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David Bowie by Ralph STEADman

Greetings GONZO lovers!

I’ve had the privilege of being able to dialogue with Mister Ralph STEADman via email over many different subjects in the last few months. MANY subjects.

Most of these conversations between him and I will remain private until the time comes when I decide to eventually publish an autobiography on all my life’s adventures, risks, and shenanigans in travel, music, art, events, sabbaticals, women, people, substance-abusing, solitude-seeking, near-death experiences and bouts with the loss of freedom and sanity that life has sum-totaled for me.

HOWEVER, until that time comes, I feel I obligated to share the following:

On my learning of the passing of David Bowie at 0630 on Monday, 11January, I emailed my GONZO mentor buddy, Ralph STEADman, and said: “Ralph! What is your greatest memory or influence you experienced from David Bowie? I’m sure you’ve heard the sad news by now…(also sending him a link to David Bowie’s “Lazarus” video)

And not long after I send that email, Ralph replies back – with a very recent painting he did of David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust – and says:

“Listening to him as I type – he was never a Rat Pack Crooner like Frank – but I doubt he ever wanted that baggage. His free Spirit was far too restless and he just kept moving on. Ziggy Stardust was the child inside him and played Guitar pretty good….in fact, he sounds just like a 5 year old enjoying the sound of his own voice!  He scattered his personalities everywhere – like it was all a big game!!  He cared – and he didn’t care a DAMN!!  He was having FUN!!! I tried to pull him out of a Dirty Water SPLAT as an experiment…… and he pulled a silly face at me!!! -SO – I computerized him!!!

He played a lot of Bum notes just to see what would happen – and some of them were magic – because of that – Like splatting ink all over the Goddamn place!!!  Creatively – we are from the same kind of curiosity stable…..”

**This interview also published at GonzoToday.com

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MERRY (whatever) you MAY or MAY NOT be celebrating at the current time.

Just dug up an interview with another KENTUCKY boy I did back in 2012 in the Seelbach Bar. Sorry about the volume. I do this shit for FREE sometimes…

Oh and one of his videos also, which by the way, is F’ing AWESOME…

Tonight’s post was inspired by OLE SMOKEY moonshine…

G’night folks…

OK…

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559866_10151241548972933_796884809_nIn this exclusive interview from the historic Old Seelbach Bar inside Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel, cello-rocker Ben Sollee shared “a few honest words” about the making of his new album Half Made Man, those whom he collaborated with to make it, musicians who he’d still like to collaborate with in the future, and his views on the Presidential race and what’s at stake.

Click here to download the digital issue of Performer Magazine December 2012 issue.

Or you can watch the interview in its entirety here.  

Or read it….

It’s a quiet, warm Saturday afternoon in downtown Louisville…

…and the lobby of the city’s most iconic display of Southern grandeur, The Seelbach Hotel, is bustling with road-worn and seemingly infrequent visitors stirring about.

One of those visitors is Lexington-native Ben Sollee, one of Kentucky’s up-and-coming “musical” displays of Southern grandeur. A classically trained cellist, Sollee is a one-man orchestra, who owns his instrument and is known for playing it with a combination of passion and grace. He has managed to breed a whole new style of playing his centuries-old instrument, where the end result is a little rock and roll, a little soulful, a little bluegrassy, a little jazzy, very modern, and all Americana.

Ben Sollee - Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

In 2007, Sollee was lauded by NPR’s Morning Edition as one of the “Top Ten Unknown Artists of the Year.” After that, he officially began exporting himself nationwide and into the spotlight. He’s played Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, Bonnaroo, the Newport Folk Festival and in 2009, landed one of his tunes on Showtime’s series Weeds.

When Sollee wants to jam onstage, while on tour or while recording a new album, he collaborates with everyone from My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel and Jim James, to Daniel Martin Moore to Bella Fleck to Abigail Washburn. Broemel and Washburn joined Sollee on his latest release, Half-Made Man, released through his label, Tin Ear Records. He raised the funds to record it from a public-sourced fan base.

Sitting down in The Old Seelbach Bar, Sollee candidly opens up about his music and life – from the how and why he creates songs and his top picks for collaborations – to his bike tours and political activism.

