Archive for the 'Concert reviews' Category

The Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, MI.

The magical Sherwood Forest looms in the distance at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, MI

It is like an unbelievably fun surrealistic dream. The beautiful woods you find yourself in pulsate with a plethora of inspiring musical sounds. Genre warping electronica music, New Orleans funk, reggae, classic, southern, progressive, and jam based rock, soul-jazz inflected boogaloo, hip hop, it is all here thunderously reverberating through the cathedral like forest. As you explore this realm, new possibilities leap into existence. You could saddle up on a horse and ride into the sunset or board a shuttle to the massive water park. Perhaps a round of golf on the beautiful 240 acre golf course calls or you can take a dip in the nearby lake. You could just relax, watching hilariously playful people while you lounge in a heavenly hammock. At night the surroundings transform into a shimmering luminous vortex of light and sound. It is as if you had stepped into a dimension where everything was alive and resonating with the joy of its own existence. Thank goodness the price of admission included camping, because you don’t want to leave. You’re at the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan.

Hot on the heels of their incredible Rothbury Festival, jam band moguls Madison House Presents return to the beautiful Double J.J. Resort in Rothbury Michigan to bring you the Electric Forest music festival. The list of musical artists who have signed on for the June 30th to July 3rd event co-produced by L.A. based Insomniac is pretty jaw dropping. “We’re excited, the line up is amazing. It is the kind of event where I am excited not just to play but to hear everybody else and get to hang out and just see what the vibe is like” says tenor saxophonist Karl Denson whose band Tiny Universe is a featured act. He adds “Jam band festivals are some of the most interesting for me because they are so wide ranging, you get so many styles of music in one place and if you like music you will definitely get something you didn’t expect.” Other featured acts include Shpongle, Galactic, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, J.J. Grey and Mofro, REO Speed Wagon, and the String Cheese Incident.

Asked what his own notoriously fun packed band brings to the table Karl says “We try to hit hard and be big punchers. I come from a serious jazz background but also love dance music. I try to listen to everything and continue to know what is out there”. Denson’s eagerness to push the boundaries and incorporate new elements is indicative of the jam scene that will be in full bloom at Electric Forest. These days the scene even incorporates elements of electronica music, a development that is featured at Electric Forest. “They did a great job of mixing in the whole jamtronica thing that is going on right now” says Karl. “It’s a jam band contribution to the electronic scene, it has a little bit from what we have created over here but with DJ’s from this side of the table.”

If boundary pushing music, spectacular natural settings, mind blowing visual production, and positive vibes are your scene, you would be hard pressed to find a better summer getaway than the Electric Forest festival in Rothbury, Michigan.

Down home soul: The feel good groove of Soul Track Mind

Soul Track Mind in Action

Witnessing a Soul Track Mind performance is like stepping out of time and space. Their recent show at Mishawaka’s Midway Tavern felt like a great party onboard a funky time machine. The 8 piece band took the crowd back to the classic era of 60’s soul music, a time where hungry artists with something to prove stepped out of Gospel churches and brought spirituality, passion, polished performance, and ingeniously crafted songs to stunned and inspired audiences. Like soul archaeologists, Soul Track Mind dug deep to unearth those forgotten ways and lost rituals and brought them into the present. Their horn driven show was a vivid exposition on just how joyous live music can be. “We have been able to build a shared feeling between the audience and us. Sharing that kind of relationship almost has a spiritual effect. It’s high energy, passionate, sweaty, emotional,” says front man Donovan Keith, a graduate of Penn High school who now lives in Austin Texas.

Soul Track Mind and Keith’s ability in particular to inspire and entertain the audience was striking. When asked about this gift for connecting with the crowd Keith says “So many people can sing well but they can’t put on a show. It’s an element that has been missing for many years. We use that element to try to distinguish ourselves as a band that can really put on a great show. It’s helped us stand out in Austin. There are better singers out there and there are performers with more energy but I won’t let anyone out sing and outperform me. I won’t let anyone beat me at both.” says Keith, exuding all the confidence and enthusiasm of someone born to front a band.

