Saturday, December 28, 2013

                                   THE RED DIRT ROAD DOGS ARE ON A ROLL
                                                DENNIS AND BRENDA KIPPA

We've come full circle this week... all the way back to the first band we reviewed. It was early last spring, and we were newly besotted with the band called Uncle Lucius. That one experience has opened us up to a whole world of great music and all that goes with it.

Less than two weeks ago, on a Friday night in Tyler, we had another chance to see this great band and the fans who follow them around. We noticed very early on that the fans represent a very real and present part of the Uncle Lucius experience, and now that we have seen them play several more times, we've become aware that the band's relationship with their fans and other musicians within their circle is part of the lore that follows this unique group. Their legendary generosity was on display at this most recent concert because they hand-picked their opening act. In this way, they elected to share their own fan base with their opening act, and they provided a treat for their fans with the careful selection of Folk Family Revival, a four-piece band in which all but one are brothers. Not even for one moment did we feel that they were there to use up the time before Lucius arrived; these guys were there to show us their brand of music, and it did not disappoint. Most of their songs were original and they inspired us to buy their CD, lest we lose touch with them. For their encore, they chose a hearty rendition of The Beatles' Get Back, on which they were joined by Lucius' keyboard player, Jon Grossman. You'll never hear a better version of this great classic than the one we heard that night.

As for Lucius' own set, it provided everything we expect to hear, plus a surprise. Actually, even a surprise is expected when we see them, but the surprise is that you have no idea what it might be. This time, it was a healthy dose from Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger album. It was rolled out true to the original, as a tribute to Willie by fans of his music, which is another thing we can say about the Lucius band. In one more complete surprise and blowout, the band's keyboard player (Jon Grossman) again took center stage to play a rollicking version of the classic Down Yonder. When things like this happen, we find that we are quite grateful to be among those in the audience who are old enough to remember this classic, and it gives us extra appreciation for the fact that this band knows the song in spite of their own youth.

We reported recently that we were going to see The Band of Heathens. They are the band we told you about after we caught their on-line concert from Berkley, California. We were so excited to have the opportunity to see this group live that we got there nearly four hours before they took the stage.

As for the journey and the venue, we spent only one hour and 57 minutes to arrive at the door of The Granada Theatre on Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas. It has been over twenty years since I (Brenda) have been in this area of my old hometown, and it had changed so little that I had to search for new sights. However, a light meal across the street was $30, and parking at the venue was $8, so there was a bit of change there. Armed with tickets to good seats, we were glad we had that foresight, because those without advance tickets were treated to a standing-room concert. (We might have appreciated that opportunity a few decades ago, but the seats were much preferred this time).

There were two opening acts. The first was Jamielyn Wilson, who also performs as a part of the trio called The Tricias. Like many of the best Texas acts, she hails from South Austin. Delivering a nice set of her own songs, she showed her strong vocals, good nature and easy way of bantering to the crowd.

The second act was a four-piece band called Southern Revival. They were instantly-entertaining, in part because of the unique sound and engaging smile of the lead singer. It was impossible not to smile with him. They were joined onstage for a few songs by a violin player whose name escapes me. I apologize for this oversight on my part, because she was a great addition and she deserves to be recognized. Also a standout member of the band was their drummer. We made a note of Southern Revival's name, in hopes that we will have a chance to see them again soon, hopefully out in our east Texas area.

As for The Band of Heathens, we feel certain that this band will be the one that will still be on everyone's radar many years from now. Reaching into a bag of superlatives, I come up empty-handed; the words are all too bland. These guys are the absolute magic-men of today's touring musicians. Yes, there are others – Uncle Lucius is certainly one – but when it comes to improvisational moments, where one song morphs into another and then goes into a riff to someplace you can't imagine, before it slides back into the original song again... these musicians are the champions of that. If you have never witnessed this kind of music before (think The Greatful Dead of days gone by), then you simply must. Don't leave this life without it!

We reported on The Band Of Heathens' ability to take their listeners on an unforgettable excursion after we saw them on-line. We noticed then that they seem to have ways of communicating with one another according to which one of them is going to assume the lead in each song. This band makes available many of their concerts for purchase after their live shows. From what we've seen of these, there is simply never a repeat of a concert. Never. It seems to go outside the laws their DNA; it's impossible to conceive of. For this reason, each concert is a ride into someplace wonderful, with master magicians at the helm. I'm a person of many words sometimes, yet I am one of simple tastes: give me more of The Band of Heathens! And as always, enjoy!

