Jill Andrews on the WFPK Port Stage. But I needed a party and here was a New Orleans brass band ensemble out of the 504. They were playing funky jazz covers of modern and easily recognizable pop hits, peppering in some of their own originals as well. The Soul Rebels reached ultimate dance-mode when they performed a jazz-infused cover of Daft Punk's song of the year, "Get Lucky." After fancying the crowd with sing-along songs, they brought Louisville a taste of their New Orleans roots with an original track titled, "504." The New Orleans vibe was complete with band members festively tossing Mardi Gras beads. I was impressed and definitely recommend checking them out live if the opportunity presents itself. GO.
After those shows, I was looking for something to keep up with my energy, and I found it on the Mast Stage in the form of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! R&B plus powerhouse vocals turned out to be what I was really in the mood for. Do not worry, we did get our dose of folk performances (i.e., Sun Kil Moon was a softly stunning show), but I had to follow my vibe, and it was pulling me toward the party side of Forecastle. There was something magical about hearing all that high-energy music and being on that waterfront.
After Sharon Jones, we headed over to the Ocean Stage to catch Norwegian DJ, producer and classically trained pianist, Kygo perform his DJ set. The stage was situated under an interstate overpass and provided ample shade from the hot sun, as well as an awesome sound-mosphere. He nailed his set, which was a combination of trance and EDM, drum and bass, piano melodies and samples from widely recognizable songs. The show hit its high note when he played a remix of Gnarls Barkley’s well-known track, "Crazy."
I recharged after a beer and a spicy corn dog. My festival spirits were beginning to feel lifted after fueling back up. We headed back over to the Ocean Stage to catch Louisville-native math rockers, Slint. The show was definitely high-energy and very intimate amongst a fairly large audience. For those who don't know, Slint was on the forefront of the math rock movement in the late 80s and early 90s and even worked with famed "In Utero" producer, Steve Albini. They split in 1992 and have been making sporadic live appearances since 2005. The crowd was ravenous when Slint took the stage, and I felt a nostalgic longing for a worn-in flannel as they played dark and brooding tunes for an electric and frenzied hometown crowd. Forecastle Festival hit a home run with Slint.
Then we wrapped up and headed to Jack White. The crowd energy was clearly higher and more anticipatory of White's performance than the previous night when the dazed and drenched masses appeared comatose and dreamlike during Outkast's fully-charged performance. The all day affair of Saturday had me fading fast. But if anyone can deliver a second wind to weary festival goers, it is Jack White. The legend of White's performances this summer were seemingly approaching hyperbole and his Forecastle appearance provided the perfect opportunity and setting to see and enjoy for myself.
White took the stage around 9:30 p.m., and from the first few chords of "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground," I knew we were in for a show that he was pumped about performing. Jack White is one of the most energetic and powerful performers in rock today, and his Forecastle performance was full-forced party rock. After warming the crowd up with fan favorite tracks from The White Stripes, he proceeded to play "High Ball Stepper" and "Lazaretto" (off the new album of the same name), proving that he just gets better with age. White has created a sound that relies on frantic rock and roll drums alongside distorted guitar and the country twang of fiddles and steel guitars. I hesitate to credit it solely to geographically based culture, but you can definitely hear the Nashville influence since he relocated to Music City, USA almost a decade ago.
Perhaps Jack White's greatest achievement as a live performer is his ability to assemble world-class talent around himself. His set even featured a mysteriously engaging theremin solo by pedal steel guitarist and mandolin player, Fats Kaplin. The performance was simultaneously enhanced by the accompaniment of show-stopping fiddle player and gifted vocalist, Lillie Mae Rische. More exceptional talents joining White included drummer, Daru Jones, keyboard player and organist, Ikey Owens and bassist, Dominic Davis. I was thoroughly impressed.
For me, the show hit one of its many high points when he played a cover of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," and though I am partial to "The Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake," the bluegrass standard made famous by Monroe (the cover) was the perfect tune considering the current location, and it personified White's growing interest in, and influence by, bluegrass and country.
From there, White oscillated between new music from "Lazaretto" and more popular tracks from his days in The White Stripes. It provided a perfect balance of the old and the new and created a relentless discord of sound that refused to subside. Still, it was a bit strange to hear his classic White Stripes hits with such a full and robust sound, and it made me a little nostalgic for the days when it was just he and Meg thrashing around in a fit of punk rock minimalistic majesty.
After a short break from the stage, White and his crew returned and moved on to shred through head banger after head banger, starting with a remarkable rendition of "Icky Thump." I was approaching the point of festival delirium as his encore was quickly approaching the hour mark when he let out the first few notes of "The Hardest Button To Button." I regrouped and began banging my head and screaming the lyrics as loud as I could muster, much to the enjoyment of my editor who could see the depravity in my eyes. White closed with the much anticipated and ultimately required "Seven Nation Army." The song lasted for what felt like hours and hit an amazing crescendo when the audience participated in chanting the iconic bass riff made popular by the song. The show ended around the two-hour mark, and security began funneling people to the exits. The whole time the crowd continued chanting the same bass riff, and I got goose bumps participating in 20,000-plus people chanting in unison through the exit gates.
Day Three: Sunday
We started off Sunday with a thrilling and thumping festival set by Blue Sky Black Death, a suggestion from the Gold Standard Hip-Hop show on Knoxville’s remarkable and renowned college radio station, WUTK (named one of the 2014 Top 20 College Radio Stations In America by Best College Reviews, in addition to being an MTV-U Woodie Award recepient). We did not know much about BSBD, but for a first-time introduction to their music, we were fully enthralled by the entire performance. These guys were the best way to kick off our Sunday at Forecastle! Thank you the heads up, Gold Standard Hip-Hop!
The duo's most recent recordings are more removed from their days producing hip-hop beats, but the rap influence can still be heard. The EDM-bathed set featured hip-hop loops and flare. The show reached its apex when they played a chopped and screwed remix of Frank Ocean's "Pyramids."
We met up and chatted with one half of BSBD, Young God. We discussed other festival acts for the weekend and learned that being a huge fan himself, he had missed Outkast multiple times when performing at the same festival due to scheduling conflicts, the most recent mishap occurring at Pemberton Music Festival in British Colombia, Canada and then the night before at Forecastle this weekend. From there we learned the group has toured extensively throughout North America and really wants to get over to Europe where the EDM masse is already feeling their groove. After discussing what Young God was listening to these days (Das Racist, Danny Brown and Run the Jewels), he revealed that BSBD produced a track that was exclusively released on the UK vinyl version of Run The Jewels’ first album. That album alone is worth listening to, and if you are fortunate to procure a copy of the UK vinyl release, all the better.
Chrome Sparks is the brainchild of 22-year-old Jeremy Malvin, a former percussion major from the University of Michigan. Though he is the mastermind behind the music, his live performances feature two of his friends to help complete his vision of trippy synthesizer-backed percussion and keyboard beats with auto-tuned vocals, which deliver a spacey and atmospheric aura to the tracks. Malvin's decision to include his pals in the live performance clearly enhanced the experience. I am letting you know now: Chrome Sparks is an up and coming act to watch out for in the near future.
