Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mountain Music Meltdown - Saranac Lake, NY June 30 - July 1: Preview

Fair Warning! It’s difficult to preview an event which I myself have not been to before. It’s even harder to preview one which has no history, as there are not even comments by others to take into account. Mountain Music Meltdown, to be held in Saranac Lake, NY on June 30th and July 1st boasts a varied schedule of Americana and world music. This event is billed as “the first annual” so I hope it succeeds, as the Adirondack region is much in need of a couple more strong music festivals. This festival is promoted by Lazar Bear Productions, whose principal is Les Hershhorn.

For us, the premier attractions, when we heard of this festival, were (and remain) the appearances of Doc Watson and The Gibson Brothers on Friday. Doc Watson, at age 84, is still a wonder flat-picker on the guitar. (Do your own Google search on Doc; there’s a wealth of information and lots of it is worth looking at.) His picking style, which first made a splash during the folk revival of the sixties, is fast and accurate and his singing voice is mellow. His musical tastes range from old mountain ballads through bluegrass and blues to rock and roll. He’s played it all. As host of his own festival, the fabled Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC, which annually attracts in the neighborhood of 80,000 admissions, he has set the standard for Americana festivals. Each year we go to this remarkable event to hear old favorites and are introduced to bands we never heard before who make a deep impression on us. Doc Watson is still worth hearing and seeing on his merits as a picker/singer and a must see as an important part of music history.

The Gibson Brothers bring the tight harmonies of brothers to a delightful mix of music with their feet very deep in bluegrass, but not so embedded that their music doesn’t reflect modern tones and sensibilities. Coming from upstate (now in this case, upstate doesn’t mean “anywhere north of Westchester, but Ellenburg Depot, just south of the Canadian border) New York, these two singer/songwriter/musicians have put out three number one bluegrass albums in recent years and are becoming an increasing draw on the festival circuit around the country. In New England and New York, where they have a large following, they always draw a crowd eager to respond to their exciting singing and playing. Supported by Mike Barber on bass, Rick Hayes on mandolin, and Clayton Campbell on fiddle, this group sends out a big wall of sound that reflects all that is best in contemporary bluegrass music while still paying respect to the founders of both bluegrass and classic country.

Sven Curth opens the program on Saturday. His MySpace entry lists him as a singer/songwriter who plays guitar for a group called Jim. Curth’s sound, as sampled on his site, seems to be a nice rocky/bluesy sound complemented by interesting lyrics. It sounds like the sort of material that would be pleasant listening under the sun at the opening of an eclectic music festival. He is based in Lake Placid and performs around the Adirondacks and over into Vermont. He is followed by the George Bailey Trio, billed by Lazar as a regional bluegrass group. As this band doesn’t have a web presence, I’ll have to leave it at that. The Gibson Brothers appear at 3:30 and are followed at 5:30 by Doc Watson. These two offerings are sufficient to make the day ticket price of $50.00 worthwhile. They are followed by Tcheka from Cape Verde, Africa whose music is described as Afrofunk. A second stage provides additional music.

The Chaz dePaolo Blues Band kicks off Sunday's performance. He describes his music as “traditional blues played with a rock feel.” The two samples of his music available on his MySpace page support his assertion. He sounds, again, like an enjoyable opening act. He is followed by Ana Popovic, Yugoslavian guitar Diva. Her American debut Album, titled “Still Making History (2007) is about to be released. She comes from Belgrade, Yugoslavia and sounds good enough to me to spend some time listening to her.

I have to admit that Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen are a group that I’ve never heard, but whose name strikes some kind of chord with me, though I can’t say where or how. Their press kit says they originated at the University of Michigan during the sixties and migrated to San Francisco during the late sixties. Songs like “Hot Rod Lincoln” a talking blues and “Hawaii Blues” have a really listenable west coast sound that’s pretty sure to please. The samples on their web site suggest a strong country influence informed by the Grateful Dead. New Riders of the Purple Sage close the show on Saturday. The fact that Jerry Garcia appeared on their first album probably had no influence on them or their development. The early editions of this band also included Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and David Nelson. Their sound is western hippie jam band – easy to listen to. Most of their recordings were released from 1974 – 1980.

This new festival looks like a very good way to spend the early part of 4th of July week. As nearly as I can tell, spending your time at this festival might well provide a good deal of enjoyment. As I listened to sound clips in preparing this preview, I was impressed and enjoyed the music. Mountain Music Meltdown will be held on the North Country Community College soccer field in Saranac Lake, NY on June 30th and July 1st. You can by tickets on line for $75.00 advance or can get them at the gate for $80.00. Day tickets are $45.00 and $50.00. Food vendors and a beverage tent will be available. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets. You can buy tickets here. You can find Saranac Lake here. For my taste, Doc Watson and The Gibson Brothers offer the most exciting part of this new festival, but there’s good diversity here and lots of surprises in store.