The benefit concert will usher in a new day for Son Volt ...

and (with luck) a better day for 2 ailing musicians


By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch


December 9, 2004

Fans of St. Louis' Jay Farrar are in for a double treat Saturday at Mississippi Nights: the first public performance of a new Son Volt lineup and the chance to do something good for somebody else.

Farrar has organized the first of what he hopes will be an annual benefit concert in St. Louis, the Mound City Music Fest. For the inaugural show, presented by KDHX (88.1 FM), he's also invited those sons of Festus the Bottle Rockets, singer-songwriter Richard Buckner and recent tour mate Anders Parker.

Proceeds from the show will help musicians Karl Mueller, a founding member and bassist for Minneapolis' Soul Asylum, who is recovering from esophageal cancer; and Texan Alejandro Escovedo, a gifted songwriter and former member of the influential bands Rank and File and True Believers, who is recovering from hepatitis C. Habitat for Humanity St. Louis also will benefit.

"It's something we've always kicked around," Farrar says, "especially the idea of getting a bunch of musicians together for a cause."

A benefit for the Musicians' Assistance Program organized by Gram Parsons' daughter Polly in California in July "solidified the idea for me," Farrar says, adding that he'd been unable because of scheduling conflicts to take part in live fund-raisers either for Escovedo or for Mueller, the beneficiary of a big show in Minneapolis last month.

The original Son Volt lineup -- Farrar, bassist Jim Boquist, guitarist Dave Boquist and drummer Mike Heidorn -- came back together earlier this year to record Escovedo's "Sometimes" for the wonderful two-disc "Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo."

"Musically, we were all on the same page" for that project, Farrar says, but the unity didn't hold.

"I failed to realize that people change and, when it came time to work (business arrangements) out, it just didn't work out."

So a new Son Volt CD will be out next year with the lineup that will get a road test Saturday night: Farrar; bassist Andrew Duplantis, who has played with Escovedo, the Meat Puppets, Buckner and Jon Dee Graham; drummer Dave Bryson of Canyon, the band that backed Farrar for the tour that produced the live CD "Stone, Steel & Bright Lights"; guitarist Brad Rice of the Accelerators, Backsliders and, more recently, Tift Merritt and Ryan Adams; and longtime Son Volt sideman Eric Heywood on pedal steel.

"The songs are still from a similar place," Farrar says. "It's not going to be a drastically different thing. But when you involve different people, they bring their musical experiences to the table. I think overall it has a more spontaneous (and live) feel, and kind of a more melodic and up-tempo feel probably than what has gone on with my past solo records."

Farrar has connections with both Escovedo and Mueller, going back to the earliest days of Son Volt, if not to Uncle Tupelo, Farrar's Belleville-based band with Jeff Tweedy.

Mueller and his friends in Minneapolis "used to pile into cars and drive down to see Uncle Tupelo wherever they would play around here," recalls Mueller's wife, Mary Beth Mueller. "(Soul Asylum) probably crossed paths with Uncle Tupelo, too. Belleville, Chicago and Minneapolis bands seemed to cross paths over the years."

Farrar says, "I got to know Karl real good sharing the bill on some dates with Soul Asylum. And we had some mutual friends (the Boquist brothers), and (Mueller) was generous and at times used to let us stay at his house."

Escovedo "opened a couple of tours for Son Volt, once doing an acoustic set, another one with this alter ego band Buick MacKane," Farrar says. "I'd seen Alejandro going back many years. Probably some of the first concerts I ever went to were Rank and File, and the True Believers."