Hail, Hail, Chuck Berry – The King Is Dead… Long Live The King.

I do not like writing these posts… especially in such quick succession… But this week witnessed the loss of some musical giants, like James Cotton, and now Chuck Berry.

Why does 2017 want to take up where 2016 left off? I guess that’s the somewhat evil nature of time.

“The King is dead, long live the King.” For someone fairly smart, it took me a long time to figure that phrase out…

Clearly the King died, and it is being announced… and then the new King is being praised and people are wishing him a long life. I know… don’t ask. Sometimes my brain is sluggish.

Some might argue that Elvis Presley was the King of Rock N’ Roll. I’m not so sure about that. I’ll go with Chuck Berry.

And so… the King IS dead… and I am not sure there is anyone ready to take his place. You can’t replace a legend… a Founding Father of Rock N’ Roll… one of the first inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame… You know… back when they were actually putting rockers in!

I have one bad ish story about Chuck… not about him, but a concert of his…

I had just moved out to California and a bunch of us hauled out to Temecula for the Wine and Balloon Festival… one of those all day food and music things… None of us were adequately prepared with clothing or sunscreen… or water… The food and water there was too expensive for us young kids… and so we were sunburned and wiped… and by the time the end of the day rolled around, everyone wanted to leave before Chuck Berry, the headliner, came on. But I got selfish and stubborn and mad that we came all the way out to see Chuck and convinced my friend Amy I think, to stay and that we’d drive home alone… She did NOT want to stay, even though I said I’d drive her car… but I basically threw a young adult tantrum… sorry… and it worked… and so I got to see Chuck for the one and only time.

I feel bad for the way I acted, but happy I got to see this amazing rocker!

And also, there was a couple on the grassy hillside behind the stage, totally getting it on… In full view of all of us concert goers… so yes half our binocular viewing was on them! Sex, no drugs (no water) and Rock N’ Roll!

What Chuck Berry meant to Rock N’ Roll is profound. He was the ambassador, he was a true pioneer… he was a showman… he WAS Rock! The way he wrote… the way he played… the way he sang… He influenced so many more to come and crafted an art form… a rollicking, rowdy art form.

Think about just these classics…

“Maybellene”
“Roll Over Beethoven”
“Rock and Roll Music”
“Johnny B. Goode” 

To quote the great Muddy Waters…  or was it Bo Diddley? “The blues had a baby and they called it Rock N’ Roll”!!!

Check out NPR and Wikipedia!

RIP to the Father, the King and guitar riff master!

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The Blues Is All About Feeling – It’s A Blue Friday For James Cotton

“The blues is all about feeling… If I don’t feel it, I can’t play it.” (James Cotton)

My passion for harmonica started in college. I was doing the Mee-Ow Show (an Improv/Sketch Comedy group) at Northwestern University… Go Cats!… and our live band, Dr. Bob And The Fakoktah Blues Band, featured Todd Weeks on harmonica, among several other instruments. I was hooked, and asked him to teach me a bit, which he did.

That summer we took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) bought me my first two harmonicas.I will never forget the first moment I was able to bend a note… It floored me!

For the rest of the time I was in Chicago, I would haunt the Blues clubs even more, getting to see some harmonica/harp idols like Sugar Blue, Junior Wells and my favorite, James Cotton. I would listen to their records over and over, trying to copy their playing. To this day, I play alongside of James Cotton And His Big Band – Live From Chicago (Mr. Superharp Himself) and “When It Rains It Pours” is one of my all-tike favorite blues tracks!

What makes this record even more amazing… is that I was there when it was being recorded (February 1-3, 1986 at Biddy Mulligan’s, Chicago, Illinois)… Same thing with The Clash’s Live At Shea.  Not bad places to be, let me tell you!!!

I’ll never forget seeing Cotton play one of those Biddy Mulligan’s shows with my friends and frat brothers Barry Flanik and Jon Weiswasser… and Ray “Killer” Allison giving up his kit so that Jon could get on stage and actually sit in!!!

