Preview: Conroe Americana Music Festival

 

By Paul T. Mueller

Music gets another festival to call its own this year, with the Conroe Americana Music Festival set to debut May 5-7 in Conroe, Texas. The event, described by the promoters as “a grassroots premier festival featuring a mix of Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Folk, Texas Country, Roots Rock, Blues, and Americana music,” will take place in Conroe’s historic downtown, about 40 miles north of downtown Houston.

The festival’s website, http://conroeamericanamusicfestival.com/, currently lists more than 50 scheduled performers. They include such well-known names as Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (aka the First Couple of Texas Americana), John Fullbright, Billy Joe Shaver, The Mastersons, Gurf Morlix, Angaleena Presley, Dale Watson and Ray Benson, and Mike Farris. Of course, there’s a heavy presence of Texas artists, familiar in the Lone Star State but possibly less well known elsewhere, such as bluesman Guy Forsyth; songstress Terri Hendrix, with longtime collaborator Lloyd Maines; rockers Uncle Lucius; former True Believer Jon Dee Graham; veteran folkie Eric Taylor; Houston-based honky-tonkers Mike Stinson and The John Evans Band; Austin-based blues-folkie Ruthie Foster, and Austin blues-rocker Carolyn Wonderland. The complete lineup can be found here and the schedule here.

With free parking and short distances between the festival’s six venues, the weekend’s toughest task figures to be deciding which performer to see at any given time. There are six venues – four indoor spaces and two somewhat larger outdoor stages – with scheduling seemingly set up in hopes of dispersing the crowd. For instance, the Friday lineup includes shows by Gurf Morlix and the Mastersons both at 9 p.m., at pubs located across the street from each other. Those sets will be partially overlapped by four other shows, including Hendrix and Maines and Austin-based bluesmen The Peterson Brothers. Scheduling dilemmas may be eased to some extent by the fact that some performers will play more than once.

As is often the case at the outset of such events, ticket prices are reasonable: $35 for a one-day pass for Friday or Sunday, $50 for a Saturday pass, or $75 for a three-day pass. Parking is free and food will be available from several food trucks.

According to the festival’s website, the event was “(e)stablished through the Conroe Downtown Area Association (501c4) [and] the proceeds of the festival will be used to enhance the Historic Downtown Conroe area with improved signing and beautification projects.”

The Conroe Americana Music Festival gets under way at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 5, and wraps up at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 7.

Cayamo sets sail with Lyle Lovett, John Fullbright

By Paul T. Mueller

Cayamo 2015, the eighth edition of the singer-songwriter-focused festival-at-sea, got off to a bit of a bumpy start on Jan. 17. The presence of some larger ships at Norwegian Cruise Lines’ terminal in Miami meant that the Norwegian Pearl, home to the past several Cayamos, had to use a temporary terminal – a large tent – for embarkation and debarkation. There’s really no way to get more than 2,000 people onto a cruise ship quickly, and this year the process seemed to drag out a little longer than usual. As a result, the week’s first set, by Nashville-based folk/soul/bluegrass band Humming House, was over by the time many passengers got aboard.

Most hands were on deck for the sailaway show by Birmingham, Ala. soul-rock outfit St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who debuted on Cayamo in 2014. Lead singer Paul Janeway brought his familiar blend of sartorial excellence, flashy showmanship and gospel-flavored soul vocals, with the other six members providing tight instrumental backing. The band’s loud, high-energy performance earned an enthusiastic response from the audience.

Things were a little quieter in the ship’s Spinnaker Lounge for a late-afternoon set by Drew Copeland and Ken Block, of Sister Hazel. In this format the Cayamo veterans are a classic two-guys-with-acoustic-guitars-and-great-harmonies act, with songs these days focusing on “mature” topics such as relationships, family and aging. These subjects were also fodder for their funny between-songs banter. These guys have a lot of dedicated fans and the feeling is clearly mutual.

That evening in the Stardust Theater, the Pearl’s largest indoor venue, Texas singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group brought their usual impeccable musicianship to such familiar favorites as “The Truck Song,” “Give Back My Heart” and “This Old Porch.” There were also excellent renditions of the sad but powerful “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind” and the playful “Girls from Texas” (co-written with Pat Green). Most songs featured solos by band members, each of whom is a world-class musician in his own right. Lovett also yielded the spotlight to fiddler Luke Bulla and guitarist/mandolinist Keith Sewell to play a couple of their own tunes.

 

Sixthman tried to schedule some of the louder and/or rowdier acts for the ship’s Atrium stage, which is usually noisier than most other venues. The setting seemed well suited for a 10 p.m. set by East Nashville country bad girl Elizabeth Cook. Cook is a talented songwriter and an engaging performer, and she and her band brought an appealing blend of rock, hard-core country and hipster attitude to the stage, belting out songs like “Methadone Blues” and “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman.” There were some nice covers as well, including Gram Parsons’ “Hot Burrito #1 (I’m Your Toy),” J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia” and the Blind Willie McTell classic “Statesboro Blues.”

Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Fullbright, a sensation in his first Cayamo appearance last year, took the Stardust stage at midnight for an “Unlikely Sit-In” show featuring Chuck Cannon, Holly Williams and Jim Lauderdale. The four took turns performing songs loosely based on a theme of “Lost and Found.” Fullbright is an excellent guitarist, but he stuck to the piano for this show, providing subtle accompaniment to the others but going full tilt when his turn came around. His prodigious playing earned him, as always, reactions ranging from admiration to near disbelief from his fellow musicians.

