Rave On: Dramatic Skies, Timeless Tributes, Rainbow Full of Sound



(Photos by Ryan Morrill)
It has been a memorable summer in music, with weather that lived up to each epic week. Weather plays a significant role in music, considering a majority of it, even prior to the pandemic, occurs outside. Each day, patrons and performers nervously monitor the radar hoping for enough drama in the sky to set the atmosphere, but not enough to damage equipment or cancel a show.
RAVE ON: Last Wednesday evening’s sultry weather created the perfect setting for the Rave-Ons’ Veterans Memorial Park performance in Beach Haven. The lush, green lawn was dotted with pastel beach blankets as a fiery sun dipped into purple, cotton clouds.
Buddy Holly, as played uncannily by Todd Meredith, fronted the quartet for a joyride backward into 1950s America, opening the evening with Holly’s classic “That’ll Be the Day.” Once captivated, the audience journeyed through all the feel-good hits of yesteryear with the Rave-Ons – named appropriately after the Holly tune, though they are not afraid to think outside the specs. They reeled into Little Richard’s “Reddy Teddy” and coasted steadily into a hip-swinging “That’s Alright (Mama)” by Elvis Presley before landing right back at home with “Modern Don Juan.”
Meredith kept rhythm on guitar, occasionally trading off lead vocals with lead guitarist Jeremy Renner, who effortlessly glided across sophisticated solos, tucking each note easily behind the enduring bop of bass. Jake Callis manned bass while Matt Watson held it down on the drums.
Just when listeners began to nestle back into nostalgia of the ’50s, Callis swapped his classic upright for an electric bass, and married it into Callis’ heavy-handed backbeat. “We play selections from the 1950s,” Meredith announced. “We also like to get into the Motown situation.” With that, they served up Stevie Wonder’s ever-soulful “Superstition,” highlighted by equal parts bass slappage and guitar shreddage. Sparing no momentum, they transitioned into “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” before bringing things down to a simmer with Holly’s jingle “Everyday.”
While Holly classics were sprinkled throughout the set, the Rave-Ons fearlessly ventured into other subgenera of rock ’n’ roll, of course taking on familiar favorites, such as The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Further still, they explored rowdier rock hits, such as the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” and the Allman Brothers’ winding Americana jam “Ramblin’ Man.” On the other hand, John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” was a folky palate cleanser to keep things on an even keel.
Listeners on the lawn shared a unifying sway, while some were seduced into a dance. Children and dogs of all sizes bounced in merriment. After 90 straight minutes of massive energy, the Rave-Ons slid into home with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” for an epic finisher.
HONORARY TRIBUTES: While we’re throwing it way back, let’s honor a few music icons who have made their Earth-side departure.
First, Grammy-winning country folk artist Nanci Griffith passed away this month. She was only 68. Griffith was praised for her literary and illustrative songwriting style, sung with a silvery, feminine Southern drawl. She aptly described her genre of music as “folkabilly.” Among her more memorable works was “Love at the Five and Dime.”
Griffith toured with Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets, as well as with John Prine and Judy Collins, to name a few. Many were her collaborators in the recording studio, as well, including Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and EmmyLou Harris.
Don Everly, one half of ’50s sensation The Everly Brothers, passed away last week at the age of 84. He was preceded in death by his brother, Phil, who passed away in 2014. The duo was known for wistful hits like “Bye Bye Love,” Cathy’s Clown,” “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” sung in country-inspired harmonies – a style that would inspire Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon took to Instagram to pay tribute, sharing a video of himself and Edie Brickell singing “I Wonder If I Care As Much.” The Everly Brothers were among the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986.
Earthside Celebrations: David Crosby, founding member of The Byrds as well as Crosby, Stills & Nash, celebrated a birthday on Aug. 14. Born in 1941, the politically outspoken Crosby is a cornerstone of ’60s counterculture. His first hit was The Byrds’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” with a host of hits to follow, some of which he co-wrote. Crosby was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame twice, as a member of both The Byrds and CSN.
On July 23, Crosby released his latest album, For Free, which features collaborations with Michael McDonald, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Sarah Jarosz and Crosby’s son, James Raymond, who also produced the record.
