Todd Snider doesn’t meet Dylan, BoDeans change, and Wilber interviews Pete Best

→ Singer/songwriter and Indianapolis favorite Todd Snider recently wrote a piece about what he would say to Bob Dylan if he met him. Hilarious (and heartfelt) stream of thought. Thought you might like to read… Snider is next scheduled to be in Indiana on September, 17, at the Ferdinand Folk Festival, near Jasper. Continue reading “Todd Snider doesn’t meet Dylan, BoDeans change, and Wilber interviews Pete Best”

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Backstage at Letterman: Indiana guitarist Jason Wilber’s night in NYC with Dave, Don Rickles and Paul Shafer

Wanted to follow up on our post earlier this week about Hoosier guitarist and singer/songwriter Jason Wilber playing on Late Night with David Letterman. Wilber, fresh from the performance backing John Prine on Letterman Wednesday night, posted to his blog/website a number of behind-the-scenes moments he experienced as the guitar player, both on stage and off.

Continue reading “Backstage at Letterman: Indiana guitarist Jason Wilber’s night in NYC with Dave, Don Rickles and Paul Shafer”

Indiana’s Jason Wilber to Join John Prine on “Letterman” Wednesday

Indiana’s Jason Wilber will join John Prine and Jim James (from My Morning Jacket) on The Late Show with David Letterman this Wednesday night. Jason has played with Prine for many years, is also an Indiana-based Americana singer/songwriter, and has been part of the Hoosier Dylan/Springsteen/Hank/Johnny shows that have been rolling through the the state. Good guy who plays a tastefully dirty guitar. And that is a good thing. So is having James join the mix.

Prine’s performance is to push the upcoming album Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine album. Prine is playing shows the next weekend in Little Rock, AK, and Memphis (with the legendary-in-Memphis Keith Sykes opening up, before heading to Bonnoroo June 12. He also has a live album out, In Person & On Stage.

John Prine website
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Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows
Twelve newly-recorded versions of classic Prine songs
tracklist:
1) Justin Vernon of Bon Iver — “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)”
2) Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band — “Wedding Day In Funeralville”
3) My Morning Jacket — “All The Best”
4) Josh Ritter — “Mexican Home”
5) Lambchop — “Six O’Clock News”
6) Justin Townes Earle — “Far From Me”
7) The Avett Brothers — “Spanish Pipedream”
8) Old Crow Medicine Show — “Angel From Montgomery”
9) Sara Watkins — “The Late John Garfield Blues”
10) Drive-By Truckers — “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin”
11) Deer Tick featuring Liz Isenberg — “Unwed Fathers”
12) Those Darlins — “Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian”

Concert Review – Hoosier Springsteen Show featuring Tim Grimm, Jason Wilber, Bobbie Lancaster, Gordon Bonham and White Lightning Boys

Saturday night’s Hoosier Springsteen — a tribute to Springsteen’s music paid by Indiana artists — proved to be an inspired effort not only by the musicians, but also by the crowd, who hung in and responded throughout the three-plus hour show. It was the first edition of the event, put together by Indiana songwriter Tim Grimm, following on the Grimm-organized Hoosier Dylan tribute show.

Unlike doing a similar show for nearly any other artist, those on stage had to meet the challenge of doing more than simply singing Bruce’s songs. To be truly effective in capturing the essence of Springsteen, they had to hit on at least two of the three skills that make Springsteen legendary. They did.

It’s hard to miss on the songs. With few exceptions, Springsteen’s catalogue of songs is exquisite, with more tunes to choose from than could be played in one night.

Secondly, there’s the performance. While albums like “Nebraska” or “The Ghost of Tom Joad” are unarguably lo-fi affairs, picking a song from a record like “Born to Run”, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” or even “Born in the USA” means taking on the iconic music too. It’s either replicate or reinvent if you take a shot at those records.

And the third challenge is finding a way to add a little homage to Springsteen’s live show. The best live performer of his generation, the Hoosier Springsteen gang needed to bring the power, the touches of gospel and the push that comes with his live performance for the night to be a complete success.

