An Example of Music Bringing People Together

I was listening to a great interview with two of my favorite “blues adjacent” artists – Joe Bonamassa and Fantastic Negrito, and the latter talked about how music brings people together. People of all races, religions, countries and political beliefs can bond over music and come together. They talked about it in some depth, but it’s one of those things you hear that at first seems “sure, in some ways, I guess” but it was brought home to me in a very real, concrete way last night.

I saw Selwyn Birchwood at the Alley in Sanford, FL last night. It was a great show, the place was more packed than I’ve ever seen it, the band was awesome and we all had a good time. The incident that demonstrated a great example of music bringing people together happened about 20 minutes into the first set.

I was sitting at the bar when I noticed the elderly couple next to me looking on the floor for something. After a few minutes the wife pulled out her phone’s flashlight and they looked more concerned, looking closely all around the area. I started looking around the floor near me as well, maybe I’d spot something unusual and help out. My instinct was to help out, of course. After a few minutes I heard them tell someone they were looking for a wedding ring that the husband was unconsciously playing with and dropped.

I got out my phone light and looked under tables and all around. Others in the area joined in the search. After a few minutes someone ended up finding the right, to many cheers from those who were looking.

After the man sat down, I noticed he was wearing a MAGA hat. Now, this isn’t a political post. What really struck me was my reaction. I’m sure I would have helped out had I seen the hat first. Perhaps, though, I would have hesitated a bit. I certainly would have formed judgments in my head, lost ring or not. F that guy. Doesn’t he know what the lyrics to the songs are? I would have painted an image of this man from one glance, and that image would have filtered every interaction going forward. Without seeing that hat, it was just a guy enjoying music who needed some help.

This man and his wife were cheering as loudly and as often as anyone in the place, and clearly they enjoyed the show. The man kindly bought a beer for the gentleman that did eventually find the ring.

Music brought us together for something common. We shared a positive experience and politics just didn’t matter at that moment. In our world today, those moments are rare.

Not only does that so clearly demonstrate the point Fantastic Negrito made in the podcast interview I heard the other day, but it provides further evidence to me that most people are inherently good. It’s the corruption of societal beliefs, politics, life experience, and stereotypes that turns us against each other. Music actively combats that in such a beautiful way! Last night made that crystal clear to me, and it was a beautiful thing.

It also demonstrates something I’ve thought for a while now. Our age of social media and the internet reinforces us having a two dimensional, black and white, flat image of our fellow man. Going out and interacting with people, in person, for real, gives us a complete, 3D, full-color perspective on people. If you don’t get that full picture it’s easy to think that the 2D/black-and-white picture is all there is with people. What a negative place to be. Whether it’s a live show, or simply chit-chatting with the clerk in the grocery store, interacting with people in real life is so important.

Here is the podcast interview – definitely worth a listen. Fantastic Negrito’s latest album “Have You Lost Your Mind Yet” is one of my favorites from 2020.

The Music

Definitely check out Selwyn Birchwood as well – he’s a great up and comer, and his album is as great listening at home or in the car than he is live, which isn’t always true in blues

First Live Concert in a Year and a Half

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I missed live music! I’ve watched a few live streams over the last year+, and it was fun but not the same. I didn’t buy any, though, to me a concert is an event. If you’re just sitting at home watching a screen it’s hard to justify… it’s also hard to carve out the time to sit and watch. I got tickets for the Allman Betts Band at the Orlando Hard Rock. Normally, I’m not a fan of that venue, as it’s a long ways from parking, and it’s usually more expensive for similar acts. I was surprised how open parking was very open… and free, which is NOT the case around Halloween Horror nights, which adds $20 to the total cost). Once inside Universal City Walk, I was also a bit surprised how crowded it was. I hadn’t been around that many people in a year and a half! It took a little bit of time to get used to that, for sure.

The venue was about half to two-thirds full. Definitely not sold out, but a good crowd. I think a lot of people were in my boat: very enthusiastic to be back seeing live bands, and it showed in the crowd response and interaction. I purposefully bought an isle row seat, which I felt would give me a bit of separation.

Have you seen anything recently? What was your reintroduction to live music, if so? If not, is there anything on your radar? Let me know in the comments.

River Kittens

River Kittens opened up – they were a roots acoustic duo with fantastic harmony vocals and fun songs. They did a great job, and it was an excellent reintroduction to live music. They did a mix of covers and originals, and on top of both women singing, they played guitar, mandolin and ukelele. I don’t know much about the duo, but their vocals blended so well I wondered if they were sisters. Definitely check them out.