You’ve just released Half-Made Man, which you’ve said is your most personal album to date. What makes it so personal?

“Well, the goal of the record was to create a collection of self-portraits. So the songs do that in various ways by capturing the pieces of my personality, whether it’s the part that likes to fix things, or the part that’s impatient or the fatherly side of me. And to capture those in a really intimate and raw way, I invited some wonderful musicians to cut it with in the studio.”

Yeah, you had quite a few guest musicians join you. So tell me about the process of choosing them, and how they contributed to the artistic process.

“Many of the musicians are folks that I’ve played music with and that I really respected their distinct character as musicians…”

Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket?
“He came in and did a lot of the guitar work that you hear. Alana Rocklin is a tremendous R&B, jazz and hip-hop bass player [who] just came in and just covered all the bases. And Jordan Ellis, who is a percussionist, and who I’ve been playing with for a while.

Then we had a fiddler come in named Jeremy Kittel, and he’s from a real diverse background, everything from Scottish fiddling to a contemporary classical musical ensemble. So, the thing about the ensemble is that we didn’t have to try very hard to create a unique sound, because there was already a unique collection of people.”

You also had, as I understand it, a guy who is quickly becoming popular in the recording scene here in Louisville, Kevin Ratterman. He’s also worked with My Morning Jacket and Wax Fang, and helped with your production, as well?

“I think ‘becoming popular’ might even be a little bit of an understatement. Kevin Ratterman, for the last decade has had his finger on what the Louisville rock sound has become – a lot of the sounds you hear coming out, whether it be Cheyenne Marie Mize or My Morning Jacket’s new record, or Wax Fang. You know all those things are being put out and recorded by Kevin because he’s got this big heart and unending search for ‘the sound.’”

Yeah, he’s definitely getting to all the musicians that have ‘the sound.’

“That’s because he cares. It’s not necessarily because he has a fancy studio or even because of his rates. It’s because if you want to work with somebody – at this point if we’re going to spend all this time, money and energy recording a record – we want it to be with somebody who gives a damn.”

Speaking of the money, you had a different approach to recording this in terms of how you funded it. Tell us a little bit about that and how that came about.

“Well, the funding for this record was crowd-sourced through a platform called Pledge Music.”

Truly public music?

[laughing] “I guess so. And this project wouldn’t even be possible without that kind of support. So I think it’s fascinating, this relationship that’s developing.”

Your music has historically had an activism aspect to it, such as your bike tours. Is there anything in the future that’s gonna keep that part of you alive and how are you going to do it?

“Well for me, my music always comes from a very personal place, and what I consider a very sincere expression. And in that way, all the things I care about as a person come to the surface. And I try to express them through the songs and through activities around the shows and through organizations I work with and various other projects. And I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. I’m not going to stop caring about those folks. How I can tie in and help those organizations will change as my business grows. And more opportunities, if anything. For the bike tours, we’re really trying to do about a third of our touring each year by bicycle.”

Where are you biking to and from this year?

“We biked from the Newport Folk Festival, where we had a really wonderful bunch of shows. And we rode our bikes up the coast to a bunch of shows in Portland, Maine. It wasn’t a tremendously long tour, but it was a beautiful tour.”

How many miles would you say?

“It was about 300 or so up the coast.”

And you actually had the cello strapped to your back?

“The cello actually goes on the side of the bicycle. It’s a utility bike on the side of the frame.”

So tell me about some of the other artists out there who you’d still like to share a stage or studio with.

“Oh, gosh, there are so many of them. There are folks like Paul Simon who I’d love to work with. There are folks like Ani DiFranco I’d like to work with. There are a tremendous amount of jazz artists I’d like to work with. The list is endless…”

Read also at PerformerMag.com

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Photo by Jason Ashcraft

You wanna know what Forecastle Festival is like? Ok. It’s a little something like this: Music. Art(ists). Ecology. Louisville-lovers. Dirty hippie dudes. Dirty hippie dames. Beardos. Rollie Fingers’ staches. Dreadlocks. Tye-dye. Bassheads. Potheads. River-bathers. Burlesque performances. Tree-huggers. Socialists. Liberals. Journalists. Hacky-sack circles. Sweaty people drinking PBR. Sweaty people making out. Sweaty people drinking PBRs and making out. Teenage make-shift obstacle hurdlers. Pervasive Mary Jane aromas. Muhammad Ali portraits in the head. The Mayor in VIP.

