Large festivals can bullshit you on Sundays. Hell, they bullshit you all the time. They schedule a badass act when gates open, then again at abt 5 p.m. then again abt 10 so that you spend your whole day at a fest that, really, you wanted to see three bands at. Which blows. Which is why I don’t go to festivals…outside of usually hating large throngs of people, the sun and how much everything costs.
But Muddy Roots isn’t your average festival. Inevitably, there will be something happening on one of their three-ish stages that you want to go to All Day Long. There is no filler. Not even on Sundays.
Heck, Sunday was so packed full of gouda you coulda spread it on a sammie and served it with tomato soup. My ass was traveling all over the place, catching half-sets and then moving on to the next wondertent.
The day started with banging trash cans, and that’s a good thing.
White Trash Blues Revival – 11:30 a.m.
I’m not a musician. I’m a writer. I love music, but I’m by no means any kinda expert here. Which is why I’ve never heard of a diddley bow before. Don’t judge. And if you aren’t judging, but think I’m talking about Bo Diddley, I’m not. A diddley bow is a plank with a single string nailed to it with a glass bottle used as a bridge. It’s an instrument of the Deep South that gives off an uncanny, grimy outcry.
I bring this up because Joe Bent of White Trash Blues Revival plays a skiddley-bo – which is a diddley bow, but he uses a skatedeck as the base and two strings over a Red Stripe bottle. Breen (from Left Lane Cruiser) plays trashcans. When Left Lane is touring, Dirty Pete Diva is as likely to hit the cans as a stale keg. Meanwhile, Ando’s throbbing washtub bass keeps all the fellas steady.
I imagine White Trash Blues Revival as the kind of band you’d find jamming at a cornfield potluck with the moon overhead and go-go-dancers of both genders in jean shorts and PBR pasties whooping and flailing.
I dig it.
Post Script - Jack White wants to show you how to make a diddley bow.
Sterling Sisters – 1:30 p.m.
About a month before Muddy Roots, Sterling Sisters came through Chicago as support for Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. I’m glad I got to see ‘em Chicagoway, because for whatever reason, somehow I only caught the last song or two of them at Muddy Roots.
What you need to know – yeah, yeah, George Cessna is Slim’s kid. So the fuck what? He’s doing his own thing. His own wailing, dark, melodious thing. There are echoes of the dark roots jive that stem from the Auto Club, but The Sterling Sisters have an operatic soundtrack quality, rock-edged and unique to them – largely due to the unearthly and alluring voice of Scout Paré-Phillips who has a tinge of Joni Mitchell in her.
If Herzog ever did a documentary of Muddy Roots, I think a good slow pan night montage scene of blurred dancers, smokers, drinkers, bands and the night sky could be backed by The Sterling Sisters.
Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy – 3 p.m.
Ever wondered what Nashville in the 1920s mighta sounded like? Get you some Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy with their countrified Jazz Age sound.
Places I imagine Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy playing:
- The main deck of a hotel riverboat with a depressed Mark Twain impersonator slinging back drinks in front of ‘em because he had a dismal poker night and slept-in past the free continental breakfast.
- Behind the false wall of a barber shop gambling parlor with shimmy dancers encircling them.
- In a garret in New Orleans with a stained glass ceiling and a mason jar chandelier.
Slaughter Daughters – 3:30 p.m.
I was eyeing my watch throughout Carrie Nation because, lo their high speed, high test brass and grass was giving me the most pleasant palpitations, Slaughter Daughters were scheduled to come on half way through Carrie Nation’s set.
If you like your folk tunes infused with raw power, sex and mythology, search no further than the Slaughter Daughters. Slaughter Daughters is a Portland via Wichita trio comprised of Cece Honey on guitar, Ari Rose on banjo and Ster D on the upright bass. They are an ominous form of bluegrass rooted in influences as varied as Cab Calloway to Those Poor Bastards.
Goddamn, they’re good. They’re as likely to croon Art Nouveau, early radio voices as yell blue murder that pulls at your guts. Then they’ll stitch you back together with a high harmony.
Calamity Cubes – 4 p.m.
Somewhere in Mississippi there’s a one-room museum at a crossroads. There’s one display shelf in this one-room museum and that one display shelf may only be observed at twilight on the 13th day of the 13th month. (If you don’t know how to get to the 13th month, well, you’ll have to buy that intelligence from a devil like everyone else.) On this one shelf – wooden, splintered, near a dusty window – sit three jars.
Kody Oh! took a sip from the clear jar and perhaps he drank the soul of an acrobat because he’s the most writhing, contortable, steady standup bass player in roots music today. Joey Henry took a swallow from the red-tinged jar – and this is only guessing – but I think it was filled with the heart fluid Woody Guthrie because Henry’s got affliction and affection enough to fill seventeen songbooks. Then Brook Blanche came striding in and imbibed from the last jar – the green jar – and God only knows how, but part of Howlin’ Wolf’s booming and bombast stored itself in his stomach.
