Saturday was a pretty nice day so Nancy, Nicole and I went to Clifton for a small wine festival. We have to be many other wine festivals, the nice thing about this one was the close proximity and the relatively small size. Just because it was small didn’t mean there were no people, it was a packed house by the middle of the afternoon.
Nancy and I arrived early and meet Tracy and the kids who were enjoying the bounce castle. We said hello and quickly hit the first tent before the crowds came. Not long after we arrived Nichole showed up. We all caught up but quickly got down to some serious business.
By the end of the festival the ladies had sampled all the wineries, some twice, and had lunch in town at the Main Street Pub. The heat was not to bad so we enjoyed a great lunch outside. I would like to go back for a happy hour, the bar is cozy (read small) but looks like it has a great atmosphere. I think when the 2013 festival rolls around, we will go back with hopefully a larger group. The smaller venue makes navigating around and tasting wine much easier than Vintage Virginia at Bull Run. It is also early enough in the year that you can get some stellar weather before it gets real hot and muggy around here.
Another year and another free outdoor jazz festival in Rosslyn. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this years was looking good because The Bad Plus was playing. I have seen them before, even own a few albums and was looking forward to seeing them play on the small stage at Gateway Park. The date coincided with the anniversary of 9/11 but thankfully there was only one small mention in passing by one of the directors of Rosslyn Bid. The artists left the politics at home and provided a splendid afternoon of great music. No one was there for a political rally.
I got a late start and didn’t leave the house till almost noon. By the time I got off Metro and picked up my morning coffee I literally had two minutes to spare before the 1pm show start. I found a nice spot on the wide open lawn away from people, most in fact were off to the sides in shade. Securing my area just before the first act got on stage I clipped my first cigar and sipped some coffee. For the next couple of hours I managed to smoke two cigars and have no one complain. More and more people filed in, but I kept puffing away and made sure everyone around me knew what I was doing. You didn’t have to sit next to me if you were going to be bothered by my smoking.
Afro Bop Alliance was the first performance, a Grammy winning Latin jazz band. Surprisingly no one was up and dancing, last year several couples danced the afternoon away to the sounds of Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Pretty tame today, I guess being the first act in the middle of the afternoon didn’t help.
Next up was Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, a trio that has been playing together for 10 years. Jason Moran was rather young but certainly well versed in musical history. They played several intro pieces from old artists including Billie Holiday and a menstrual act from the early part of this century. It would be a 30-60 second piece with them slowly playing salong before they quickly took the arrangement in a new direction. I wouldn’t call it fusion, but very close. The beats were crazy and the solos spectacular. These guys certainly had command of their instruments and I was pleasantly surprised by their set.
When they finished it was time for The Bad Plus, the act I was most excited about seeing. I didn’t have any more cigars to smoke, later Jeremy reminded me to always bring more than you think you will need. There set was fantastic and the crowd was really into it. I was afraid they might be a little out there for most people but the crowd ate it up, very enthusiastic. Some of the songs during the set were from their forthcoming album that will be released Tuesday called Never Stop.
After their set was finished it was time to call it a day. Even though the weather was good I was tired of roasting in the sun. The final act, The Tierney Sutton Band, I was not much interested in seeing. I made a lazy walk around the park to soak up as much energy as I could and headed home on the Metro. Another thing I love about this festival, it’s so close to home.
What an adventure this past weekend was. I decided at the last minute to catch the Newport Jazz Festival over the weekend, actually bought my ticket on Friday and that night I began my journey at 10pm. I drove as far as I could make it before I needed to pull off at a rest stop to get some sleep. My goal was to make it to the Melville Ponds Campground and then head over to Fort Adams State Park. When I called to get a reservation for camping I was informed it was first-come-first-serve. They had 10 or so camp sites left and I wanted one badly. The camp site was only a few miles from the festival grounds and it was cheap. I would have to pay for two nights because of the festival, but $50 was a lot cheaper than any hotel I was going to find.
