Tag Archives: folk

MerleFest Day #3 – Keep on keepin’ on

Friday came and went like the summer that I spent…wait, I’ll save that for Sunday. Friday proved to be a formidable festival day with rain and sun and endless opportunities to sink into the sights and sounds of MerleFest. With things in full-swing, it’s time to plan out your must-sees for today (Saturday), and let’s just say it’s near impossible to keep this list to three, but I’m going to try. Let’s see what today holds…

Yesterday we had a modern-day Smothers Brothers and today MerleFest brings you the Brother Brothers–another folky duo, but this time in the form of identical twins These two bearded bros are going to ease you into the busiest day of the festival with the most calming, delicate, beautiful blood harmonies you ever did hear. These genes don’t lie folks! So grab yourself an afternoon snack and park it over at the Traditional Stage at 12:30PM. Remember, you need to pace yourself today, and David and Adam will be the ones to set your chi straight for the rest of the day.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again, you need to have some Molly Tuttle in your life. Not only is she a two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year, she’s also got a laundry list of other major industry awards only two years after releasing her debut EP, and at the ripe old age of–get this–25! I can give you 25 reasons to head over to the Watson Stage at 1:15PM today, but really you should only need one–she’s a genius picker and will successfully drop the jaws of those who catch her performance. I bet you’ll even catch her second performance at the Creekside Stage at 2:45PM just to see what other tricks she pulls out of her guitar case.

Where do I begin with Keb’ Mo’? My love for this man and his music dates back at least 20 years. When I saw he was gracing MerleFest with his presence, I knew all of the festivarians were in for such a special treat. An award-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist, and contemporary blues artist, Keb’ Mo’ has established himself as a true pioneer in modern American roots music by blending soulful blues with relatable and common, yet equally empowering and endearing songwriting. His 1994 debut album was the soundtrack to my college days, and he has continued to deliver his signature sound over the past two decades. Now he brings his sound to MerleFest and will post up on the Watson Stage at 5:30PM. Though he’s up against some heavy-hitters to close out the day, rest assured that giddy chatter about his set will spread across the campus like a juicy secret.

I’ll say there are so many others that deserve attention here–really all of the performers deserve a captive audience. I’m confident that Brandi will close out the night with her powerful pipes and raw emotion that leave fans begging for more.

Y’all have an amazing day ahead of you! Enjoy every note that floats your way!

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Interview – Lindsay Craven, Merlefest’s New Artist Relations Manager

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Festival season is upon us…

For many festivarians, each year is greeted not only with new wishes for success, health and prosperity, but also with a child-like giddiness as they await the first signs of music festival lineup teasers and announcements.

Whether longing for the lush, legendary landscape of Mountain Jam, the boho-chic vibe of Coachella, the gritty soul of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or the harbor breeze of Newport Folk Festival–there is certainly a festival out there for any and all musical tastes.  While the overall feel, location and extra perks may entice festival goers to consider buying that multi-day festival ticket package, it really is the lineup that seals the deal.

So, what exactly goes in to putting together a stellar festival lineup?  It certainly doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  On the contrary, planning and confirming a multi-day, multi-stage music festival lineup often involves a dedicated and innovative team of people who start reaching out and booking artists over a year in advance.

A lineup for everyone…

To learn a bit more about the process, EOAF caught up with Lindsay Craven, the newest Artist Relations Manager for MerleFest–North Carolina’s premiere music festival.   Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest continues to stay true to its “traditional plus” and family friendly roots.   Craven credits the late, legendary musician and festival founder, Doc Watson, for laying the groundwork and creating a culture that celebrates all types of music, not just that of the western NC region.

“We’re very thankful to Doc, for developing that phrase [traditional plus].  And, it’s very much what Doc did.  Doc’s music wasn’t restricted to bluegrass or blues, and he loved everything.  He wanted us to share all kinds of music with people,” Craven said.

After over three decades, “traditional plus” remains the driving force for anyone in charge of booking artists and filling out the four-day festival schedule across 13 stages.  By bringing in the industry’s best in traditional Appalachian and Bluegrass music, in addition to Americana, Folk, Rock, Blues, and Gospel, MerleFest appeals to a wide, diverse audience that travels to the great Tar Heel state in late April every year.  The diversity of genre and dedication to keeping the festival family friendly really set MerleFest apart from other big festivals.