After Chrome Sparks, I took a break to recharge then started walking from show to show looking for something that piqued my interest. I watched part of the tUnE-yArDs’ set, and it was definitely energy-packed. I was interested, but not intrigued. My editor felt similarly, but decided to stay and dance with her friends. I moved on to catch the last bit of Reignwolf, which gripped my attention about as much the tUnE-yArDs.
I peacefully waited for Beck for the rest of the evening. The Waterfront Park is a really beautiful and serene location. After a brief relaxing period, it was already time for the final headliner of the 2014 Forecastle Festival, Beck. The veteran artist put on a rewarding performance. I never realized how funny Beck, the human being, actually is, and he was full of cheesy and self-deprecating one-liners that gave the audience the most communal and connected feeling of the entire festival.
When he took the stage, Beck immediately started with his hits. Starting with "Devil's Haircut," "Black Pollution" and "The New Pollution," he put the festival on notice that he was here to rock our socks off. He played a combination of more recent songs with his infallible crowd pleasers from the mid-90's. The audience was fully engaged and stood at attention when the first licks of "Loser" piped through the speakers. He led the crowd in singing the chorus, and from where we were standing, it was deafening — drowning out Beck's own voice over the PA.
After rattling off a “who's who” of his hits from over two decades of recordings, Beck left the stage before an encore, but not before putting up crime scene tape telling those of us in the crowd that we were all witnesses to the crime he just committed #SexxLaws. In all honesty, the only crime ever he committed was putting an end to the show. I have always been a casual Beck fan and never really paid attention to his albums after his incredible recordings, “Mellowgold” and “Odelay.” My editor argued that musically and vocally that the performance was not quite what she was expecting based on her familiarity with Beck's discography, but she said she fully felt his showmanship and that was what trumped the evening. We were both fully entertained. Every single person I saw was having a great time. He put on a killer show. We were both wired and joyful at the end of his performance.
We were in too-good of moods to sleep, so we decided to take advantage of the local nightlife. We drove around looking for the perfect Louisville bar seasoned with true city flavor. After aimlessly driving for almost half an hour (Sunday night = everything is closed, duh), we discovered Nachbar. When we entered, the vintage jukebox was playing Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." I guess we found the exact place we were looking for. The bar, tucked in between residential housing in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville, felt like it could be at home in my own hometown where I grew up in East Nashville, but the locals were extremely friendly at Nachbar. I asked for a local beer that I could not get in Tennessee, and the bartender handed me a Jalapeño Smoked Porter (by Kentucky local brewers, Country Boy Brewing). It was absolutely delicious. It was infused with enough heat to put hair on the chest of the uninitiated. I highly recommend this bar and this beer to those unfamiliar.
That's a Wrap
For me, the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly Outkast. After growing up with 3 Stacks and Sir Luscious Left Foot, my affection for them could not be swayed by fans of any of the other acts at the festival. But I was still curious to see what the audience thought of the weekend, so I went around and asked a few attendees as security was ushering everyone toward the exits upon Beck's grand festival finale performance. The overwhelming majority of attendees were torn between their affections for Beck and Jack White, with much to my chagrin, Outkast coming in a distant third.
I overheard a faceless pair in the crowd announcing their allegiance to the almighty Beck.
Thing 1: “He's already better than Jack White."
Thing 2: “WAY BETTER!"
The gauntlet had been thrown down! Beck vs. Jack White: The lasting memories of Forecastle 2014. Whereas Jack White and his curmudgeonly attitude had a take it or leave it approach, Beck was clearly the best showman of the weekend and was constantly engaging the crowd joyously throughout his entire set. The difference could be described as Jack White plays at you and converts you with the sheer force of his music, while Beck invites his audience in with charm and humor — still a highly-skilled musician and overall brilliant artist, while converting the cynical holdouts there in the name of the crowd. Both approaches have their merits, but I left Beck having a greater appreciation for what I had witnessed more than any other artist at the festival the entire weekend.
My Forecastle weekend was incredible and showed that Ashley Capps is a several-hit wonder in the festival scene. I was at Bonnaroo this year as a festival attendee and had an incredible experience, as I have in years past. But this was my first Forecastle Festival, and while I was covering it with the media for this publication, it turned out to be incredible experience in which I felt a part of it all. Capps has mastered the art of intertwining music with an all-around good time. Be ready for 2015. Forecastle Festival is absolutely worth checking out and promises to deliver an amazing experience for years to come.
Learn more about Forecastle Festival at forecastlefest.com.
Below: This piece is a further breakdown of Outkast's set at Forecastle 2014, a continued analysis from our full festival review (above).
By Curt Landrum
July 18, 2014
Nearing the top of my bucket list was seeing Outkast perform live. I crossed that off last night at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, KY. On the banks of the Ohio River on a Friday evening and misty showers, Andre 3000 and Big Boi put on a show for the ages. Contrary to current media buzz, they are not dated. They are TIMELESS. Whatever cobwebs that existed from their performance at Coachella earlier this summer have been brushed off, and they have clearly found their performance sweet spot for their 20th Anniversary Tour. Granted, they are performing the same set list for every festival and tour stop, but practice makes perfect so I cannot justify knocking them down for delivering pure excellence. They were great.
In their start, and years later, in my my beginnings of listening to them as a freshman in high school, Outkast represented a musical oasis in a Clear Channel-infested desert of homogeneity. It was the year 2000, and a lot of people were still tuning in to radio stations to hear new music. Outkast was both unique and had both a commercial and artistic appeal that was light-years away from anything else on the radio. For me, it was an immediate, inexplicable jump from the likes of Minor Threat and Bad Religion straight to Outkast. There was nothing else in between. They were catching on, and I was aware of my surroundings. From the first time I heard the beat drop on “B.O.B.,” I was hooked. It was the perfect combination of weird, and it was almost too much for my fledgling teenage brain to handle. But I never looked back. There was a new king of my boombox. My affections for "Stankonia," "ATLiens," "Aquemini" and "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" were going to manifest into live, interactive performances. They perform. I hypnotically shake my ass.
By the time Outkast walked on stage, the festival energy felt a little weaker than all the talk I heard earlier in the day. The "fans" seemed a bit exhausted, perhaps due to a long work week (but still, that is not a valid excuse when in the presence of OUTKAST) and drizzly weather. I got frustrated with the crowd's responses to inquiries from Benjamin and Patton, such as, "HOW Y'ALL DOIN TONIGHT?" I think it was every fourth person that applauded or shouted back. Don't you know how concerts work? You have to give to get. It was obvious they did not give Outkast the energy they deserved, but 3 Stacks and Daddy Fat Sacks took it all in stride and delivered a fantastic show. They opened with a blistering rendition of "B.O.B." followed by "Gasoline Dreams." Holograms of restless, curvy women, a giant cube and much more complemented the performance. I will fill you in on details when the entire festival review is available. (See below). Everything was beautiful. Always with a flair for the dramatic, the ATLiens brought a whole crew with them, complete with a horns section, drums, bass, guitar, righteous backup singers and DJ Z-Nyce. It was both musically and visually spectacular.