Yep, this is how it went down on the banks of the Ohio River when more than 35,000 people jumbled together to celebrate Louisville, right below its own skyline in Waterfront Park. And, yes, this was a city government-endorsed event as Mayor Fischer was present to once again welcome My Morning Jacket with Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight. Whereas some city governments shun music festivals like these, Louisville’s embraces it.

Things have really evolved culturally in this town over the last couple decades, and Forecastle just may be one, if not the main, instigator of said evolution. It’s living, breathing, naked proof that people from many different backgrounds, beliefs and races can coexist together in a way that promotes unity, cultural awareness, activism and freedom with music as the unifying stimulus.

With music being one of the biggest aspects of the festival, here is the rundown of the artists ranked from best to worst in my own opinion.

My Morning Jacket

Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I don’t have a clue where to freaking begin here. Why? Because last May 2011, when the band released Circuital at Louisville’s Palace Theatre I said that MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give. Now here I am, again, both eating my words and again saying, “MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give at Forecastle.” Not to mention the best performance – by far – of the entire damn festival. Exactly as they planned to.

In a recent interview with MMJ bassist Two-Tone Tommy, he promised that “surprises” were in store, and the first came only two songs in when the big brass backing of Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined them for a crowd-pleasing version of “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal.”

Keeping the set eclectic, they played songs from virtually their entire discography, opening with “The Dark” and busting out mesmerizing versions of “The Bear,” “Anytime,” “Smoking From Shooting,” “Steam Engine,” and crowd favorites, including“Wordless Chorus” and an Andrew Bird-accompanied version of “Gideon.”

They also logged killer covers of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” and an encore performance of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” in which Jim delivered a message from George Michael himself, while tossing bananas to the audience and hilariously adjusting the lyrics to suit the occasion.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that cover perpetuated the sale of a few more George Michaels’ albums on iTunes post-show from all those youngins, who were wondering what the hell they just heard. Hey kids, just like Jim mentioned during a mid-song instrumental break, “George Michaels gets a lot of shit, but he is a fucking genius.” Truer words never spoken.

Once the banana tossing concluded, and with Forecastle’s First-mate saluting the audience from side-stage, former MMJ guitarist Johnny Quaid (of Ravenna Colt) emerged from backstage to play a rambunctious version of “One Big Holiday.” With that, the stage came alive as human-propelled animal and fish props became part of the stage show and provided the last of many “holy shit” moments for the evening.

Sleeper Agent

Now here is a band with a lot of charisma and a seemingly bright future ahead of them — that is — if they keep giving performances like they did at Forecastle. Make no mistake folks, lead singer Alex Kandel is the star in this band as she danced, headbanged and pushed her way around stage with fellow bandmates, flipping her hair from one side to the next every five steps.

Sleeper Agent – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I guess Guitarist Tony Smith figured he, too, needed to get a little wicked, electing to jump offstage and crowd-surf till he was dropped. He quickly jumped back to his feet and climbed back onstage to carry on.

The Bowling Green, Kentuckians logged rowdy live performances of “Get Burned,” “Get It Daddy” and “Proper Taste,” all from their debut album Celebrasion. If these little young Kentucky lads are to have some more big shows in their future, then all they gotta do is keep doing what they did at Forecastle. Their crowd was one of the biggest of the smaller two stages. Next time, they should get a bigger stage because I’m betting they will hold their own on a stage of any size.  

Ben Sollee

Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Kentucky’s cello-rocker Ben Sollee is a one-man orchestra onstage. Offstage, he’s a seemingly passive, small-framed guy, who almost looks like a scientist or a high school math teacher. But don’t be fooled, because he once again shattered that subtle image the moment he took stage and masterfully blended elements of classical and out-right jamming styles of sound from his cello. He adds in some soulful vocals and sometimes plays with vicious intent and a lot of passion.