“With audiences that aren’t familiar with the festival, I think a lot of people just say we’re just a Bluegrass festival, or that we’re just old-timey country music and it’s just not the case at all. We have those things, but we have lots of others. The traditional plus motto is far from one musical genre. You’d be hard pressed to be any kind of music fan and come to MerleFest and not find something you like,” Craven said.

Though she’s worked part-time for MerleFest in some capacity for over a decade, Craven was hired into this full-time position in July 2018, and has been non-stop ever since.  Craven worked directly under previous Artist Relations Manager–Steve Johnson–learning first hand the enormous amount of work that goes into setting a lineup.

“Steve knew during last year’s festival that he was going to be moving out.  So, he did a lot of work ahead of time to help us stay on track and not start from way behind…we’re really appreciative to him for everything he did to make sure it was kind of a seamless transition, as much as it could be,” Craven said.

While Johnson did a great deal of work leading up to his departure, the business of booking artists and setting a lineup can often feel like watching the shifting sands of The Outerbanks.  The landscape can change daily, and early plans do not always stay in place.

“A lot of our headliners changed from the original plan just because of scheduling conflicts, money not working out, and things like that,” Craven said.

Though green in this particular position, Craven had to solve some significant problems in her first few months.  By all accounts, it looks as if she took the proverbial bull by the horns and accepted the challenge, because this year’s headliners are superb–The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna and The Big Noise–along with heavy-hitters like Keb’Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.   Let us not forget the MerleFest alumni, who fans return for year after year–Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Kruger Brothers, Scythian and more.

“[The most challenging part of booking] is competing with the amazing number of music events and venues in North Carolina now. Just trying not to overlap artists that the same audience can see in five different places within a year. It’s fantastic that there are so many music venues and there are so many music festivals. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a huge thing to compete with when planning said festival,” Craven said.

Let the fans be heard…

Artist Relations Managers, also often called Talent Buyers, rely not only on their team to help build out a lineup, but also on the festival fan base.  Social media platforms have changed the way fans and artists can communicate directly with festival organizers.

“I pay attention to [the artists’] social media pages to see what kind of following they have. We listen to their music.  We pay attention to our own social media, too, to see what people are asking for,” Craven said.

Festival organizers often post teasers or clues leading up to the initial lineup announcements, to get the fan base excited.  At least for MerleFest, the responses that come out of those teasers become important in terms of current or future lineups.

“Since this is my first year in this particular job, I’ve really been paying attention with each announcement–what people were guessing right before we made the announcement, and then what they hope to see on the next announcement.  If we don’t have [the artists] on the docket already, I make sure I make a list of those people and consider those for going forward,” Craven said.

Painting the canvas…

Outside of fan feedback, Craven and her team search for talent through different music association awards and conferences–namely the Americana Music Awards (AMA’s) and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference, respectively.  Additionally, there is a longtime running “wish list” that has trickled down from each former artist relations manager that now sits in Craven’s hands.

“In the beginning, it’s just kind of an open canvas.  We are just looking at our wish list and looking at the chatter from other events, saying ‘what seems to be doing well?’ and seeing if would fit for us and fit our budget,” Craven said.

As that canvas fills up, other elements–like spreading genres across multiple stages–begin to factor in to the planning equation.

“As we get closer to festival time, it gets a little more scientific in trying to see, well, [this artist] has to go on this stage so we kind of want more of this flavor of music,” Craven said.

According to Craven, MerleFest artists fall into one of three main categories, “the ones that are here every year, the headliners, and the people we have fresh and new every year.”

Communication with artists can take many forms, and this typically depends on the level of artist/band success and/or the longstanding relationship with the festival.

“We have some artists that are here year in and year out, and most of those artist we communicate directly with.  The bigger artists–The Avetts, Brandi, Amos–we talk with their agents initially, and then the tour manager for sure.  We rarely talk to them directly,” Craven said.

Much of Craven’s work involves reaching out to the agencies that have worked with MerleFest in the past to learn about up and coming artists.  They discuss budget and schedules and try to see if it will work for all parties involved.  The final MerleFest lineup boasts over 100 artists, not including those who have been invited to compete in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

“It’s a big job,” Craven said.

And a big job requires a big budget in order to pull in the best artists and to ensure smooth operations from start to finish. The MerleFest budget is determined year to year by past and projected attendance. Interestingly, MerleFest is a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, further strengthening the symbiotic relationship between the festival and college.