Intriguingly, the final track on the album, “I Won’t Stay Long,” written by Raymond, was inspired by Marcel Camus’ film “Black Orpheus,” based on the tragic Greek myth wherein Orpheus fails to resist temptation, and thusly, fails to bring Eurydice back from the underworld.
John Deacon celebrated his 70th birthday on Aug. 19. The bassist of Queen, Deacon was both the last and the youngest member to join the band. He made considerable contributions to the band’s legacy as a songwriter, having penned hit singles “You’re My Best Friend,” “Spread Your Wings,” “I Want to Break Free” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”
Deacon shares his birthday with the late Ginger Baker, Cream’s notoriously aggressive drummer, who also drummed for Graham Bond Organization, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Airforce and Hawkwind, among others.
Robert Plant celebrated his 73rd birthday on Aug. 20. He sprang to fame as the seductive front man of powerhouse Led Zeppelin, which reigned supreme through the ’60s and ’70s. Led Zeppelin arrived on the tail end of the British Invasion, fusing African American blues with Celtic folk music and orchestral gothic undertones, setting the stage for heavy metal groups to follow. Plant was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith in 1995.
In later years, rock’s golden god explored a variety of world music, soft rock, country and folk. His work Raising Sand (2007) with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss was wildly successful. Earlier this month, ahead of their long-awaited sophomore album release, they dropped “Can’t Let Go,” a Randy Weeks cover that was originally recorded by Lucinda Williams. The up-tempo number, furnished with soft harmonies, has been warmly received by fans. This fall, the duo will release their 12-track second album, Raise the Roof, which will include tributes to Merle Haggard and the Everly Brothers. Plant and Krauss have plans to tour in 2022.
Donna Godchaux celebrated a birthday on Aug. 22 (1947). She was a session singer in Muscle Shoals, Ala, a studio where such acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones recorded. From Muscle Shoals, she went on to become a member of Southern Comfort. Her vocals are featured on time-honored recordings of artists such as Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge, Boz Scaggs, Duane Allman and Cher.
Godchaux is most famous, however, for her work with the Grateful Dead. In 1971, she attended a Jerry Garcia concert with her husband, Keith, whom she introduced to Garcia. Keith joined the Grateful Dead as a keyboardist soon after, and less than a year later, she would come on board as well, as a vocalist. The Godchauxs were faithful members of the Grateful Dead for the majority of the 1970s, before leaving to start their own band.
NOTEWORTHY DEBUTS: Rock ’n’ roll’s legendary music festival, Woodstock, was held on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel, N.Y. on Aug. 15, 1969. Arlo Guthrie, The Band, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were just a few on the star-studded lineup, which spanned three days. Over 400,000 people attended the festival.
Aug. 16 marked 53 years since the live debut of Bruce Springsteen’s band Earth, at the Off Broad Street Coffee House in Red Bank, in 1968. In addition to Springsteen on guitar and vocals were John Graham on bass, Michael Burke on drums and Flash Craig on organ. Earth did not last longer than six months.
Six years earlier to the day was the release date of Stevie Wonder’s first single, “I Call It Pretty Music (But The Old People Call It The Blues).” The track features Wonder’s inimitably huge voice, despite his being only 12 years old. Also featured is soul sensation Marvin Gaye, on drums.
And precisely one year prior to that was Patsy Cline’s release of the single “Crazy,” a beautiful, timeless ballad, now doomed to be forever butchered by drunken women in karaoke bars all across the nation. “Crazy” was written by Willie Nelson, originally intended for country artist Billy Walker, who turned it down. Patsy Cline enchanted with the hit, which gave Nelson the boost to fame he still celebrates today. In fact, he just kicked off his U.S. tour. Cline suffered an untimely end when a plane she was on crashed in 1963. She was only 30 years old.
EVENING DEW: Dead & Company performed an epic ‘Morning Dew’ as the audience was treated to a magnificent double rainbow, during a rainy sunset. (Photo by Monique M. Demopoulos)
RAINBOW FULL OF SOUND: Dead & Company returned to Philly on stop number three of its first tour since the pandemic struck. This is significant as the legacy of the Grateful Dead lives on in live shows – which are, for all intents and purposes, grand organisms made up of the folks who tour along in a circus-like culture, and the performance itself, which is largely highlighted by improvisational jams inspired by the energy of its environment.
