Saturday, August 1, 2009
The Big Surprise
By Christopher Hislop
July 30, 2009 6:00 AM
Musicians talk about doing things all the time, but it's usually hard to make it happen," said Justin Townes Earle in a recent phone conversation about the upcoming "Big Surprise Tour," happening at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Aug. 4.
"You think, 'that would be great,' you voice, 'yeah, right...;' and then you move on to the next thing. But this time, it worked out. I got a phone call from my management and told 'em, 'I'll be there.'"
WHAT The Big Surprise Tour featuring Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, The Felice Brothers and Justin Townes Earle
WHEN Tuesday, Aug. 4, 8 p.m.
WHERE Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach
CONTACT 929-4100, www.casinoballroom.com
All of the acts on "the Big Surprise tour" — Headliners Old Crow Medicine Show, Dave Rawlings Machine (featuring Gillian Welch), Earle, and the Felice Brothers are connected in some mutual way and are reveling in the fact that they'll be able to take the stage together in somewhat of an impromptu performance of artists and friends, where collaboration and the celebration of roots music will be the name of the game. Said artists will play a smattering of their own original material, as well as covers of each other's tunes, and beyond.
"We wanted to start a big rocking band with a bunch of good friends, and play all summer long," said Ketch Secor of Old Crow. "A lot of summer packages (concert bills) are way over the top and range widely and wildly stylistically, so we wanted to keep it somewhat simple, in that we could all climb on stage as one ...; all 15 (or whatever it is) of us, and in a fury of spontaneity, get the place rollicking! I can tell you one thing, we'll all be grinning. It's going to be a blast."
Secor and his bandmates are the "linchpin" behind all of the connections on the tour. They've played many a night at dive bars with Earle, traveling around with him a few years back on what they dubbed "the Dirt-bag tour." Which, according to Earle was "a long, long raucous tour that lasted nine straight weeks. Was a great time...;"
Old Crow have also spent some time with the Felice Brothers on tour, partying into the wee hours of the new day, throwing dice and gambling their money away in a game that the Brothers adopted called "3's."
"Heck, I think I'm doing it more for the dice throwing than anything," joked James Felice of the Felice Brothers. "It's gonna be a real fun time (musically), and I got to build on the $50 I pulled away from the guys in Old Crow the last time we got together."
Earle met Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch while on tour with his Dad (Steve Earle) in the Northeast years ago. While Secor (who has about a four-year window in his life where he was a part of our own Seacoast, N.H. community and played a gig or two at the Friendly Toast ...; Claims he learned how to play banjo here as well) states that he first met Rawlings and Welch when they played the "Town Hall" in Portsmouth.
"Heck I can't even remember who they were opening for, they were so good," Secor said. (He would later admit that they were opening for David Grisman).
Earle and the fellas in Old Crow became friends when the band moved "down to Nashville about 10 years ago," said Earle, who was residing in Nashville at the time.
The music that all of these bands are creating in their young careers is steeped in the American roots tradition.
"We all share a fascination with older music," said Earle. "And we're all the best practitioners out there right now."
Old Crow Medicine Show have been on the scene since 1998 and have released five full-length albums, as well as a handful of EPs and live recordings, achieving critical acclaim and mass appeal with their self-titled effort, released in 2004. "Wagon Wheel," is the big hit on that record, which most of us have heard covered countless times by bluegrass and folk acts throughout the land. Secor heard a 38-second clip of Bob Dylan singing the opening verse on an old bootleg he had picked up. He took it, and finished it (he owns co-authorship with Dylan on the tune) during his time in New Hampshire. When prompted Secor replies, "I've never met Bob Dylan, and the fortune teller told me I never would ...; so I've stopped trying." Old Crow are touring in support of their current album "Tennessee Pusher," and the upcoming DVD "Live at the Orange Peel and Tennessee Theatre," due out Aug. 18.
Dave Rawlings Machine has yet to release their debut album, but both Rawlings and Gillian Welch are very well revered in the scene, and have been around for quite some time. Welch earned a Grammy nomination for her debut album "Time (The Revelator)," which Rawlings produced, back in 2003.
The Felice Brothers have three brilliant full-length releases to their credit. Although they have not quite reached the mass appeal they deserve, it seems they'll achieve it very soon. Their current release "Yonder is the Clock," happens to be where the name of the tour comes from as the first track on the album is titled "The Big Surprise." "Yonder," was recorded in an "updated" chicken coop where the Brothers have built their studio from the money they made after the release of their self-titled album.
"The roof was rotting and the rain was dripping on our gear," said Felice. "There were tarps everywhere, so we took all our money, and renovated the place, complete with a new roof."
Earle has two records to his credit including the release he's currently touring behind "Midnight at the Movies." Earle's song writing cuts deep. The song-craft he's developed aids in helping his introspective lyrics stick with you long after you listen to them for the first time.
"This is not my music," Earle said when asked how he'd describe his work. "I'm a student of southern American roots music — anything south of the Mason Dixon, and east of the Mississippi."
All of these acts have poured their heart and souls into the music they create and all of them will undoubtedly leave you astonished and most likely winded from all the dancing you're bound to do when you catch the show at the Casino Ballroom.
For the bands, it's the tour of a lifetime. They can't wait to get together and "make the magic happen." The Hampton Beach gig is the first show of the tour, so they'll be fresh and anxious to get things cookin' quickly.
James Felice claims he doesn't know what's going to happen for sure —"hopefully the music we present will lean more towards 'harmonious,' than 'a cacophony,' he jokes.
For him, it's all about the dice, and he invites anyone who's willing to come and throw down after all is said and done.
"You gotta have a lot of one dollar bills to hang with the Felice Brothers, man," warns Secor with a laugh.
At the end of our conversation, Secor exclaims, "Hey, whatever happened to Fly Spinach Fly?" So he has been here before ...; And he'll be back with friends in tow on Aug. 4. Seriously, don't miss it. It's the event of the summer.