Not even a 10-minute late start due to a technical glitch slowed him down on his Sunday evening performance, nor did it decrease the size of his audience, which eagerly awaited him to start plucking and strumming that cello with his bow. Once he started, Sollee quickly captured his audience with his passion in both personality and showmanship. His one-hour set flew by, and I found myself having to cut-out about 15 minutes early to see another equally impressive band getting ready to start.

Clutch

“Hat’s off to My Morning Jacket for their great taste in music!” says Clutch lead singer Neil Fallon, who selfishly joked at mid-set about their invitation to play. But he’s right, especially if you’re fan of good ole’ dirty and stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, which is a music style that’s not the norm at Forecastle.

Clutch – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Filling the Boom Stage’s lawn with a couple thousand people, Clutch played cuts from their entire catalog. Opening with “Gravel Road” and closing with “One Eye Dollar,” Clutch delivered a set that spanned their 20-year career in music, including high-energy versions of their more popular hits like “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” and “Electric Worry,” yet strangely left out “The Mob Goes Wild.” Damn. Maybe next time.

Ochestre Poly-Rythmo

These Afrobeat and funk pioneers were probably one of the most under-anticipated acts playing in the entire festival. These guys have been playing together for decades but added a hip international flair unlike previous years. Although they’ve been jamming out since the ‘60s, this was only their second trip to the U.S.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

About an equal amount of time was shared between instrumental play and the soulful French-African vocals of lead singer Amenoudji Joseph Vicky, who spoke to the audience during and in-between songs.

After his performance, I actually had the chance to speak with Vicky on things like the meaning of his music, who some of his musical influences are, and even got a little political, quizzing him on his thoughts on President Obama and our country’s political system.

Speaking in his native French tongue and with a little help from Poly Rythmo’s interpreter and U.S. Manager, Elodie, Vicky was candid and entertaining to listen to. I just wish he had broken out a peace pipe on me. Oh well.

Moon Taxi

This is one band I hadn’t actually planned on seeing, but that I just happened to stumble upon while waiting to see Cabin at the next stage over. I gotta say I’m definitely glad I did, because the guys were totally balls-out rock ‘n’ roll with enough energy radiating off the stage to keep their audience growing through the set.

Now I didn’t recognize any of their original music, but they belted out one mean cover of The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” which stopped a few would-be passerbys dead in their tracks as they made their way to the stage.

Cabin

Cabin with Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

One of several Louisville-based indie rock acts took the stage on a muggy Sunday evening to a rather shy and undersized crowd. Lead singer Noah Hewett-Ball has a calm, cool and collected demeanor onstage that seems to carry over with most of their music as a band.

One of their more catchy tunes they played, “A Lie Worth Believing,” just happened to bring out cello extraordinaire, Ben Sollee, for a little eclectic addition to an already catchy song. Much to the modest crowd’s appeasement, Keyboard and Violinist Sarah Beth Welder wasn’t shy about admitting that “I got to knock something off my bucket list by playing with Ben Sollee.”

Lucero

The country punk rockers make their Forecastle return, this time with less bugs up in their grills. Yep, the last time they played Forecastle in 2010 Lucero was swarmed by big river flies that spoiled their performance a little. Not this time, though, instead they were swarmed with a steady fan base.

Frontman Ben Nichols’ gritty and countryfied vocals charmed the couple thousand fans, who weren’t in short supply of being fond for alt-southern sounds that makes Lucero iconic.

Lucero – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Promoting their latest album Women & Work, Nichols and band jammed out the title track to an eager audience. And it wouldn’t be a true Lucero show if they didn’t play “Nights Like These” and “Kiss the Bottle,” which Nichols refers to as his “jaw breaking song.”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The pride of New Orlean’s zydeco-jazz music culture stormed into Louisville — almost literally. Staying true to Preservation Hall’s reputation of never hosting a performance in the rain, the day’s storms cleared out of Louisville just in time. Some things never change, I guess.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Just as everyone anticipated, Jim James took the stage for a cabaret-like sing-a-long with Bourbon Street’s brass kings. And somehow at the end of that boisterous performance, James was holding a broken mic stand. Figure that one out for me.