The band consists of original members Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Mickey Hart (drums) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums), joined by Jeff Chimenti (keys), Oteil Burbridge (bass) and John Mayer (lead guitar, vocals).
Navigating the parking lots was a challenge, initially. Patrons were alerted by phone, text, email and social media that they would need to show proof of either full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours, and therefore were encouraged to arrive early. Gates opened at 5:30 p.m., two hours ahead of the 7:30 p.m. show.
The first wave of heads arrived at 2 p.m. to await the 2:30 p.m. lot opening. There was much uncertainty surrounding how smooth COVID clearance would be and how the weather would turn out, with Hurricane Henri fast approaching. Fortunately, as soon as the lots opened, there was a table set up central to the parking lots, and just opposite the stadium entrance. In addition to the five agents at the table, there were agents roving the grounds, inviting concertgoers to come trade their COVID-19 verification for a nifty wristband. (Of course, there were still folks who expressed total surprise in line at showtime, when they had not gotten a wristband and were denied entrance.)
With all the factors at play, between the need for COVID verification and the imminent rain, it was questionable whether the show would go on, never mind about Shakedown Street. People roamed from lot to lot asking each other, “Where’s Shakedown?” The answer was obvious: “You just gotta poke around!” After the first hour, there was one lot left to check, from which galloped a handful of officers on horseback, making their rounds to ensure all merry mischief-making was “in-bounds.” The aroma of cannabis, patchouli and “Jerry rolls” (which are, as Gen X and Millenials might describe, “heady” egg rolls) trailed from behind them.
Poke around and find out! A lot was shaking on Shakedown Street — a bohemian market where barefoot hippies ramble around before and after the show (some are so caught up in the festivity, they never make it into the show). In addition to scoring tickets to the show, Shakedown is the place to buy, sell and trade food, art, clothing, jewelry and other wares. For all the preceding uncertainty, this particular lot was overwhelmingly condensed with a jubilee of humanity. The lyric “Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand” definitely applied. Vendors and vagrants reconnected and reminisced. One woman was overheard telling her favorite jewelry craftswoman how she was still wearing her most prized piece, purchased from the same stand at her first show more than 20 years ago. “And here we are,” the merchant said, smiling.
Once people were in line, the rain followed through on its hours-long threat. Hearing the boys sound checking gave everyone hope that the show would not succumb to a little weather. It opened with a rousing “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” giving promise to a fun-filled show to spite the steady rain, as fans chanted along with Bob Weir: “I’m on my way, on my way!”
The momentum continued in an upward direction with “Alabama Getaway,” which celebrated Jeff Chimenti, who laid out a spirited solo on the late Brent Mydland’s Hammond B3 organ. Chimenti was brought up in jazz, performing with Dave Ellis’ jazz quartet and Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, and joined Bob Weir and Ratdog in 1997 shortly after Ellis was hired to play sax. Although Chimenti was born three years after the Grateful Dead was founded, since 1997 he has continuously performed with various original members of the Grateful Dead – that’s longer than the combined tenures of Godchaux and Mydland.
Once soaking-wet audience members had their spirits lifted a bit, the band continued along the vein of Americana on-the-road music with “Jack Straw.”
We used to play for silver
Now we play for life
One’s for sport and one’s for blood
At the point of a knife
Now the die is shaken
Now the die must fall
There ain’t a winner in this game
Who don’t go home with all
Not with all …
Approximately four minutes and change into the gritty tale, as Mayer poured his heart into the strings, Weir indicated skyward, toward a marvelous double rainbow that traversed the full length of the stadium against the burning backdrop of a setting sun, inspiring a tremendous roar from the audience. The “rainbow full of sound” may have served as a hopeful metaphor, not only for the evening, but for the current era.
Now ramped up, the players kept it smoldering, defying the intensifying weather with optimistic grooves “Franklin’s Tower” and “Estimated Prophet.” With Weir as a guiding sentinel, Kreutzmann, Hart and Burbridge (who celebrated his 57th birthday on Aug. 24) locked into a steady meter with the rain. Meanwhile, Chimenti and Mayer added jazzy embellishments, riffing beautifully off one another as they have since their tour opener last week.
