Friday, September 24, 2010

Grant Peeples - Okra, Ecclesiastes, and Leftneck Honey

Grant Peeples

Grant Peeple's arrived at the European Street listening room in Jacksonville last night with the latest rendition of The Peeples Republik Band, and in his purely Grant Peeples' way, entertained the heck out of a pretty decent Thursday night audience. Every move, right down to his scripted sales pitch for Sopchoppy's own LeftNeck Tupelo Honey (attractively modeled by the lovely Susan Brown), was designed to exploit his audience's attention -- in order to instill his version of their own good. Grant doesn't just have a point of view, he IS a point of view. What you hear...and what you see... is exactly what you get. The evening was a nearly perfect mix of Grant standards (The Hanging) and new tunes (My People Come From The Dirt) for his planned third recording that he'll start working on in November.

Susan Brown

Grant takes his audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, slipping from the far side of musical humor  to the bottom of an emotional pit dug deep in the dirt of rural, impoverished Florida -- the significant bits of this state that they don't advertise to the tourists. And last night he was spot-on with a crew of talented musicians for support. Mike Legacy flat picked lightening fast lead guitar licks that were slick enough to impress, yet had just enough rough-around-the-edges necessary to the Peeples ambiance.

Mike Legacy

Eric Avlar, a music student at Florida State University, who was told he couldn't study the mandolin there, took up the bass instead. Eric supplied a sure steady, and often inventive foundation. How often to you get to hear a bass solo in a folk or americana tune? We got a great one last night. Eric also picked up the mandolin on short notice and tastefully filled in the blanks...

Eric Avlar

Susan Brown, who has been featured on these pages previously for her ever refined performances with partner Jamie DeFrates, added the feminine counterpoint essential to the Peeples' music. Harmonies and solo passages beautifully sung also point to the versatility of Grant's writing. Not many tough guys can write well for a woman's point of view. He does that really well.

Behind the band and generally out of camera range sat Randy Judy, providing percussion accents with a set of bongo drums, an inverted cardboard box, and a set of drummer brushes.

Overall it was Grant Peeples entertaining his people at his philosophical and musical best. Not to mention that song "Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns". You'll need to buy the new CD -- or track Grant down in performance before he hits the studio in November to hear that one. It can be a struggle to be a niche musician in a country with a 15 second attention span and an addiction to dance music. Grant Peeples is capitalizing pretty well in that situation. His fans, including me, hope that he can raise enough capital to continue raging against the machine for a long, long time to come.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gamble Rogers Folk Festival Benefit Concert -- Good Stuff!

This past Saturday evening, the fine folks who run the Gamble Rogers Folk Music Festival in Saint Augustine each spring were kind enough to put together a show to benefit that incredible event. The Festival honors local musician-hero James Gamble Rogers, who died in 1991 attempting to save a drowning tourist off of Flagler Beach. The benefit featured acts native to Saint Augustine -- some of the finest around -- and was hosted by Gamble's protege, Bob Patterson, who kept us laughing and crying with his tales of Gamble and assorted personal misadventures...


The show was opened by the Morse Family Band -- mom and her five talented kids who combined have that special sonic blend that can only be attributed to DNA. A sweet blend of old-time and gospel tunes, spiced with a bit of bluegrass for good measure. Look for their first recording, which should be available by the end of the year...

The Morse Family Band

Next to take the stage were Jamie DeFrates and Susan Brown -- two of my favorite people on the planet. Original songs sung by voices that soar to impossibly beautiful places and land dead in the center of your heart. Guitar wizardry that compliments the melodies and lyrics perfectly. Their version of Jamie's "Gravity" ends with Susan and Jamie vocally playing off of each other as if Newton discovered the physical concept specifically for them -- and for our enjoyment...

Jamie and Susan

Describing Charlie Robertson and his music is like trying to explain calculus in ten words or less. A complicated man with an intellect as broad as the sky, the use of derivatives might well be necessary to calculate the number of words - meaningful words - Charlie can fit into a song. Dealing with mental health damages and the Dalai Llama's birthday in the same breath. Or a chain saw wielding retired priest. Or the unfortunate and unknown demise of a mutual friend... Charlie is one of Saint Augustine's great gifts to my philosophical experience.


Last, and certainly not least, we were treated to Men Of The House -- a father, his two sons (both classically trained violinists turned hard core fiddlers), and one of those Morse boys on banjo. The guys don't play music -- they attack it with a spirit and passion that is both rough and resounding. Irish bar tunes, foot stomping medleys of celtic fiddle tunes, a sweet Jay Ungar waltz. Speed and caution, foot slamming and tip toes. Broken fiddle bridges and audience rocking speed-burner strumming that left bow hair strewn around the stage like so much straw.  That's what happens when you treat your violin like a rip saw. Cool.