Owing to such a wide and diverse catalog of music and a large crowd, they avoided most of their incredible B-sides, instead playing their most recognizable crowd pleasers. They are 20 years deep, so it is risky to hop the stage again after nearly a decade of hiatus. This mentality of casting a wide net definitely maximized the crowd's enjoyment (and thank goodness because these it-is-only-the-first-day zombies needed to wake up), but it would have been nice to hear some of their equally good but lesser known songs as a nod to the few hip-hop heads scattered throughout the crowd ("Red Velvet" anyone?!?!?). Still, after 20 years, they are solid artists who put on, overall, entertaining performances. The sheer talent and lyrical complexities, alone, carry them confidently in the musical mix. Outkast is every bit as relevant today as they were 14 years ago when I first began listening to them as a high school freshman. They were every bit as good as I imagined – maybe even better.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Janette Beckman and Pratishtha Singh
June 13, 2015
Bonnaroo 2015 welcomed the heavy-hitting contemporary percussion ensemble, So Percussion to The Farm. SINE talked to all four members, Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting shortly after their performance this year:
SINE: What is it like to bring a four-piece percussion ensemble to “The Farm?” For example, this (Bonnaroo) is not a concert hall — a setting that you all are more accustomed to performing in.
Adam Sliwinski: It’s pretty surreal. We normally, sort of, live in the concert-world, playing smaller concert halls — places like Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, universities. We also do a lot of teaching, so when we tell our students that we are doing Bonnaroo, their heads spin around. It’s crazy! Live music is in good hands here. It’s a really well-run festival, and it blows my mind. Every corner you turn, there’s something new that you think, ‘I can’t believe they thought of that — they thought of this for a festival.’ So it’s been real fun (so far).
S: It appears that So's performances tend to be very structured, so when you’re using unconventional objects in a piece that is not improvised, live on stage, there can certainly be variables. For example, what if the cactus needles fall off, or a tea cup slips and doesn’t break quite like you prepared for — how do you account for that live?
Jason Treuting: For me, there’s a difference between improvisation and flexibility. I think with a lot of the music we play, there’s flexibility. So, you mentioned the cactus. When Eric and I play that piece, if we do a duo, we stick to the same form, but there are choices that can be made in lengths of things, or specific quarters. There’s a big form, and there’s flexibility within it. Actually, every piece we play on the show here had some kind of flexibility built in at different moments.
S: Really? Even when you guys were playing from “Music for Wood and Strings?”
JT: Yeah, I mean, it has a little bit less flexibility built into it, but kind of – at the end of it, the last five minutes of it there’s one big build, and the notes are hopping around really quickly.
Josh Quillen: Looping patterns.
JT: Yeah, looping patterns, and we get to choose how long we do each one of those. He (Bryce Dessner) gives us some kind of flexibility. And in drumming, there’s a lot of flexibility, in terms of duration. So, I guess, it’s true, what we do isn’t very improvised at all, but actually, I feel like there’s a lot of flexibility built in, so that I think it can work. We’re actually used to playing in weird places, a lot, just not a lot of these bigger weird places (Bonnaroo). Like, in this tent, this would be really comfortable for us (the intimately spacious press tent versus the much larger, open stage aka The Other Tent under which they performed). So, in some ways, it’s just scaled different at Bonnaroo, but I think there’s something about the flexibility about what we do that makes it possible for us to play in a lot of different kinds of venues.
S: Why did you choose to play from “Wood and Strings” for Bonnaroo, aside from the fact that it’s your most recent album?
AS: Well, over the whole 35-minute arc of the piece, there’s quite a bit that stretches out, and this point where we ended today was a really climactic point. It can be a nice way to introduce people to the piece – to end really big like that. We wanted to get these other two pieces on them, we only had an hour, so I think we really embraced being cool with that spot – we made this decision to do the 20-minute version in this kind of setting, whereas in a concert hall, which has more of a classical vibe, there is a little bit of a different audience-expectation, stretching out toward more of something people are used to when they hear a symphony or something like that. It feels really nice to end big, right at that big moment, and people are pumped about it, and that is why we made that decision.
S: You guys have worked with some legendary composers like Steve Reich, Dan Deacon and most recently, Bryce Dessner. Do you ever hear influences from Dessner’s work from The National and the compositions he writes for you guys?
AS: Yes, we hear the influence. All great musicians, all the great work that they do, has an interpenetrating influence on everything they create.
JT: I actually hear a lot more influence from The National in what he’s written for us than in some of the other music that he’s written.
AS: Yeah, like versus choral, orchestral music.
JT: Like, think about the fact that these are chord sticks, and so, he’s choosing for each of us to have two harmonies. Those chords feel very open and the way he writes for The National and the way he writes harmonics is very similar. In some of his other concert music, I don’t hear that as much. I mean, in orchestration stuff, I find similarities, but this is kind of different in a core way.
AS: The sound of the instrument is so reminiscent of an electric guitar — it’s so similar to an electric guitar that the connections are just that much more meaty.
S: With respect to teaching, you guys are really involved with music education, and you have worked with a lot of students, both nationally and internationally. Do you also learn while you are teaching? Do you learn from your students, too?
A: All of those things. Yes. I would say one of the biggest things is, however you learned how to do something along the way, sometimes you were very young — you observed it sometimes, sometimes you learned it deliberately, and when you have to teach it to somebody, you have to be deliberate. You have to be methodical and thoughtful about the way you do it — you have to understand how they’re approaching it. It’s amazing how you get to know something when you’re forced to lay it out to someone like that. Because there may be some things you picked up when you were pretty young, musically. You were like ‘Yeah, I figured out how to do this.’ You’re not thinking the way an adult thinks about, but if you’re teaching a student who hasn’t done that yet. You know, sometimes, the most natural, genius, prodigy players are not necessarily great teachers because they’re like ‘Why can’t you do this?’ I would say that probably, none of us are prodigies. We’re good at what we do, but I think all of us had to spend some time really figuring out how to do what we do.
JT: We don’t have that problem of being prodigies. (Laughs)
AS: (Laughs) We don’t have the problem of being prodigies. And so I feel that can feel really good about imparting to people what processes have helped us along the way to master this stuff.
JT: I always feel like, this energy — I feel like anybody could — you know how when you’re deep into something, you’ve spent a lot of time on something — you get overwhelmed — I mean it’s a lot of energy to do whatever it is that you’re doing. And then, when you see students so deep into something, it’s brilliant — it’s so positive — it’s kind of rejuvenating in some instances like that.
JQ: It’s really fun to get to teach. Every student is different, and that’s a challenge — you have to try to and understand why does one thing with one student work so well — say you can teach something one way, and with five students it works so well, but you have to figure out another way to say it or show it or make up some crazy analogy — just ANYTHING to get them to understand — and then it’ll click, and as a teacher, you’re like ‘Oh! I just needed to say it that way.’ It’s really fun to try and figure that out, but it can also be really frustrating because sometimes it takes a couple years to for students to figure it out. After a year, you think to yourself, ‘I’m not exactly sure what to say to get through to the student and with others, it emerges really quickly, but like Jason said, it is really rejuvenating and inspiring when you do find that key and you unlock it. It’s a skill — like playing music – playing Bryce’s pieces are hard — drumming is hard — that’s a skill that I know how to do really well, and that’s satisfies me, so I’ve got those keys, but the teaching thing — I feel like I’m in first grade all the time — I feel like I have to go back to square one
S: John Medeski played here (Bonnaroo) yesterday with Scofield, Martin & Wood, and he’s no stranger to The Farm — could you ever see yourselves doing a live collaboration with someone like him at Bonnaroo?
