Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Okay - I have been on vacation all summer long. Well, actually, I have been quite busy doing other things. But the Austin City Limits Music Festival perked me back up, and I MUST tell everyone who did or did not see me interviewed on KEYE's 10:00 news tonight.

Ollabelle (with Austin's David Hamburger sitting in) was a marvel - Levon Helm's daughter Amy is the only member who does not play an instrument, and all five members sing. And what did they sing today? Pure, unbridled GOSPEL. Folks, it was a holy rolling afternoon with a lot of hot licks thrown in.

Good as it was, Ben Harper may have been even better. Singing his own gospel songs that can also be found on a brand-new CD by the Blind Boys of Alabama (who also played, but whom I missed), Ben explained - from the stage - that even a nondenominational atheist has to enjoy a good gospel song -- because even an atheist has to believe in something. Now we who love Ben know that his lyrics are replete with spiritual references and directions and derivations - including the marvelous "Diamonds on the Inside," maybe my alltime favorite Harper song. The band was jumping - and so was Ben (right over his conga player's head at least once) - and Ben was reminding everyone not to think more highly of himself than he ought to. Last year Stevie Winwood again reminded us to seek a "higher love," and Ben tonight reiterated that message. And some funny looking guy with a ranch outside Austin and a lot of yellow ribbons told a story about he had Ben jump into the pond in a sinkhole on his property yesterday as part of his introduction that celebrated his own friendship with the man whose second visit to the festival moved him upward from daytime player (oh, by the way, Robert Randolph jammed with him a year ago) to festival closing performer.

I did have the pleasure of attending all three days this year - two with my daughter and grandson that were shorter ventures for heat and energy reasons. Friday was marred by very poor sound for the wonderful Patty Griffin that meant her vocals were not loud enough and there was also some feedback and distortion that the musicians had not intended. Then the video screen went blank (Cingular stage) for Toots and the Maytals. And then we had to go. On Saturday, we again arrived late and left early - hearing some of the Gourds, a lot of Holly Williams, who it turns out writes and sings spiritual songs with a folk sound (this from Hank III's sister?) that are very good and very warm, and finally Monte Montgomery. I have to confess that I had been a fan via CD, radio, and TV (channel 15) and had not seen Monte live. The only word - WOW! Old hippie dude that I am, I compare the thrill of witnessing Monte make the guitar do things that others never dreamed it would do to watching Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin - he's at another level. ACL needs to put Monte on a much bigger stage next year. And did I mention that Holly will be opening for Kasey Chambers at La Zona Rosa in November??

I started off today with Kelly Willis - and after three kids she can still belt out a song better than any Shelby Lynne or (fill in the blanks) and make you wish she were your best friend or next-door neighbor so you could hear her sing every day in your backyard. Backed once again by the Greencards (a super wise choice for Kelly, as she gets backup vocals, fiddle, and mandolin - and even Robbie Gersoe's guitar - he is a regular sideman with the Cards - all in one package deal). To fulfill my quest, I had to leave a song or two early to hike halfway across the Ponderosa to catch Mindy Smith. Once again, it was a COME TO JESUS moment - you do want to hear more of Mindy, and you wonder why no acoustic bass for some of the songs. She has a tremendous range of emotions and sounds in her set -- so there is room for more subtlety in her band.

Next it was Thunder Chicken time with Papa Mali (who also made the KEYE news tonight) and Papa also interjected one of his spiritual songs into a funky mix of cornbread and greens. Papa just returned from a blues festival in Colorado where he was on the main stage and then hosted an after-fest jam with Cyril Neville sitting in with his band. How high can you get as a musician without certain noxious habits that Papa has eschewed? It doesn't get any better than the Neville Brothers - the last band I spent a little time with on Saturday and the pride of all of Louisiana where I spent many of my formative years. It was especially fun to see Beatle Bob jump on stage with Papa and groove to one of his songs.

Somewhere in the afternoon while sitting under the trees I heard the sounds of the North Mississippi Allstars wending their way into my ears. ANd then it was Bobby Bare, Junior -- not a country singer, but front man for a band that sounded more like the Beatles with an edge. Bobby has many songs that show his quirky sense of humor, but nothing displayed his persona more than the dark colored suit (complete with tie) that he insisted on wearing in the 95-degree heat. Just call him Bobby "Threads" Bare. Bobby plays the Continental from time to tome, and he made me smile. ON a side note, I was sitting next to an older couple who recounted how they had seen Bobby Senior in 1964 on their honeymoon (or just after it) when he was first starting out. Later I ran into the Bare band and told Bobby the story. He noted that his dad had played Fort Worth a couple of days ago.

I am headed down to Waterloo soon to pick up my Ollabelle and my Blind Boys with Ben CDs. On Tuesday night, I plan to be at the Cactus for a little girlie action (see Margaret Moser for details) - with Kerry Polk, the Ginn Sisters, and Jean Synodinos - who played a break set last Tuesday at Jovita's in between the Jenny Reynolds Band. And BTW, it was a very tired and sleepless (but fantastic) Scrappy Jud Newcomb who was the lead guitar in Jenny's band that night (along with Rob Hooper on drums and the fabulous Wil Landin on bass).

Finally, I have to mention that my buds from Dark Holler played the Threadgills' gospel brunch today and made the great food even better. Their next gig is at the Carousel the first Wednesday in October -- unless someone books them somewhere else first.

Two more things --

My pal Aaron Hamre and his band are all ready to play his good songs and looking for some gigs. Keep an eye out and do not miss his shows. The boy can sing AND play.

My good friend Tahni Handal has her long-awaited (at least by her) CD about ready for distribution -- working out the kinks of production -- some good good songs and a lot of Tahni['s own guitar (and keyboard) riffs, plus some great harmony vocals by Woody Russell and others. But Tahni is also working on putting a new band together to play her music -- well, she needs bass and drums and maybe a keyboardist (well, SHE's on lead!). Tahni for the record started out in music in heavy metal (aeons ago!), hanging out with guys from Motley Crue and such, then graduated to more sophisticated music styles. She's been in Austin about three years, but very quietly, playing acoustic solo gigs here and there.

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