Though Craven’s main responsibility is to direct the booking process, the work doesn’t stop once the contracts are signed on the dotted line.   With the lineup set and about a month to go, Craven is currently busy with the artist relations portion of her job–hotel reservations, merchandise, direct communication with artists, and coordinating schedules.

A path to MerleFest…

So, how did Craven get to sit in her current position–perhaps a little luck, certainly a lot of working up through the ranks, and an immeasurable amount of drive and good old-fashioned love for the work.  A journalism major and graduate of Appalachian State University (App State), Craven always had a spark for the entertainment industry.

“I always thought I was going to be an entertainment writer.  That was my initial goal.  The funny thing is, I guess it was in middle school, I think we were doing some school project where we had to decide what we want to be and [we had to look] through these books that had all kinds of different job descriptions and what you needed to do to go to school to become that.  There wasn’t an artist relations, it was artist representative, or something along those lines, and that was what I did my school project on,” Craven said.

So, when she decided to apply to App State’s artist management program, it seemed like a good fit, until she learned she had to be a music major.

“It wasn’t an option to pursue that particular degree.  But, I kind of fell into anyway,” Craven said.

Falling into this role, sounds a bit passive, when actually her path to MerleFest has been more than just being in the right place at the right time.  During her undergrad years, Craven was proactive in getting involved in local opportunities that aligned with her interests and skills.  A simple perusal of the internship listings on App State’s website seems to have been the catalyst to pave the way.

“I started with [MerleFest] as an intern in 2007, and then came back again as an intern in 2008.  And then after I graduated, I filled in throughout the year whenever they needed extra help.  In and around credential time, or around some announcements and things like that, they need an extra body in an office to get some information from artists.  And every year I’m here for the festival working in the artist relations trailer,” Craven said.

Her MerleFest experience over the next several years, led her to the Yadkin Arts Council, where she worked as their Executive Director.

“I did all of the booking for our theater there, for the last five or six years. It’s a very, very small staff. So, due to all of the experience I gained from basically wearing all of the hats at that theater, that’s what got me to the point where I was qualified enough between what I’d learned working [at MerleFest] and what I learned working there, that they felt that I would work in this role,” Craven said.

From MerleFest to Yadkin Arts Council and back to MerleFest, Craven positioned herself to be both primed by those who came before her and primed by her own career ventures to succeed in her new role.

A bit of advice…

Somewhere, there is an eager, starry-eyed middle schooler writing a paper about the glamorous life of an Artist Relations Manager. Craven, having put in over a decade of hard work–both paid and unpaid–can offer some sage advice to those who may wish to follow in her footsteps.

“Work for any and every opportunity. This all came about just because I was looking at internship listings on the App State website. Look local. It doesn’t always have to be the biggest thing. You don’t have to be working stage-coach for Bonnaroo. You can start small and there are so many small festivals out there right now,” Craven said.

Opportunities are not always paid, and those are often the ones that get a foot in the door.

“[Festivals] are looking for young talent with energy to volunteer and help. And that is important. You have to be willing to volunteer. You’re not going to get paid right away or probably for a very long time. But, if you stick with it, you’re going to make connections. If you are hard-working and dependable, people are going to see that and when something comes available, they’re going to be looking to somebody that they can trust and count on,” Craven said.

Having a genuine love for and understanding of music and the festival scene and showing up year after year are important elements that have translated into a successful career trajectory for Craven.

“You don’t have to listen to every single artists on the docket, but you should at least have a desire to know and appreciate the music you’re presenting,” Craven said.

Making her mark…

Aside from booking talent, Craven has also been very focused on observing the vast number of traditions that take place each year at MerleFest. While she is excited to make her mark on the 2020 lineup, her experience with MerleFest has taught her the importance of maintaining the festival’s rich and cherished traditions. From coordinating the Veteran’s Jam and Mando-mania to planning outreach performances at 17 Wilkes county schools, Craven’s job goes beyond what the main lineup schedule indicates.

“There are lots of individual things that go into the festival that aren’t just what you’re seeing on the stages. I’ve got to learn what things happen year in and year out, so I make sure I build those in and don’t mess with any of our traditions,” Craven said.

With tradition comes a level of expectation, in particular from those artists who have made MerleFest an annual event over several years.