Men Of The House

Great music for a great cause among great friends. Can't ask for much more than that....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grant Peeples -- One Unique Individual

Grant Peeples calls himself an "Americana" musician / singer-songwriter. The first time I met Grant he scared the $#!t out of me... and that's a good thing -- or a SWEEEEEEEET deal... a bit scruffy around the edges, shaved head, tatoo or three. His music rises from the dirt. Gut level, feel the pain, been there, got the rash pureness that you don't hear much. Truthiness. He'd hate that. Maybe not.

Next time I met Grant we hugged like long lost brothers. With different mothers AND fathers. But this man gets to me. He has the guts that I don't have -- to take the chance with the contents of your heart and soul, expose it to the world, and just hope it pays you back enough to make the next gig. Here's a bit of Grant's ruminating about the recent Americana Music Conference in Nashville:

What the hell is Americana Music?
It’s sort of a running joke at the annual Americana Conference:    What IS Americana Music?  
 The definition I myself came up with this year was:    “Americana music is the music you don’t hear when you are scanning the radio dial.”    Cute, huh?
I had almost compartmentalized the proverbial  “conference experience” and moved on.   But then, in the USA Today this past Tuesday, there was a huge story about Robert Plant. (Yeah, the Lead Zepplin dude.)    Robert Plant and Alison Krauss had THE biggest record on the Americana charts last year, “Raising Sand”.   
And now,  this year,  Mr. Plant has assembled an All-Star cast of band members to form, “Band Of Joy,” which is sure to be the #1 Americana touring act between now and the NEXT Americana Conference.
So…I have to ask:   Was I the only one that noticed that the USA Today story never ONCE said “Americana” music?    They called it “American” music.    Damn. Every time I think this Americana thing might be getting some traction, I realize the truth is....the wheels are still spinning.   
Can anybody say:   “Mar-ke-ting-con-sul-tant?”
Grant will be making an in-person live appearance in Jacksonville next Thursday night (September 23), 8:30 at the European Street Listening Room on San Marco in Jacksonville. I'll be there annoying the crap out of him with my camera. You'll find photos and a review here. In the meanwhile... check this out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Gatorbone Trio - Photos and Review

Lon, Lis, Gabe

Another Saturday night at the European Street listening room on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville. Another fantastic ninety minutes of the best acoustic music Florida has to offer...  The Gatorbone Trio, Lis Williamson, Lon Williamson and Gabe Valla, blend flawlessly into a montage of restfully simple to startlingly complex vocal and instrumental bliss. In their various incarnations (depending on who is performing with them) as the Driftwoods, The Gatorbone Band, or the Trio, these folks more than anyone I know should be performing on the biggest stages before the biggest audiences. They are as good as anyone out there today.


Lis Williamson is the vocal heart and soul of the trio. Her sweet, lilting, voice is equally at home with her original 1940's style tunes ("Do the Town", Deep") from her recently release solo album "Deep", to American roots tunes like her self-penned "Cracker Girl", to tragic ballads like "Bell of the Mine". ANd lis is no slouch instrumentally -- she strums her Martin guitar as an expert rhythm player while effortlessly grabbing complex jazz chords with her left hand like she was born to it. Her claw-hammer style banjo playing in excellent, and tasteful (even for a banjo!), adding variety and texture.


Lon Williamson  is the trio's backbone -- his effortless bass perfectly supporting the broad range of styles with a firm, tasteful foundation. His smooth harmonies blend beautifully with Lis's lead vocals, and when he takes the lead on one of his original tunes you can feel the depth of his commitment to the pictures he paints with his lyrics.


Gabe Valla. Wow. Gabe is simply the most versatile flat-picking guitar and mandolin player around. He is smooth, fast, complex, and intuitive on both instruments, and a creative composer of instrumental tunes (another style at which the trio excels). From bluegrass to ballads, Gabe puts together just the right blend of creative chord structures and lead breaks that leave journeyman guitar pickers like me wondering how he imagined that, and how his fingers covered the notes. Often adding a third harmony vocal,  self-effacing young man is the definition of musical talent.

Lon and Lis

So okay, I'm a little biased -- Lis and Lon are co-producing my new solo project and Gabe is recording some back-up instrumental tracks for me -- but these guys are the real deal. You can read more and LISTEN to a few of their tunes here. And for information on upcoming shows at the European Street listening rooms (including my band on September 25th), click here.