AS: Well, we have some good news for you. We did do one concert with Medeski, Martin & Wood, but also, our album that we released last fall is called “Terminals,” it’s by Bobby Previte, and one of the movements is for us and John Medeski together, so we have played with him together a bunch – with that movement. Have you ever heard that one before?
S: Yes! I heard it on Spotify, but I’m trying to get you guys to spill some secrets! Like, would we ever hear that collaboration live at something like Bonnaroo?
AS: I see!
S: Like, would you ever consider or be interested in something like a SuperJam, as such strong percussionists, if it were proposed?
AS: We would consider A LOT of things to play at Bonnaroo! We’re open to all kinds of things.
JT: Like, when we played with Medeski, Martin & Wood, we really had some ideas of what the final recipe would be together. He’s really awesome, in that way. He’s written music for percussion, so, yeah. No secrets to spill, we are so excited to be playing Bonnaroo!
S: Can you talk about some international influences in your music? I mean, “Drumming” has a very borderless feel to it, geographically...
Eric Cha-Beach: I think it’s really interesting what you’re saying with "Drumming," like with African-influence, for example. (Steve) Reich spent some time in Africa, and he was influenced by the mathematical way that African music is put together, and the way we played with the Afrio-Cuban bongo drums, which helped guide us through Latin America, and then with sticks, which is totally not the way you play bongos at all, so I feel like, with, say, someone like John Cage, we respect a lot because of the way he drew on different traditions, but he didn’t just try to imitate them – he would get inside like, ‘How does this music tick? How does this music work, and how is that similar to other things I’m doing in my music, and how can I take that inspiration and do something totally new with it?’ And I think Asian cultures are definitely a huge influence, too on all kinds of percussion music because of the timbres that come from there — especially metallic instruments that come from Asia and cymbals from Turkey – all this stuff. Then you have composers like John Harrison, who was working with John Cage, was a huge buff of Babylonian, Asian and Latin music, and that spilled into Cage’s work, but you can’t necessarily put your finger on it now, so for us, it’s like the influences are always there, and they’re so deeply ingrained, I mean, we don’t feel like we have to do anything special to bring them out, because it’s part of the fabric of his work.
AS: What’s funny, is that more than just world music — it’s really a lot of Americana – like a lot of American string music that I think connects this piece ("Music for Wood and Strings"), he’s (Dessner) really thought about that a lot with that dulcimer feel in a different kind of harmony. I think you would connect to that too, a different kind of folk music.
S: Kind of like what we hear with Rhiannon Giddens and some of her work with Kronos Quartet and her take on American folk music.
AS: Yeah, and with her band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and they do a really good job – a really interesting way of pulling Southern African-American folk through their music.
The So Percussion ensemble was nice enough to share their time with SINE right before having to leave The Farm. Adding these masters of percussion to the Bonnaroo lineup was a magnificent touch, and I hope we see more glimmers like this at future Bonnaroo's to add to it's diverse lineup throughout the years. I hope this ensemble will be back to play soon ... maybe for a SuperJam!
Learn more about So Percussion by visiting sopercussion.com.
By Damion Huntoon
Photography by Ellen Hyrka and courtesy of Striped Light
January 27, 2015
It is a frigid winter’s day and Striped Light founders Sarah Shebaro, Brian Baker and Jason Boardman are busy arranging things in the fledgling business’ 4,000 square foot building located at 107 Bearden Place in Knoxville. A radiant heat lamp sits atop of one of the many large metal presses of the massive production room. Large pallets of dye, paper and boxes of printing paraphernalia crowd the back. In the front retail space, complete with large-pane glass windows overlooking N. Central Avenue, a kitchen table and some chairs are moved into place and coffee and donuts are passed around. There is obviously a lot of work to be done, but the three seem comfortable with the challenge, and with years of friendship between them, each other.
“We all have different wavelengths of how we work and different roles,” says Shebaro. “It’s been really encouraging to work with two other people who are so committed. We don’t have a ton of money to work with and we’re really ready to do it ourselves. I think that’s paid off and will continue to do so.”
Beginning with Baker’s planned return to Knoxville from Detroit, Michigan, where he had mentored and taught printmaking, Baker and Boardman began developing an idea of what their new endeavor, Striped Light, would actually consist of.
“A long time ago, we had talked about collaborating with a record label concept using the print shop,” says Boardman. 'He brought that up again – he said, ‘Why don’t we just do it now?’”
As a fellow masters recipient from the University of Tennessee, Baker pitched the idea to Shebaro, who, at the time, was working as a printmaking technician and visiting instructor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
“I thought that would be an amazing opportunity to work with two people that I respect a whole lot and have a really unique and awesome vision,” say Shebaro. “I was really, really excited about it.”
As long-time proprietor of the music venue, Pilot Light and resale store, Hot Horse, Boardman had begun to use the Striped Light moniker for his independent record label – which has one LP release and three more in the immediate works – and felt it applied to the overarching vision they were forming. With the record label working with packaging and promotion and the letterpress being focused on print orders three to four days of the week, so too the business will teach technical aspects with classes starting at basics and moving on to more advanced techniques. This is designed to eventually allow aspiring printers an option to rent shop time to create their own work. Baker’s work with Signal Return Press in Detroit and familiarity with Arm Letterpress in Brooklyn, both letterpresses that educate and mentor aspiring artists, Striped Light will reflect the community involvement that has worked so well in other cities.
Despite this template, Striped Light does not want to be a mere copycat.
“It became difficult to zero-in on a distinct singular mission because we all have things we want to do,” says Boardman. “We’ve got a set of tools here, and so, we’re not trying to be very limiting in how we talk about it.”
Part of this expanding vision is an openness to allow people to become involved with teaching expertise to anyone interested.
“The idea is for the classroom to be open to things that aren’t printmaking – the novel aspects of what could be taught,” says Baker. “I’ve recently talked to a local magician who’s going to possibly teach a workshop.”
With all the brainstorming Striped Light has been doing in its first weeks its underlying focus is a dedication to the arts in Knoxville and developing a community spirit.
“Every city has their different aura, and Knoxville’s has always really impressed and enchanted me because of its unique nature,” says Shebaro “It’s just a great energy.”
Striped Light will have its grand opening for First Friday on February 6, with performances by sound/visual artist J.S. Bowman, along with an open house. Learn more about Striped Light at stripedlight.com.
By Wil Wright
August 9, 2015
AFROPUNK (Atlanta) was cancelled on Thursday, October 1, 2015 due to inclement weather.
"We’re not so different, you and I:" Brooklyn's multicultural summer phenomenon, AFROPUNK heads to the Dirty South.
What began as a 2003 film spotlighting the culture of Black Punks in America, appropriately titled "Afro-Punk," has evolved, first, into a massive online community uniting urban alternative kids across the world. Then, in 2005, it morphed into the critically-acclaimed, widely-beloved summer Brooklyn festival known as the AFROPUNK festival. The event has always been to celebrate the "cornerstones of the AFROPUNK movement," which the event site continues to describe as: "...music, film, skate, and most importantly, the fiercely independent and influential individuals that are the lifeblood of the AP community." In an age as politically and racially charged as we are in, this festival is just as timely, invoking and marrying hip-hop and punk aesthetics into a unified counter-culture institution, as it has been consistently stacked with amazing line-ups.
