Sunday, February 22, 2015

Burlington Downtown Music Scene

The stage at the Rusted Bucket
Burlington in general and the downtown area in particular is beginning to see a resurgence in popularity as a destination for live music acts. The Rusted Bucket on Davis Street swung its doors open last year after a hiatus with an expanded area giving patrons more room to move around inside the intimate venue, once again providing live music entertainment - primarily on the weekends. One street over The Ends bassist Josh Coe and his family operate Front Street Public House. The Public House serves domestic beer but they have a heavy focus on microbrew and imported beer.
Front St. Public House
As a live music venue the Front Street Public House provides a nice setup for solo or small group performances in the bar area which due to its design offers excellent acoustics. The venue provides the PA system and, unless a show is scheduled, musicians are welcome to bring their instruments in, hook up and entertain for tips.
    Diagonally across from the Public House is Burlington's crown jewel for entertainment - the Paramount Theatre. Mostly used for fund raising events, plays and lectures, the Paramount occasionally opens for special musical events.

  One block down The Company Shops, a locally owned co-op grocery store, plays host in the summer months to acoustic acts outside on their dining patio.
    The newest kid on the block is actually a block away on Spring St. (in the building that was formerly "Roasters Coffee House") called Upmann's, a lounge, wine bar and pub that opened in March 2013.
  With spring and summer events in the downtown area the old depot on Front St. also has a small amphitheater outside to showcase musical talent during events the city puts on.
Amphitheatre at the Old Depot
The burgeoning music scene echoes the revitalization of downtown Burlington and with Labcorp moving out of many of the buildings and spaces it has occupied over the years (as they move their operations to the former Citicard building on I-40) the opportunities for more music venues, restaurants and even housing is growing in leaps and bounds.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Still 3 - For Love of the Music

Still 3 is (L-R) Troy Jordan, Brian Smith, Wayne Arrington
   Back in the day there was a trio of friends who got together to rock and roll, they worked and practiced and worked some more. Calling themselves "4Play" they played venues, gained a loyal following and pricked the ears of industry executives. They were on the verge of signing to a label and then another trio from Seattle changed the landscape of rock and roll. Grunge was in and power rock was out.
  Fast forward 24 years and those three friends have travelled diverse paths yet remain in touch and jam together whenever they can. Bassist Troy Jordan owns and operates a roofing company in the Winston-Salem area, guitarist Wayne Arrington works at an electronics business and drummer Brian Smith works as an I.T. professional in addition to his regular gig as the man with the sticks behind popular local rock cover band Sok Monkee. But just jamming together is only part of the story. Playing a gig is the other part.
  At one time Troy was bassist for Magazyne and Wayne played with Kitty Hawk, while Brian was of course with Sok Monkee so playing together meant jamming in the evenings after work since all three bands were in popular demand at local venues. With a baby and marriage Troy put his priorities in order and left Magazyne, then Wayne was freed up after Kitty Hawk disbanded. Now coming together once again as a power rock and roll trio they aptly call themselves Still 3 and they get to play live gigs as Brian's schedule with Sok Monkee allows - which isn't very often.
Still 3 at After Hours Tavern
Valentines Day 2015
   Being a rock trio means they have to strip the music down to the three basic instruments of guitar, bass and drums. But to do so and retain a tight, polished sound is a difficult task at best as can be attested to by the dearth of successful trio's in rock and roll (Rush, Green Day, and of course Nirvana being at the pinnacle). The beauty of the music created by a successful trio, created by Still 3, is not only because it is stripped down to those three instruments but because those three musicians have to use those three instruments to build up and fill the void created where other instruments might be needed, a successful accomplishment relegated only to top tier musicians.
   It is impossible to watch Still 3 and not be caught up in the joy these men find in playing for the pure joy of playing. A Still 3 show is a combination of original and cover songs, it's a show of power and sweat, a show of intricate musical scores and arrangements, but most of all it is a show of three men in love with their music.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Storms of Life - the Essence of Country Music