“We don’t want to offend any of the artists that have been with us a long time. We value them. We want to honor what they do and continue to bring new and interesting things for people to see. I am just trying to make sure I learned lessons before I get super deep into putting a schedule together. Right now, I am getting through the first festival and making sure I know as much as I can before I dive head first into throwing a ton of offers out,” Craven said.

MerleFest 2020 will be Craven’s first full run in this position, and she already planning out how her workspace will function best to match her visual mind–giant empty versions of the stage schedules plastered across her walls with an endless supply of dry erase markers and sticky notes.

“I have to see it all out in front of me. It’s easier to look at one big wall of things as opposed to 20 pages over four days,” Craven said.

One can imagine the thrill Craven will feel as she begins to fill the empty time slots for MerleFest 2020. Orchestrating such a beast of a production with so many moving parts is not for a disorganized mind. It takes creativity, imagination, and the ability to envision how the whole experience will translate into something greater than the sum of its many parts. With that creative freedom comes a heavy responsibility to also maintain the elements that make MerleFest such an amazing festival.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I would add to the festival. I really feel like our goal is to not work on getting bigger, but keeping our event the best quality that it can be. If at some point an opportunity presents itself, that we could expand something or create something new, we’re never opposed to those kinds of opportunities. But, it’s not something I’m actively looking to do right now. We’re more focused on just making sure we keep it top-quality and keep all the things that people expect from it,” Craven said.

Once the dust settles from MerleFest 2019, Craven will be right back at it, standing wide-eyed in front of her blank canvas with that same child-like giddiness music fans experience when a lineup unfolds before them. It is evident that Craven’s unique journey through the MerleFest ranks has prepared her to excel in this position for years to come, and it will be exciting to watch lineups evolve across her tenure.

For more information about lineup and tickets, please visit Merlefest.org.

Are you headed to MerleFest this year?  If so, download your MerleFest ’19 app for Apple or Android to make your experience even better!

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Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s “Swimmin’ Time”

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The music world has known its fair share of unforgettable husband-wife duos, from Johnny and June to Jack and Meg. Two years ago, the Charleston-based married duo Shovels & Rope — consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — exploded onto the festival scene with an unharnessed charisma and on-stage animalistic magnetism that left audiences floored. With non-stop touring and sweat-drenched performances, Trent and Hearst continue to prove that they belong among the ranks of great married musical duos.

Last month, Shovels & Rope offered up more of their soulful, folk-country flair with the duo’s new album, “Swimmin’ Time,” a nautical narrative of love and loss, drenched in haunting harmonies and stripped-down, simple arrangements. On “Swimmin’ Time,” Trent and Hearst dive deep into the abyss of emotion to give listeners a glimpse into their passionate, personal voyage.

The album opens with “The Devil Is All Around,” a vivid gospel-rock love song. With eyes closed, lyrics come to life and the listener can envision Trent and Hearst fighting through life’s obstacles together — ‘til death does part them. “Bridge On Fire” feels like a 50s throwback with a drum-rich tempo and deliberate harmonious crescendos, leaving a trail of burnt hopes and dreams in its ashy wake.

“Evil” turns up the rock ‘n’ roll and perpetuates the album’s devilish theme, with confessions of violent and ugly sins that drip with an honesty strong enough to tear down facades. “After The Storm” starts to pick up the wreckage from the first three tracks and highlights the power of Shovels & Rope’s magically interwoven vocals. Though the bulk of the track stays low and slow, it truly shines in the chorus’ momentous waves and surges of beautiful, yet guttural cries.

“Fish Assassin” is a playful but quick stomp-clapper that brings listeners to the muddy banks of intercostal waterways. “Coping Mechanism” gives listeners a current spin on a 50s rock ‘n’ roll standard, with bouncy background keys and delta blues overtones. “Pinned” leans on Shovels & Rope’s country-folk foundations and translates as a timeless duet about broken promises, cheating and unsolicited advice.

The title track, “Swimmin’ Time” buoys to the surface with church choir intensity and ghostly sink-or-swim premonitions, conjuring up buried thoughts of an apocalyptic flood. In line with the aquatic theme, “Stono River Blues” pays tribute to the waterway that flows near the duo’s home, and evokes images of Trent and Hearst exploring the tidal channel’s nooks and crannies. While the track can certainly be taken literally, metaphors are strategically anchored throughout, giving it a depth that is commonly found in Shovels & Rope songwriting.