After a few stops for cat naps I made it to the camp grounds and got my spot around noon. I wanted to catch Christian McBride Trio at 12:50 so that was the target time I was shooting for. I got a spot in the back of the camp grounds deep in the woods and it was great. After setting up my tent it was off to the bathhouse for a much needed hot shower. I wanted so badly to see Christian McBride, but I wanted a hot shower even more. After I was refreshed and more awake I was off to the festival through some crazy traffic in downtown Newport.
When I arrived the place was exactly as I remember from my previous two visits. Whats more is the place was packed with festival goers. This years production almost didn’t happen from what I heard. The old company, Festival Networks, bought the rights from George Wein a two years ago, the man who started it all in 1954. With the recent financial crisis they were caught in the middle and were not going to put on this years Folk or Jazz festivals. Fortunately George wouldn’t allow his baby to go to the way side so he stepped in and bought the rights back from Festival Networks. George, with his clought, was going to put on the festivals with or without a major sponsor. He was able to get an impressive lineup of acts for both festivals and more importantly was able to secure a license for Fort Adams, Festival Networks lost theirs. Short story is the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals were going to take place this year with or without corporate sponsorship at their rightful home in Newport!
I strolled down the vendor booths on my way to the lawn to secure my spot. I recognized many of the same vendors as in the past which was nice to see with several new ones thrown in for good measure. As I approached the lawn I started to realize how late I actually was. There was not much space for new arrivals so I had to sandwich myself into a pretty tight spot. The first place I broke camp for was behind a large tent and over the crest of the hill. From here I could only see the monitor and not the actual stage. But I didn’t really care. I had finally made it after a long trip and I was enjoying myself. The sun was shinning and the weather was cooperating very nicely. It couldn’t have been above 75 degrees and with the constant breeze it was absolutely perfect. So I broke out my chair and some food to enjoy the last few songs of Esperanza Spalding. Later I moved further to the right and closer to the stage for a much better view.
There was a 30 minute set break so I took the time to walk around some more and mingled with others at the show. Again hitting the vendor booths, this time on the other side of the aisle and lazily made my way over to the Harbor stage to see what was going on over there. One thing that I love about this venue are all the boats that show up. Each year the harbor gets filled with all manor of boats with people enjoying the concert. You can’t hear much that far from the stage, but it is a great party atmosphere and a spectacle to behold.
As I walked back to my spot I noticed I was running late and Joshua Redman Double Trio was already on stage, damn! The closer I got to my seat I remembered you could take pictures right in front of the stage for a few minutes at the start of each performance, so I took a little detour. A quick sidebar about the Double Trio name, it confused me when I first saw it, I didn’t understand what it meant. When I walked to the stage and saw the full band know I understood. There was Joshua Redman on sax and then two drummers and two upright bassists. This type of arrangement I had never seen before and as crazy as it was, it worked out really well. Each member complimented their counter part and the band came together really well. Joshua near the end of the set said this was the first live performance of this band. We got treated to a new act before anyone else. This is why I love coming to Newport, you see bands and collaborations you wouldn’t see any where else.
After this energetic performance Branford Marsalis Quartet was up next. They have featured the same cast of characters for the last ten years, in the jazz world this is a rarity. Having said that, Jeff “Tain” Watts was busy with his own band so Justin Faulkner, an 18 year old high school senior, stepped in to replace him. When I was taking pictures he had such a look of intensity on his face, he was in the zone and feeling the groove. I was drawn in by him and hearing him with the rest of the band just made the performance. His playing was very avant-garde, not much rhythm, constantly changing the beat and using every aspect of the drum kit to produce a fire of sound, simply amazing. I can’t say enough good things about him or the performance of the band, it was some great stuff.
Closing out Saturday was Mos Def and the Watermelon Syndicate. This I thought was a strange addition to the festival but one I was certainly looking forward to. Mod Def is not know for his jazz performances but I liked the leap of faith that George Wein took by adding Mos Def to the bill. As I waited for them to take the stage I see the Syndicate walk out and was astonished. There was a full horn section, full string section, grand piano with a bassist and drummer thrown in for good measure. This was going to be exciting.
