Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2017, 368 pp., $26.99/12.99) brings style, wit, deep understanding, and insight to the story of an entertainment phenomenon that would be easy to dismiss as merely a substance infused romp through an aimless and lucky journey to riches and fame. In writing a thorough, deeply researched, and thoughtful biography about one of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries' most potent entertainment forces, White sheds light on the music industry and American culture while exploring the life of a remarkable entertainer who both represents and helped to form today's cultural landscape.
Ryan White's style is smooth, hip, and light, just as are Jimmy Buffett's singing style and take on life. Buffet, born to a longtime family of seafaring Mobile, Alabama sea captains seems to have surfed over life, while developing a take on its experience with broad and long-lasting appeal. Coming from a background of relative privilege, he discovered the joys of black blues sung by smart white guys early in his wandering college career, when he noticed that guys with guitars got all the girls, a phenomenon many have noticed. Nevertheless, Buffett seems to have done his apprenticeship as an itinerant bar and small venue musician with joy and a good deal of attention, playing the streets of New Orleans, starting and losing bands, exploring and exploiting the Nashville music scene as a song writer, plugger, and Billboard columnist, always watching and listening. Meanwhile, Ryan's jazzy, folk-rock inflected seventies and eighties tone sets the stage for an interesting and readable exploration through the life of one of America's most entertaining and gifted singer/songwriters.
White serves up Buffett's story in a light-hearted manner, making it go down as easily as tequila while maintaining a driving narrative flow. Whether it's Mobile, AL, the development of the Nashville music scene, or the discovery, founding, sale, and development of Key West to a series of joyful scoundrels, White keeps the narrative light while throwing in enough solid information along with crumbs of humor to keep the reader's eyes from glazing over. Buffett's ability to attract trustworthy and effective partners (Don Light, Tom Corcoran) and advisers while continuing to trust his own musical vision should not be underestimated. In the end, Buffett, despite seldom cracking top ten in either the song or album charts, was able to create one of the most lucrative entertainment brands in history. The book reads a lot like listening to Buffett songs, always salted with nuggets of insight and wisdom, keeping the reader's interest. Nevertheless, it's clear that White has done his homework with plenty of references and interviews cited yet never becoming pedantic.
Perhaps the most interesting elements in the book lie in the contrasts between various versons of Jimmy Buffett: the incessant partier, the driven perfectionist, the innovative wordsmith, and the able leader. His ability to move between the roles making each of them a full part of his multi-dimensional persona is what makes Buffett both believable and, sometimes, truly likeable. He managed to draw talented people to him, tap into their resources, build a musical empire and a personal fortune, and leave mostly good memories behind.
The book appeals to everyone interested in Buffett from casual fans who've enjoyed his songs while seated in a bar or in occaisonal radio plays, or a chance album purchase to dedicated Parrot Heads who follow him and the the Coral Reefers ceaselessly. They pay over a $1000 a piece for tickets, because these baby boomers and later have enjoyed Buffett, living his life vicariously while mostly staying sober and industrious, making successes of themselves, just like their hero. Sometimes the book seems to get pretty deep into the details of song development, recordings, and contracts, but it is, therefore, a Buffett feast for Parrot Heads while never becoming overwhelming for the more general reader interested in Buffett as a singer and a phenomenon.
Twice named one of the top writers in the country by the Society for Features Journalism, Ryan White spent nearly 16 years at the Oregonian covering sports, music, and culture. He's appeared on the public radio variety show Live Wire! as both an interviewer and an essayist. He has also written for Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, the Portland Mercury, and Portland Monthly magazine. A perfectly OK beer league hockey player, he lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. (Amazon profile)
In Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2017, 368 pp., $26.99/12.99), Ryan White has written a nuanced and thoughtful book that probably captures as much of Jimmy Buffett as can be fitted between book covers. Buffett emerges as a complex man who discovered he had become a “BRAND” and knew how to capitalize on that while continuing to write and sing songs keeping the brand alive. Seemingly easy going, offhand, even sloppy, he's detail oriented, fully self-aware. As I read the book, I was often unsure if I like Jimmy Buffett or not. But he emerges as a good man with a life well spent who has created a dream for others to drop into and then return to their more humdrum world. Not a bad legacy to leave and a wonderful reading experience to describe it. I received the book as a digital download from the publisher through Edelweiss and read it on my Kindle app.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Saturday at Gettysburg started a little chilly and overcast, but the weather improved over the next two days, never really rainy, nor too sunny and hot. For many people, such weather is nearly ideal for bluegrass festivals, as hot sun is enervating, while rain, despite the long-held tradition of stolid enjoyment of the music rain or shine, truly puts a damper on the proceedings. Cool and overcast is nice!
East of Monroe
East of Monroe is a Washington area band with a wide-ranging repertoire and a pleasant sound featuring the song writing of Gary Ferguson as well as plenty of experience from its members. Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes also served as a hard-working and able emcee for the festival.
Lisa Kay Howard-Hughes
Gary Alan Ferguson
Dry Branch Fire Squad
Dry Branch Fire Squad has long been based in southern Ohio, although leader Ron Thomason has lived in Colorado for many years, raises distance racing horses, and where he hosts the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival, a benefit for local charities. Noted for its Old Time sound as well as Thomason's unique satirical humor, the band's popularity extends over forty years, and has performed at every Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. It's Sunday morning gospel set, where the video below was recorded, is a must attend event for many fans.