“Ohio” takes listeners on a trip down to the murky waters of Louisiana with blazing horns and a gritty outlaw story. The brassy sway of “Ohio” adds another layer of sound to the album, giving it an even more interesting acoustic texture. “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan” is a playful, diner love story filled with faith and potential. “Save The World” follows suit with a positivity and sweetness that permeates the energy and love often seen on stage between Trent and Hearst.

The album comes to a close with “Thresher,” a homage to the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was lost at sea off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963. The track chronicles the last minutes for the 129 submariners upon the vessel. With moments of faint, garbled communications and fading sonar pings to carry out the track, Shovels & Rope recreates the sinking with an eerie authenticity. Ending the album with “Thresher” leaves listeners mournful and uneasy, but also forces introspective and empathetic thought. It represents the duo’s intention and intensity like no other song on the album.

“Swimmin’ Time” may just be one of this year’s best albums. In an age when listeners can pick and choose tracks from any album, track order and album themes seem to get lost in the iTunes shuffle. However, “Swimmin’ Time” is an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish, in order. Trent and Hearst have created an emblematic masterpiece that is greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively, the album floats above the rest while maintaining a depth of soul and spirit that can shine through the thickest, foggy night. “Swimmin’ Time” sails effortlessly across the most critical of ears and marks another success in Shovels & Rope’s musical passage.

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Album Review – Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Remedy”

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It appears that Old Crow Medicine Show has finally become a household name, though the final push to get there may not fully reflect the band’s talent and years of hard work. After 16 years of sidewalk busking, cross-country touring, superb songwriting and recording, it was pop-country star Darius Rucker’s cover of the band’s “Wagon Wheel” that brought O.C.M.S. into the mainstream fold.

Timed perfectly to ride the wave of Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” success, the Nashville-based band just released its eighth studio album, “Remedy,” which carries a collective sound that screams O.C.M.S., while adding a couple of nuances that slightly shift the band’s course.

First, with the departure of former member Willie Watson — who left the group to pursue a solo career — comes a vocal void that is glaringly obvious to any listener who has been following the band’s trajectory. Watson’s trademark timbre always added an Appalachian authenticity to songs that frontman Ketch Secor is not quite able to reproduce, though he comes very close.

Second, on “Remedy” Secor and crew include tracks that make an obvious nod to modern country music. This direction will certainly appeal to the mainstream country music fan, and potentially secure their current spot in the limelight. However, long-time fans may find it unsettling.

Fortunately, these country tracks are scant and the meat of the album stays true to the traits that have made O.C.M.S.. great for so many years — old-timey salt-of-the-earth storytelling peppered with parody, punk-rock energy, and good old-fashioned traditional folk instrumentation.

Listener response aside, “Remedy” may be just what the doctor ordered. The album is fun and carefree with top-notch songwriting and strategic introspective moments. O.C.M.S. has always possessed the gift of storytelling through their songwriting, making it difficult to distinguish personal experience from that of a stranger, deceased soldier, leathery farmer or backwoods moonshiner. This storytelling gift has created a genuineness that has earned the band a loyal following over the years.

There are several glimpses of this level of storytelling on “Remedy,” though with less historical reference than on previous albums like “Carry Me Back.” Rather, “Remedy” feels very present, as the boys hail Music City, lament loss, explore the ups and downs of prison life, and tackle pessimistic attitudes. The album’s upbeat tracks can do no wrong, while selective ballads feel overworked with pedestrian themes.

The album opener, “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” gets things rolling with a hot prison teaser, steaming with enough vivid imagery to keep prisoner acting on their best behavior. “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” follows and explodes with a feverish fiddle and rolling banjo arrangement along with fun call-and-response lyrics, making it near impossible to sit still. This track will translate perfectly on stage, and is sure to become a fan favorite.

“Sweet Amarillo” marks the second time O.C.M.S. has taken an unfinished song by legendary musician Bob Dylan and made it their own. Here, dusty winds blow a bit farther West from Nashville, Tenn. giving the sweet cowboy ballad more of a Texan texture—of which Dylan reportedly approved. “Mean Enough World” is like a steam engine cranking through the station with a perfect combination of whiny harmonica, speedy banjo picking, and finger wagging lyrics begging for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though the sentiment is powerful on the next two tracks, they struggle to keep up with the album’s musical caliber and therefore feel a bit out of place. “Dearly Departed Friend” fills the album’s fallen soldier quota, but falls flat and translates like a country Jimmy Buffett tune. While “Firewater” is a poignant chronicle of band member Critter Fuqua’s struggle with alcoholism, it fails to live up to its musical potential. Hopefully, both of these tracks will evolve and improve as they are road tested.

