Red Wing Swings

John Jorgenson at Red Wing Festival 2013The sun broke through on Day 2 of the inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival just as John Jorgenson hit the stage.

Somewhere, Django Reinhardt was smiling.

Jorgenson’s quintet – channeling the Hot Club of France – displayed an amazing level of musicianship while having a great time in the process as one of the headliners at the Shenandoah Valley’s first Red Wing Roots Music Festival.  Now some may ask how jazz fits into the Americana roots music pantheon, but the European string jazz of Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli from the 1930s had a direct and transformative impact on roots musicians from David Grisman, to Saturday evening’s headliner Sam Bush, to fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor, to mandolin phenom Chris Thile.

Jorgenson’s quintet got to show their chops on Mediterranean Blues, a song written by a Vietnamese-born composer who grew up in England and now lives in Amsterdam.  Every solo was inventive and exhilarating – which is just as true about the songs in Jorgenson’s entire set.

Ana Egge with Sarah Siskind and Members of TSW at Red Wing Festival 2013

Saturday’s music began for us with Staunton native Nathan Moore’s performance on the main stage.  We knew the Moore family a bit when we lived in the Valley, so it was great to hear this young and impressive singer-songwriter who has already won a Telluride Troubadour Award.  His Get Me Off the Chain was dedicated to all the folks (like me) who are not on Facebook. Moore’s songwriting, to quote a friend from Staunton, is seriously good. Ana Egge (photo above, with Sarah Siskind and members of The Steel Wheels) was another new find for us.  Her Hole in Your Halo was just one of a full set of smart songs.

Brooklyn-based Pearl & the Beard were easily the most unique band of the weekend.  Their website description of “three voices, one cello, one guitar, one glockenspiel, one melodica, several drums, one accordion, ninety-six teeth, and one soul” is pretty accurate.  This was one band that Candice and I were still talking about on the ride home on Sunday.

Eilen Jewell at Red Wing Festival 2013

Eilen Jewell, the Queen of the Minor Key, has a fine honky-tonk voice that worked well on Loretta Lynn’s Give Me a Lift.  Her original Bang, Bang, Bang with the tale of Cupid at a Texas gun show really showcased her alt-country sensibilities.

That little cupid, he’s a real sharp shooter
I don’t believe he’s got an arrow and bow
People all think he just couldn’t be cuter
But I saw him down at the gun show

He appeared to be about two years of age
A really freaky thing to see
He was bragging about his sawed-off six gauge
Hidden right up his tattered sleeve

I asked him if the gun had a sight
How can you hit your mark that way
Little cupid, he just laughed outright
He said I don’t take aim I just bang bang bang
I don’t take aim I just bang bang bang

He fired off a few hot rounds
Right into the sorry crowd
No blood, no gore, no one hit the ground
They all just fell in love
With whoever they happened to be around

It’s funny, till it happens to you
But be sure you stay well out of his way
Love is careless, random and cruel
He don’t take aim he just —
He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang

He don’t take aim he just bang bang bang
He don’t take aim he just bang. Bang. Bang

Well worth a listen.

Steel Wheels on the Main Stage at Red Wing Festival 2013

After a break for supper, we were ready for the main stage set of the host band, The Steel Wheels.  I wondered if I would tire of the group after three performances in three days, but they wear well.  The set was familiar, but the musicianship and energy on their big night as hosts more than carried the day.  The light rain that came and went throughout the evening mostly stayed away during their set, and the crowd was definitely not going to let a little moisture dampen their spirits.

Trent Wagler of The Steel Wheels at Red Wing Festival 2013Earlier in the day a white-haired fellow a couple of years older than me, in a New York Yankees cap and a Tony Rice t-shirt, walked up and said, “I don’t like your hat, but I like that shirt.”  I, of course, had on my Washington Nationals cap and a Sam Bush Band t-shirt.  So I looked him over and said, “The feeling is mutual.”  We laughed, and he said, “Are you prepared to stay awhile?  The last time I saw Sam he played late into the night.” I allowed as how that was my experience as well and off we went – just your two, typical Sam Bush fans.

Sam Bush at Red Wing Festival 2013

It took over 30 minutes for the band set-up, and a number of the festival-goers who came for The Steel Wheels abandoned ship as the light rain continued.  Sam isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (Candice isn’t a fan), but I’ve loved Sammy’s energy, chops, wicked sense of humor, and musical sensibilities since I first saw him in Nashville one summer evening in the early 1970s at the old Exit/In with the first incarnation of The Newgrass Revival (yes, Ebo was playing bass that night) with special guest Vassar Clements.  I had never seen such energy and rock sensibilities fused with bluegrass chops on acoustic instruments, and I became a lifelong fan.

Scott Vestal at Red Wing Festival 2013

Sam opened with the Delmore BrothersFreight Train Boogie – which surprised me a bit until at the end of the tune when he said it was in memory of Doc Watson. Doc single-handedly kept the memory of Alton and Rabon alive through the years, and Freight Train Boogie is considered by some the first rock-n-roll song. Sam was a long-time occasional sideman for Doc, and one of my last full-length concerts I heard Doc play was when he and Sam played the Birchmere a few years ago.

Casey Jones he was a mighty man
But now he’s resting in the promised land
The kind of music he could understand
Was an eight wheel driver under his command

He made the freight train boogie
All the time
He made the freight train boogie
As he rolled down the line


Sam Bush plays Red Wing Festival 2013

Sam’s set included old favorites (Riding That Bluegrass Train; One Love) and “a song by a band that never played this venue” (I’ve Just Seen a Face). Even in the rain, the energy and musicianship were there in abundance.

Gospel Time at Natural Chimneys Park

By Sunday morning when we returned, the sky was blue and the crowd gathered next to the Natural Chimneys that give the park its name was ready for some gospel with the Steel Wheels.  The group and a few friends helped get us all ready for the festival’s final day.

Robin and Linda Williams at Red Wing Roots Festival 2013

The band we most wanted to see on Sunday was long-time Shenandoah Valley (and Prairie Home Companion) favorites Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group.  Robin was recovering from a recent fall and cracked ribs, but he hung in there with the rest of the group and helped put out their own brand of Americana.  (Robin and Linda were Americana before there was an Americana.)  Linda’s voice is still powerful, the two still harmonize like songbirds, and they continue to write terrific songs (like Rolling and Rambling:  The Death of Hank Williams).  Their recent trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville led them to write a song to two of the more iconic instruments in country music:  Maybelle’s Guitar and Monroe’s Mandolin. Forty years into their act (and marriage), Robin and Linda still have a playful sense of humor that – as Garrison Keillor says – is all you need for a good time.

So to go out with that good vibe from a wonderful inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival, here are two videos of Robin and Linda: the first from PHC – with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan as their backing band – singing Rolling and Rambling on New Year’s Eve.  Then enjoy Maybelle’s Guitar and Monroe’s Mandolin.

Long live Red Wing!

More to come…

DJB

3 Responses

  1. […] The last time I heard John Jorgenson play, it was this past summer under a beautiful Shenandoah Valley sky, where his quintet awed us all with a dazzling set of gypsy jazz. […]

  2. […] For the Love of the Music | More to Come… on Red Wing Swings […]

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