The band that night was:

JAMES COTTON, harmonica and vocals
JOHNNY COTTON, trombone
MICHAEL COLEMAN, guitar/band leader
RAY “Killer” ALLISON, drums
EDDIE HARSCH, piano
DOUGLAS FAGEN, tenor sax
DANNY “BONEY” FIELDS, trumpet
NOEL NEAL, bass

“Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, Cotton learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) as a small child.” Quite a career and journey he had… For the rest of  James’ bio I will refer you to the Alligator Records site, his label since 1984. But suffice it to say, with his passing yesterday, the world has lost a true and profound Blues Legend.

There are not many legends left… so grab on to the Blues… turn it up… play it loud and pay homage!

And yes… I make that very same face!!!

RIP James Cotton. Tomorrow, I play for you.

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Mimosas And Music – A Pitch Perfect Sunday In NoHo

A special thanks to Gary Calamar for creating and curating this fantastic music series… To Julie Slater, Jason Friday and family for letting me hang at their table… to the Federal Bar… and of course to Matt Pond PA and Cranky George for making some kick ass music.

And yes, to get it out of the way… I did ask Matt Pond if he could get us some extra chairs. In my defense, I only got a profile at first, he was wearing black and is much skinnier in person. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it… and oh yeah… Sometimes… SOMETIMES… I am an idiot. Especially because I LOVE Matt Pond. His music is moving and beautiful and at least I got to tell him that. So yeah, I got to ask him for chairs AND tell him how much his music means to me, especially his song “Someone’s Daughter” which is at the top of a playlist I made for my own daughter, Julianna. This song continues to deeply move me.

Plus, he wound up using the chair story to get a good laugh on stage, so I can also say I helped him write a comic bit. So there!

“With the right music you either forget everything, or you remember everything.”

This is one of those great quotes that I have seen posted from time to time, on many of my friends Facebook pages… especially and obviously from the music lovers. Thanks to Nancy for reminding me of it… and texting it to me… multiple times… 😉 That’s technology for you.

But seriously, it is one of those quotes that just captures the power and meaning of music… Either we use it to escape our everyday lives and perhaps some pain and heartbreak… Or we remember every detail of every story that goes along with a great piece of music.

The first time I told a girl I loved her… Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell was our soundtrack.

When she dumped me on the public phone of my frat house… I kid you not… Genesis’ “Throwing It All Away” was blaring from the living room stereo.

And one of my go to, my life is not nearly as bad as these guys, but I want to forget everything for a while albums… Tears For Fears The Hurting.

But that was then… and this is this past Sunday.

First off, this series is free. Hello!
Second, you get a free Mimosa. Hello, again!
And the food to order is pretty good, so there’s that. The room is comfortable and the sound is great… though I did want to turn around a few times and tell some really loud talkers to shut the f–k up. What is with people? Why are you at a concert or performance, and literally trying to SHOUT ABOVE THE BAND??? I just don’t get it.

Anyway… a free show means you have extra pocket-money to buy MERCH! Though Matt and the band left before I could get my blue t-shirt and new CD… Doh! They were rushing to get to their Vegas show, so what can you do. (And no, this particular shirt is NOT available on their website. I checked.)

The last time I was at this music series I got to see Eric D. Johnson from EDJ and Fruit Bats and the always wonderful, funny and brilliant Peter Himmelman… who I just saw this past Saturday night.

For some reason I have missed a few shows in between, which kills me… but I am now back in the saddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This particular incarnation of Matt Pond PA was a lean trio, with Matt on vocals and guitar, Shawn Alpay on cello and Mel Guérison on violin, guitar and amazing harmonizing vocals. His songs are always smart and would fit into any number of movies or TV shows… they just have that weight and descriptive quality, and the ability to set or create a mood. I would almost describe his music as happy sadness, or gorgeous melancholy… and there is always a beautiful, lush quality to it.

His newest album, 2016’s Winter Lives is a mix of originals and covers, and it is easy to see who his influences are, especially with who he decides to cover.

We also got to hear Laura Burhenn from The Mynabirds sing with Matt on a tune from the new record… which was a real treat. I highly recommend checking them out, too… and just like her turn on Sunday, her vocals are stunning and ethereal.