“Brave Boys” picks spirits back up in true O.C.M.S. fashion with a raucous cadence, fiddle solos and enough band hollering to reach coal miners in West Virginia. “Doc’s Day” is the perfect old-timey, playful tribute to Doc and Merle Watson, fit for front porch jam and sweet tea sipping.

More tributes follow as O.C.M.S. bows down to the bounties of their current hometown, Nashville, Tenn. “O Cumberland River” praises the southern waterway’s beauty, utility, and power as lyrics recall the devastating 2010 river flood that wreaked havoc on Music City. “Tennessee Bound” jumps right in line with a typical O.C.M.S. rambling homecoming tune, sung with pure pride and joy.

“Shit Creek” proves that O.C.M.S. still possesses the lyrical talent and musical prowess to keep fans satiated. This track turns up the fiddle speed dial just passed “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” mark and is chock full of enough river/relationship metaphors to keep listeners busy for a while. It ranks as one of the album’s best.

O.C.M.S. continues the tradition of keeping a light-hearted outlook on life with “Sweet Home,” a spirited sing-a-long about heading to the pearly gates. The album closes with “The Warden,” a stripped-down, harmony-rich ballad sung from the point of view of an observant criminal. This track is an outstanding example of an unhurried O.C.M.S. song that maintains the band’s rich storytelling abilities and traditional sound.

Overall, “Remedy” delivers what O.C.M.S. fans desire — mountain music with a good mix of fundamentals, fun and fire to keep things moving forward. The few weak spots on the album are overshadowed by the boot-stomping, hand clapping pace, strong songwriting, and consistent mingling of harmonica, fiddle and banjo across tracks. This album will certainly continue to grow the band’s fan base in different directions and motivate new fans to catch a live O.C.M.S. performance, which is where these boys really shine, much like a big ol’ full moon over that muddy Cumberland River.

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Album Review – Lake Street Dive’s “Bad Self Portraits”

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Photographs are the gateway to the past. These 3×5 glossy prints serve as tangible memories capable of unleashing an emotional flood the instant the image and retina meet. While photographs convey moments locked in time and place, they can also inform and inspire the present and future — much like music.

On their breakout LP, “Bad Self Portraits,” Brooklyn-based jazz-pop-soul quartet, Lake Street Dive, taps into the curious power of the photograph, with a throwback twist. The band itself has a bit of a vintage vibe, with lead singer Rachel Price fit to be a 50s pin-up girl, upright bassist Bridget Kearney looking straight out of an episode of Mad Men, and drummer Mike Calabrese and multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson sporting just enough flashback hipster gear to round-out the look.

While it is easy to describe the band’s onstage appearance, it is much harder to pigeon-hole Lake Street Dive into a specific genre of music. On the album, Price’s smooth vocals offer a buttery mix of Motown soul and southern rhythm and blues, while the band adds a punch of doo-wop, swing and jazz. Collectively, the melding of musical styles finds a sweet intersection across all 11 tracks.

The album opener and title track is a bluesy take on the modern-day selfie phenomenon. With Laurel Canyon undertones and vocals that stand up to blues-rock icons Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, this track jumpstarts the album with soul and presence. The doo-wop swinger “Stop Your Crying” speaks to the cyclical nature of letting the wrong kind of love come back around. With lyrics like, “I am a photograph, a moment stuck in time,” this track is a realistic glimpse into how love can cloud better judgment.

The album slows down on “Better Than,” a smoky ballad with a sadness reminiscent of Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” As Price’s vocals dip low, Olson adds muted trumpet tones that further drive the melancholy home. After the quick piano pick-up jam, “Rabid Animal,” Lake Street Dive puts their best feet forward with “You Go Down Smooth,” the song that blew minds and propelled the band to fame at T Bone Burnett’s “Another Day, Another Time — Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’” concert in NYC last fall. “You Go Down Smooth” is not only lyrically brilliant, with cocktail metaphors galore, but it also highlights all of the band’s best features — Prince’s sultry jazz-singer range with the bands crisp harmonies and instrumentation.