I don’t know how the Calamity Cubes stumbled upon the 13th month, the twilight and the jars, but they did…or maybe they didn’t – but black arts have to be at work for that much badass to be in one band.
Cutthroat Shamrock – 5:30 p.m.
The bastard children of Bill Monroe, Joe Strummer and the Pogues can be seen in Cutthroat Shamrock. Not quite a Celtic punk band – Cutthroat Shamrock has widened their genre to Appalachian Punk Rock. In a previous interview, Benjamin Whitehead stated, “We’re not really Irish or Scottish; we call what we do Appalachian music, because the Scots-Irish settled these mountains. We’ve taken the bluegrass and the Celtic music and infused it with our own thing.”
Their newest album, A Path Less Traveled, is a riot of songs on rotten misfortunes inspirited by a bullheaded, sing your way through life’s shitstorms standpoint.
Sidenote: Matthew Ryan Sharp did the art for the current album and it is GORGEOUS. You can find more of his work here and here. OI! I want his work in limited edition prints or original on my walls. LOVE.
Rachel Kate – 7:20 p.m.
Rachel Kate has a bit of blues queen in her. You think you are in for a soft singer songwriter and then she opens her mouth and is as likely to yodel as make trumpet noises as go all Koko Taylor on your ass, rattling your heart and the windows.
DAMN YOU, RACHEL KATE! Here being the second place I almost cried at Muddy Roots. I’m a marshmallow. Or a baby sloth. Or a pillow. I am something spongy and yielding and OI, when the hell did I get so fucking emotional? Maybe I should go eat glass or babies to harden up my insides, but I defy you to hear the song “Dancin’ Shoes” (written by Kate’s father) live without your heart spinning into your ribs.
Red Simpson – 8:30 p.m.
I didn’t get to see much of this legendary gentleman. What I did see was Red Simpson singing with Bob Wayne. It felt like Simpson was passing down the honor of living, writing and singing road songs to his great admirer.
Dash Rip Rock – 9:00 p.m.
Dash Rip Rock will sing about pot one song and cover Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” the next. In other words, there’s something for everybody in their garage roots rock. They’re a trio that sounds like the band you hear playing at a Louisiana house party where someone was tossed enough to think it was a good idea to try and dance with an alligator.
Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies – 9:30 p.m.
Shit. Well, shit. Bob Wayne and James Hunnicutt were scheduled at the same time. So I only caught half a set from both.
Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies play fast. Real fast. Tighter and faster than the best friend you finally banged on prom night. He’s constantly on the road and his songs vacillate between lawless turmoil and feeling a moral twinge at that turbulent living.
James Hunnicutt – 9:30 p.m.
But no matter how fast Bob Wayne’s band was, my heart was with James Hunnicutt.
Shit, whose heart wasn’t? Doesn’t matter if Hunnicutt is playing his originals or blistering out Misfits covers, he captures the crowd with golden vocals that cover you in love, regret and second chances at living full of reverence for the day.
If there is such a thing as a loving pit, you’ll find it at a James Hunnicutt show. Someone is bound to sling an arm around your shoulder and encourage you to sing along and you’ll start smiling and they’ll be smiling and you’ll question how the hell you’re grinning so big at music so full of shadows, ache and candor, but it’s because how…how could you not be shining like a fool over a song like “Don’t Let Teardrops Fill Your Eyes”?
That man is a trucker-hat-wearing, beauty-proclaiming dreamboat unafraid of wearing idealism and sentiment on his sleeve.
Possessed by Paul James – 10:30 p.m.
I find it appropriate that there is a silver and apricot sunset outside my window as I think on Possessed by Paul James.
You know that third time I almost cried at Muddy Roots? POW. During this show. Because how can you not, man? How can you not? A blog ago, I mentioned the idea of music that made you feel like you were at church. It has nothing to do with the gospel. It has to do with feeling like you are part of something bigger. Part of something important. Part of something that cares about you – or at least notices that you’re there. That’s how a Possessed by Paul James show goes down.
Possessed by Paul James will gain your respect with his speed, his roguish fiddle, his elaborate banjo playing, but his lyrics will lasso ‘round your soul and squeeze. Ten to one, he’ll invite half the audience on the stage and hundred to one that every damn person in the crowd ends up singing, even if they’ve never seen him before.
It was the perfect end to a gorgeous festival – one arm slung around a new friend and the other arm around my lover – swaying and singing to a man’s songs bent on bringing truth and beauty into the world.