Randy Travis Mug Shot
August 7, 2012
  I'm not likely to win any friends or popularity contests with this post but I feel a desire to point out the silver lining, if you will, on country music giant Randy Travis' bizarre behavior earlier this week. Now don't get me wrong, I don't condone Randy's behavior but if the legendary star puts his mind, skills and talent to work in the proper way he should use this experience as the basis for writing new songs. You see, I happen to believe there is a missing ingredient in much of today's so-called country music. That missing ingredient is life experiences. More-so than any other genre of music (with the exception of the blues) country music is about true-life experiences. No the songs don't have to be true-to-life for the performer who sings them but the performer needs to be able to draw from his or her own life and insert that emotion into the song. When George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty or any of the numerous other legendary country stars performed a song you felt the pain, heartbreak or agony of the song because those performers could relate to it and that familiarity came out in the performance. The best country music songs are about those feelings, they are about a cheating spouse, an all-night drinking binge, divorce and even death. Today's country music is largely about being clever and funny with word play, about reminiscing of younger days, about social issues even. Few and far-between are the songs which delve into the soul-wrenching, gut-twisting issues of life mentioned before. When George sang a song about the bottle, well you knew he had spent many, many a night in the bottom of it. When Johnny sang about a boy named Sue you knew he could relate to the brawl in the mud and the blood and the beer because of his anger-filled history. When Merle sings of mama trying to teach him better... you knew he just had to mean it because of the time he spent in prison.
  Love songs are wonderful and beautiful but the harsh realities of life are what we remember, what we talk about, what we relate to the most. A wonderful voice, great stage presence and right timing are key ingredients for artists to make it to the top, but it is living through life's most difficult moments and being able to inject those feelings into a song... that is what separates the good performers from the legendary, it is what makes a country singer an icon of the genre rather than just a star.
  So while I wish Randy Travis the best in overcoming his current legal or emotional issues, I truly hope he does more than overcome, I hope he turns an awful experience into gain by writing and singing the pain and once again reclaiming his status as a legendary icon of the genre.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nothing Blue About These Blues

Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band
(L-R) Harvey Dalton Arnold, Tim Carey,
Darrell Young & Kim Shomaker
  I wrote earlier this year about the opportunity I had to meet and visit with the Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band during one of their practice sessions (read story here). During that visit I quickly became a fan of the HDABB. Sitting and listening to them I marveled at the music they made and vowed I would get out to see them perform live sometime soon.
  "Sometime soon" was this past Saturday night at the Fat Frogg in Elon. I had unintentionally missed their first set due to another passion of mine - watching NASCAR (it was a night race). When Harvey and company took to the stage for their second set I was blown away yet again. What I had witnessed at their practice session back in April was little more than a simple run through a set list - and that was damn good - but live on a stage was a whole other ball game. Harvey playing his left-handed guitar was every bit as exciting on his vocals as he was his guitar licks, boy that man can wail! Harvey's vocal styling is perfect for this music.
  On the opposite side of the stage guitarist Kim Shomaker (read more about Kim here) was turning his "Work horse" (the name for his beat up and worn first re-issue '57 Fender Stratocaster) into a Triple Crown race horse. 
  In between the two guitarists bassist Darrell Young balanced out the sound by providing the low-end rhythm as well as handling supporting vocal duty while in the back Tim Carey kept the show on track with excellent drum work. 
  Listening to HDABB it is difficult to imagine they have only been together as a unit for less than two years. On stage they are relaxed and comfortable yet full of energy. Saturday nights show was mesmerizing to say the least. The set list this night was a well-balanced mixture of blues and rock cover tunes including the Beatle's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and original tunes found on the band's two available CD's.
  The audience Saturday was a nice mix of young and 'older than young' who came out to help celebrate the Fat Frogg's second year of business and enjoy an evening of fantastic music, an evening showcasing a band that is truly on top of their game and their game is HOT.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bodies - Yes, Body Slamming - NO
Or how a few asses can ruin a show