The Allman Betts Band

I had listened to them a few times on Spotify, but I didn’t know their catalog very deeply. Even not being very familiar, their songs were easy to get into – Southern Rain, Airboats & Cocaine and Much Obliged in particular were good singalongs. They also did a somewhat surprising number of Allman Brothers covers: Trouble No More, Jessica, Ain’t Wasting No More Time, and Southbound.

In my opinion they have a perfect mix of southern rock and blues – some long solos, some more pop-structured songs. It never felt tedious one way or another. Easy to get into, but also deep enough to enjoy over and over.

The band sounded incredibly full and rich – with three guitars, drums, percussion, keys and bass. While of course Duane Betts and Devon Allman are the bigger names, I was particularly impressed with Berry Duane Oakley on bass and vocals – he was super tight – and John Ginty on keyboard. The sound was also a perfect level – I was in about the 15th row, but it wasn’t too loud and the mix was good.

Explore More

I’m so happy live music is coming back – I’m happy for the bands, and for the joy it’s bringing. Take some time to explore both River Kittens and the Allman betts Band – you’ll be glad you did. And go see live music when you’re able and you feel safe

Inspiring Bands Hitting The Pavement

Note

I started this article before Covid lockdowns hit and the live music scene was decimated. I saw one of the artists I talk about below – Papa Chubby – the week before I got mandatory work from home orders. It took me a while to pick this back up and find the right angle. The gist is the same: supporting locally- and regionally-touring artists. Showing some love and respect to musicians that are following in the long historic footsteps of artists that made their living by hustling, working hard, and hitting the pavement every day. Give them a listen, view or stream; and if you like it, throw them a few bucks for some virtual content. Similarly, when your local venues open up again and you feeling safe, please give some love to these local places. They need you, the customer, and you always vote with your dollars.

Live, Local, Cheap and Easy

Lately I’ve seen a lot of smaller, local, regional or even nationally touring acts that have been inspiring because they’re out there putting in the mileage, hitting the pavement. No glamorous tour buses or five star hotels. Creating a community, building a fan base one at a time, bonding as either a group of friends or as family. I want to call a few of these groups out, and bring visibility to the smaller acts that are bringing great music to all corners of the country. Think about how you can support these artists, now more than ever. I had been really enjoying going to closer, cheaper and more fun concerts from these artists compared to the big arena or festival bands.

Ida Mae

I first saw this husband-wife duo a year ago opening for Greta Van Fleet. I liked them then, but seeing them more recently in a smaller venue opening for Tommy Emmanuel was much better. Their blend of acoustic blues and country connects better in a more intimate venue.

Visit Ida Mae Music to learn more, buy music, and keep up with them!

Ida Mae on Spotify

Marbin

It’s been a few years, but when I saw Marbin at the Blue Bamboo performing art center (basically a 50 person capacity room) I was really inspired. This sparked the “bands out there hitting the pavement” line of thought. They’re an incredible four piece fusion group, consisting of drums, bass, guitar and horn. They music is fun and interesting, each of the musicians is great, and what really comes across in these smaller shows is that each song had a great story behind it. With instrumental music like this, hearing the stories behind the music really helps connect.

Another thing that’s great about these small, local venues is that my seats were fantastic! The Blue Bamboo has tables set up in the room, for all unobstructed views and comfort. They also serve a selection of nice beers, and cheap popcorn.

You also never know what you’ll find at local places. They have a small bookshelf with CDs and DVDs for sale – some new, some used. A few years back I heard an incredible jazz piece on the local jazz radio station, and I liked it so much I kept humming the main part to myself and went back as soon as I got home to look up the play list. It was Martin Bejeramo’s TRIO Miami and the song was the Reckoning Song. The Blue Bamboo had their disc – with the long I loved for $2. Can’t beat that! I had it in my Amazon cart for years, and the album cover is very recognizable, but I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase.

Visit Marbin Music to learn more, buy music, and keep up with them!

Marbin on Spotify

Eric Gales

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Eric Gales. He’s made quite a name for himself over the many years of his career, but especially recently. He has an incredible life story of early fame, terrible fall, jail and a renewed life and career. I’d heard of him, but he came to the local (The Alley in Sanford, FL) blues club a few years back and I saw him twice. I was getting burned out on blues/rock, but he reignited my faith and love of the genre. It was incredible – the passion and soul he pours out on stage is so inspiring. The whole band cooks, and they do a perfect combination of blues, rock, and R&B.