When asked about the evolution of his unique performance skills and onstage antics, Keith offers a surprising answer. “The Showmanship came from my theater days, theater and comedy specifically. I did improv. I did stand up. I have always been very physical in performing. Chris Farley was always a big comedy influence. If you look at my comedy or musical influences they always have a big physical presence.” Keith cites musical inspirations like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke as particularly strong influences as well. “Sam Cooke for the songwriting and vocal phrasing and Otis Redding for his live show” says Keith.

As for why he became a soul singer, Keith says “I liked other music but would always keep coming back to soul. It is probably the most uplifting music when it is played correctly. Something about that energy level and that kind of spirituality was very appealing to me. The music is more gospel based than blues would be and the singer has to have a good voice to pull it off.” When asked to define soul, Keith offers an insightful answer. “There is soul music as its own genre of music, then there is soul as a term where someone sings with soul or has a soulful voice and I don’t really link the two. I think people who sing with soul are being open, honest, simple, and expressive. If you take those things and match them with soul music you have the best combination.”

Not content to simply imitate, Soul Track Mind seems determined to forge its own sound. At their Midway performance the band captured the audience by relying on original music, adding infrequent but perfectly timed covers. “We have our own voice now and we are writing the music and the words and it doesn’t sound like anything else because it’s our own completed ideas”. This fact is apparent on the band’s impressive debut CD “Ghost of Soul”. It is a great debut crammed with inventive arrangements and crowd tested songs. The CD manages to sound like fresh new music that could have come out on Memphis’ classic Stax label circa 1971.

As Soul Track Mind’s Midway performance proved, seeing a great soul band is a truly uplifting experience. “Our shows are where people who havn’t danced at all or havn’t danced often come to dance.” Says Keith. “So many times we have had people come up to tell us that. A woman came up and said “My husband hasn’t danced with me in 20 years and he finally danced with me.” He continues “Then this metal head guy said “I just want to let you know I’m a metal head, I never dance when I see a show… but you guys made me dance!” says Keith. He seems to thrive on channeling such inspiration. He adds “The performance aspect, being in front of audiences, the rush of sharing your voice and music with the audience and having them reward you with their energy, there is nothing else like it”.

World Class Music Festival road trips

Just another day at the DEMF...

One of the best things about living in Michiana is our proximity to a plethora of great music festivals. In fact we are short road trips away from some of the most unique musical happenings in the country. Sure there are the well-known hits like the Jazz festivals in Chicago and Detroit, and of course the Chicago Blues Festival. For traditionalists wanting to watch the greats at work, they are outstanding. Music lovers with more eclectic musical tastes have it just as good however. There are several lesser known nearby music festival gems worth seeking out.

Milwaukee’s Summerfest happens June 25th to July 5th. The largest music festival in the world, it is less than 4 hours away on the beautiful Milwaukee lakefront. Summerfest has been the crown jewel of Milwaukee’s countless annual lake front festivals for years. For 11 days straight on 11 stages you can check out 700 bands of every conceivable variety. The sound is excellent, the stages top notch, and the line up has something for everyone. I love Summerfest for its blend of big name arena performers, excellent roots musicians, up and coming new acts, and classic crowd pleasers. There is plenty of good food, arts and crafts vendors, wonderful play areas for the kids, and more beer than should be legal. Milwaukee itself is one of our most underrated cities and is full of great stuff to do. City highlights include the Public Museum, the Discovery Center, the Art Museum, Brewers games, the Mitchell Park Domes, and plenty of hip neighborhoods to explore.