Turning a rundown Crump Theatre in Columbus, Indiana into the perfect venue for a debut of a the Grimm-led series, the singer and actor took a break from performing in a stage play in Chicago to trek back to Southern Indiana and treat the 150 or so in attendance to a night that made us glad we were there.

Among the performers included Grimm, John Prine guitarist Jason Wilber, guitarist and songwriter Gordon Bonham, Bloomington-based singer and songwriter Bobbie Lancaster and hillbilly bluegrass band White Lightning Boys, plus a terrific backing band, highlighted by the spectacularly tasteful Troye Kinnett, from John Mellencamp’s band, on keys.

WATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:

Leaning heavily on “Nebraska” and “Born In the USA” material – 14 of the night’s 31 (!) songs were from those two early and mid 80’s records – the musicians found “Nebraska” perfect for a night of Americana songwriters playing Bruce music. Yet it was individual performances that elevated the evening’s best moments, when performers strayed slightly from the records.

Columbus singer Dale Sechrest opened each of the two sets solo, “Cover Me” appropriately starting the show, followed by the obscure “Jesus Was an Only Son” to a hushed crowd. Wilber, a hell of a guitar player, introduced the band with a rollicking “Hungry Heart” and the first magical moment of the night, teaming with Bonham and Kinnett for an angry “State Trooper”. Lancaster provided the first glimpse at her engaging stage persona and “aw shucks, ain’t I a killer singer?” voice with a bluegrass-inflected “All I’m Thinking About is You” from the “Devils and Dust” album.

Grimm joined for Lancaster for a smoldering duet of “I’m on Fire,” the band’s restrained playing and Kinnett’s mid-80’s keyboard touch gluing the song together, making it new and classic at once. Perfect.

Bonham’s first turn at vocals came with Nebraska’s” “Reason to Believe”, morphed into a country shuffle, complete with Lancaster and two friends dancing behind the band. The band stayed with the 1982 album for “Open All Night”, creating a jubilant rock song that had the audience moving up front to dance and Jason and Gordon trading searing leads. Another keeper.

Poet Matthew Jackson provided a breather with his first of three appearances, reading original poetry, before the White Lightning Boys turned in an Avett Brothers-like performance of “I’m Goin’ Down”, followed by the economic hardship song “Youngstown” from The Ghost of Tom Joad.

Grimm and his wife Jan dueted beautifully on the sad story song “Highway Patrolman”, before the group hit on a set of tunes that became the best segment of the night. “Devils and Dust” started the momentum with a great vocal from Tim, and a more uptempo performance than on the record, followed by “Johnny 99,” featuring stinging leads from Bonham’s Fender Telecaster.

But it was the Wilber/Bonham duet on “Born in the USA” – just two guys, two Telecasters and a bit of a crowd singalong too – that told the crowd why they came. Wicked guitar playing and Wilber emanating a comfortable yet forceful energy on stage perfect for the song and the night. That song led into the full band’s rousing and fun “Glory Days.”

Lancaster grabbed “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” off the Seeger Sessions” record, released in 2006, with Kinnett’s accordian playing and Lancaster’s southern lilt working together. “My Hometown” wrapped the first set up, and it clicked along nicely, in part because she changed the lyrics to reflect a daughter instead of a son in the song.

A more ragged second set began with a trio of songs from the bluegrass White Lightning Boys, on stage for “Old Dan Tucker”, “Nebraska” and “Mrs. McGrath”, followed by Grimm and Wilber for the title cut from “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. Sechrest came back for Seeger Session’s obscure “Eye on the Prize”.

Give the band extra kudos for next tackling one of the legendary anthems of Springsteen canon. “Racing in the Street” is long, beautiful, and iconic. Not the easist to pull off, but they did. “Used Cars”, and a pair from the 1995 “Greatest Hits” album followed, with Tom Clark contributing a lovely sax solo during “Secret Garden,” replete with Wilber playing along, eyes closed, fully in the moment.

Grimm led “Blood Brothers” with son Conner onstage playing bass, and they stayed for a joyous “Thunder Road”. Bonham burned in a rendition of “Atlantic City”, using a fiery Bruce concert arrangement.

An unexpected “Meeting Across the River” off “Born to Run” from Jason led to a finale of the title cut from that 1975 record, putting a fitting cap on a Springteen length live show.