His album “The Bookends” was my favorite album of 2019. I went up there (it’s about a 30-40 minute drive) twice to see him, but for $20-$25 tickets, great seats at a nice bar with good BBQ, you really can’t beat it. The place was pretty packed, and the crowd was into it both times I went. He’s since started playing some bigger places, and doing the Bonamassa Blues Cruise, which I’d love to attend some day. I hope Eric all the best in his renewed and revitalized career, and I’m glad I got to see him in a small place!

Visit Eric Gales Band to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him!

Eric Gales on Spotify

Popa Chubby

Popa Chubby is a long-established blues/rock singer and guitar player hailing from New York. A new blues-focused club/restaurant opened up not too far from me – Dexter’s New Standard in Orlando/Winter Park, FL. It’s much closer than The Alley, and on a whim I went out to see him, both because I wanted to see him and because I wanted to support this new venue.

His set was hit or miss – I could do without the overplayed Hendrix covers (like Hey Joe) – but I dug some of his originals. The title track on his latest album – “It’s a Hard Road” was pretty cool. He had a good, solid band and has a great voice to go with his classic, edgy strat tone. For $20 and a 10 minute drive, coupled with reasonably priced craft beers made for a really fun night of blues/rock.

Visit Popa Chubby to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him!

Popa Chubby on Spotify

Michael Angelo Batio

M.A.B. is somewhat of a legend in the shred guitar field. He played by himself, with backing tracks and big 50+ inch monitors behind him. That said, he had real amps and the sound was great. For twenty bucks and a 15 minute drive to the bar, it was a steal. What surprised me most was how incredibly entertaining he was. Every song had a great story leading to it, and it wasn’t just a million notes a second for two hours. Super fun. The Shovelhead Lounge in Longwood, FL is a local metal institution, and they’ve found a great niche. It’s 15 minutes door-to-door from my house, parking is easy, tickets are always cheap and the staff is friendly.

I wrote a detailed review of his show here.

Visit HandsWithoutShadows to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him! He does a lot of teaching on both Youtube and his entertaining Facebook page. Check them out as well! \m/ \m/

Michael Angelo Batio on Spotify

Real Life Van Stories

This a pretty interesting and entertaining read about the less glamorous side of van tours:

https://www.talkhouse.com/the-van-from-hell/

What Great Regional/Smaller Acts Have YOU Seen and Been Inspired By?

Live Show Review: Michael Angela Batio

Thursday, January 30 I got to see Michael Angela Batio (heretofore referred to as MAB) perform at the Shovelhead Lounge in Casselberry (Orlando’s home for metal and shred, and a great place to see shows). I debated whether or not to go. I like shred in small doses, and I’ve had mixed experiences seeing shredders live. These days, between family and work, I have to pick and choose which concerts to go to very carefully. I also can’t be up until 2am and then get up at 6am… When the ticket said “7:30” I didn’t know if that meant the first of four opening bands started at 7:30 but MAB goes on at midnight… I messaged him on Facebook and he responded the same day that he expected to go on around 8:15. Fantastic! Before we get to the show itself, kudos to MAB for being so responsive and helpful to fans.

MAB – Shredder Extraordinaire

A Word on Shred

To me, “shred” is a genre – it’s guitar-driven, instrumental heavy metal. Musicians can shred – verb – on any instrument. It can be short for “woodshed” – to intensely practice. There are lots of guitar players considered shredders, whether they play instrumental music or not. Examples include Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Loomis and of course Michael Angelo Batio.

The Show

To put it simply, this was one of the best shred shows I’ve seen. He played solo, using backing tracks. The sound and mix were quite good – not too loud, but nothing got drown out. His tone was great. I had my mild ear plugs in, but didn’t need foam, and I never got ear fatigue. The Shovelhead is pretty small, so I was able to sit at the bar for about a third of the show, and up front for the rest. I never had a problem seeing or hearing clearly.

What made this show special is that before every song he told an entertaining and usually funny story to give the song context. Not only did it draw you into the music, and give you an insight into him as a person and musician, but it gave your ears a rest between songs that featured lots and lots of notes. The storytelling and humor made the show. I’ve seen other shredders just go up and play song after song with no break, and while I like the music, it’s hard to take in like that.

MAB is a great storyteller…

My wife made a comment at that it was like the folk and Americana acts we used to go see frequently – and that’s spot on. It was interesting how well between-song storytelling sets up this type of dense music, obviously very different from folk. He came across as such a nice, authentic, passionate, friendly and funny guy. You can’t help but have fun. His personality came across so well – it added a lot to balance and complement the technical nature of the music.