McIntosh & Byrd
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
Reliable, Hard Working, Generous Spirit, Fan Centered, Bluegrass Ambassador - A pretty good description of one of bluegrass music's assets, a person who draws audiences and pleases with professionalism and variety. On Saturday evening, she invited the young daughter of one of the festival vendors, the ever popular masseuse, to the stage to sing with her after learning that her favorite song was Rhonda's version of Jolene, Dolly Parton's ever popular hit. The little girl, Faith, belted out the song with confidence, in tune, and was awarded with a standing ovation. That's just one of the reason's she's so very popular.
Faith & Rhonda
Line at the Rhonda Vincent Boutique
Rhonda Greets Fans Till the Last One Leaves
Back Stage with Lou Reid
and Fred Travers
A genre busting band when they were formed and began performing (rarely) in Washington D.C. in 1971, The Seldom Scene introduced elements of folk, rock, and pop music into bluegrass, music that was ripe for interpretation within a bluegrass format. Once revolutionary, they have become one of the most beloved and respected bands in bluegrass. Now, with no member of the original Seldom Scene playing with them any longer, the four longest running members have been together longer than the original band. They're always a joy to see and hear. The Scene played two sets on Saturday and a next-to-closing long set on Sunday, guaranteeing that a good chunk of audience would stay through the last day.
The Soggy Bottom Boys
The Soggy Bottom Boys, formed by T. Bone Burnett to sing background 1930's music for the hit film Oh, Brother Where Art Though seldom perform. Every member of the band is busy in his own band and in the studio. Therefore it was a treat to see them together on the stage at Gettysburg. Their program was interesting and varied, providing numerous examples of the source materials for bluegrass found in blues, swing, honky-tonk and other music from the first half of the twentieth century. Each member of the band has had a distinguished career in bluegrass and traditional music. One can only wish that they would perform more frequently.
Pat Engight & Barry Bales
Sidline closed out the evening with their fifth set of the weekend, yeoman work for an emerging top band!
Chris - Always Busy Behind the Scenes
Four day bluegrass festivals typically encounter a problem. After two or three days of listening to bluegrass music, jamming, visiting, perhaps a little drinking, and having a great time away from home, many people are ready to get home, take care of chores they have put aside for the weekend, and prepare for the work-week to come. They begin rolling out pretty early on Sunday morning, as a parade of vehicles heads to the gate. Gettysburg manages to keep a goodly share of its audience through at least part of Sunday by offering two special treats. The morning begins with a 10:00 AM gospel show presented by Dry Branch Fire Squad combining rousing gospel music, Ron Thomason's "sermon" and a closing rendition of "If I Could But Touch the Hem of his Garment" sung by the entire congre....er...audience.
Another band from the Baltimore/Washington axis, once an important center of bluegrass music's widening attraction in urban, industrial areas enriched by post World War II expansion, Patent Pending brings together a group of like minded people singing gospel and bluegrass music for the love of the music. This kind of high quality regional bluegrass band provides the meat and potatoes of bluegrass festivals across the country.
Country Gentlemen Tribute Band
With the death of Bill Yates in 2015 no members who actually played with the Country Gentlemen currently perform with the Tribute Band. The current band continues to tour playing covers of the Country Gentlemen. Singer/Guitarist Mike Phipps has a voice eerily reminiscent of Charlie Waller's. I never saw the original band live, but love to hear their recordings (at least most of them) so I can't speak to the spirit or energy with which this band represents the original Perhaps the greatest tribute to the original band lies in the number and quality of their songs that played by bluegrassers from top professionals to local jams.
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass
In 2016 Danny Paisley was named IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, a tribute from the professional membership for the hard driving, traditional bluegrass he sings and plays. While his and his family's roots may be in North Carolina, they represent the bluegrass tradition developed in Baltimore's bars and at the major venues in northern Maryland and Southeastern Pennsylvania at Sunset Park and the New River Ranch, hotbeds of traditional bluegrass and country music from the late forties into seventies. Two families, the Paisleys and the Lundys have been the core of The Southern Grass since they were formed by Danny's late father, Bob. The emergence of Ryan Paisley on mandolin represents at least the third generation of this remarkable band with roots deep in the Pennsylvania's Chester County.
Traditionally, Seldom Scene, along with Dry Branch Fire Squad. both fixtures at Gettysburg since the beginning, plays a long set in the afternoon. Long time fans wait for this leisurely, pretty informal set, often featuring some dialogue with the audience and plenty of songs sung by request. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, it's simply bluegrass heaven.
Southard Audio - Jason Misterka & Jesse Stover
Southard Audio provides the consistently high quality sound heard for years at Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. Over the years their highly professional operation has enhanced the quality of the musical and visual experiences for festival and event attendees throughout the Middle Atlantic region and beyond.
Remington Ryde closed out Sunday afternoon to a small, but enthusiastic crowd, as people wearily headed for home after another four days of experiencing one of the very best bluegrass festivals anywhere.
Billy Lee Cox
Farewell for Another Year!