Unfortunately a large number of the audience missed his performance. I guess they were not to thrilled with a hip/hop artist closing out Saturday night. They took an early leave of absence and made a run for the restaurants. I for one was excited to hear what he was going to play with such a large band. When the set was finally finished I was impressed with their performance. You could see on Mos Def’s face he was nervous and was probably put off by the constant stream of people leaving while he was on stage, but he still did a decent job. The addition of strings and horns was a nice touch that fit better with the festival as a whole. He did his thing but looked and sounded very stiff. Even just walking around the stage he never loosened up. He never really got into the performance if you ask me. All things considered it was great and definitely something different.
After Mos Def ended his set it was time to pack up and head to my camp site for a well deserved nights rest. The weather was going to be cool, perfect weather for sleeping outside. But first I wanted to stop by King Park to relax, do a little writing, and take some pictures of the setting sun across the harbor. The park is located right on the water and is the perfect spot to catch a sunset. The sun painted the sky purple, blue, and pink as it set over the bridge and harbor. The boats in the harbor lite up with perfect light as did the buildings along the water. It was very peaceful and allowed me to do a write up in my travel journal. In fact it was the perfect setting sun to get married under, which I witnessed a young couple do at the gazebo. I was hoping to get a couple more shots of the setting sun and a final shot of the harbor at night. I had this picture in my head of the sky being black with only the safely lights on the boats and realative bright lights off the buildings reflecting across the water. There was a church steeple that would have made for a nice shot at night as well. But the mosquitoes were out in force making it to uncomfortable to stay any longer.
So I settled for the shots I had and headed to the campground for a night of rest. I was way to tired anyhow so it worked out. I would need a good nights rest because on Sunday I was going to do some hiking before my 8 hour drive back home.
For several years now I have seen Baltimore’s Artscape come and go, never being able to make it. This year I was determined as ever to catch “the largest free outdoor art festival” in the country. Every year they get hundreds of artists together and close several city blocks for all the booths and stages. Not only do they have traditional artists, but dance troops and what I was mostly interested in the local and national musicians together as well for free concerts on several different stages. This years artists included Cake and Robert Randolph. With Cake making an appearance it didn’t take any arm twisting to get Jeremy to come with me. For the first time in years I was finally getting to Artscape.
Jeremy and I got together in the early afternoon to start our trek to Baltimore. I had never been to Artscape nor the part of town it was located in. Needless to say we were going to be winging it, just like so many adventures from our youth. When we got close to the festival we found a garage that was only a couple blocks from the festival and followed the throngs of people towards the festival grounds. When we arrived it was a giant mass of people walking down the closed streets. I just couldn’t get over how many people were there. But I guess being right in the middle of a large city and a free event, brings out the people.
Our first priority was bathroom, drink, and food, in that order. We hit one of the “food courts” to grab some grub and found huge lines of people waiting. It was nice to have all the food in one spot, lots to choose from, but everyone had to go to the same spot to eat. Instead of picking what we wanted, we settled for the shortest line, a Greek place. After waiting only 15 minutes or so we placed our order with the lady and promptly got our food. For some reason she couldn’t take our money and told us to see the guy next to her. So we cut in line and paid. He told us $23 for the food and drinks for which we quickly gathered our money and got $2 change. While looking for some napkins the lady start yelling at us to pay, saying we owed her $20 for the food. The guy starts yelling at us asking for more money, so we just walked away. We paid in full and apparently got ripped off for doing so. Food vendors can be some shady people. With food and drink secured we found a nice shady spot under a tree and joined the hundreds of other festival goers in eating some food. For being over charged it was rather good too.