Standout performances included Cannon’s quietly powerful “Messes,” Williams’ tearjerker “Waiting on June,” and Lauderdale’s reverent “Like Him,” dedicated to Ralph Stanley and sung almost a capella. On the dramatic closer, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Fullbright did most of the singing, along with impressive work on the keys, but he got some able assistance with vocals from his fellow musicians.

Review: John Fullbright’s “Songs”

fullbright_songs_cover_150By Paul T. Mueller

John Fullbright’s first studio album, From the Ground Up, made him a rising star in roots music circles two years ago. The singer-songwriter from Oklahoma probably could have gotten away with shaking things up the second time out. Instead, the recently released Songs is notable for its restraint. The 12 tracks are marked by clean production by Fullbright and Wes Sharon, with spare arrangements that leave plenty of space for Fullbright’s distinctive voice and lyrics.

Relationships, good and bad, are at the heart of most of Fullbright’s songs. The album starts with the ironically titled “Happy,” a not-very-happy examination of the aftermath of a relationship that apparently didn’t work out so well. In “The One That Lives Too Far,” Fullbright acknowledges the difficulty of long-distance relationships, and “Until You Were Gone” tells the old, sad story of insight acquired too late – “I didn’t know I was in love with you/Until you were gone.”

Fullbright manages a more positive tone in “When You’re Near,” a cautiously optimistic tune that features some nice electric guitar by Terry “Buffalo” Ware. “I’m the one that you can go to/When you need another heartbeat near,” Fullbright sings in the chorus. “Don’t I feel like something when you’re here.” The album closes on an up note with “Very First Time” – “Between love everlasting/And meaningless rhyme/Sits feeling good for the very first time/I’m feeling good for the very first time.”

Fullbright has said he doesn’t understand why some people say his lyrics are vague, but such statements are clearly tongue in cheek. He is a writer who loves words, but he doesn’t always see the need to arrange them in straight lines. He fills his songs with images and metaphors whose meaning isn’t obvious at first glance, or maybe ever. Songs includes several examples of this, including “Write a Song,” a self-referential exercise that begins, “Write a song/Write a song about the very song you sing.” The cheerful “Going Home” starts out in a similar vein – “Bitter hearts from bitter ends/Crooked limps from crooked mends” – but also features the eminently quotable, “I met love. Love met me/And we agreed to disagree.”

The one song on Songs that’s really a narrative is “High Road,” a sweet but sad ballad about a farm couple and the disaster that eventually befalls them. It’s a quiet but powerful story.

Vague or clear, Fullbright’s songs work because he sings them with an imperfect but expressive voice and accompanies them with excellent guitar and even better piano (along with smaller doses of harmonica, drums and even whistling). He’s supported by a cast of fine musicians, including bassist David Leach (a member of his touring band, as is guitarist Ware), drummer Mike Meadows, organist Daniel Walker and steel guitarist Ryan Engleman. Co-producer Wes Sharon, who also recorded and mixed the album, is credited with bass on two tracks and percussion on one.

 

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Americana Music Festival releases 2012 line-up

Americana Music News – The Americana Music Association has announced an impressive line-up for the Americana Music Festival & Conference September 12-15 in Nashville , with more performers to be named later.

As usual, the roster includes a good mix of accomplished veterans and emerging artists.

Among the biggest names: Billy Joe Shaver, the Punch Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Sara Watkins, John Hiatt, Steve Forbert and Rodney Crowell.

Also booked are newer artists who have enjoyed extensive airplay on Americana music radio, including honeyhoney, John Fullbright, The Deep Dark Woods, Shovels & Rope and Eilen Jewell.

The full list: American Aquarium, Amy Helm, Andrew Combs , Angel Snow, Anthony da Costa, Bearfoot, Belle Starr , Bill Kirchen, Billy Joe Shaver, Black Lillies, Blue Highway, Blue Mountain, BoDeans, Brandi Carlile, Brennen Leigh, Buddy Miller, Buxton, Caitlin Harnett, Chastity Brown, Corb Lund,Cory Branan, Darrell Scott, The Deep Dark Woods, Della Mae, Derek Hoke, the Dunwells, Eilen Jewell, Felicity Urquhart, Fort Frances, Gretchen Peters, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, honeyhoney, Humming HouseImmigrant Union, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Jill Andrews, Jim Lauderdale, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, John Fullbright, John Hiatt, Jordie Lane, Julie Lee, Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, Kevin Gordon, Lera Lynn, Lydia Loveless, Mandolin Orange, Mary Gauthier, the Mastersons, Max Gomez, McCrary Sisters, Mindy Smith, Nicki Bluhm and The Gamblers, Phoebe Hunt, Punch Brothers, Reckless Kelly, Richard Thompson, Robert Ellis, Rodney Crowell, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Sara Watkins, Shovels and Rope, Sons of Bill, Sons of Fathers, Star and Micey, Starr Anna, Steep Canyon Rangers, Steve Forbert, Teresa Williams, Larry Campbell, Tift Merritt, Turnpike Troubadours, Two Gallants, Wheeler Brothers, Whitehorse, The WoodBrothers and The World Famous Headliners.

You’ll find more details on the Americana Music Festival on their home site.

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