Cranky George is anything but. They are a fun, trippy, lively and eclectic mix, with the energy of a Flogging Molly and a more fun, party version of DeVotchKa.

The band features Pogues accordionist, James Fearnley on vocals and guitar as well, brothers Kieran Mulroney (violin, guitar and foot cowbell) and Dermot Mulroney (mandolin, cello and foot mini-high hat), amazing music producer Brad Wood on bass (His credits will blow you away), and Sebastian Sheehan Visconti on drums. Many may also remember the Mulroney brothers from their previous and killer band, The Low & Sweet Orchestra.  

To let the boys tell it, they play “lullabies, sea shanties, murder ballads & foot-stompers”… and yeah, my feet did not stop stomping!

I was very excited to see this band, since Dermot Mulroney is not only an actor and a musician I admire, but was a few years ahead of me at Northwestern, and was one of the inspirations for me wanting to pursue and be a part of the Mee Ow Show. (The big student-run Improv/Sketch Comedy show) And yes, he is as nice as he is talented… the whole band is! So Go Cats!!!

And of course, spending time with my college buddy, Dean… a talented singer/songwriter in his own right, was great icing on the cake… Hey, wait… we didn’t have cake!

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For John Wetton… From A Child Of The ’80s

It’s been a while… I miss you! I realized my Best Of 2016 never posted, so in honor of the Grammy’s I’ll post that soon.
Heck, sometimes you have to go backwards to move forward… and no, that is NOT a political reference… Or is it???

So 2016 sucked… on many levels… but especially at the sheer number of artists, musicians and musical icons we lost… Devastating, really.

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And 2017 is not starting off any better… Yes, you can read that any way you like…
But on this occasion, I am talking about today’s loss of John Wetton.

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I am a true child of the ’80s, having grown up on ’80s rock… MTV and the birth of the Super Band…
Asia was one of my favorites. The band got me through some tough times… and when I need a pick me up, I still turn to them…

And even their album art kicked ass!

1990’s rocking “Days Like These” continues to inspire me to find joy… to celebrate the great days and use that energy for good.

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One of my college roommates and I… Barry Flanik… would blast Asia from our frat room. We loved those guys… Were those CDs or cassettes, Myron???

Asia in 1982 hit # 1 and still gets a regular rotation for me… “Heat Of The Moment” and “Here Comes The Feeling” were frat boy Rock N’ Roll anthems… Right, Barry?

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Alpha in 1983 hit #6 and “Don’t Cry,” “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” and “The Last To Know” were part of the background soundtrack to a few breakups…

I had the pleasure of seeing their unbelievable arena shows at least twice… Elevating drum stand… a gong set on fire… pyrotechnics… and yet the music was ALWAYS THE STAR… and more recently saw them in small venues like my local haunt, The Canyon Club!!!  And yes, they still rocked.. truly… and sounded so frickin’ good.

I’ll let Wikipedia give you his history and stats… but suffice it to say that I will miss this man… and this band… and I am yet again, seeing my musical youth pummeled, bruised and battered… Enough!!!  Seriously… and 67… way, way, way too young to go.

“John Kenneth Wetton (12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017) was an English singer, bassist, and songwriter. He was born in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in Bournemouth. He rose to fame with bands Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash.

After his period with King Crimson, Wetton formed UK, and later he was the frontman and principal songwriter of the supergroup Asia, which proved to be his biggest commercial success. Their self-titled debut album sold eight million copies worldwide and was Billboard magazine’s No. 1 album of 1982. He later formed the duo Icon with Geoff Downes (ex-Yes, ex-Buggles), and since the 1990s had a successful solo career releasing a large number of studio and live albums.

Wetton had a long career as an in-demand session bass player, and collaborated with many members of progressive rock bands such as Yes (including Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Billy Sherwood and Peter Banks), Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, and Genesis (Steve Hackett).”

 

RIP John Wetton, and thank you for the music. Sigh…

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By George, Bye George – The Music Never Dies

The world is in a spin… the load seems extra heavy, especially today.

Come back! 15 years gone but never out of our minds and hearts and ears… EVER.