As AFROPUNK Brooklyn will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year, the intense popularity of the event will justify a second AFROPUNK in downtown Atlanta's Central Park. The Southern United States AP will take place on the weekend of October 3-4, 2015, and while a bit smaller than the Brooklyn version, the array of talent at the Atlanta AP has every bit of the wow-factor. With massive marquee acts such as D'Angelo, Flying Lotus, Tyler the Creator, legendary acts Public Enemy and Suicidal Tendencies and alt-darlings like Danny Brown and Twin Shadow, the AFROPUNK aesthetic is at once very broad, yet simultaneously the choices all fit together perfectly. That alchemy is a big part of what makes this fest so special. Here are the acts we are particularly excited to see next month:
Death Grips. Is there an act that more accurately represents the counter-culture of this event better, other than maybe Public Enemy? Death Grips. This genre-defying duo has been shocking audiences with their raw force, politically-charged fury and general lack of fucks-given. We have seen them at multiple festivals, and while the show is always spectacularly intense, something suggests that this one will be particularly worth digging in for.
Mykki Blanco. Rap's decadent, fringe-dwelling, weirdo darling, Mykki Blanco (aka Michael David Quattlebaum Jr.) is, in every sense of the term, a threat to music industry status quo. This show is worth seeing singularly for the shape-shifting fashion, singularly for MB's manic/enigmatic stage presence or singularly for the hot-as-fire bars. Put them all together, and it is a truly one of modern hip-hop's most unique experiences.
Thundercat. One of this generation's most prolific bassists, Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner) has contributed his never-ending chops to everyone from Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu, among countless others. He is also responsible for a stunning body of solo-material, including 2011's FlyLo-produced masterstroke, “The Golden Age of Apocalypse.” Do not let this show fly under your radar. It will be as fun as it is mind-meltingly impressive. Oh, did we mention that he sometimes wears wacky stuff to shows, like an entire wolf on his head while he plays? No promises. But wolf.
BABY BABY. Hometown heroes and certified American badasses, BABY BABY will be one of the wildest shows of the day, any day, any event. At AFROPUNK, in the heart of the city that loves them most, you can bet these guys will unload a full clip of madness in the form of high-intensity, fuzzed-out rock ‘n’ roll antics. A-folks will turn out in big numbers to get very weird with these guys. You do not want to skip this. Do not say we did not warn you.
Learn more about AFROPUNK at afropunkfest.com/atlanta.
By William Wright
Photography by Yulia Mahr and Wolfgang Borrs
January 6, 2015
Should the Big Ears festival keeping going in years to come, it would be no surprise to see Max Richter selected for artist-in-residence. Richter was already commissioning and performing works by the likes of Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Julia Wolfe in his group Piano Circus, fresh out of university. In 2002, he would compose and record a piece of music called “Memoryhouse,” his first solo work, which the BBC called “a masterpiece in neoclassical composition.” In the 15 years since, Richter has fixed his name as one of the modern giants of composition, writing scores for over 50 films and television works, all while consistently producing creative, affecting solo work and collaborating with visionary choreographer Wayne McGregor, art troupe Random International, Darren Almond, Julian Opie, actress Tilda Swinton, Robert Wyatt, Vashti Bunyan and many others. Every year, Richter’s musical footprint seems to grow exponentially, across the worlds of popular culture, film, ballet, art and in both the commercial music world and the modern classical world. Do not say that we did not warn you when his name sits atop a future Big Ears poster.
We called Max recently, and he was nice enough to take time out of his day to answer all of our questions about his upcoming visit to Knoxville, his work on HBO’s “The Leftovers,” rediscovering Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and everything else.
SINE: Can you tell us a little about your awareness of the Big Ears festival?
Max Richter: I feel a natural kinship with this festival because it covers all kinds of creative music including writing notes on paper, electronic music and hybrid composition – and also the bands. The festival just showcases so much creative music and that feels very comfortable to me.
S: Are there any performances you are particularly excited to see?
MR: Kronos (Quartet), obviously. I feel like they have been sitting on an agenda within modern music for decades – Laurie Anderson and Terry Riley, as well. All of these are people I’ve either seen a lot or have wanted to see. One show I’m very excited to see is Grouper. I think they’re great. I’m also looking forward to A Winged Victory For The Sullen and The Bad Plus.
S: What are you planning to showcase at the festival?
MR: We’re gonna play a few different things, actually. We’re going to play a piece of (the) recomposition I did of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the Knoxville Symphony. We’ll also be playing music from a(n) (HBO) show called “The Leftovers” with the ensemble, as well as “Notebooks” (referring to 2004’s “The Blue Notebooks”) and “Infra” (2010).
S: Is scoring for film/television differently satisfying than pure composition?
MR: It’s different. Pure composition is 100% of the piece and has to tell the whole story itself. When you do “hybrid media,” it’s different. I like the puzzle-solving aspect of it. Cinema is sort of the ultimate collaborative medium, because a lot of different personalities have to be accommodated to get the story across. In a way, it’s like solving a Rubik’s cube.
S: Did the producers of HBO’s “The Leftovers” give you any guidance about what they wanted? The music fits the show perfectly.
MR: They’re such a smart team. I really think everything about that show is right up there, and working on it has been really fun. I write a lot of music off the picture, and they just cut to it. They sort of let me do my thing. When you write for film and television, there (are) usually a lot of notes going back and forth between the composer and producers. On “The Leftovers,” I got very little guidance, which is rare and nice. I felt like they made the show for me and for what I do.
S: Have you seen the final version yet?
MR: (I) haven’t had time to watch the finished version of the first season, but I am planning to. We’re doing another season, so maybe I’ll watch it as a warm-up to writing the new music.
S: The influence and popularity of “Memoryhouse” is enduring and still growing. Does that piece mean the same thing to you now that it did when you made it?
MR: Yes and no. We re-released it like, to celebrate sort of it’s birthday, and we did a live premier at The Barbican. We just started looking/listening to it again, probably for the first time, when we were preparing the music for that live performance, and it was like seeing an old friend, really. You put you heart into a piece of music at the time that you’re composing it, and it consumes your sleeping and really your waking, consciousness. But you make it and then move on. I was figuring out my language at the time. It was sort of me learning how I wanted to do things. And it’ll always have special resonance to me. Playing it live has been special. When you play a piece in a room full of people you finally realize what a piece means.
S: Obviously all classically trained musicians cross paths with Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" at some point, but of all pieces of music, why re-compose that one?
MR: I had the same history with Vivaldi that a lot of people did. You first hear it and think to yourself “what a great piece of music!” It’s beautiful and has so much drama, but over the years I got sick of it. It’s everywhere, on commercials, ringtones. I stopped being able to hear it as music, and that bugged me. I wanted to recapture my original experience and fall back in love with it. I wanted to re-explore the piece’s landscape and discover new facets in that landscape. I wanted to rediscover it for myself, and within myself.
S: You recently performed your "Four Seasons" and other work, both at The Barbican and in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge. How does live music play into your curriculum as an artist these days?
MR: In a way, performing live is such a rich experience. It’s authentic and fundamental. It’s like a reward. Most of my life is spent sitting in a room and scribbling away for months ... then you get to discover the music front of the audience, with an instrument in your hands. It’s very exciting, actually. The other side of it is, with the way the world of recording is fragmenting, people seem to be coming back to live performing, and that’s great. That was how music was brought to people in the beginning.