“Use Me Up” is an ironic flip on Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” telling the tale of a parasitic love that leaves little left over. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a dreamy combination of retro rock cosmic flair and “Little Shop of Horrors” corner-shop doo-wop. It is fun and clearly one of the album’s best, despite feeling a bit overproduced.

“Just Ask” is five minutes of pure R&B bliss, with distant gritty guitar and ghostly backing vocals layered behind Price’s velvet vocal elegance, while “Seventeen” capitalizes on the band’s collective talents and falls in line with the more modern blues style of John Mayer.

By this point in the album, listeners may start feeling like the album’s protagonist is a bit of a pushover. Just in time to dispel this assumption, “What About Me” gives the album the sexy confidence it needs, and gives the love story a real backbone. However, just as quickly as the confidence appears, it withers as the album closes with “Rental Love,” a murky lounge reflection of a one-sided love affair that features Price’s powerful pipes one last time.

Overall, “Bad Self Portraits” covers the spectrum of emotion that accompanies the journey of love. Each track is a snapshot into past relationships, both good and bad. Throughout the album, Price displays a vocal prowess that makes Amy Winehouse’s absence seem a bit more bearable. Lake Street Dive offers a unique perspective on music’s past while catching the attention of listeners today. In the blink of a flash, “Bad Self Portraits” chronicles the band’s contribution to music and will hold its color and composition in the albums of music for decades to come.

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Album Review: Time Sawyer’s “Disguise the Limits”

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The Charlotte-based folk-rock quartet Time Sawyer ups the ante with its fifth LP, “Disguise the Limits.”

Made up of Clay Stirewalt (drums), Houston Norris (banjo), Kurt Layell (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Sam Tayloe (guitar, vocals), Time Sawyer crafts music that takes an honest look at life and builds on the rustic musical traditions of western N.C.

Though still in its infancy, the band has released five albums in four years. Based on the quality of “Disguise the Limits” it appears that Tayloe and Layell’s songwriting well is far from drying up. This album offers a fresh take on the familiar themes of life on the road and love and heartbreak, while bringing a little more grit and gravel than previous installments like “Headed Home” and “Come On In.” The folk has been dialed down, the rock turned up and, thankfully, the banjo remains on cruise-control, carrying the album through its 12 tracks with the punchy grace of an instrument that can do no wrong.

The album opens with “Better Off,” an upbeat break-up tune that sets the tone for the rest that follows. “Appalachian Bound” is the perfect rock-blues getaway anthem — chock full of moonshine barrels, brushes with the law and the wide- open road. On “A Little Bluer,” Time Sawyer hangs up its spurs and succumbs to that moment when love trumps all and future dreams grow straight from the heart. “How It’s Gonna Be” strikes a sweet balance between acoustic and electric, with a distant rolling banjo, muted organ and finely placed guitar riffs.

“Best Be Going” demands attention with its no regrets catchy chorus reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” It is appropriately followed by “A Far Away Farewell from Rose,” perhaps the decades-later follow-up to that fateful day depicted in “Best Be Going.” This jump from youthful defiance to aged reflection stays true to the band’s moniker, and keeps the theme of time at the forefront.

The album pumps the breaks with its closing tracks. “Working Construction” returns to the band’s folk tendencies without feeling recycled or redundant. “West From the Farm” is a heart-wrenching ballad where Tayloe’s vocals drip with authenticity and harmonies, and horns lift lyrics to a weighty place that reveals the pain and remorse tied to lost love. “Tired of this Tired” soars with delicate finger-picking and relevant lyrics that speak to the daily tedium that can drain the heart’s passion and unravel the mind.

The true shining moment on “Disguise the Limits” comes on “210,” where lyrics tell the story of a scorned lover driven to murder. The Mexico-bound outlaw tale is perfectly accompanied by the distant haunted whine of the pedal steel and take-to-the-road banjo runs. “210” is followed and further elevated by “It’s Over (210 Outro),” which fades into a “Hotel California”-esque instrumental that beckons images of a dusty drive into the sunset. Taken together, these two tracks reveal Time Sawyer’s growing ability to create vivid imagery through songwriting and arrangement.

Collectively, “Disguise the Limits” succeeds by combing the fugitive attitude of “Roadhouse” and “Smokey and the Bandit” with the heartbreaking infidelity and reality of “Honeysuckle Rose.” Runaway, tender, playful and pensive moments are strewn strategically throughout the album, creating a cohesive storyline that undulates like the plot of a favorite desperado movie. The album shows a definite progression and maturation despite the band’s short timeline, and is sure to gain momentum as one of the better albums released by a rising North Carolinian band this year.

