Tag Archives: Twangfest

Country icon Crowell brings rock and gospel to Twangfest

Rodney Crowell and Jedd Hughes at Twangfest 18 / Photo by Barry Gilbert
Rodney Crowell and Jedd Hughes at Twangfest 18 / Photo by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

Country music legend Rodney Crowell came to St. Louis last night (June 5, 2014) and broke out his rock and gospel show for the second night of Twangfest 18.

Backed by an excellent, sympathetic band featuring Australia’s Jedd Hughes on electric guitar, Crowell played for about 90 minutes, hitting most of his career milestones while obliterating expectations of what the show would be like.

Crowell threw his set list in the trash before the show even started, moving the topical rocker “Sex and Gasoline” to the leadoff position and saving “Stars on the Water” for later.

And for the first hour, the music did the only talking, as Crowell built momentum through a series of songs that mixed older material such as “Telephone Road” with new tunes from his “Tarpaper Sky” CD, including the ballad “Anything But Tame.”

Then came the midset surprise.

Stars on the Water,” from Crowell’s first album in 1977 and which Jimmy Buffett has been performing live for 30 years, flowed into – of all things – the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself.”

Fueled by the backup vocals of touring partner Shannon McNally and the powerful Joanne Gardner, “Respect Yourself” had the audience dancing. And Crowell, playing acoustic guitar, prowled the stage making eye contact with Hughes, joyfully grinning drummer Keio Stroud and upright-bass slapper Michael Rennie.

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Rodney Crowell continues quest for ‘timelessness’

 

Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister
Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister

By Barry Gilbert

Rodney Crowell, bluesman. That might sound like a contradiction coming from a veteran country music singer/songwriter, but he has said that a bluesman is inside him trying to get out – and that the bluesman hasn’t always been there.

However, Crowell, a perfectionist who’s most recent CD, “Tarpaper Sky,” continues to sit atop the American Music Association chart, is hesitant to talk too much about it.

You have to be careful … when you’re trying to tap into and learn to create from an artistic place that comes to you later on,” he said recently from his home in Tennessee. “To talk about it is tricky. To hear you quote me that way, I was thinking, hmm, am I being wise to talk about it?”

Crowell, who tore up the country charts in 1988 with five No. 1 singles from his fifth album, “Diamonds & Dirt,” acknowledges that rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones drew from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and that Stevie Ray Vaughan drew from Lightin’ Hopkins.

I certainly understood (the blues) from Day 1, from being 4 years old, I understood Hank Williams’ version of the blues, and it is an authentic version of the blues,” Crowell says. “I’ve certainly been trying to get instinctive about it and intuitive enough that I’m not manufacturing rehashed blues, but to intuitively find my own version of it. That’s the way I work. And to speak of it before you’ve actually achieved it is maybe not the smartest thing to do.”

I interviewed Crowell recently in advance of his show in St. Louis on June 5, 2014, when he will headline the second night of the 18th annual, four-night roots music series Twangfest. I found him to be extremely gracious and generous with his time and, as expected, very thoughtful.

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Crenshaw, Bottle Rockets close a packed Twangfest

THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH ON JUNE 10, 2013, BUT WAS SEVERELY TRIMMED. THIS IS THE UNTRIMMED VERSION.

By Barry Gilbert

Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, backed by the muscle of St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets, on Saturday night (June 8, 2013) brought a sweat-drenched end to Twangfest, one of the most successful editions in the festival’s 17-year run.

Among the 13 acts that performed last week, three – Crenshaw, Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Wylie Hubbard – are bonafide music legends, and two more – Joe Pug and Todd Snider – may earn that status someday.

In addition, the four-night celebration of American roots music sold out three of the four shows (one at Plush and two at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room), and set a record with fans buying 70 four-night passes. The festival ran smoothly, and even the technical gremlins took a year off.

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Bottle Rockets power Marshall Crenshaw’s Twangfest pop

Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets at Twangfest 17
Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets at Twangfest 17. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

By Barry Gilbert

St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets put the power into Marshall Crenshaw’s legendary power-pop Saturday night to close the most successful edition of Twangfest in the 17-year run of the roots-rock festival.

Night 4 of the KDHX-sponsored festival featured a generous portion of accessible alt-country, rock and power pop, first from opening act Dolly Varden, then for an hourlong set by the Bottle Rockets and finally a 90-minute set by Crenshaw, backed by the Bottle Rockets.

The show at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room was sold out, the third sell-out of the four night festival and the first three-night sell-out in its history.

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Asleep at the Wheel and Eilen Jewell sparkle on Twangfest’s Night 3

Principal Asleep at the Wheel singers Ray Benson, Jason Roberts and Elizabeth McQueen at Twangfest 17. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
Asleep at the Wheel singers Ray Benson, Jason Roberts and Elizabeth McQueen at Twangfest 17. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

By Barry Gilbert

It’s a rare night when a music fan can see Texas-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel in an intimate venue, but that happened Friday at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on the third night of Twangfest 17.

And the Wheel found a well primed crowd, taking the stage after a knockout set by singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band, featuring guitarist Jerry Miller.