Uncertainty, confusion and depression seem to reign. But there is sun… and it comes out each and every day… Let us hang our hats on that hope…

Let us be hopeful and optimistic… but always skeptical. We must always question… but WE MUST ALWAYS SEEK OUT TRUTH AND LOVE!

rs-george-harrison-1f4ac072-0d9c-41cf-8776-a48a68839277There seems to be two dates a year when certain music makes me sad… The day an artist I love was born, and the day they died.

Most of the time, though not always, their music makes me happy. I can listen to it without much thought that they are gone… without the reality of their passing.

I thrill in the music… the notes, the chords, the way the piece moves…
I ponder the lyrics and relate to them by what is going on in my own life… I tap into the universal truths they hit on.
I take the song for what it is… or what it was… and like any great piece of art, that song or album can change for me, depending on where I am in life, what emotional state I am in.

Great music does that… it grows with us. It starts off as one thing and becomes another. Like a great family movie that we watch as a child and enjoy on one level… and then constantly discover new things about as we grow older, become adults and have children of our own.

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Watching George Harrison and The Beatles had a similar arc. They started off as boys, with an almost innocent quality… and then, always in the public eye, they changed and grew… affected by the world and its joys, as well as its horrors.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of George’s passing. February 25 will mark what would have been his 74th birthday. There are reasons to be sad, of course, as his human body is no longer with us. He is no longer actively making music… entertaining… speaking out.

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And yet his soul is so alive… not only through the music he created as part of the greatest band of all time, The Beatles… but through his solo work and countless projects, including the always fun The Traveling Willburys.

mti3odgzmtq1mtu5nzawnduwHe is alive because of the good he left behind… and a true desire to have peace and love reign.

The radio can be deceiving at times… because we will hear a song… and for a moment… whether they are or not… that person… that artist or band is ALIVE. There they are, playing in our ears… touching our souls and heart… challenging our minds…

We take it for granted at times… though 2016 especially has shown us how fragile life is… and how our heroes… our own musical landscape can be drastically altered… decimated…

In fact, 2016 CAN SUCK IT…

David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, Paul Kantner… and I’ll add my favorite actor, Gene Wilder to that list… and that list is staggering…

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So today is one of those sad days… because we are remembering the day George died… the songs have an extra weight and gravitas… extra emotional punch… But let us also celebrate the life… the music…

Let a smile and some joy pass through those tears… and let us recognize the amazing impact he had on not only music, but causes and charities… and on life and making the world a better place.

Let us all have LOVE and PEACE ON EARTH

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Hineni… Here I Am… A Hallelujah For Leonard Cohen

I was all set to write a very rare political post on this page. Normally, I avoid that like the plague, as I want this blog to be about music, but the world changed two days ago and there are things that need to be addressed… spoken about… shared… or at least cleared out of my head. Brace yourselves… that post is coming. It has to… If nothing else, for me. And believe me, I know what politics does to people… to friends… to families… I get it. I see normally sweet people fight on my Facebook page in the most vicious ways when it comes to politics… and this election was the most disgusting, depressing and divisive I have ever seen.

But silence is death and speech is our inalienable right. So speak out we must. And speak out we will… Or at least I will.

11cohen_leonard_web1-master768For now, I am in a different kind of mourning. It was announced that Leonard Cohen passed away today at the age of 82. Not a lot of details are coming forth… yet… so I cannot help but think there may be a Bowie-type revelation… Meaning he was sick for a while… knew death was coming.

One need only listen to the first and title song off his amazing new album, You Want It Darker to sense this…

“Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

When I first heard this song a few days ago, I had a profound, but very different reaction. Like so many of Leonard’s songs… I seem to find them when I need them most, and this album has been hitting me hard.
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“Hineni” is a Hebrew word that means “Here I Am.” It is used in the Torah when G-d calls to Abraham, and he answers “Hineni.” It’s more than just saying I am here… acknowledging one’s presence and location… It is “Here I Am”… I am ready for whatever is needed of me… I am willing to do what is necessary…
“Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

This idea has been something I have even been studying for a while… but it came up in two amazing ways within the last few days… which made this song even more powerful for me… coincidental… remarkable…

Hineni is a Jewish and philosophical point of view… being ready to serve… ready to give of yourself… to make sacrifices and help a family member, friend or community… which is why so many Temples have Hineni groups… volunteers who help people when they are sick, or in mourning or for whatever. It is an unbelievably human and powerful idea.