S: You are working on a new collaboration with Random International called "SLEEP." Can you tell us about it yet, or is it still a work in progress?
MR: (I) can’t say much about it, as it is still a work in progress. (The) title says it all, though. It is a piece of music and a bit of research … about Sleep. That’s all I can say right now. Stay tuned.
Learn more about Max Richter at maxrichtermusic.com.
By Damion Huntoon
Photograph by Meade Armstrong
January 16, 2015
Knoxville cellist Cecilia Miller’s eyes light up as she describes the particulars of her first tour, which happened last year with Edmonton, Alberta singer/songwriter Lucette (né Lauren Gillis).
“It was kind of amazing that that was my first real tour because it was all over the country,” says Miller. “I think every show was sold out.”
With Lucette playing in support of country artist Sturgill Simpson, the 2014 tour dates stretched from Phoenix, Arizona across the west coast and mid-west to end two weeks later in Indianapolis, Indiana – an impressive feat considering the pace Miller had to familiarize herself with Gillis’ material.
“Her manager started reaching out to people, trying to get an idea of some cellists that might be interested, and Susan Lee (of Knoxville rock band, Tim Lee 3) mentioned it to me,” says Miller. “They decided to use me, so Lauren came down to Knoxville, and we only had one day to practice and to meet each other, and then the next day we took off and drove the next three days to Phoenix.”
Playing new material in a trial-by-fire atmosphere should seem natural to Miller. Throughout her budding musical career she has built a resume on expanding her musical template whenever the opportunity presents itself.
A graduate cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 2011, Miller’s scholastic habit of performing in ensembles (both classical and jazz) and improvisational studies quickly related to an ever-growing live and studio session workload. Playing for such wide-ranging acts as Knoxville rockers Tim Lee 3, troubadour laureate R.B. Morris, singer/songerwriter and local DJ Todd Steed, ambient guitarist Joseph Allread and the folk duo The Lonetones – Miller even collaborated on the far-fetched, yet earnest, local tribute recording for English ambient artist Brian Eno. “It was kind of a tribute to 'Music For Airports,' but every song was music to accompany some mundane task,” says Miller. “The one I did with Todd Steed was called 'Music for Laundromats.'”
As a child of current Knoxville Symphony Orchestra cellist, Stacey Miller, who has performed for the KSO since 1998, Cecilia Miller began her own interest with cello in fifth grade.
“I could have started earlier, but it wasn’t until I had other friends starting that I wanted to start playing,” says Miller. “My mom taught me for seven years. I did youth orchestra and played in school, and when I was sixteen I started paying for my own cello lessons with someone else because [my mother and I] fought all the time about it.”
Besides her mother’s classical influence, she also drew from her father. A guitarist that performed primarily folk music, Miller’s father exposed her to the styles of country and rock as well. Her description of her childhood in her native town of Charleston, West Virginia, she says quite matter-of-factly, “I was around music all the time.”
And while her instrument of choice is classically considered an accompany instrument, the nature of the instrument lies at the heart of Miller’s ideal musical situation – collaboration. “I don’t really like to play by myself,” says Miller. “I like to play with other people. I guess so much of what I like about playing music is collaboration – when that’s not a part of it, I tend to lose interest.”
When not filling in the ranks of a variety of acts around town and on tour, Miller conducts private lessons and also teaches for the Knoxville non-profit, the Community School of the Arts – an organization that was awarded by President Obama’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts as one of the top arts programs in the country.
Miller has recently moved to Kentucky with her fiancé, but she will not be taking any time off from playing her cello and continuing to collaborate – her favorite part of playing music.
Find out more about Cecilia Miller at ceciliamiller.com.
All of these photos are unedited and taken by locals in the East Tennessee area. They are selected from submissions. Please enjoy seeing this beautiful part of the country through the eyes of the people that live here. #LocalEyesIt
From top to bottom:
1. "Buttercup, the Horse"
Photograph from Knoxville, TN by Miranda Klein
2. "The Up-Close Beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains"
Photograph from Gatlinburg, TN by Katherine Vermillion
3. "Mount LeConte (The Summit)"
Photograph from Sevier County, TN by Taylar Cieslukowski
4. "Between Venues"
Photograph from downtown Knoxville, TN by Pete Eby trekking during Big Ears Festival 2016
5. "There's So Mushroom to Grow in Knoxville"
Photograph from Knoxville, TN by Dan DeRidder
Review and photography by Scott Lawrence
October 15, 2014
I enter the grounds of a remote farm in Lafayette, Georgia. In my view is an expanse of hilly fields crossed with pine trees and dirt roads festooned with scuzzy kids packed onto golf carts whizzing around at top speed, nearly colliding with anything and everything within six feet of the trail. So far, so good. Parking the wagon, I embark on three days of anarchic mayhem: the Meltasia music festival.
Orange amps lined three stages blasting an ear-shattering array of rock and roll. I've been to my share of music festivals, but this was not quite your Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo extravaganza. Never had I desired to be trapped in a field surrounded by unwashed, unkempt college students. But here I was, doing essentially just that.
There were no tent cities full of cell phone chargers, free swag and product placement — for the most part, just great bands. Rock and roll bands going at it hard in 2014 and the people who wanted to see just that.
I arrived just in time to catch Liquor Store, New Jersey's own guitar-solo-driven-goon squad. They released a thunderous blast of three guitars and seventies mustache rock. The drunken afternoon also featured Dirty Fences, who looked like the guys Beavis and Butthead idolized. Then, the always-amazing Cheap Time, from Nashville, killed it with their brand of ultra minimal rigid punk/pop. Next up, Atlanta's The Coathangers lined the staged with plastic skeletons, proceeding to play one of the most energetic and memorable sets of the night. The “progged-out” lunacy of Hedersleben gave way to psychedelic warlord, Nik Turner's version of the inimitable Hawkwind. The entire crowed was subsequently punished by interstellar sonic attack! Definitely an amazing set.
After stumbling through the trail, which was almost plowed down by the golf carts it was time to rest up for the next couple days.
I stopped by and said hello to Tight Genes, always a set of gnarly punk rock. Singer Noah's theatrical antics and humor set the stage for a day of pure, absurd fun. The first day was a slow go as far as turnout was concerned, but by mid-afternoon it was filling up to be the most attended day. In the 90 degree weather, Predator and Apache ripped it up, along with GG King and Gringo Star.
Everybody was weltering, sweaty and/or shirtless. With the weirdness cranked up to 11 and introspection at the forefront of many-a-conversation and the sweet-smelling cloud billowing through the grounds, freaks lined up to see the best rockabilly act I have ever seen, who, in spite of my disdain for the whole flaming eight ball neo-rockabilly scene, Bloodshot Bill defied all my prejudices. Then garage rock darlings, The Black Lips brought down the house. With beer cans raining down like sticky hailstones, the crowd swayed and sang along. Thereafter, sapphic bluegrass wunderkinds, Birdcloud played bawdy acoustic ballads. Puppet mistress and organ grinder par excellence, Quintron and Miss Pussycat kept the crowd dancing and marveling at the bizarre Sid-and-Marty-Krofft-esque performance. And no one was prepared for Vockah Redu. No one. The New Orleans bounce act showed everyone what was up with a combination of synchronized dance moves, scat-rapping and the ever popular, twerking. Howie Pyro led a dance party for the remaining few who had the intestinal fortitude to keep the party going.