After lunch Jeremy and I parted company. Jeremy took the recording gear and headed to the pit to secure a spot. I headed to one of the other stages to catch Higher Hands for a few songs before meeting back up with Jeremy. On the way to and from the Festival Stage I stopped by many of the booths to check out the art work. I was very impressed by what I saw from most of the vendors. I would have actually bought some of the pieces but the prices were to steep for my pockets, so instead I just marveled at what I saw. I have always been impressed with artists, of all kinds. I have always been a little jealous of artists actually. The fact that these people create something and display it for the world to see has been something I wish I could do. I wish I could create something beautiful the way these people do. The closes I come right now is with my photography. What I do might be called creative, but I think of it mostly as being at the right place at the right time. Nature has done all the work by creating the world around me, I just take the pictures.
Higher Hands was not finished with their set before I needed to head over to the main stage for Cake. When I arrived the tiny amphitheater was packed with people. Jeremy said he was down in the pit near the stage right corner, now I just needed to find one man in a crowd of thousands. When I got to the pit I quickly ran into a wall of people that made it near impossible to get to him. He was about 20′ from me but because he was taping I was unable to get his attention, yelling would have been a bad idea. And besides even if he knew I was there I couldn’t get any closer. So I took up my spot and just enjoyed the show, only missing two songs of the set. From my vantage point I could barely see the stage, but I certainly could hear them play. The photo to the right is a good approximation of my limited view of the stage.
As the set progressed Cake played many of their hit songs, which I recognized, and even a song from their as yet unreleased album. John McCrea said there is no official release date and they would release it when they wanted. They currently don’t have a major record label and are taking their new found freedom from “the man” to its fullest, which seems to suit them very well. Every now and then I would see John poke his head out. With my limited view of the stage it allowed me to do a lot of people watching which I love to do. Quite a diverse group of fans made it to see them play.
Once the set was over the crowd quickly dissipated which allowed Jeremy and I to take up a much better position on the hill. We managed to snag a spot about half way up the hill just left of center, right next to the tapers. Up next was Robert Randolph and the Family Band. A rockin’ soul/funk/fusion band that is hard to describe, you just have to see them. The band does a good job of getting the crowd into the music and their shows are always a party.
They came out and rocked the house with their brand of funk and the audience ate it up. They played a ton of covers, two from Michael Jackson who recently passed away, Man in the Mirror and Billie Jean. For Billie Jean a young kid, maybe 10 or 11, came on stage and stole the show with his break dancing skills. The whole show was like this……good. By the time the band walked off stage at the end of the set it was almost 10pm. But you see the guys milling around next to the FOH board deciding what they are going to play and a few minutes later come out for an encore. With the clock marching towards 10pm there was not much time to squeeze in the two song encore. As they played on I saw coming up the stage stairs a police or fire chief and he looked pissed. The sound guy and he talk real quick and the sound man gets a panic look on his face. The city takes their curfew very seriously but Robert didn’t care about any curfew, he just wanted to play. The crowd was digging the music and he wanted to give them everything he had. Eventually the band members slowly walk off stage leaving Robert playing a melody on his guitar. Slowly he walks off stage, still playing, and has a pow wow with the chief. Then just stops playing, there was no more show. I definitely thought the power would have been cut mid-song or the chief walking on stage and pulling the cord from Robert’s guitar, something like that. But I was glad to see them playing as long as they did.
After the show we filtered out with the rest of the crowd. It was great seeing variety of people that attended the festival as we walked back to the car. When we got back it was off to Sabatino’s for some midnight grub. I for one was hungry and thirsty. I had visions of tiramisu and cappuccino dancing in my head. When ever I am in Baltimore I stop by Sabatino’s for some late night eats, usually to sober up too. When we arrived I was hungrier than I thought and ordered a bowl of mussels along with my usual. Everything was so good, what a way to cap off the night. After food and a little time to rest we headed back home to Virginia.
CAKE 1. Stickshift and Safetybelts 2. War Pigs 3. Ruby Sees All 4. Love You Madly 5. Frank Sinatra 6. Wheels 7. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle 8. Sheep Go to Heaven 9. Daria 10. Short Skirt/Long Jacket 11. Comfort Eagle 12. Untitled* 13. Mexico 14. Never There
Note: * – John McCrea said Cake may or may not release a new album with this song on it.
