Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I've Seen the Future of American Roots Music

Over on the ThirtyWhat and Eleventh Hour blogs, they've been commenting on what is better and worse about Springfield circa 2006. The most obvious decline in quality of life, I chimed in last week, was the inability to procure locally one of Truett Cathy's savory chicken sandwiches. On the positive side, I attempted to be prophetic and listed the potential for a landmark night for music at the Taste of Springfield's American Music Stage.

It turns out, I was right. And Sean Burns is the Fred Puglia of the American Music scene.

Despite having previously heard only one of the bands on the bill, the pre-show press on the acts presented what promised to be an eclectic mix of original music in the non-formulated vein. What I didn't expect was such a large and appreciative crowd for a bill that didn't include a Jimmy Buffet tribute band.

The highlight of the evening was Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. Through an act of sheer fate, my wife and I saw them just a week and a half before as part of the Pops on the Edge series that brought Aimee Mann to perform with the Boston Pops. We only heard them perform three songs, but that was enough to be won over by their powerful and tuneful sound.

Although artists don’t always like to be compared to other artists, I’d place Sarah musically in the Lucinda Williams and Maria McKee mold, and occasionally hear a hint of Sam Phillips (T-Bone Burnett’s ex not the Sun Records founder) in her impressively expressive voice. She definitely has the pipes, chops, and stage presence to hit it big. With a talented band backing her up, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be a national act. I highly recommend that you purchase their Silver City CD and highly discourage you from suggesting in their presence, burning a copy from a friend.*

We were fortunate to get to meet the band after their set and hung out with Sarah and Binky the Bassist for a good part of the evening. People this nice and talented deserve to sell a million records.

We got to hear about life on the road for an up-and-coming band and they got to hear about life at home with an up-and-coming family with four kids. Surprisingly, they are striking similarities between interacting with beer-soaked fans and pacifying sugar-saturated toddlers. After a couple of hours of chatting, my wife had made plans for them to come over for brunch the next time they are in town and even settled on a menu of apple/raisin French toast casserole with a nice asparagus and tomato frittata.

I can’t help but contrast the band’s attitude to that of the Drovers, a Chicago band of some renown who played at some ill-fated fall festival the city tried to pawn off a few years ago. After the Drovers’ set, I went over to pass along my appreciation and mentioned to the lead singer some mutual acquaintance. Apparently the sparse and unresponsive crowd did little to humble him to the point of deigning to interact with, who was at the time, a fan. He was thus never invited for brunch, and if he had been, it would have stale Fruit Loops and cream corn.

The Woggles, who went on after Sarah and the boys, might have been confused with the Wiggles, what with their matching outfits, until they kicked off their blistering set of decidedly un-cuddly rock and roll. The band teemed with energy as they pounded out one song after another while bounding across the stage and into the street. I would wager that the lead singer, who goes by the name the Professor, produced more sweat during his band's set than any of the team's participating in the Gus Macker pored out during the entire tournament.

Big Sandy and Fly-Rite Boys' and the Derailers finished out the main bill. While they didn't blow me away like the first two bands I heard that night, they still provided stellar performances that wowed the crowd.

In addition to the top-drawer music, the show brought out some interesting characters. Greasers, goths, punks, and Rat Pack revivalists, each in their respective regalia, took to the streets to hear the music, although they were easily out-numbered by the short/t-shirt/flip-flop crowd. One particularly fetching mod, with a smirk that could kill, provided the perfect dancing accompaniment to the Woggles sixties-style sound. She looked to have come fresh from the set of Shindig!, or for you younger readers, the set of an Austin Powers movie.

The event also marked what I believe to be the first local siting of Beatle Bob, the St. Louis-based icon who is a fixture at music shows throughout the country. His shtick, in addition to looking like a lanky George Harrison, is to dance at the foot of the stage and either infuse the crowd with energy or draw attention to himself - it depends on who you talk to.

One downside to many festivals of this sort is that you are either forced to drink the flagship swill of whatever beer distributor is sponsoring the event, or make like Beatle Bob and go intoxicant-free. Thus I was quite surprised when I noticed that a friend’s beer had a much darker hue than the golden tint of tastelessness that characterizes most water-downed lagers. Sure enough, good old Sam Adams had made his way from Boston to add a touch of taste to the liquid refreshment.

In closing this rather lengthy post, let me say that this was easily the best night of live music I've ever heard in Springfield, just barely beating out St. Croix's triumphant reunion at the state fairgrounds in the summer of 1982.

*An acquaintance of my wife made this faux pas and Binky was beside himself contemplating the injustice of it all. It’s one thing to swipe a couple of Metallica tracks from the burner down the street, but quite another to take the sustenance out of the mouths of musicians just starting down the path of success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Just smoke a blunt before you go.