For a Bruce fan, it was special to watch some of the best from our little state tackle Jersey’s chosen son. And give the crowd credit for making the night fun and helping make the first shot at performing this show a winner. Worth a trip to Danville to see the next outing on June 20.

Concert Review: Jason Wilber & His Fabulous Band w/Tim Grimm/The Royal Theatre/Danville, IN

jasonwilber250It’s rare to take the three variables of every concert – venue, sound and performer – and get all three right. Saturday night, the three came together in a better-than-should-be expected way, and gave the Jason Wilber show at the Royal Theatre in Danville a magical quality.

Wilber, the fulltime guitar player for folk legend John Prine, hushed a crowd of nearly 300 at the historic theatre with his folk-inflected songs. It was a wise move to bring along a full band, featuring a sax and trumpet, drums and bass, and John Mellencamp’s keyboard player Troye Kinnett all finding the spots to sneakily shine.

It was a listening audience, less concerned with chatting up friends than they were to hang on the notes and the words of the performance. A nice change from the cacophony that can be a club show.

The musicians took advantage of the focused audience to hit their spots and serve the music. Tim Grimm and wife Jan opened the show, with 40 minutes of exquisite vocal interplay, understated and funny stories, and Tim’s great folk finger-picking. He adds a bit of percussion to his strumming and pushes the songs along, while Jan’s high harmonies would make Emmylou Harris smile. I’d drop him into a Lyle Lovett/Robert Earle Keen/James McMurtry for this night. Midway through their set, Jan pulled out an instrument she called a “spring drum” to an evocative, rumbling success, perfectly providing a unique duet to Tim’s words and guitar. A thoroughly enjoyable set.

Clean, nearly pristine sound is an element of the great little theatre. So many times at a show, I can’t hear certain instruments, or the volume is too loud or not loud enough. I am picky about the mix at a show, and am relatively unsympathetic to a room (and live sound man) that could do better, especially if it is a music venue that hosts shows regularly. Whether you have had 5 or 50 years to solve any problems with the venue sound mix, if a room sounds good, I like to think it’s an owner who cares enough to make it right. They have it right at Royal.

Wilber put together the evening with Grimm (he and Grimm and Wilber work together on many occasions, including recording a unique “soundtrack” to James Still’s play “Amber Waves” which is the story of immigrants who settle on a farm in Indiana.) and his decision to bring a band (Jason Wilber and His Fabulous Band) elevated Wilber’s music. The five other musicians were effective in pushing the energy level higher on many of Jason’s tunes. Laying down a Stax-like sound on the upbeat songs, and fitting and filling in beautifully on the slow songs, Kinnett especially shined, not just on solos, but coloring the night’s music with pretty piano and a gospel B3 sound.

Jason was generous with the providing spots for musicians to step forward, making eye contact with each in most songs, nodding for solos to start, and smiling to himself when the band put him in the musical pocket so he could close his eyes and feel the music around him.

He told stories throughout the evening, many short and simply told recollections of where he wrote a song (whether it was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, or London) and then letting the audience hear the rest of the story as he played it.

Mixing older songs off his solo records with what he revealed as new music, Wilber was comfortable, seasoned and engaged all night. His story about sitting in Russell Square in London, on his way to, but never arriving at, a famous art museum, was typical of the evening. Good stories told in a movie house. He remembered how he enjoyed the park in London and its surroundings far too much to leave, even for a museum he was informed he must see.

Emitting a nice 1970s vibe, the theatre, built in 1927 and smartly refurbished, has the letter “R” in multiple monogram-style spots on each side of a blueish/green room color. Or that’s the color to me ,with the lights low and after a visit to the hidden jewel of the night: a tiny theatre taproom. (They have area-brewed beers and wine).

Can you tell it was a good evening? A terrific night of heartland-infused music, in a cool theatre, from two Indiana singer/songwriters who represent a folk tradition that, based on this night, seems pretty healthy in Central Indiana.

The Royal Theatre has upcoming shows on the schedule; the booking of Alejandro Escovedo in April is brilliant. He’s touring behind a fantastic album and Springsteen-certified after the two dueted on Escovedo’s “Always a Friend” at a Bruce show in 2008.

Put me down for two.