I also loved that he was so inspirational to listen to. He expressed over and over how grateful he was to be there, to have such a long career, and to have played with so many other great musicians. He exuded positive energy, and you coudn’t help but root for him. MAB was unapologetic about his musical direction (although many may not know he studied jazz and spent time writing jingles). I loved his attitude that you have to be yourself, do what you love and what you believe in, and don’t worry about the people that try to tear you down. You’ll never please them, anyways. I’ve heard a lot of other great musicians, including Steve Vai, express a similar viewpoint.

The Music

He kicked off the show with tributes to Dimebag Darrel and Randy Rhoads – both set up with great stories of his background with them. Later on he did a tribute to Metallica. Each one featured familiar riffs and vocal melodies played on guitar; some solos close to the original performer, some his own version. I thought it worked well.

I’m honestly not that familiar with MAB’s catalog, and with that in mind I was pleasantly surprised that he played two of my favorite songs of his: Rainforest and Hands Without Shadows.

Showmanship

MAB is known for playing super fast, and while his technique on the instrument is incredible he can craft a great melody. The barrage of notes is mixed with singable lines. Like the show overall, it makes everything more listenable than some others in the genre. All that said, seeing him perform live, and seeing how fast and clean he played, was pretty mind-blowing as a guitarist.

The Gear

I was surprised that he did not play his long-used Dean guitars, but instead relied on an array of Sawtooth guitars and amps. When he first warmed up I thought his tone was a little too saturated for my tastes, which sometimes happens with shred, but actually it worked great once he started going with the backing tracks. It emphasizes the concept that tone is in the hands (or probably more accurately, in the ears). Sawtooth isn’t an expensive, boutique brand of instruments. In the hands of a great player, they sounded great.

He had a small wall of Sawtooth amps, and for most of the show he played a double humbucker S-style, pulling out a LP-style as well. I was surprised to see he had a double-neck tele-style guitar (instead of his trademark metal-looking double neck). It was cool, and the crowd was psyched when he pulled it out and did all the fancy stuff.

Tapping on the Double Neck

Lots of fun, amazing technique, and great showmanship. That’s a MAB show. Go see him if you get a chance. Current tour dates here.

Listen More

MAB was fairly famous for his articles in Guitar World, as well as his Speed Kills instructional video. Check those out if you want to explore the genre of shred.

Follow and listen to MAB on Spotify here:

Live Show Review: The Aristocrats Live

It’s hard to believe it had been 6 years since The Aristocrats last came to Florida. Previously they played at West End in Sanford, a little bar just north of Orlando, and it was almost a religious experience. The place held about 100 people, and I was able to stand just a few feet away from Guthrie, Marco and Bryan. This year, they came to a slightly larger venue downtown Orlando and blew the packed house away. I really don’t need to write much for the review, other than wow. If you have any interest in progressive, instrumental music you need to go see the band.

It’s not just the mind-boggling level of musicianship from every member; but the humor, the interaction with each other and the interaction with the crowd that made it special. Bryan Beller got the crowd going for every song: leading chants, clap-alongs, cheering. While this is an instrumental band, he basically filled the (necessary) role of front man.

You Know What?

Touring on support of their new album “You Know What?” they played a great mix of new and old material. Happily they played my favorite track from the new album, “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.” Bryan Beller went through a lengthy backstory for how the song came about. Part of what made the show so much fun was hearing the backstories behind many of the new songs.

The new album is fantastic, as expected

Plastic Farm Animals

Happily, the plastic pig and chicken made a return!

Bryan Beller and Rubber Chicken – making sweet sounds
Marco Minnemann shares the spotlight with Rubber Pig

Final Thoughts

I was pretty tired by the time the Aristocrats took the stage, but I’m so glad I made it out. The musicianship is incredible, of course, but the humor and audience interaction puts they in a class way above most instrumental rock/fusion/shred bands. Highly enjoyable, and absolutely worth going to see.

Live Show Review: Greta Van Fleet Live

Not a lot of bands have the balls to do a drum solo after the first song of the set. That kind of cool and unexpected event marked one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. On a beautiful, warm evening in May, Greta Van Fleet took to the Orlando Amphitheater with tons of energy and blew the place away.

The Music

I loved that Greta Van Fleet delivered what I love about live music – they went beyond just playing their songs as-is. If you do it just like the record, why go see it live? On a few numbers they really stretched out, rode on the energy of the crowd, and took some familiar tunes in new places. I want to see interplay between the musicians. I want to see some chances taken. For all the flack Greta Van Fleet gets for their Zeppelin-isms, they take a lot more chances on stage than you might expect. Of course, their more popular tunes were all represented: Highway Song; Lover, Leaver; When The Curtain Falls; etc. I’ve been a fan for a while, but I was surprised how well I knew their catalog.