In addition to the release of “Disguise the Limits,” 2014 will continue to be a huge year for Time Sawyer as the band makes its debut at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C. on Sunday, April 27. Visit www.timesawyer.com to learn more.

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FloydFest Steps Up Outdoor Activities for Revolutionary Year

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FloydFest isn’t just a music festival in southern Virginia.  It’s an outdoor extravaganza–an unique experience that finds itself closer to perfection each and every year.  Now in it’s 13th year, FloydFest boasts not only a stellar musical lineup, but also a plethora of outdoor activities that can be nestled between sets, allowing FloydFestivarians the chance to find their chi right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This year’s festival, which runs from July 23-27th, offers attendees a 5-day staycation, packed with easily-accessible outdoor activities for all ages.  For 2014, FloydFest has partnered with some of the biggest names in the outdoor industry to provide festival-goers with top-notch outdoor experiences and access to the highest quality outdoor gear on the market.

Join Osprey Packs for guided hikes along the Blue Ridge trails, or challenge yourself at Vasque Footwear’s 2nd Annual 5K trail race.  If you’d rather bike the Blue Ridge, grab a free rental from Roanoke-based Starlight Bicycles  and sign up for the Belcher Mountain Beat Down.  Made possible by VA-based Tangent Outfitters and the Moonstompers Bike Club, this 16-mile mountain bike tour takes riders through the Blue Ridge on a unique hand-built, single-track trail.  If water is more of your thing, join local partner On the Water for five opportunities to take a paddling trip down a gorgeous, undeveloped stretch of the Little River.  Relax and rejuvenate back at the festival site with a round of disc golf on FloydFest’s Innova-sponsored 9-hole course, or taking a nap at the ENO Hammock lounge.  Later, join the US National Whitewater Center for a Sunday night after-party at the Beer Garden. Be sure to stop by FloydFest’s Outdoor Adventures Headquarters for trip information and sign-ups, bike rentals, trail maps, and more.

Additionally, FloydFest has paired up with the following outfitters and regional events for fun ticket giveaways and prize packages:

Chacos

The official sandal sponsor of FloydFest is giving away a pair of tickets as part of their 25th anniversary “Fit for Adventure” tour.  See them at FloydFest for fun activities, a photo booth, and chances to win footwear.

Get Out More Tour

FloydFest will be joining the one-of-a-kind mobile tour at 15 stops throughout the Southeast region, offering prizes and ticket giveaways along the way.  At FloydFest, join in the hunt for a Geo-Cache full of goodies that’s been stashed deep in the woods around the festival site.

Great Outdoor Provision Company

FloydFest has teamed up with North Carolina specialty outdoor retailer to host a Festival Preparedness Clinic at their Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte, NC locations in April.  Ticket giveaways will run at all seven GOPC store locations from the end of May to July 1st.

REI – Richmond, VA

The national outdoor retail co-op will host a Festival Survival Clinic June 2nd at the Richmond, VA store location. The clinic will provide tips on what and how to pack for outdoor festivals while giving away a set of weekend pass tickets to a lucky clinic attendee.

Mountain Junkies

Whether you’re a ‘Mountain Junkie’ already or soon to be one, the Roanoke Non Ultra Trail Series will provide FloydFest promotional giveaways at each of their race events. Each race offers a tough challenge as you race up the mountain, but the locations are equally captivating.

Roanoke Outside

Dubbed America’s Toughest Road Marathon, The Blue Ridge Marathon takes place on April 26th.  FloydFest has paired with Roanoke Outside to provide FloydFest-related prizes to lucky marathoners.

“We want to give FloydFest fans endless opportunities to explore and enjoy the amazing outdoor activities that this area has to offer,” says FloydFest co-founder and producer, Kris Hodges.  We’re very fortunate to work with outdoor partners and vendors who are committed to providing a top-notch outdoor experience for our attendees.”

Driven to be the best music festival experience of our time, FloydFest is committed to selling a limited quantity of tickets to the highest quality event experience, bar none, celebrating music, art, and life in an intimate and visually stunning environment.  For more information on FloydFest, including ticket prices and the full 2014 ‘Revolutionary’ artist line-up, visit www.floydfest.com or call 1-888-VA-FESTS.

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