Monday, December 9, 2013

(Travelin' With The Red Dirt Road Dogs)

                                                             Dennis and Brenda Kippa

Yes, friends, you read that headline right. Sometimes the concert will bring itself right into our homes.
This is a fairly new capability, but our Red Dirt crystal ball tells us that one day this will just be another choice we can make in deciding how to experience the music we want to hear.

With a nod to the powerhouse that is Texas weather, we recently found ourselves canceled out of a concert for the second time in less than thirty days. Not willing to be left undone again, Road Dog One (that's Dennis) began a tour through the websites of the bands we like. To our surprise, he discovered that The Band Of Heathens was having a web concert, and it was due to begin in just a few minutes.

You haven't heard us talk about the Band of Heathens... yet. We are anxiously awaiting their concert in Dallas later this month; our full report will follow that event. So far, we had only seen them in short clips of one or two songs - aboard a cruise ship, in clubs, etc. - via U-Tube online. We noticed a joyful sense of experimentation, yet a clearly well-oiled package of professional musicianship that made us want to be in the audience at the earliest possible opportunity. Every time we saw a clip of their performance, we wanted to see more. Now we were seeing that a whole concert was here for the taking … and the great sum of five dollars. What's not to love about this?

Road Dog One did his magic with the cords, plugs, inputs & outputs, and we were ready to be a part of the audience with one or two minutes to spare.

The scene was a club in Berkley, California. On the down side, the whole event was shot with only one camera, fixed in a long-range position. This made it impossible to experience any close-ups, or to even be certain about exactly which person was singing at times. That is the end of the down side report, because everything else was concert perfection. This band's trademark concert style of improvisation and extended versions of their songs keeps their audience in a constant state of excitement and expectation. Just when a song seems to be coming to it's end, the band launches into a thrilling transitional jam to tie it to another of their songs to create a once-in-a-lifetime medley. Judging by the body language between the band members, it seems apparent that whoever is “in charge” of a song is the one that all of the others watch closely. This person takes the song where he wants it to go and the others follow along with what is needed. Many bands try to do this; not so many can pull it off and make it look easy.

We realized that we were receiving audio that was unaltered by first going through the venue's sound system, which made a huge difference. For this, we give our full appreciation to the audio technician who was in charge of the sound board. Clearly, this person knew how to process the sounds, and through the wonder of digital output and this technician's talent, we were on the receiving end of a truly unique sound experience.

The Band of Heathens is another of the amazing Austin-based music marvels. It's made up of founding members Ed Jourdi and Gordi Quist, both of whom are expert at vocals, guitar and harmonica, and Ed Jourdi also shines on keyboards when the occasion warrants. The two of them play off each other, taking each song into new territory with almost every delivery. What sounds like straight-up rock or country one time might sound like gospel the next time they play it. The band is rounded out by Trevor Nealon on keyboards and Richard Millsap on drums. In the opinion of Road Dog Two (that's me, Brenda), it's the keyboards that often take this band into the stratosphere. All of their songs are original, and these guys really know how to put a song together. We won't be a bit surprised when some of their songs get picked up by other musicians in a bid to grab the glow for themselves (it probably won't work, though; perfection shouldn't be messed with).

What a great treat it was to stumble upon this web concert! As the result of having several things go “wrong”, we are reminded that the finest jewels of experience are sometimes found hidden behind or underneath the remains of what once looked like a lost evening.

Watch for more on the Band Of Heathens later this month or early next year. Meanwhile, listen to Americana music for yourself, and enjoy!  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

                                  (TRAVELING WITH THE RED DIRT ROAD DOGS)
                                                       Dennis and Brenda Kippa

Some months ago we received an e-mail from our nephew. He's the one who put us on this whole music-chasing path by telling us about the band Uncle Lucius. ( We were immediately so smitten with Uncle Lucius that we decided to become “music reviewers”, just so we could tell you about this amazing band). This much-loved nephew (Van Scott Folger/son of Brenda's brother) and one of his associates produced Lucius' video for the song “Keep The Wolves Away”. Now he was calling to tell us that he met another group that he thought we might like. So again we warmed up our favorite music archive site, to listen to this group. It only took one song. We were completely thrilled with what we were hearing and couldn't wait to see them. Unfortunately, we had to wait several weeks, but the wait allowed us some time to read whatever we could find on these young artists.