The Band

Josh Kiszka belting it out

Props to the whole band, but I want to call out a couple things. First, the singer, Joshua Kiszka, is a freak plain and simple. How he can hit those notes all night, show after show, is beyond me. He’s got a pretty high voice, but there’s gravel there. The way a bluesy rock singer should sound. I don’t know if he’s going to have a voice left when he’s 50, but for now he was incredible to see live. He’s also a great front man, and had the crowd engaged all night.

I also dug that Sam Kiszka (bass) did a number of songs on the organ, in the vein of John Paul Jones. It was a cool bit of variety. He’s a great bassist in that he holds down the low end and doesn’t overplay, but adds movement to the songs when necessary. Some bassists in rock bands just pound out eighth notes all night. Sometimes that’s what the song calls for, but some times you need the bassist to walk up to the IV, you need them to add a riff at just the right spot. He did that.

Brothers Rockin’

Props to Jake Kiszka’s guitar tone, which was thick, chunky and perfect for the music. It was ROCK guitar tone. He’s not necessarily a flashy player, but he serves the song whether through riffs, solos or extended improv jams. He did the blues rock thing, he played some slide, and pulled out the acoustic for a couple of tunes. He played his SG for most of the set, and seems to be forming a signature sound and style.

I mentioned it at the top but Daniel Wagner’s drum solo after the first song was a nice, unexpected surprise. It wasn’t long, but it was cool. He’s similar to Jake in that he’s not really a flashy player, but absolutely solid and always served the song.

The Crowd

To some degree I expected it, but I was happy to see young and old, men and women all enjoying the show. I saw 20-something girls singing along. I stood next to a guy in his 50s that had seen Greta Van Fleet over 20 times. There were modern rock fans, classic rock fans, metal fans, blues fans, and people just going out for a show. It’s nice to see this type of blues-influenced rock have such a big, wide draw.

The crowd was really engaged all night, singing along, hands in the air. Cell phones weren’t *too* bad… although it helped to be outdoors. At one point someone threw a bouquet of roses at Josh (the singer), it hit him square in the face… kind of funny. He laughed it off, took one of the roses and put it in his pants for the rest of the night.

The Venue

I had never been to the Orlando Amphitheater before, and I feared the worst – crowded, dirty, terrible sound. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Greta Van Fleet had the best live sound I’ve heard in ages. Everything was clear, it was loud but not too loud. I was pretty close up front on the right side of the stage. Normally being right in front of the PA would be a deal breaker, but here it wasn’t too bad. I did switch from my 18db to 30db ear plugs partway through, but that’s average for me. Actually, better than average. Due to my worsening tinnitus, ear plugs are simply a must at every show.

Because it’s a large area, part of the Central Florida Fairground, there were tons of options for food and drinks as well.

If there was a downside, it was the $20 parking, but you’re right there in the fairgrounds, close to the entrace so I didn’t feel put out.

Ida Mae

Blues Duo Ida Mae

The opening band, Ida Mae, did a great set of basically straight up blues. It was so gratifying to see a big and diverse crowd getting down to blues in 2019. The (generally) acoustic duo did a mix of originals and covers, and weaved in some nice banter to engage the audience. I dug it, check them out!

Live Show Review: Sue Foley

I was in Austin last week, and as usual whenever I visit, I spent my Tuesday evening at the Saxon Pub. I usually go to see David Grissom at 6pm and keep it an early night, and he didn’t disappoint. This time though I stuck around to watch Sue Foley‘s set and really dug it. It’s always a treat to get to be blown away by an artist whose name you were familiar with, but whose music you weren’t.

I loved the mix of country blues, featuring lots of Memphis Minnie and Blind Lemmon Jefferson songs. She had a great rhythm and feel for blues, and blended that natural, organic feel with a precision of technique. It wasn’t surgical or sterile, it was perhaps the precision of confidence. She killed it. Her voice is sultry and expressive and sang with an easy authority that delivered the music.



She played a nylon-string acoustic, her drummer played brushes, and the bassist played an acoustic, upright bass. It was a perfect complement to David Grissom’s electric guitar-heavy set.

Being inspired by the set I started digging into her catalog. I particularly like her album “The Ice Queen.”

If you’re a fan of great blues, played with honesty and love, steeped in tradition but played with modern relevance, check out https://suefoley.com/ – you won’t be disappointed.