Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dennis and Brenda Kippa

Surprises. People either like them or they don't like them. Since
we've been following the band Uncle Lucius around, we've decided that
we love surprises. There's always some sort of great surprise at a
show that features Uncle Lucius.

Recently, we reported on a Lucius concert in which the biggest
surprise was the excellence of the opening act, Folk Family Revival.
They were wonderful!

Now we have a similar surprise to report from their most recent
concert. But first, we have a few other surprises to tell you about;
all were connected to this one event.

Taking place on Saturday, February 1st, the best surprise might have
been the one that awaited the band itself. Uncle Lucius was new to Ben
Wheeler; they had never played there before. Not knowing what to
expect, maybe they thought they would see some of their regular fans
who almost always show up when they play at Stanley's in Tyler. But
Moore's in Ben Wheeler is a larger venue than Stanley's, and it's a
"hidden" jewel to those who have not yet found it, so maybe Lucius
thought they'd find a smaller-than-usual crowd.

So the surprise for Lucius must have been that after navigating under
darkened skies, down lightly-traveled roads, to a spot in the middle
of nowhere, they found a full house waiting for them! How does this
happen? We'll tell you soon enough.

To us, the mood seemed electric. We noticed the super-charged
chemistry between the band members, and it spilled over to the
audience. The dance floor stayed full until it became impossible to
move; people filled it shoulder-to-shoulder, standing side by side
after that. Clearly, something special was going on. Uncle Lucius took
the opportunity to introduce some of the new music from their next CD,
which is currently in the works. If those songs are representative of
the whole next CD, it seems certain that they've stepped up to the
challenge of their last CD, the acclaimed "And You Are Me", which was
released in 2012 . And why wouldn't it? These guys are the real deal.
Just as their live performances keep getting better and better, how
could their new music be anything less than awesome? For us, it was a
truly joyful thing to see so many new faces experiencing this band for
the first time.

So... how did this happen? That's the next surprise. You may recall
that anything that happens at Ben Wheeler is probably our favorite
place to be on any given night. And if it's at Moore's Store, as most
events in Ben Wheeler are, then it's because of the efforts of one
Martha Thorne. If you met Martha at any of the places you shop, you
wouldn't guess that she is the energy behind this great venue.

 Martha blends into her surroundings and becomes a part of whoever and
whatever is there. Her natural love of people is plain, simple, and
real. So is her love of music and those who play it. She can spot the
bands that people want to hear, and she knows what to do to make
things happen. If a full house of happy people assemble to hear a band
that Martha has told them about, it's because they trust her judgment.
And more and more frequently, if a great band accepts an engagement,
finds it's way to Ben Wheeler, and finds a full house waiting, it's
also because of Martha. It's a fine surprise, every time.

We arrive now at the last surprise this week, which we mentioned at
the beginning of this report. We were happy to once again find that
the stage was warmed for Uncle Lucius by an amazing band that we had
not seen before.

Calling Tyler their home, Stefan Cotter and the Rastabillys blazed
onto the stage and captured everyone who was there in the space of one
heartbeat.  I don't know the names for different guitars, but the one
Stefan Cotter plays is like the ones I remember from 'way back. It's a
big one, like Chuck Berry was famous for doing his duck walk with, or
like B. B. King played. (See? I told you long ago that our references
are.... well, "vintage"). If anyone under the age of a half-century
wants to know what kind of guitar I'm talking about, I can't help you.
But what I want to tell you is that Stefan Cotter played as if this
giant guitar was an extension of his own arm and hand; where blood and
bones stopped and guitar started was impossible to discern.

Stefan and the three other band members (drums, bongos and bass
guitar) brought cheers with two killer sets, mostly of their own
songs. Their sound might be called a mix of Red Dirt Americana,
Louisiana hoedown, and Texas rockabilly, with a generous splat of
reggae in there, too. During their short break, the three other ladies
in our group went out to the smoking porch and found that they had the
whole band to themselves for a few minutes. (Drat! I didn't go!)
Asking the musicians how to refer to their unusual mix of styles, our
girls reported that Stefan replied that they had a hard time naming
it. Determined to nail it down,  the band members laughingly came up
with "rastabilly", and their name was born.  We challenge you to find
a more unique sound, and we promise you'll enjoy yourself if you go
see these guys.

We have an invitation for you. We've heard from several of you who say
you read this column and might like to go see a band sometime. Here's
your chance!

Uncle Lucius returns to our area again this month, on Thursday, the
20th, at The Levy in Longview. This is a venue that we are not
familiar with,  but band members tell us that Lucius has played there
before. If you would like to join your faithful Road Dogs at this
concert, please contact us at 903-769-9043. We can pick a place to
meet or follow each other over to the venue.... what say you? We can
guarantee nothing but a good time and great music. We'll be waiting by
the phone for your call.