Ravenna Colt

Johnny Quaid – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Who would’ve ever known that frontman Johnny Quaid actually had something more exciting in store than his own band’s performance at Forecastle? Not even me. Just a few hours after a bit of a mundane performance with his band Ravenna Colt, Quaid joined his former bandmates in My Morning Jacket onstage for what had to be the highlight of his night.

Ravenna Colt has some decent songs, thanks to Quaid’s obvious ear for sound, but their presentation needs some work. Many of their songs don’t warrant an energetic performance; the band just didn’t seem to be inspired by the music they were playing.

“South of Ohio” is one song they played that warrants a feather in his hat, but a bleak crowd seemed to detract from the performance.

GirlTalk

From Bruce Springsteen to Outkast to Black Sabbath, etc., etc. All laced with a steady backbeat. Ok, this guy reminded me of this loud-mouth, yet like-able, drunken club DJ that I used to work with in college in Richmond, Ky.
This dude pressed a damn button every so often on his laptop, yelled through his microphone “How y’all doing?” a few times and then staggered around like a boozed up ADHD patient all night — sometimes being away from his “instrument” for extended periods of time. Sure, he was a fun guy who “breaks out the jams” and entertains the chemically induced masses. But let’s be clear; I never considered this drunken bastard “talented.” Know what I mean?

GirlTalk – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Final thoughts…

It’s safe to say that this year’s Forecastle Festival topped everyone’s expectations, even my own. I admit that one of my first worries with all the amped up hype was that there would be an equally amped up Police force and security team ready to spoil the fun. As it turned out, however, and much to everyone’s appreciation, that wasn’t the case. They were seemingly respectful of the fans.

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

I mean, let’s face it; you can’t have the police dragging away a bunch of teenage and 20-something potheads for passing around doobies. Not when the Mayor just came off stage from amping them up and hanging out in VIP. That wouldn’t look good, now would it?

In all seriousness, well done LMPD and Axis Security! You see? You guys still brought home the same amount of pay, maintained the safety of all festival-goers and didn’t have to break a sweat or someone’s arm while doing it. Hopefully, you guys now realize that all those pot-smoking, music-junkie hippie kids aren’t really interested in bringing harm to anyone or anything. Nah. All they really want to do is get another polish sausage to suffice their munchies, dance in circles to a My Morning Jacket or Dr. Dog song, and maybe learn how to burn a few less fossil fuels in their daily lives. So, thank you for allowing this to happen. Peacefully.

** This review also published at LouisvilleKY.com and PerformerMag.com

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Leading up to their Forecastle Festival performance on Friday the 13th, founding members of Kentucky’s Sleeper Agent, Alex Kandel (vocals) and Tony Smith (lead guitar) chatted with me on a few things like their influences, what they think of other Kentucky musicians, Alex’s recent nomination into the latest Rolling Stone readers poll, and what their new album holds.

Jason Ashcraft: I’m here with Kentucky’s own Sleeper Agent, Tony and Alex, how are you all doing today? 

Tony Smith: Pretty good 

Alex Kandel: Yeah, we’re doing good. 

Excellent. So here we are at Forecastle Festival 2012, and it’s Friday the 13th. Any superstitions? 

Tony: (laughing) No! 

Alex: No, we’ll watch a horror movie I guess. We’re big horror movie fans as a band. 

Horror movie fans? 

Alex: Yeah. 

Does that have any influence on your music by chance? 

Tony: Only on stuff like “Be My Monster” 

Alex: Yeah, I guess. Then there is our publishing thing called “Sleep-away Camp” which is named after one of favorite movies. 

You guys have been a really up-and-coming band after only being together for just a couple of years, so tell me about your musical influences and your chemical influences? 

Tony: Uh, a lot of beer. 

Alex: (laughing) Caffeine. 

Tony: Musically, if you’d ask me two years ago it’d be totally different….

Alex: Constantly changing. Right now? I mean I will always be influenced by The Ronettes. 

And you also have a likeness for Fiona Apple, who I believe was the first concert you ever went to? 

Alex: Um, yeah it was THE first concert I ever went to. It was like, I didn’t actually know it till I found a journal entry from that time. (laughing)  But, it’s kind of funny how things work out. 

Cool. 

