|Andrew Weigel||Honesdale Roots & Rhythm
Music & Arts Festival 2009
These are pictures from the 4th Honesdale Roots & Rhythm Music & Arts Festival, June 20th, 2009. Click on any thumbnail to bring up the full-size picture.
The HR&RM&AF is a one-day, free event in a park in downtown Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The park is Central Park, and it takes up one city block. Being in the middle of a city expands the number of options for meals, not to mention restrooms, though there are Porta-Jons if you feel you need them for an "authentic" festival experience.
It is primarily a music festival, though there are quite a few very nice craft vendors with booths on the streets bordering the park. There are the usual food vendors as well. The festival features a number of musical styles, unlike, say a bluegrass festival, which is more focused.
The on-line information pages don't mention it, but there are tents (visible in the pictures) from which you can view the main stage if the weather is either too hot or too wet. You should also consider bringing folding camp chairs, which you can place early in the day. It's quite a small venue and it's very easy to get right up to the stage.
The Main Stage is on the east side of the park (in these pictures The Murder Ballads are playing). There is a smaller stage towards the southern end of the park, where bands play before the Main Stage opens and during the periods when groups are switching on the Main Stage.
The first picture shows the Main Stage from just south of the fountain in the middle of the park (this will give you an idea of the size of the park). In front of the white truck body on the right are the artist and merchandise tables. The second picture is from a little further south, and you see one of the large white tents where you can watch the musicians safe from the weather. The third picture is closer in than the first, highlighting the statue of the Civil War soldier.
Being a free festivals brings differences from the more common ticketed festivals. There is much more of a local/family presence, which generally makes for a friendlier crowd. On the other hand, there are no rules (e.g., on smoking), so feel to bring your dog. The ambience is different as many in attendance are not there primarily for the music.
The day was cool, with off-and-on rain, sometimes very heavy. What's a festival without it?
These are the groups that performed on the Main Stage.
These pictures are from their set, scheduled from 2:00pm - 3:00pm. They were the first act on the Main Stage. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time they started playing.
The Murder Ballads are a fivesome from Montreal. They play a variety of music, not just bluegrass: Cajun, zydeco, folk, country.
They also have a variety of line-ups, reflecting the variety of instruments they play: guitar, dobro, mandolin, bass, fiddle, concertina, accordion. The one instrument not in evidence was the banjo.
"Going to the Country" featured two dobros, one played by the former fiddle player. At other times the lineup included two mandolins. Their last song was "Nobody's Fault but Mine".
Overall they seemed most at home with the Cajun and zydeco numbers.
The group never really caught fire with the audience. It could simply have been that the sound volume was mixed quite low.
After their set was finished, the rain began to come down in torrents.
These pictures are from their set, scheduled from 3:50pm - 5:05pm. There was rain off and on during their time on stage.
These guys are real pros, sometimes too much so. Their sound at times was a little too polished, a little too Nashville. Lacking was a sense of fun or spontaneity. One contributing factor was that the drums were mixed too high.
Which is not to say these guys don't know how to play a song. How could you not like "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Drinking"? They played "Gone, Gone, Gone", the rockabilly "At the End of the Road", and "In a Honky Tonk Mood". That pretty much tells you what to expect.
Rain continued after their set.
These pictures are from her set, on the schedule from 6:00pm - 7:30pm. The rain stopped just as her set was starting.
Michelle Willson is a tremendous singer, with real talent, great effort, and a high degree of showmanship. If there's any justice in the musical world she should be a star. Even if you're not a fan of her style of music, you will be after hearing her.
The instrumentalists were also exceptional (according to the program they were members of the band Blue Lunch, though they didn't match up completely with the personnel on that website). The "standard" lineup included keyboards, drums, saxophone, and electric guitar, but there were frequent changes. One instrument not included was a bass. There were bass lines, but they were handled by the keyboard player (rock groups like The Doors and Led Zeppelin often had a similar lineup).