By the third day everyone seemed to vanish. Like thieves in the night, the people who flocked to the shows the night before had bailed first thing. Unbowed, Krektones played perfectly executed surf music. Orlando punk stompers, Golden Pelicans were next in line, lumbering through their set of ragers. It seemed the pool (rather, pond) party was in full swing, providing everyone with a chill, if not muddy, escape from the afternoon sun.
I also checked out Classhole, JP5 and Dawn of Humans and was very pleased with all three performances. After that, Chicago sibling duo, White Mystery wreaked havoc, slaying the crowd with red afros. Yes, red afros went flying everywhere. Then Natural Child did the best Black Oak Arkansas cover set I've ever seen. Or was it the other way around?
Lecherous Gaze and Portland shred masters, Danava set the night straight. It wasn’t that Black Oak didn't play a good show — quite the opposite, but it’s just not my bag. When you grow up in the South, it doesn’t always rub the right way.
Regrettably, I missed Shannon and The Clams, who are my favorite current band. Goddamn it. For those unfamiliar, Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard’s surf-drenched girl group rock is one of the must-see acts touring the country right now.
Andy Animal put on one of, if not the best, music festivals you should have gone to. I, for one, will be there next year.
Learn more about Meltasia by visiting meltasia.com.
By William Wright
Photograph by Paul Moore
January 6, 2015
Talking to Bill Frisell about music for only 15 minutes is more than a little complicated. The only way to do it, we think, is to write down the 50 immediate questions that come to mind and whittle it down. Forty-two years into a career that will be discussed and mythologized for decades to come, Frisell is a very busy man. Very busy. Supporting multiple creative works of his own and jet-setting around the globe to myriad one-off engagements is common practice for him. Bill is bringing his film/music collaboration with archivist Bill Morrison, “The Great Flood,” to Big Ears in 2015. The film and music are a glimpse into the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, by way of original music by Frisell coupled with Morrison’s stunning compilation of actual video footage of the flood.
Mr. Frisell does not get to sit still very often, but he gave us 15 minutes to pick his brain, and it was not easy limiting our curiosities to 15 minutes, but we did it!
SINE: So you are on your way to New York right now?
Bill Frisell: Yeah. And then, who knows where? It just keeps going haywire from then on.
S: You are supporting several projects over the next months — is that right?
BF: That’s pretty much the norm for me, I guess. It’s kind of amazing — every day is different. There are a bunch of gigs that are that “Guitar in the Space Age!” thing.
S: Will you be doing any of that album at Big Ears or just “The Great Flood?”
BF: From what I understand, we’re just doing “The Great Flood.” And that’s a pretty specific program, so I don’t think we’d be playing any of that other music. There’s always a chance I’ll be doing something else because there’s a lot of stuff going on, right? Over those few days.
S: Yeah, and the nature of the festival sort of caters to sometimes spontaneous artist collaborations. Have you ever been to Big Ears Festival before?
BF: No, and I’ve been trying to get there for a while. I’m really excited to check it out.
S: Some people think that it is weird that this progressive, experimental music festival is in Knoxville. Thoughts?
BF: I’ve played there a few times. There’s a lot of music around there!
S: What were your previous Knoxville experiences like?
BF: I know I played there with Jack DeJohnette, in a theater. I think every time I’ve played there, it has had something to do with Ashley Capps. I think he must be my ally there. I think I played in a club there, once or twice, as well.
S: Any artists at Big Ears that you are pumped to see perform?
BF: Oh, I don’t even know who’s going to be there! A friend of mine in Seattle said he’s going to be playing there with Harold Budd. That’s one thing I know.
S: Kronos Quartet, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Max Richter, to name a few.
BF: Oh wowwww ... that’s awesome. I had no idea. A lot of times I’m traveling around and ... I hope I get to check things out. That sounds awesome. Terry Riley! Y’know, I’ve been listening the last year, and relistening to a lot of his stuff. He blows my mind. I was playing a festival in Ireland and, I had played it years ago, but they got all the musicians in the festival together, and we played “In C,” the piece that he wrote long ago, and it was amazing. I had played it 35 years ago and to revisit it now was amazing. I hope I get to see him. I met him once in an airport. His music blows my mind.
S: There was a midnight performance of “In C” at Big Ears once.
BF: Oh man. So cool. I also met his son at a baggage claim once. He was super nice.
S: How did “The Great Flood” and your collab with Bill Morrison come together?
BF: I’ve known Bill (Morrison) for quite a while. He was actually a dishwasher at the Village Vanguard when I first met him. I didn’t even know he made films for a long time. Eventually I found out he was making films, and he asked if he could use some of my music. A few things happened years back, but the things we did usually involved preexisting music of mine, and we always wanted to find a project where we could both start from the ground up. He could tell this story better than me. He was somewhere at a conference and he found out about this book “Rising Tide” that described this whole event, the flood, and all the history leading up to it. It really got him going. Then he started finding all of this footage. What was incredible was to work on the music before the film was done. We traveled to New Orleans and traveled up the river. It was amazing to be in on the whole process.
S: Is there a set program for “The Great Flood,” or do you reinterpret it every time?
BF: Well, we re-interpret it, but the form changes too. He changes the film from time to time. It’s basically structured in chapters, and the music changes within the chapters each time. Like a lot of my music, I don’t want it to be static — the music changes within the form of the film. It’s not like being in a Broadway show or anything like that.
S: What about your new album “Guitar In The Space Age!?” It’s pretty fun, but what was the impetus?
BF: Well, it’s really just all the music that got me going when I was first playing. I realized I hadn’t really played any of it. I realized that, at the time, I was just skimming over this music, moving through things too fast. Seems like after playing for more than 50 years, I wanted to just go back and figure it out better. It’s kind of amazing, looking at that music now, after all the experience I’ve had … those songs are hard. The impetus is just to learn and learn and learn and strengthen my foundation.
S: Your version of “Pipeline” was so good.
BF: We made super-obvious choices — songs that everybody has heard. And since we’ve been playing that album live, it keeps evolving and changes, and I keep finding more stuff in it.
S: Anything else going on with you, besides sitting in airports?
BF: Well, usually when I get off the planes I usually get to play (laughs). That’s the payoff. In a couple of days, I’m playing a Charlie Haden tribute and at Lincoln Center a few days later. Then we’re doing a few of the “Space Age” shows, and we just keep going and going. We’re doing a Joshua Light Show event in Davis, California that I’m really excited about.
S: Wow. Nonstop until Big Ears?
BF: I have a few days off in February. But usually when I go home, it’s just to do my laundry (laughs).
Learn more about Bill Frisell at billfrisell.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Bill Foster
February 10, 2015
Knoxville’s Big Ears festival returns, doubles back on itself and continues to evolve into one of modern music’s highest societies.
If you have attended any of the incarnations of Big Ears, there is a likeliness that you have watched a single artist performing over loops of himself/herself, either live or pre-recorded. The one that comes to mind first, for obvious reasons, is William Basinski’s 2010 performance of his seminal work, the gorgeous and glacial “Disintegration Loops” at the Tennessee Theatre. In a way, Big Ears is its own looping exhibition, but instead of tones and rhythms crossing back over each other, the festival has made a signature of first convincing top-tier musical visionaries to perform their most important work, but then convincing them to return, inspire one another and to form new blends of genius. Just like in pieces such as “Disintegration Loops,” the festival somehow manages to cross back over itself in new and compelling ways.