Mayer executed a show-stopping “Sugaree,” paying highest tribute to Garcia by making the tune his own. Singing along with an awestruck audience, he charged into an electrifying solo that boldly channeled B.B. King, one of his greatest influences.
A monumental and meandering “Terrapin Station,” complete with its illustrative prelude, “Lady With a Fan,” built over nearly 20 minutes into what might have been the climax of set one. Instead, they flowed immediately into Weir’s jam-tastic “The Other One,” before the rhythm devils (Hart, Kreutzmann and Burbridge) funneled the stormy energy into a captivating “Drums/Space,” a resounding, syncopated sonic bath to rival any thunderstorm. “Drums/Space” is sometimes unfortunately taken as an opportunity for some folks to chat or make a booze run. However, this particular evening saw fans utterly enraptured by the reverberations.
Meanwhile, the remaining members huddled up to determine the fate of the show. With the weather only worsening, the decision was to omit a set break altogether, for one ambitious, extended set. They resumed with “The Wheel,” appropriate for their situation.
The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down,
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on,
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still,
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will.
They capped the performance with “Morning Dew,” which will undoubtedly go down in history as a highlight of Mayer’s work with Dead and Co. While Weir sang poignant lyrics in his wise, gruff voice, Burbridge laid the groundwork for Mayer to transform the folk ballad into a stadium anthem. The tune shall be dubbed by this column “Dark Side of the Dew,” as Mayer, employing his signature string bending and a tremolo bar, conveyed the tone and spirit of Pink Floyd’s guitar legend David Gilmour.
Of course, their stage departure was only momentary, as they were beckoned back by a bellowing audience. And, of course, Bobby can’t let a Saturday evening pass without belting out his rollicking “One More Saturday Night.” Mayer tucked the evening away with Robert Hunter’s heart-wrenching lullaby, “Brokedown Palace,” putting rain in everyone’s eyes.
With Hurricane Henri on their tail, Dead and Co. continued onto Bethel, N.Y., where the Grateful Dead performed 52 years ago for Woodstock. Unfortunately, Yasgur’s Farm canceled camping reservations to protect campers from the dangerous elements. Despite downed trees and major flooding in the area, the show did go on as promised – a true testament to the tenacity of Deadheads. As a special gift to the audience, Bethel’s second set was a complete performance of the Grateful Dead’s Woodstock set.
FOLK ICON: Chris Smither will perform at LBIF on Sept. 2. (Supplied Photo)
LOOKING FORWARD: On Thursday, Sept. 2, Chris Smither will give an intimate performance at the Long Beach Island Foundation of Arts and Sciences. Our very own Sahara Moon will give the opening performance.
Smither has steadily written, recorded and toured for nearly 60 years, putting out a total of 18 albums. He grew up in New Orleans, where he learned the rudiments of music on a ukulele, later transitioning to guitar. Inspired by emotionally charged acoustic blues artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt, Smither embodied the power of simplicity through the marriage of reflective folk writing unto the twangy cry of his acoustic guitar — all against the backbeat of his own feet.
After meeting folk legend Eric von Shmidt, Smither was advised to travel up to Massachusetts and let himself be heard. He forged his way into the flourishing Cambridge folk scene and never looked back.
Bonnie Raitt famously recorded and performed his tune “Love You Like A Man,” and has referred to Smither as “my Eric Clapton.” In addition to Raitt, Smither has shared the stage with B.B. King and Nanci Griffith, among many others.
Smither has promised a sampling of his entire career, “all the way up to the beginning. (It will be) heavier on new stuff. There’s little nuggets that I dearly love from the whole career.”
RISING STAR: Sahara Moon will give the opening performance at LBIF for Chris Smither. (Photo by Savannah Lauren)
With regard to returning to tour after the pandemic hiatus, he shared, “I’ve learned two things from this; one is that I can retire if I wanted to, and two is that I don’t want to retire.” For him, audience interaction is half the work. “I write the songs and make the records so I can get in front of people. … The audience has a part to play, and the best audience understands they have a part to play.”
All that said, the performance is highly dependent on the ability to gather safely. At Smither’s request, LBIF will require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of full vaccination to attend the show. Masking is also encouraged, but not mandatory. Visit lbifoundation.org for tickets. Tune into Sound Waves for a full review of the show.
monique@thesandpaper.net

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