Chicago’s African Festival of the Arts is one of the best-kept festival secrets in America. Each Labor Day weekend participants soak up the African spirit in an amazing variety of creative manifestations. Various cultures of the African Diaspora are well represented here. Jamaican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, and Creole food, music, art, and dance happen alongside rich African and African American creative expressions. It is an extended family reunion of sorts and one of the biggest and best organized block parties on Chicago’s vibrant South side. Festival organizers book a range of acts as varied as they are inspiring. Three distinct stages host diverse African descended musical forms, including big band jazz, afro beat, Brazilian, Chicago blues, old school funk, gospel, classic hip hop, reggae, zydeco, cuban jazz, soul, and Puerto Rican salsa. The massive and amazing drum village drum jams are worth the price of admission alone. With an affordable price and relaxed atmosphere, the hospitality and warmth of Africa permeate this event.

A new addition to the Midwest festival scene, the Rothbury Festival in Rothbury, MI made a huge splash with 50,000 music lovers last Fourth of July weekend. Featuring a spectacular natural location, weekend camping, great food, and a huge variety of jamming music, the first year Rothbury Festival cemented its place as one of the best new outdoor music festivals around. While somewhat targeted at the jam band hippy scene, Rothbury transcended the usual clichés with a diverse range of rock, reggae, hip-hop, and electronic acts. It was as if someone had remixed a reggae festival, a dead show, the Burning Man Festival, an environmental conference, and an outdoor underground dance party. The visual effects production was top notch and the good vibes were flowing all weekend. Rothbury is more than entertainment though. With a plethora of innovative and sustainable environmental practices and workshops, Rothbury broke new ground in the greening of festivals.

Danceaholics seeking the ultimate party fix can find it Memorial Day weekend at the massive Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF). In its 10th year, DEMF continues to be a living odyssey into the past, present, and future of electronic dance culture. Each year people from around the world travel to the birthplace of Techno music to see the originators, innovators, and elevators of house, techno, hip hop, Dub, nu soul, future jazz, and that unique Detroit concoction, booty music. Those who think electronic dance music has no soul have not been to the block party like atmosphere of DEMF. The Detroit dance culture is as influenced by funk, soul, Gospel, and jazz as it is by Kraftwerk and the depth and dimension of the local scene proves it. At the same time the festival features the best international acts of the genre as well. The after parties are just as fun as the fest and the people watching is unbeatable. Detroit is filled with incredible people who have persevered through the toughest of times. The unstoppable creative work ethic, love of music, and spirit of community there is unmistakable.

Elkhart brings the swing with the 2010 Jazz and Blues festival

A warm summer night at the Elkhart Jazz Festival.

Music lovers attending the 2010 Elkhart Jazz and Blues festival can expect a truly unique musical experience. Since 1988 the annual festival has brought a wide range of musical styles, small town accessibility, and a summer festival environment together in a way that could only happen in Elkhart. The festival, which is held June 25-26th, will feature six stages and host more than 100 performers who will keep things jumping. Audiences experience jazz and blues up close and personal in a variety of laid back and intimate settings. Musical offerings include big band, ragtime, swing, vocal, latin, straight ahead, and smooth jazz, as well as Chicago style blues. Vintage and contemporary sounds bubble up from a street festival atmosphere that includes food and educational exhibits on musical innovations and regional history. It all happens in the charming hassle free environs of downtown Elkhart. “At larger festivals there is no way you can get near the stage, let alone mingle with the performers” says Steve Gruber of Downtown Elkhart, which produces the Festival. “Here you can do both” he says enthusiastically.

Long known as the band instrument capital of the world, Elkhart takes pride in both this high profile event and the city’s contributions to music history. “At one point in time, music instrument manufacturers employed more of the citizens here than any other industry” says Gruber. He adds, “Some of the best expressions of jazz music were produced on instruments made in Elkhart, a lot of the artists know this and love coming here. There is a lot of history here, a lot of innovations happened here, and a lot of skilled musicians revere this as a kind of holy land of band instruments”. He adds, “Jazz is a true American art form and should really be appreciated as such. It was the most innovative form of music on this continent and influenced music all over the world. It was the foundation of swing, boogie, rock, and really all urban music of the 20th century has a jazz backbone of some sort. We want people to come with an open mind and really experience all it has to offer”.