Bryce Dessner, of indie band The National, will return in 2015 in his fourth Big Ears incarnation. Dessner has acted as a guest curator, a performer in The National, a composer for “Music for Wood and Strings” in 2014 and in the upcoming festival, thanks to his multiple collaborations with artist-in-residence, Kronos Quartet. Also in 2015, composer Terry Riley will loop back into the Big Ears circuit. The artist-in-residence in the 2010 version of the festival, Riley’s name is one that, when discussing the festival with performers, you heard mentioned as an inspiration in their development as artists, especially for his seminal piece “In C.” Having a composer of Riley’s stature return to the festival mix again is a vivid illustration of the experience that Big Ears has become, not only to fans but to artists as well. Riley will be celebrating his eightieth birthday at Big Ears, where his son, classical guitarist Gyan Riley, will also be performing for the second time.
Australian-born, Icelandic-based composer Ben Frost will make his encore appearance at Big Ears as well. Frost has collaborated with 2010 Big Ears artist Nico Muhly. Oddly, Muhly and Frost are joined by 2015 Big Ears artist Sam Amidon in the Icelandic label/collective known as Bedroom Community. Just another strange and awesome Big Ears overlay.
Across the generational gap, younger artists are also returning to Big Ears in 2015. Jason Chung, a musician/producer/DJ, better known to the world as Nosaj Thing, makes his second trip to Big Ears. Chung was an artist at previous incarnation of the festival, and is best known for his work with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Also returning to the festival is electronic artist/producer Jamie XX. Jamie returns in his second incarnation, first performing at Big Ears in 2010. Just as Big Ears is known for memorable collaborations, Jamie XX is, in some ways, known best for his breath-taking collaboration with the legendary Gil Scott-Heron (which is not happening at Big Ears but … man … it really should).
Take this festival, which is inspiring artists to visit and revisit, inspiring each other, and in turn, inspiring festival-goers, and our loop is becoming very compelling. But adding new elements in 2015 could make this one of the most phenomenal musical experiences anywhere. Big Ears will welcome some giants in the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, indie and experimental music. First-timers this year will include composer Max Richter (see interview), who has been responsible for over 50 television and movie scores, but also has written some of the twenty-first century’s most widely influential and celebrated pieces of music, crowned by 2002’s “Memoryhouse.” The festival will also welcome Laurie Anderson, whose career as a performance artist, musician and inventor spans four decades. Anderson has regularly made major contributions to modern music since 1975, most recently a piece for strings and electronics titled “Landfall,” a collaboration with Kronos Quartet which was inspired by the events surrounding Hurricane Sandy.
The ambitious 2015 schedule of performers stretches across genres and continents, welcoming guitar legend Bill Frisell (see interview), the ambient beauty of Grouper, the fiery presence of legendary Syrian dance-tiger Omar Souleyman, all the way to a rescoring of the classic 1922 Swedish/Danish silent horror film “Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages,” (a film that was once re-narrated by William S. Burroughs in 1968) by equally dark and menacing electronic duo Demdike Stare, and that does not even begin to scratch the surface of the depth of talent and potential for cross-pollination of ideas at this festival. And so Big Ears loops on, crossing over legendary minimalists with budding twenty-first century composers, DJ’s with jazz legends and everything in between becoming a richer and more complex multi-sensory experience every time around and continuing to not only inspire its artists and audiences, but continuing to inspire future, better versions of itself that reflect new and revisited genius. It is that loop that keeps us coming back around.
Learn more about Big Ears festival at bigearsfestival.com.
Book review by Nick Kivi
Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster Publishing
September 30, 2014
"Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive, Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records” by Amanda Petrusich
At what point do our purchases become us? When do our materialistic tendencies transform us into bastardized versions of what we buy? As much we would like it to be, how consumerism defines us is not a tightrope bisecting two hemispheres. It gets complicated. It is both. It is neither. It is gray. The hobby (read: obsession) of collecting itself is taking materialism to the absolute extreme. Buying a Skip James collection on iTunes might not identify you, but when you find yourself hitched up to a scuba tank scuttling around the depths of the Milwaukee River looking for discarded Skip James records, people might start to wonder.
"Collecting anything requires a singularity of focus, but 78 collecting demands an almost-inhuman level of concentration. There is a violence to the search, a dysfunctional aggression that vacillates between repellent and endearingly quirky. It’s intimidating to outsiders, and it feeds on sacrifice.” -Amanda Petrusich
Enter Amanda Petrusich, author of the wonderful 2014 book, “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive, Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records.” From the sweaty mountain flea markets of Hillsville, Virginia to the previously noted Milwaukee River depths, Petrusich follows around a motley crew of eccentrics hell-bent on finding each and every last pre-war record in existence. It also takes a look at the history of American music and how the works of these influential early musical troubadours were saved from the ravages of time.
About a decade before the British Invasion crested the American horizon, a scraggly American anthropologist named Harry Smith was weaving together a tapestry of all-but-forgotten folk music 78's. In what proved to be the holy grail of mixtapes, Folkways Records’ “The Anthology of American Folk Music” had a slow burning yet exponentially influential grasp on 20th century music. A young kid by the name of Robert Zimmerman became enthralled with the collection and was majorly influenced by it way when he began performing as Bob Dylan. It is fair to say that without “Anthology,” you might never have seen the Dylan we know today, in turn never seeing Springsteen, and so on and so forth. “The Anthology” became the torch upon which a generation of young music lovers gazed on for guidance and direction. It also helped spur on the search for similar records. Petrusich dedicates a large portion to Smith and his creation, trying to pick and prod through the knee-deep muck of mythology that now surrounds it.
So as the mid-60’s came and The Stones, The Yardbirds and The Who began to quickly permeate into the American conscious, interest towards their influences grew further. These bands were clearly influenced by early rock n’ roll from the good-ol-USA, but there was a deeper knowledge of American music that even many Americans had not yet picked up on. The Brits had discovered the blues and distilled it until became something new yet clearly indebted to the past. Artists like Leadbelly, Skip James and Son House, amongst others, were found again decades after their legendary recordings. People began hunting zealously to find all the records that these legends stomped out that had been thought were lost to time.
Petrusich keeps up with all walks of vinyl-philiacs. She finds Joe Bussard, who has been out collecting some 25,000 78's for over half a century. Some are younger, who were not around forty years ago before anyone had yet gobbled up all the remaining Mississippi John Hurt singles – people who still have the bug but fewer blues records left to find. Others like Chris King have ventured off into other genres, finding 90-year-old Cajun barn-stompers by Blind Uncle Gaspard or the haunting solos of violinist, Alexis Zoumbas. Some of the most well-known blues and folk music known today is recounted as being saved from dumpsters next to the homes of deceased hoarders.
A long time writer for “Pitchfork” and “Oxford American,” Petrusich knows music better than just about anyone. Equal parts Tom Wolfe and Alan Lomax, she slides right into the world of 78's collecting and contextualizing all of 20th century music so even the most ignorant of music aficionados could understand. American music history is a rather intimidating subject, but Petrusich makes it accessible and interesting. With many of these records being the only remaining in existence, these faithful and fortuitous adventurers are doing something that is invaluable to an unmatched musical culture – helping save it.
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