Sok Monkee at the Fat Frogg prior to the
show being shut down.
  I try to be a fan of all genres of music, even music that is removed from my generation such as Hip-Hop and Rap - I try to find in those musical forms the basic elements that speak to me even though I am far removed from that culture. Another genre I am also removed from but not nearly so distant is Death Metal (or any of the many other off-shoots of the genre such as Deathcore, Death Grind, etc).
  I recently went to an all-day event that featured several local Death Metal bands, none of whom I can recall the name of. Save for a cool heavy-metal trio called Jews and Catholics and a female cover band fronted by Staci McBeth the event held very little that I could relate to. In fact it was abhorrent to me that children as young as six years old were running around and even taking part in some of the band acts where the vilest of vulgarities were slung at the audience faster than Rambo could empty an M-16. In fact with these bands it was only the vulgarities that were understandable as the lyrics are sung (and I use the word sung very loosely) as a constant guttural roar. It is generally within this genre of music that you will find the mosh pits or body slamming that occurs in the audience.
  This event was a few weeks ago and I only bring it up now in order to give insight on a sad incident that occurred this past Friday night at the Sok Monkee show in Elon. Sok Monkee is one of the area's premier rock bands and has been for several years now. Their music covers several decades but primarily the harder rock of the past ten years or so. At any given show you are likely to see many of the same faces, a core group of fans known as the Monkee Junkees and they are zealous supporters of the band and their music.
  Friday nights show at the Fat Frogg though showed the potential early on for a disruptive evening when a couple of juvenile college kids began dancing wildly in the crowd with no concern that they were imposing on the enjoyment of others. They were the same type of kids who would be right at home at a Death Metal concert. By the time the second set began the couple of asses had been joined by several more asses - all heavily inebriated. At about 1:30 am the disruption became too much and lead singer Dylan Setzer stopped the set to address the situation but as the band launched into "Bodies," one of their signature covers the body slamming began again in earnest compounded by shattering their glasses on the dance floor creating a wet dangerous mess. Several of the Monkee Junkees retreated to the outside deck but a few who were caught up in the maelstrom were not so lucky and at least two MJ's suffered in-direct hits by the asses trying to body slam. Club security began ejecting the offensive parties who took their actions to the parking lot. Within minutes the Elon police department had dispatched up to six cars to the Fat Frogg.
  Wisely, Dylan once again stopped the show, this time for good. What had begun as another wonderful evening of good times with great music and friends had dissolved into a shortened evening. As the band began packing up their gear the expression on Dylan's face was heartbreaking. Here was a man who thrives on the energy of the music he sings and a band whose passion and professionalism has catapulted them to the top of their craft, to say they were disappointed to not finish the show would be an understatement.
  Saturday night the band took to the stage once again, this time at Stumblin' Pig in Mebane. While I didn't attend that show, I have heard many good comments about it this morning. It was a return to good times and good friends enjoying the music and band they love.
  As a footnote I would encourage anyone at a show by any band where mosh pits and body slamming are not the norm to make management or security aware of the disruptive behavior of others early on so an eye can be kept on them and security can intervene before it gets out of hand.

  I'll re-iterate what I wrote on the Sok Monkee Facebook page Saturday morning when I got home - Kudo's to Dylan for stopping the show and trying to be preemptive and avoid violence of any kind. Dylan and his band mates are all class acts who only want to provide the best music they can for their fans.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lady wants to meet The Kid