The band was formed quite by accident a few years ago. As the story goes, the boys were on a float trip down the Guadalupe River near Austin. For those of you who aren't familiar with these time-tested events, they involve lots of loosely-connected people who connect themselves together with ropes, using inner tubes and ice chests as floatation devices as they drift down the Guadalupe River. It's a long-held ritual in the Austin area, involving whiling the hours away, enjoying the sun, the moon, and music. Often, the music is provided by those who have brought along their guitars, as it did on the day that these musicians met each other. As they sang their way down the river late that night, bystanders took note of what they were hearing. The talk over breakfast the next morning was all about the “midnight river choir”, as the group had been dubbed by those listeners. These four young men were no fools, and saw a label that could stick and describe the vibe of the music they were creating. And so it was that Eric Middleton (lead singer and guitar player), Bob Driver III, (bass guitar player and singer), Justin Nelson (lead guitar and singer), and Michael Pyeatt (singer and drummer) went into the water as four individuals and came out of the water as “Midnight River Choir”, a group with a sound of its own. With the name of the group decided, Midnight River Choir began on its course as a band to see in the Austin and New Braunfels area.

After several weeks, the long-awaited date arrived for us to see the band. The venue was the Choctaw Casino in Idabel, Oklahoma. We had been there before, so we knew that the drive was about two hours from our house.

If you're thinking about going to a concert at this venue, you'll want to follow your easiest route to Winnsboro. That's where you pick up SH 37, which will take you all the way there. Just follow the signs. After you go over the Red River, the road takes a wide turn to the east, and 15 miles later you have arrived in Idabel. The Choctaw Casino is located in a shopping center on the main drag. As you walk inside, you are immediately greeted by over 300 slot machines. (This might be why they offer the concerts for free... do you think?). We try to just walk by them, but if we fail, we just chalk it up to the cost of keeping concerts coming without a cover charge or a ticket to buy.

Once your senses are adjusted, look for the “Loggers Bar and Grill” sign, which is located in a far corner of the building. If you pretend you're shopping for milk at the grocery store, you'll walk right to it. Now grab yourself a table: you've arrived! The food is good blue collar fare at affordable prices, served in large quantities. We ordered the Logger burger, which was about ¾ pound of beef with no end to it. It was delicious. Don't expect to find any fancy drinks or wines here, but if you like beer and /or soft drinks, you'll do fine.

Now, about the concert (you knew we would get here eventually, didn't you?). It was great and well worth the wait. Watching them perform, we were reminded of the young strangers who floated down the river a few years ago. To us, they still appeared as young and carefree as they must have been at that time, yet there was a certain wisdom and professional manner that couldn't have been there at that time. Most of the material was from their upcoming album, which is due out in February. All of it was amazing and we anxiously await the release, so we can hear those songs again. We had listened to their first album (Welcome To Delirium; released in 2011) so many times; we were very happy to hear many of those songs too. Their amazing four (yes four) part harmonies never failed to deliver. Judging by the chills and goose-bumps their performance gave us, we would have to give them a five-star rating, if we were using a five star system. Eric Middleton's facial expressions reminded us of the twisted expressions that John Mayer is known for. It's a mannerism that seems to show total immersion in the task at hand; an absolute loss of ones' self through the performance. Just as we were sharing this observation, the group launched into a cover of Mayer's song “Gravity”, which was one of the most outstanding moments of the whole concert.

Given the task of describing the sound of Midnight River Choir, people who have been around a few decades would probably bring to mind the songs and energy of The Band, with a measure of Poco added in because of their masterful harmonies. Those who are just starting their “musical memory book” would surly include The Band of Heathens, plus who knows who else.... we're too old to know

Friends, never miss a chance to get out and experience the music that's available in Americana venues. Crowds are still too small (in our opinion) to properly reward these talented musicians, who have studied and practiced and honed the gifts of their talents. Often, we drive long distances to hear our favorites, thinking we have really hit a long road to get there. These are the times that we have to remind ourselves that the band has often driven three times as far as we have. And without fail, they step onstage and deliver incredible concerts as if they were playing to a packed 50,000-seat area. They certainly deserve to be, and hopefully, one day they will. Enjoy!