Robert Randolph & the Family Band Start time 8:32pm 1. Sunshine Of Your Love jam 2. Deliver Me 3. I Need More Love > 4. Wanna Be Starting Something jam > 5. I Need More Love 6. The March 7. jam > 8. Man In The Mirror 9. Shake Your Hips 10. Jesus Is Just Alright 11. Gilligan 12. Billie Jean 13. I Don’t Know What You Come To Do
encore: 14. Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That 15. Thrill Of It
This years Duke Ellington Jazz Festival free concert on The Mall was going to be a little different from last years. Instead of having a “kids” day on Saturday it was going to be filled with more contemporary music. Also there was going to be a theme for the music instead of just straight jazz it had a New Orleans theme to it. Many of the bands were from New Orleans or played that style of music. This proved to be a winning combination of talented artists and some great music.
I skipped the Saturday show and hit the Sunday show just like last year. This time I was able to get Bobby and Tracy, along with the kids, to show up and enjoy a wonderful afternoon of music and sun. Weather wise the day turned out to be perfect. The sun was shinning and it was a little warm, but there was very little humidity and the constant breeze made things very comfortable for a mid-June outdoor festival in DC. Believe me this town can get unbearable when you have 90% humidity and to go along with it temperatures in the 90’s. Certainly makes you not want to be outside all day in the sun enjoying a concert, I don’t care who is playing I wouldn’t show up for that. Our only weather concern was rain and that turned out to be a non-issue.
I left my house about 11am and took good old reliable Metro to the Smithsonian exit and walked the couple of blocks to the Sylvan Theater in the shadow the Washington Monument, so the setting is spectacular. When I finally arrived at the theater the lawn was filling up quickly, already there were more people than last years concert. Bobby and Tracy were going to meet me later so I picked a spot near the soundboard that I didn’t think would fill up to fast and provide enough room for the entire family to spread out with a blanket.
Not two minutes after I arrived Buckwheat Zydeco starts assembling on the stage tuning their gear and getting read for a show. Buckwheat is the only group I recognized for the Sunday performers so I was definitely looking forward to this show. He rocked the house and got everyone dancing with his set of zydeco music that the audience just ate up. For one song he got a young kid from the audience and told him to “hold this note and no matter what happens don’t pull your finger off the key.” This was great audience participation and added to the song. Donald Harrisonn & the 3D Experience were up next, late as usual for this festival. Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about these guys. They played great New Orleans style jazz and swing.
The next act was Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. I knew something was up when as the band was announced the entire crowd got up on their feet. What was I missing? I had never heard of these guys before but the crowd certainly had. And if everyone is getting on their feet this must be one hell of a performance. When the band took the stage I immediately noticed their age, they were all pretty young, and VERY talented. They immediately started rocking with they blended style by mixing funk/r&b with a New Orleans style flair. With Trombone Shorty born, raised, and schooled in New Orleans the influence is strong with the band in their roots. It was such a party atmosphere and the music kicked ass. I recommend if he is coming to your town you check out the show. Near the end of his seat he even did the traditional New Orleans parade walk through the crowd coming within 10′ or so of my chair.
After they walked off stage the beat changed a little with Nicholas Payton Quartet. As a trumpeter Nicholas and his crew are more of a traditional jazz band from New Orleans. Most of it was pretty straight forward with a kick ass groove. Several times Nicholas would walk off stage and allow his band mates to be adventurous with their solos which was great. The bassist, not sure of her name, was really getting into it, I loved to watch her. She had this mop of curly hair and would start picking the bass bobbing her head. It was a joy watching her play that bass.
After they were done it was time to leave. Just like last year the festival was running late and I couldn’t stay for the last act, Irma Thomas. I was getting together with Nancy for the season opener of True Blood. It was another great afternoon spent in the city in the shadow of the Washington Monument. The weather could not have been more perfect and I was happy that Bobby and Tracy made it out to the festival with the kids. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon. The theme of New Orleans was also a good idea and I look forward to what they will do next year.