The seven-member Asleep at the Wheel, founded in 1970 and still led by singer-guitarist Ray Benson, has always been a force onstage, and the latest incarnation continues the tradition. Blasting through 23 songs in nearly 90 minutes, the band crossed genres from Western swing and boogie woogie to blues, rockabilly and country.

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Joe Pug, tiny piano player spark Twangfest Day 2

By Barry Gilbert

If Joe Pug had started out in the ’70s, some mainstream record company or fired-up rock critic surely would have hung a “new Dylan” tag around his neck. Unfair as such a label might be in any era – check back with us in 50 years, or even 25, Joe – his songs are worthy of such hyperbole. And live on a stage is the place to hear them.

Joe Pug headlines Day 2 of Twangfest 17 at the Duck Room in St. Louis. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
Joe Pug headlines Day 2 of Twangfest 17 at the Duck Room in St. Louis. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

Pug headlined the second night of the KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 17 on Thursday, capping a four-act bill that sadly drew only half a house to Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room after a sold-out opening night Wednesday at Plush (Friday and Saturday night at the Duck Room are sold out, too).

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Todd Snider, Ray Wylie Hubbard deliver at Twangfest 17

hubbard

Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Plush on Twangfest 17 opening night. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

By Barry Gilbert

“I’m gonna share some of my opinions with you tonight,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider warned the Twangfest 17 opening night crowd, “not because I think you should hear them … but because they rhyme.”

The wisecrack, offered with the same stoner drawl and twinkling eye as Snider uses in his songs, also applied to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas troubadour who preceded Snider on the bill Monday night at Plush in midtown St. Louis. But where Snider is laid back and nuanced under a funky hat adorned by a flower, a folk singer at his core, the scruffy Hubbard is an in-your-face chronicler of life in the margins, all snarling rock ‘n’ roll and country blues.

Twangfest’s move to Plush from its traditional opening night venue, Schlafly’s Tap Room, was a success by any measure. The festival, supported by primary sponsor KDHX (881. FM), sold out the room with fans of each artist – the billing order easily could have been reversed – and sing-alongs were happening even when not requested by the artist.

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Twangfest 16: Rockers dominate on Day 3

By Barry Gilbert

ST. LOUIS

Rockers took over the stage for the third night of Twangfest 16 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Friday, and they were greeted by a sellout crowd, the largest in recent memory.

As the hour crept past midnight, the audience remained strong, active and loud for Ha Ha Tonka. And the Ozark band once again delivered a smashing set of music that mixes an indie rock vibe, Midwestern sincerity and Southern mysticism that no other band can match.

Ha Ha Tonka had to be on its game, because it followed co-headliner Langhorne Slim (the two acts are touring together), who brings boyish charm and energetic angst to a deepening catalog of rich music.

Opening was Kasey Anderson and the Honkies from Portland, Ore., a straight-ahead, four-man group of three-chord rockers fronted by Anderson, who connected to the crowd right away. His St. Louis references were delivered with self-aware irony: He knew he was pandering, so did the crowd, and both parties enjoyed it.

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Twangfest 16: Welcome to Humming House

Humming House (from left): Mike Butera, Ben Jones, Kristen Rogers, Justin Wade Tam and Joshua Wolak

By Barry Gilbert

ST. LOUIS

If you’re lucky, at some point over multiple days or multiple stages at a music festival, some act will open your eyes and knock you over.

The first two nights of KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 16 have featured great music by artists who have met or exceeded expectations, based on either reputation or past performance: Kelly Hogan, Pokey LaFarge and Wussy, at the top of the list. But the band that has obliterated expectations is Humming House, which played Wednesday night after local opener Prairie Rehab and in support of hometowners LaFarge and his old-timey South City Three.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Humming House is made up of five seemingly disparate parts: Celtic-music fan and singer/songwriter Justin Wade Tam, soul singer Kristen Rogers, classically trained fiddler and college professor Mike Butera, bluegrass mandolinist Joshua Wolak and classical composer/bassist Ben Jones.

Together, they are … what? Irish jam band? Bluegrass porch stompers? Acoustic rockers? R&B interpreters? Yes, all of the above.

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The Baseball Project hits it out at Twangfest 15

Steve Wynn (from left), Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey of the Baseball Project at Twangfest 15, June 11, 2011
Steve Wynn (from left), Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey of the Baseball Project at Twangfest 15, June 11, 2011

By Barry Gilbert

The Cardinals may have dropped out of first place in the NL Central on Sunday, but on Saturday night they led the majors in song as the Baseball Project hit it out of Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room to close out Twangfest 15 in St. Louis.

Veteran rockers Steve Wynn, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey and Linda Pitmon, wearing their twin passions for music and baseball like a uniform, tore through 14 tracks from their two CDs as the Baseball Project. And for extra innings, they connected on songs from some of Wynn, McCaughey and Mills’ other bands: Dream Syndicate, the Minus 5 and R.E.M., respectively.

Twangfest, which became Flood Fest on Friday night when storms outside caused floor drains inside the Duck Room to back up and leave an inch or so of stinky water underfoot, was threatened again Saturday when water started rising just about showtime. But the Blueberry Hill crew dealt with it quickly, and opening act Marah went on just a bit more than a half-hour late.

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