So I like to focus on a lot of Kentucky artists. And since you guys are amongst that group now, I’ve got a list here of other Kentucky based artists. I’m gonna call their names out and the first word that comes to mind when I say their name, just tell me what it is. Whatever your first reaction is. 

Tony: This could be dangerous. 

Alex: (laughing) 

So let’s start off with My Morning Jacket.

Tony: Epic

Alex: Epic, yeah that’s the word. 

Nappy Roots.

Tony: What happened? 

Alex: (laughing) They’re great. 

Tony: They’re great guys, but after their second album they kind of disappeared. 

Black Stone Cherry.

Tony: Metal. 

Alex: I don’t know. I’ve met them a few times. They were really nice. 

Cage The Elephant

Alex: Family.

Tony: Family (laughing). 

Loretta Lynn

Alex: Amazing.

Tony: Up there. 

Days of the New

Tony: Unheard of.

Alex: No idea who that is.

Kentucky Headhunters

Alex: Legendary

Tony: I was going to say that actually. 

Good to know. Welcome to the Kentucky music family so to speak. 

So, Alex. Turning the attention to you for a moment. You were recently nominated in Rolling Stone’s latest readers’ poll “Women Who Rock.” So, tell me. Why do you rock? 

Alex: (smiling) Because I’m actually in a “rock” band. Which, you know, some of the other contestants aren’t. I got that going for me. And because I live in a van, and just like play shows all the time and there is no smoking mirror. I’m just working my ass off. 

Tony: You’ve gotten injured several times. 

Alex: Oh, I have scars. 

Oh, scars. Scars are good. 

Alex: (pointing to a scar on her upper forehead) Can you see it? From a guitar. 

Yeah. What happened there? 

Alex: (smiling and laughing) I broke Tony’s guitar with my head. 

That is totally awesome! If you don’t “rock” for that alone, then I don’t know who does. 

In your own words, you know, with a lot of bands it takes them a long time to get where you guys have already gone. Why do you think its happened so quickly for you guys?

Tony: Well, technically it took us nine years to get here. So what this is, is the dregs of all the other projects plus Alex (laughing). So just nine years of non-stop work. 

Alex: Yeah, they’re is a lot that goes into it too, and you have to be the right sound, with the right path. Our first record was just good timing and the right people believing in us at the right time. A lot of factors go into what makes us a band. It has nothing to do with what we make alone. It has everything to do with what people hear it, and every fan that bought our record and came to our shows. 

Cool. Well looking forward to hearing you play here at Forecastle Festival. And I just caught wind that you guys are writing a new record already. Any thoughts or anything you’d like to share with that? 

Tony: I’m really excited. 

Alex: Even though I’m just hearing the songs in their very early stages where they’re just infants, it’s really cool to know that I am already proud of this record.  

Release date yet? Do you even know? 

Alex: I have no idea. 

Would you say your music is evolving? Are you experimenting? Or staying with your same root sound? 

Tony: Yeah, the first album was more of a sketch. This one is more of a painting. 

** This interview is also posted at LouisvilleKY.com

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Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship – Photo by Paul Wellman

There’s a lot going on these days in the life of My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship. When you’re a member of one of the music industry’s most popular live alternative rock-n-roll bands, you tend to not have too much time for things other than music and your career.

With MMJ’s focus on curating Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, the boys are looking at music with a different focus; through their Louisville-lenses, so to speak, more so than other shows they play.

It’s hard to believe that back in 2002 Forecastle Festival started as a small group of local musicians who gathered in Louisville’s Tyler Park for one day of music and community celebration. Now, 10 years later, founder JK McKnight has morphed that little neighborhood gathering into the Midwest’s largest music, art and activism mecca, and now has tapped the area’s biggest musical export in My Morning Jacket not only headlining, but helping plan the event.

Forecastle Festival now boasts more than three stages with a combination of both national and Louisville-area musicians of all music and genre types. Throw in dozens of vendors, sponsors, artists and keynote activism speakers, and all of the sudden you see what I mean when I say “morph.”

Last summer’s “Halfway to Forecastle” event was a show that McKnight conceived on-the-fly to merely hold over the Forecastle faithful while he formed a partnership with AC Entertainment, the company that just happens to produce a little festival in southern Tennessee called Bonnaroo.