If this event is not convenient, maybe we can zero in on a different one,
Meanwhile, whatever you do, put on some music and... enjoy!
Dennis and Brenda Kippa

Your faithful Redneck Road Dogs haven't been running up and down the
back roads of our area as much as usual lately. While we have been
able to catch a few good shows recently (we'll find time to tell you
about some of them soon), the main thing that wiped the concert slates
clean was that just  about all of our favorites disappeared for about
a week or two. They all stopped what they were doing and followed each
other up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

The occasion was the annual Americana and Texas Music and Ski
Festival. Now in it's 29th year, it's said to be the world's largest
ski trip. To music fans, though, it is a gathering of everyone who is
anyone in the field of Texas and Americana Music. It sells out every
year as fans flood the ski resort and prepare for six days of non-stop
concerts, with three official venues this year, plus countless areas
where musicians gather to hold impromptu jam sessions when they are
not scheduled to perform.

Think of it! This year's event showcased 40 (forty!) of our favorite
bands. One thing we have learned in our time wearing our “music
reviewer”' hats is that music players are also music fans. Once in
awhile, we get the opportunity to speak with band members after their
performances. When that happens, the conversation almost always goes
to the subject of other bands. They all have their new favorites, just
like we do. So you can imagine the lively times that occur when all of
these talented people actually get together. It must really be
something to behold.

The reason I'm telling you all of this is that this year's event –
held for the six days that began on January 5th – was broadcast via
the internet. For the total princely sum of $15.00 per computer (which
meant $7.50 for each road dog), we were able to watch all of the live
events, each evening. The most difficult part for us was having to
choose between the three stages, because each one held three or four
concerts each evening. In addition, during the daytime, certain events
were rebroadcast from the prior evening.

This extraordinary string of performances gave us the opportunity to
see Lincoln Durham as the first event on the first night. Having
missed a scheduled Durham concert a few weeks ago, we were delighted
to get to see his raw and gritty fare. As one of the more unusual
songwriters out there, he began his second set with “My music is not
for happy people. I'm willing to admit that. So just take your meds
and let's get on with it”. His favored instrument was the dobro, but
at one point he brought out a big cigar box, all taped together with a
long pipe attached, with one large string affixed to it all. He
explained, “It's important to know this is not supposed to sound good,
but we'll get through it”.  He wore a mustache that was so exaggerated
that sometimes his constant smile seemed to belong to it, rather than
to his face in general. He ended his show with “It's an honor to come
out and do this stupid little show that I do, and I thank each and
every one of you”.

Another favorite songwriter was Will Hoge. He came to the stage
looking every inch like a Bruce Springsteen look-alike, both in what
he was wearing and the way he stood and delivered his amazing songs.
His songs have been covered by several other artists, which made some
of them sound very familiar. However, we both loved his voice and
couldn't imagine that anyone has done better with them than he does.

One event that we especially enjoyed was a concert by three
songwriters: Dean Dillon, Hayes Carll and Paul Thorn. They seemed to
really enjoy being together onstage, performing their own and each
others' songs, while keeping the audience fully entertained with their
easy banter. On another night, a tribute to Dean Dillon was held.
About ten artists performed one of Dillon's songs each, and added a
few words about their times with him. At the end of the performances,
Dean Dillon delivered a very moving song and a heartfelt thank-you. He
added that Lee Ann Womack's version of one of his songs drove him to
tears that were impossible to conceal.  I confess that her beautiful
treatment did the same thing to me.

We cannot bring this too-long but also all-too-brief accounting to a
close without mentioning four of our all-time favorites in this
Americana field of talented musicians. The great Uncle Lucius
delivered two amazing concerts. As always, we simply cannot say enough
about these guys. Their concerts came on the second and third nights
of the MusicFest, and by that point the crowds were rowdy and
well-sauced, thanks to the beer and whiskey sponsors of all events.
Still, a hush came over them as Lucius delivered their music,
especially the beautiful “Keep The Wolves Away”.

The other three bands that we have reviewed in previous articles – The
Statesboro Revue, Midnight River Choir and Shinyribs – also left their
audiences slack-jawed at times and just plain rowdy-happy at other
times. Nobody keeps an audience involved with the show better than
Stewart Mann of The Statesboro Revue.   As soon as their show was
over, they were packed and off on their European tour, which we have
been following on their Facebook page. They are bringing their amazing
show to very excited audiences in Germany, Spain, France and Belgium.
We are thrilled for those guys.

Okay, everyone, there's only so much space our generous newspaper
editors will allow us, even though they've never cut us yet. As you
can surely tell, we love having the opportunity to tell you about
these hardworking singers and songwriters. We can never stop being
amazed at the miles they travel, the lonely roads they see, and the
sometimes scant audiences that receive them. Yet we absolutely never
see any of them greet an audience with anything less than happy
appreciation. It is a special breed of God's children that are called
to do this work, we believe. Their dedication to their craft inspires
us every time. Your faithful road dogs will keep running up and down
the roads chasing after them and bringing back their stories as long
as we can in hopes that you will be touched by them the way we have
been. Enjoy!