Artists travel from around the country and even beyond to make the festival an international happening. Grammy winners, jazz veterans, up and comers, and local favorites all season the sonic gumbo. A dedicated and diverse crew of community minded volunteers set the table. The unpaid 50-person production crew headed by Sandy Willis is particularly impressive. They build 6 stages, handle sound, security, and other logistics, and work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen.

Ticket options range from single event tickets ($10), to passes for the whole event ($65) with variable options in between. Ticketing and other useful information is available at the official website listed below. Shows can fill up quickly so arrive early for must see performances. All indoor shows are air-conditioned. For outdoor shows portable lawn chairs are recommended. Parking is free, and venues are within walking distance of each other. Food is available and vendors will include ethnic cuisines such as sushi and Chinese. Adding to the ambience is the festival’s proximity to Elkhart’s waterfalls, river walks, and beautiful parks. The Elkhart Jazz and Blues Festival is truly a one of a kind event that could only happen right here in Michiana.

And from the side bar:

Big Bands rise again:

Jazz big bands are alive and well at the Elkhart Jazz and Blues Festival. As in years past, the festival gives listeners a chance to see jazz big bands up close and personal. A quick look at the Festival’s web site shows several larger group ensembles and one particularly note worthy big band. Rob Parton’s Big Band with its huge sound and immaculate tightness promises to be one of the Festival’s highlights this year. Parton, well known on the Chicago jazz scene, is a performer/educator/bandleader who has spent more than 20 years keeping the big band tradition alive. The sound of his current ensemble is massive, with dynamic arrangements, intricate harmonic interplay, precise rhythms, and strikingly fluid group cohesion. This much talent and tightness tearing it up on a stage is a rare thing these days.

Bottom line economic realities, the prohibitive costs of putting large bands on the road, under funded and disappearing school band programs, and the ongoing challenges of rehearsing a large ensemble into a tight knit group have made it all but impossible for the big band to survive in today’s climate. When a big band beats the odds and thrives, it’s a sight and sound worth witnessing. Seeing such a band live is a timeless experience you won’t forget.

Band on the Rise:Escher Bach

Eascherbach, a band that is definitly doing some preacticing.

Progressive rock enthusiasts need look no further than rising stars Escherbach to know that the genre is alive and well. With regular gigs in the area and a recently released CD entitled “Cycles”, the local power trio is starting to make a name for them selves while carving out a unique sonic identity. This radically well-rehearsed group takes classic hard rock energy without the angsty clichés of modern corporate rock and blends it with a unique ADD approach to instrumental composition. Their music hot-wires melodic textures, driving power chords, lightning fast tempo changes, wild dynamics, and accomplished musicianship for a sonic joy ride to riffville.

The band is composed of Neil Carmichael(guitar), Sean Norris(drums), and Minkis(Bass). All three members of the band shine in their own way and like any good power trio there is no real weak link here. They have a very cohesive chemistry that allows for improvised psychedelic tangents, jarring changes, and exploding musical motifs to all turn on a dime. Like most prog rock bands they occasionally get bogged down in overly indulgent not quite clever musical tricks and gimmicks that leave the listener asking why. Still the truly epic moments and songs when they catch on fire are something to behold. Their recent gig at McCormick’s rocked in a thunderously tight way with a real creative intensity I have not seen around here in an original band since the early days of Umphrey’s McGee.

While Escherbach is clearly a band to keep an eye on, they still have a way to go to live up to their potential. Many of their songs have a tight and cohesive feel, yet others feel more slapped together. Their somewhat unrefined first CD was already eclipsed by the mojo they displayed at the recent live gig. With so much talent it will be interesting to watch as this band’s compositional approach develops. Hopefully they will glean those eternal musical truths that less is more and that musicianship should serve songs, as opposed to songs serving musicianship. If they can integrate these concepts into what is already more than entertaining music, Escherbach may just be the next big band from Michiana.

An Evening of Electronic Music at Ernestine M. Raclin school of the Arts, I.U.S.B.