“The partnership has been great. AC Entertainment has brought of wealth of knowledge, experience, enthusiasm, and commitment to programming excellence. Everyday is a new adventure, and I’m really glad to be part of the team,” McKnight said.

So with his big guns a blazin’, and a hell of a lot more production power behind him, McKnight has now recruited Louisville’s biggest musical export, and Bonnaroo-four-hour-marathon-set-festival-favorite, My Morning Jacket, to help select the show’s artist roster and a few other details.


Forecastle Festival 2010 – Photo by Willie McLean

I had the chance to talk with My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship on this year’s event and how the band has played a role in the show’s “curation.”

So, I’m here with Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship of My Morning Jacket, who is one of the official curators of the Forecastle Festival. Right, Tommy? 

Correct, correct.

So what does that entail doing? What are you doing to building Forecastle to what it’s going to be?

I think the biggest thing was throwing out names of bands, kinda like our dream list of some of the artists we wanted to see this year. As well helping plan a lot of the charities and who was going to be involved with charities. The food vendors, retail vendors. All of it was just kind of just suggestions as you know with the curation.

So does that mean we will see a lot of local Louisville businesses and local Kentucky and Louisville-based bands on the bill? 

Exactly. Yeah, we wanted to really focus on – since there are so many national acts that are already coming in – was to have a dedicated local stage that would really shine a spotlight on what makes the city so special. Especially just having both – the festival as a 10-year anniversary and it felt like something we’ve always wanted to do at all of our shows. Like have the local village, you know? Like have the spotlight on the city itself, because there are so many people traveling in from out of town. Just trying to put the spotlight on everything we love about the city.

Of course Forecastle has a reputation for already doing that. That being said though, who are some of the artists you guys hand-picked and are really looking forward to seeing? 

Geez, they’re are like so many. Dr. Dog, Washed Out, Andrew Bird, Wilco. I mean literally, everyday, there is somebody…

(And all-of-the-sudden my dogs start barking in the background. Tommy and I laugh it off for about 5 seconds until it quiets down again.) 

Who are some of the artists that you guys hand-picked that are like local and independent who are trying to make their way and this show is going to be a big effort for them to do that? 

A big one for me is Cabin. I don’t know, do you remember Shane Thomas that we went to school with?

Yeah, I think so. And I’ve seen Cabin before, and they were good!

Yeah, yeah, they’re amazing. Yeah Cabin, Lydia Burrell, John that used to play in the band (MMJ) is in Ravenna Colt now and they’re playing.

Yeah, yeah I know The Ravenna Colt, and they’re good. 

Yeah, they’re amazing. Wax Fang. I mean like pretty much everybody that was invited was pretty much on our list. Like, a lot of the local artists that are coming in.

In terms of your guy’s own performance, on that Saturday night is when you’re playing, is that correct? 

Yeah, Saturday night.

So, I’m not going to ask you for details or anything, but is there any surprises coming? A simple yes or no will do. 

Ahh, yes. For sure.

Awesome. And – without giving it away – what can we expect? 

Ummm….

(laughs)

Without giving it away…

Without giving it away? 

(laughs, again, because my dog interrupts one more time with the barking) 

“Oh, yeah! It will be a different experience over any shows that we’ve done this year or last year.”

Good to know. Something to look forward to. Awesome.

What would you say is your favorite thing about Louisville and our whole Kentucky-music stomping ground is or what is your favorite thing about our city?

I think – and this might seem like a limitation in a way – what I always loved about growing up in the area, and what I still love about it, is that is has an identity all on its own. I think that it really pushes young artists to find their own voice and their own sound, and really make things happen. Because it really isn’t a destination scene. It isn’t like you said, Chicago or any of the big cities that are around. Or even Indy in a way. It just doesn’t have that…like people aren’t moving to Louisville to start bands.

Yeah, you’re saying that we’re a very homegrown music scene.

Yeah, for sure. It’s kind of insular. I think they’re aren’t a lot of opportunities to play outside of the city; it’s not like if you make a name for yourself in Louisville that will carry you through a bunch of other cities or, you know, get you on a bunch of other cities and festivals and stuff.