  Savannah “Lady” Childers is a typical 13 year old girl. She would rather be with her friends than her mom most of the time, blast her music at extreme volume and like most teenagers she has a passion for music and especially her idol Kid Rock. But if you’re reading this story and expecting it to be a light-hearted tale of teenage music angst you will be disappointed. You see, unlike most teenager girls Savannah cannot tell you about her passion, or sing along to the songs she loves. She cannot dance around the floor on her own two feet, or jump up and down or talk about her love of music as she is non-verbal. For Savannah each day is a constant struggle filled with enteral feedings, breathing treatments, a daily medication routine and confinement to a wheelchair.
  When Savannah was born doctors told her mother Katrice not to expect her to live long. Born with a condition known as Chromosomal Deletion Syndrome, or more commonly called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, the condition results in seizures, marked muscle weakness, distinct facial appearance, congenital heart defects and growth and mental retardation.
Mother sings to her daughter
on her 13th birthday

  The fact Savannah has survived to be a teenager is a tribute to the love and determination of her mother. Katrice is quick to point out though how Savannah saved her life. At a crossroads in her own life when Savannah was born, her baby’s special needs impacted Katrice and made her realize she had to make changes in order to be the mother Savannah needed if she were to survive. While the struggle which laid ahead for the young mother and child were daunting to say the least, it has been a journey of joy and happiness for the pair. A happiness with music as a central theme in their lives. Katrice’s joy of music and singing has passed on to her daughter. “Savannah is never in a bad mood,” says Katrice “except for when the music is turned off.” Savannah’s favorite artist happens to be Kid Rock. “As long as the music is playing she (Savannah) is happy,” says Katrice “and when Kid Rock comes on the radio or TV her good mood only gets better.”
  For Savannah, Kid Rock is one of the few things that can take away the struggles of daily life - if even for just a few moments.
  When Kid Rock announced the cities he will be playing during his current tour Katrice knew she had a new mission in life - not only to take her teenage daughter to her first concert but also for Savannah to actually meet Kid Rock. The pathway to the stars though is rarely an easy one and finding the right person to connect with to enable her daughter to meet the Detroit rocker has not been easy. Using Facebook, Katrice has created a page (Savannah Wants To Meet Kid Rock) devoted to gathering “Likes” to help her impress the powers that be at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte to grant her wish for her daughter to meet the star.
  You can do your part to help Savannah by doing two simple things - first, visit her page on Facebook and “Like” it and second, be sure to "Share" the page so that others can also see it. You can also share and tweet this blog article by clicking the icons directly below this story. Katrice hopes to get a 1000 “Likes” but knowing the generosity of the local live music scene I’m sure that number could be much higher. Liking Savannah’s page won’t cost you a dime but you will get the satisfaction of knowing a simple little click on a Facebook page might encourage someone in Kid Rock’s inner circle to make a little girls heart glow with joy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trial by Fire - the Journey Tribute

  Even though I've seen a couple of tribute bands in the past I've never really understood the whole tribute band phenomenon and so it was that for some time now I had put off going to see Charlotte based Trial by Fire, the Journey tribute band. I had determined a few days ago that I would however go see them at the new Clubhouse in Greensboro which I had not been to since they changed ownership.
  What I got in return for my $10 cover charge though was well worth the money spent. Behind the vocals of lead singer Ernie Shepherd Trial by Fire quickly got the audience into the music, sounding every bit as good as Journey. Shepherd's range easily allowed him to achieve the same sustained high notes made famous by Steve Perry, Journey's front man. Throughout the first and second set the group treated the audience to hit after hit - "Any Way You Want It," "Send Her My Love," "Open Arms," "Lovin', Touchin, Squeezin'," "Stone In Love," "Who's Crying Now," and probably the most requested song of the night - "Lights." As the night progressed I realized I had forgotten just how many hits Journey had.
  The third and final set of the night was given over to mostly repeats of songs performed in the first set, much to the delight and pleasure of the audience who just didn't seem to want to leave.
  On my way home I tried to analyze just what it is about Journey's music that is so powerful that still drives crowds not only to Journey concerts but also to the Journey tribute shows as well - especially women who outnumbered the men last night three to one (I like those odds!). I finally decided it wasn't any one thing in particular, instead it is the total package - well written songs that are played, sung and performed in a coherent, dynamic presentation - just the way Trial by Fire did it last night.