I.U.S.B hosted an ear opening evening of electronic music in its Recital Hall on January 17th. The first half of the evening consisted of pre recorded completed compositions from students of the I.U.S.B. music program being played rather than performed. The second half was a live electronic group improvisation from I.U.S.B.’s long running Plato and the Western Tradition Ensemble. For fans of electronic music this was a welcome and rare diversion for the Michiana area. While this was not the most exciting music to watch, it did offer listeners a ticket to intriguing sonic dimensions seldom traveled around these parts. As someone who has appreciated electronic music my whole life, I didn’t hear anything earth shaking or innovative here. What I did hear though was some very creative composition, evocative musical interplay, and musicians who were unafraid to try new things. Overall it was a solid evening of music with a few stand out moments.

Two compositions that impressed from the first half of the evening were “Rasa” by Josh Bonham and “Learn to Reason” by Mike Nolan. Both had excellent use of exotic percussion and fit right into the decentralized poly cultural music of the 21st century. “Rasa” stood out particularly not only for its creative production but for its amazing viola work performed by the composer.

The second half of the evening picked up the pace a bit as three creative musicians performed together as Plato and the Western Tradition. Marie Fryar, Mike Nolan, and ensemble founder David Barton wove a sonic web of effortless spontaneous creation. The performance never turned into a raging fire but smoldered nicely as a variety of shimmering atmospheres came into being and then vanished into ether. A few of the synth voices sounded dated and trite, but overall the group succeeded in creating a fresh and unique if not overly adventurous or impassioned soundscape. Some densely packed passages did leave me wishing for more sonic breathing room. Too much harmonic speculation can leave the listener confined to the narrow space between being and becoming. Still it is unusual to see an electronic ensemble employing musical and technical theory this evolved this creatively. This was a stripped down version of the ensemble as certain members were unable to attend. Nevertheless the well executed performance left me wanting to see the group in full force.

For events like this that lack a dramatic performance aspect I usually close my eyes and drift off to inner realms to soak up hidden nuances of sound often obscured by vision. If I can lose myself in the space between the notes I consider the music successful. Overall I have to say this was a night with many of those enjoyable moments.

Orquesta Caribe, Island Park, Elkhart IN. 7-11-08


              Orquesta Caribe brought its fiery non-stop Latin dance party sounds to Island Park on July 11th. Their music was the perfect soundtrack to a fun, festive and sultry summer night in the beautiful downtown park. The annual event put on by WVPE was well attended by a large and diverse mix of listeners and dancers, old fans and curious newcomers alike. Spirited music as large as life itself filled the air as the band delivered an impressive and varied set of Latin grooves. Those in attendance seemed to enjoy the passionate and remarkably tight musicianship of this ensemble.

            The event also included fun and engaging dance lessons for those new to the rich and varied traditions of Latin dance. The unusual above the band dance floor was filled with throngs of enthusiastic dancers learning to bust a variety of new moves. There was also an impressive dance contest with some remarkably seasoned salsa aficionados putting on an incredible display of dance artistry. It was the perfect compliment to a wonderful performance from one of Michiana’s best bands.

             Orquesta Caribe is a 12 piece pan-Latin ensemble that breaks the mold of traditional Latin bands by playing a variety of different regional styles in their performances. Authentically executed musical forms such as Salsa, Merengue, and Cumbia representing the sounds of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, can all be heard in a single set from the band. Orquesta Caribe consists of a dynamic mix of musicians with varied backgrounds who have all brought their own flavor into the project. James Riley, the bands Timbalero(timbale player) cites Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, and Joe Arroyo as musical inspirations for the band.

            Orquesta Caribe has been around in various forms under different names for several years. The present and most solid line up has been together since 2005. The current stability has helped build a passionate following that is as much a part of the fun as the band is. An enthusiastic crowd of skilled dancers has shown up to heat up the dance floor at each Orquesta Caribe performance I have seen. The event in Island Park was no different. This is a band that truly gets the audience involved in the music. If you like to dance and enjoy authentic Latin music you owe it to yourself to seek out the backyard musical treasure that is Orquesta Caribe.