You can get a good idea of her range and influences by the songs she chose. It was also a treat to hear songs that aren't performed as often as they should. She did a great rendition of Etta James' "Strange Things Happen (Every Day)", followed by an outstanding version of Lavern Baker's "Voodoo Voodoo". Many of the songs were in the up tempo R&B mode, but even the slow songs were handled well.
"Life Goes On" saw the saxophone player switch to electric mandolin. It was back to Etta James for "Sometimes All It Takes is a Leap of Faith", and then on to Ann Cole's "Each Day". "Give Me Water, Water" was not to be taken literally, given the weather! For an encore it was back to Etta James for "At Last, My Love Has Come Along" (familiar to many through the Ella Fitzgerald recording).
Michelle Willson was a real eye-opener, but as sometimes happens, it wasn't clear if the audience was that receptive to her style of music.
Michelle Willson at the reception table stage left after her performance.
These pictures are from their unscheduled set, about 7:50pm to 8:25pm. They had been on the schedule earlier for an event before the Main Stage opened at 2:00pm.
This is Jack Grace, the Martini Cowboy, from Brooklyn, NY, and recent inductee into the Brooklyn Country Music Hall of Fame. They have an interesting line-up: bass (a hollow-body electric), drums, lap steel, and electric guitar (check TBD).
Many songs highlighted their soon-to-be-released CD, Drinking Songs for Lovers. These included "If You're Gonna Raise a Drunk" and "The Worst Truck Driver in the Whole Wide World".
These pictures are from his set scheduled from 8:30pm to 10:00pm, though it actually got started about 8:50.
"Fabulous" just about sums up his performance. He did an hour and forty minutes without a break. A real professional, a real showman, and a real audience-pleaser.
Fortunately the rain lightened up considerably by the time his set started. The pictures show a fine collection of rain-spattered headgear, but this was from earlier precipitation. Many in the audience were bare-headed during his show.
The stage was generally under lit, often with a red filter. Made picture-taking quite a challenge, though a couple of the goofs are left as psychedelic tributes, a la Electric Ladyland.
He performed in a trio, with a bass and drums. Maybe that should be "drum", as it was basically just a snare and a cymbal. It does show what accomplished musicians can do with a minimum of kit.
As you can see in the pictures, Junior Brown plays with a flat pick held between his thumb and index finger, with metal fingerpicks on his middle and ring fingers. You don't see this often. Most fingerpickers (which includes steel, dobro, and banjo players) use a thumb pick and fingerpicks on the index and middle (and sometimes ring) fingers. Electric guitarists generally use just a flat pick.
He usually braced his right-hand pinkie (sometimes the heel) on the guitar top. This applied to both the upper electric guitar and the lower 8-string steel guitar. He kept the steel for his left hand in his left coat pocket when he was playing the electric guitar.
All the songs were well-performed and well-received. They included "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" (from Guit with It, as well as Live at the Continental Club), "Highway Patrol" (ditto), and "You Do the Math" (new to me).
A broken string on the electric guitar was the cue for a drum solo while the string was replaced.
There were a number of new songs, including the mariachi-style "Chili Verde".
He did a surf music set, which was closer to the "Rock n Roll Medley" of Live at the Continental Club than the "Surf Medley" of Semi-Crazy. It included "Apache", "Dance of the Leaves", "Pipeline", and a number of others.
The enthusiastic audience brought him back for four encores. He told the story of the first song he ever wrote, the first song he ever recorded, "Gotta Get Up Every Morning (Just to Say Goodnight to You)" from Semi-Crazy. That was the first encore (this appears to be a frequent occurrence), followed by "Steel Guitar Rag", "Aloha 'Oe" (the Hawaiian music staple), and that country music standard that includes a snippet of "Entry of the Gladiators" (but whose title I forget).
A truly brilliant performer.
Last updated: June 21, 2016. Copyright 2005-2018, Andrew H. Weigel (AHW). E-mail: Web2013@andrewweigel.name.