The 90° heat Saturday evening at the edge of Soulard was not optimal for dancing. At the stage outside the Old Rock House, one lone soul bobbed, weaved, twisted and dipped.
A gentleman standing next to me leaned over and said, "Man, that guy in the black sports jacket must really be hot."
The comment marked the observer as an out-of-towner. The dancer in the dark suit was Beatle Bob. I suppose his presence qualified the event as a happening, even without Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk for the first time in the three-year history of Summer Gras.
This year's Summer Gras had its usual New Orleans flavor (including boiled crawfish and hurricanes), but it leaned heavily on local artists. The Provels started things off while the sun was still beating down. They played the outdoor stage where the pavement was hot enough to melt cheese.
After the Provels finished their set, things moved indoors for a bit and the crunch-funk specialists Hazard To Ya Booty took the stage. Frontman Ryan Stewart handily led the group through a number of soul, funk and R&B classics like the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces."
Inside the Old Rock House for Hazard To Ya Booty, far more audience members danced. I saw old hippies, Millennial South City hipsters, and Beatle Bob, who stuck around for the entire set before venturing out into the night.
Photos by Bill Motchan
"These three are probably not used to playing before such a quiet crowd," Buzz Wall whispered to me. He was referring to the unwritten policy at Joe's that the audience politely listen to the music, not chat or text. Of course, consumption of wine is accepted and encouraged.
The River Kittens consist of Allie Vogler on vocals, guitar and banjo, Martha Mehring on vocals and guitar, and Mattie Schell on vocals and mandolin. For the performance at Joe's, the Kittens began by featuring each member soloing.
Schell got things rolling by covering Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist Of Fate." That seemed somewhat fitting, since rumor and urban legend suggests that Dylan himself will appear at Joe's in five years to celebrate his 80th birthday. My neighbor Colleen gave me this intel, with the disclaimer that it's a secret.
Each Kitten followed with a favorite song, including Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long As I Can See The Light," and Billy Joel's "I Can't Tell You Why."
The Kittens harmony style and simple string accompaniment worked well on every piece, including the Beach Boy's "Don't Worry Baby," and their first set finale, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."
Photos by Bill Motchan.
A time-honored craft dating back to the mid-1800s, Cigar Box Guitars found great popularity during the Civil War. Using a hollow box as a resonator and a broomstick for a fretboard, these instruments quickly became the staple of jug bands and early blues composers.
Nowadays, cigar boxes are not the only items being used to create these whimsical treasures. Vendors at the festival displayed musical creations made out of cookie tins, hubcaps, iron skillets, briefcases, and the ever popular bed pan. In addition, there were a few banjos and fiddles thrown into the mix.
Enthusiasts took turns playing a variety of handcrafted instruments in a tent on the parking lot, while guitarist and cigar box guitar expert Justin Johnson played the main stage. Inside, cigar box luthiers stood in a line at the stage with their creations, waiting their turn for Johnson to check out their instrument. Taking a few minutes before he began to play, Johnson would describe the instrument's construction and features, followed with a short performance on the instrument.
Festival organizers Gary Herget and Steve Miles created the festival in 2013, along with the owner of Highway 61 Roadhouse, Bill Kunz.
For more information, visit stlouiscigarboxguitarfestival.com.
Photos by Valerie Tichacek
M. Ward is considered by some to be one of the icons of the Portland music scene. As one-half of She & Him (alongside actress Zooey Deschanel) -- along with his side work in Monsters of Folk with Conor Oberst and Jim James -- he is known for a diverse catalog of inspired folk and indie pop songs that breathe new life into the genre. And now he's back on the touring schedule, performing this Saturday night, June 11, at The Duck Room with opener Big Thief. Ward's latest album, More Rain, is his best since A Wasteland Companion and takes the listener on a musical trek across his vast landscape of influences. We caught up with Ward, who chatted about his various approaches to songwriting, growing old with Louis Armstrong and finally playing on the same stage as Chuck Berry.
KK: Loving the new album -- where did the title come from?
MW: The title has a few different meanings but one of them I've been talking about lately is a bit of an inside joke for people who tend to think my music is really depressing.
KK: And you disagree with that?
MW: I've never really found my music to be depressing. I think that this album has a pretty good balance of shadows and light. And for me, if songs lean one way too much, on one side or the other, they don't normally have any effect on me. If the song is completely devoid of hope and light then it can be too dark and too depressing, but on the flip side if the song is too bright and doesn't recognize the full range of emotions that everyone has then it can come off as pathetic or false. The trick is to find that balance no matter what you're doing, whether you're writing songs or books or making movies or writing articles for a newspaper.
KK: Let's talk about that range for a second. I tend to think of you as a jazz guy who masquerades as a singer-songwriter.
MW: I take that as a compliment. I have difficulty having perspective on the music that I make, to be honest. I'm inspired by a lot of different things and I'm very happy to do them. To put it in a context that works for them, I'm completely open to what anyone has to say about the music that I make. And I'd probably agree with some of it.
KK: Why do you think you have trouble having perspective on your own music?
MW: I'm so inside of it. I can't listen to it objectively. The records that I have in my collection -- jazz, punk, R&B, soul, rock 'n' roll or pop music -- they all sort of blend into this one river of music. As simplistic as that sounds, I'm only listening to music that I think is either good or interesting -- a lot of it goes by the wayside but I get my inspiration from this enormous catalog of music that's always changing and it just never ends
KK: Listening to you records, you definitely get a sense of catalog. On the new record, you can hear country, folk, rock, pop influences -- there's a song with a Spanish-style trumpet solo that just comes out of nowhere.
MW: The song "Confession" has a heroic trumpet solo at the end. Trumpet to me will always be connected to Louis Armstrong. I grew up with his music because that was around the house when I was a kid, so his influence on my has never faltered. I still listen to him often. I discovered him when I was in elementary school and he has one of those catalogs that you can grow old with and I will probably be listening to him when I'm an old guy and can barely hear.
KK: You do a lot of collaborations with other musicians. How does that alter your creative process?
MW: I've learned that the people who are in my line of work get most of their inspiration working with the equipment in the studio. New guitars and mics, things like that. I get most of my inspiration from playing with other people and I'm not really that interested in the latest gear or how vintage your piano is. It's just the way that I learned a long time ago -- the way to have pleasant surprises on your album is to invite other people to your studio and see what happens.
KK: Do you prefer collaborating with others or writing by yourself?
MW: It's 50/50. I like it all.
KK: Last time I saw you perform, you played Loufest with She & Him. Is there any anticipation to coming back to our part of the world?
MW: I'm really excited. I met a guy there at LouFest who knew I was a huge Chuck Berry fan and he took me just to go see his venue and it was really inspiring. So this is the first time really playing a show in St. Louis and to be able to do that at Chuck Berry's venue is too good to be true. He's possibly the most influential guitarist of mine.
KK: More than someone like Django Reinhardt, for example?
MW: I listen to chuck more than Django but it's hard to compare those guys, they're both geniuses. Chuck's music will never grow old. I'll be listening to him when I can't walk.
KK: Just like Louis Armstrong, yeah?
MW: Yeah. It's gonna be OK getting old because I have all these great songs to grow old with.
On hand and rocking the house was the legendary Bob Kuban and his band. Millennials who may not be familiar with Kuban can Google him and learn that he and the In-Men had a pop hit in 1966 called “The Cheater.” The song put Kuban and the In-Men on the map. The song held the #1 spot on the Billboard chart for three weeks.