Right, right. So what’s your advice to young musicians here in town who are trying to get where you guys are going with your own career? 

I mean, it’s gonna sound kind of clichéd, but as long you just put the work into it, you know, more than anything else. I mean obviously, it’s just passion. It’s having the passion, putting the work into it and not expecting a whole lot in return. Like work and work and work, and don’t expect a whole lot, and then I think you’ll have the biggest reward that way.

Right.

So, circling back to you guys. Jim (James) just recently announced that he was doing a solo project, which is pretty cool, and of course Carl (Broemel) has done his own thing. Do you think that all the side project work that other members do will contribute to a MMJ hiatus? 

Yeah, man I feel like this is the main gig for all of us. And being able to have the freedom in the band to go and do these other projects – it’s like when you come back to it – for all of us, we have this deeper appreciation for our dynamic, the way we work, how easy it is. And then you’re learning something when you walk away from the band who is been in these other playgrounds, these other sandboxes. You get to experience things with other people; then you can kind of bring that experience back with you into this familiar family setting.

So it’s definitely something that fuels your diversity because from one album to the next you guys are never the same. 

(laughing) Right, right, yeah. Yeah.

That’s good. So it’s turned into a positive and not a negative is what you’re saying? 

Absolutely. Yeah.

Awesome. Do you have any side projects or solo things you’re planning on your own? 

Ummmm, nothing so far. No, no.

Yeah, that’s cool. Just kind of enjoying life and living the American dream? Living the dream…

(laughing) Exactly, right. Life is good.

So, let me ask you this, closing out here; you guys have been nominated for a Grammy on several occasions. How important is it for you personally or as a band to eventually bring one home?

Ah, for me, you know, just being nominated is mind blowing and it’s unbelievable. It’s such a rewarding feeling, that whether we win or lose, to have that recognition to have the nomination is way more than I could have ever dreamed or hoped for.

That’s good. So, what’s next for My Morning Jacket? 

Ummm….

After this tour and after Forecastle Festival, is there a new album in the works? 

Nah, you know, we’re just focusing on touring for the rest of the year and then hopefully come next spring we’ll start getting into song-writing and studio work.

Forecastle Festival
My Morning Jacket / Bassnectar / Wilco / Girltalk / Clutch / Lucero / Neko Case / plus many more…
Friday, July 13 – Sunday, July 15
Louisville’s Waterfront Park
$57.50 – $350
All ages
www.ForecastleFest.com 

Listen to the full unedited audio interview:

** This interview and preview also posted at LouisvilleKY.com

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Brigid Kaelin is doing it again. Yep, the little red-headed darling songstress from Louisville’s original music scene is making her annual pilgrimage across the pond to Scotland. But this time for more of an extended stay while her husband attends graduate school in Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh.

She was anxious to sit down and explain the rationale behind the decision and was noticeably excited about the trip which will take her away from Louisville for more than a year.

With much glee, Kaelin wasn’t shy about declaring how much better the pay is for musicians in Europe.

“It’s good that you’re getting paid over there. They pay musicians in Europe. It’s the strangest thing. Imagine that. Artists getting paid.” she says with a cutesy touch of well-placed sarcasm while sitting in a yoga-like position on her basement keyboard bench.

She’s content with her position in music and in life. Her smile never dissipates, even while discussing one of Louisville’s moot points of being a musician and trying to get paid. 

It’s nice but not necessary with her. She’s a lover of the art of creating music and playing with different variations of expression.

Kaelin will be joined onstage starting at 7:00 pm with a host and variety of different musicians that she’s played with over the years. Expect appearances with Peter Searcy, Steve Cooley, Leigh Ann Yost, Danny Flanigan, the Billy Goat Strut Revue and Katy Krekel (daughter of the late Tim Krekel).

“It should be fun. Lot’s of special guests. It’s all the people I’ve played with over the years.”

Brigid Kaelin & Friends
Friday, August 26th
The Monkey Wrench
1025 Barret Ave.
7:00 pm
$5
21+

Here’s another one of my typical un-edited, self-shot, one-take video interview with Brigid on 8/23/11:



** This interview and preview is also posted at Louisville.com

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