And here’s the thing about Leonard Cohen… He was, essentially, a brilliant, a Jewish philosopher. There is so much about Judaism you can learn from his songs. And yet he was also ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996, after living in a Buddhist monastery for five years. Both religions, as well as Christianity, find their way into his songs… because he writes about human beings… all human beings… universal human beings…

And one thing that is abundantly clear to me, is that we are all, essentially… at our core… the same.

We need a roof over our heads… food and water in our belly… and love and kindness in our hearts.

Ironically, the other recent connection to the phrase Here I Am came up in Day 4 of the Deepak Chopra/Oprah 21-Day Meditation Challenge. Deepak talks about how we must be there for those we are in relationships with… our light must go out into the world… our love must cause freedom… we must be open to give… and we do so by saying, “Here I Am.” For our lovers… for our family… for our friends… and yes, if you believe, for our G-d… “Here I Am.”

Leonard was here… Leonard was present. And while I initially did not care for his voice (much the same as my initial reaction to Tom Waits) as I grew more wise and sophisticated and more learned in the ways of music, I came to love him deeply… to appreciate his sounds and words… his poetry and song… the stories he told and the worlds he revealed… the humanity he enlightened and shed light on.

I am so grateful I was able to see him at the Nokia Theatre on his last tour. He moved me and entertained me and made a soul searing impression.

And yes, I still want one of his hats!
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He had a deep yearning for understanding and knowledge… amazing insight into the human condition… He was a poet and story-teller… psychologist and philosopher… a singer/songwriter on another plane.

“Hallelujah” almost always brings me to tears… Jeff Buckley’s version… k.d. Lang’s… Rufus Wainwright… and of course Leonard’s… So many of his songs move me that way… And we will need them now, more than ever before.

Thoughts out to Elliot, his road manager… and to his family and friends and fellow musicians.

Let us honor him… Let us honor human beings… and Let us honor the world, by saying “Here I Am”… I am ready to help… to serve… to take care of… “Hineni. Hineni.”

Thank you, Leonard… Thank you…

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Fun In The Sun… Mostly! Strunz & Farah, Michael McDonald and Hall & Oates Rock Westlake Village At The Bluesun Mucis Festival

Ah, modern technology… Apparently this did not post a few weeks back… so better late than never… Enjoy!

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There are many things one can do on a golf course… Caddyshack, anyone?

I usually shank or hook… lay my balls out in the tall grass… or a hazard… or on the beach for a nice, sandy suntan… and yes, sometimes even for a lovely swim in the water. And yet, strangely, as long as the back holds out, it is still a joyous game… mostly. Okay, maybe not that often… It is when you are not cursing and complaining and talking about how frustrating a game it really is…

Of course, a good cigar and a flask of some really nice Scotch seem to go a long way… as does the location of the course. Hawaii or Pebble Beach overlooking the ocean does not suck.

So on Saturday, Sept. 3 a bunch of us grabbed our clubs (not really) trekked out to Westlake Village, CA… Okay, yes it is ten minutes from my house… and checked into the Bluesun Music Festival’s Innaugural Event.

We were not actually ON the golf course… probably a much safer bet from a divot and destructive point of view… but on the Driving Range, a place I seem to have much more success. It always works better in practice than in theory, right?

So how did I drive?  Well… Let’s just say this was not the easiest of shots.

Were there glitches? Yes. Food trucks ran out of food… only one out of eight wine vendors showed up… and there were other things I won’t mention here… as I’d like this to be purely about the music.

But… I would most definitely like to give special shout outs to Kale from Monster, a phenomenal line of audio products, and all the folks from DeLiese Cellars, who really stepped up when faced with thirsty crowds. Also, thanks to Linda and Matt from the Festival who were doing all they could.

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But let jus discuss the music… sweet music.

For those who do not know Grammy nominated Strunz & Farah, allow me to introduce them. Check this live performance from 2013 out!!!  They are guitar virtuosos who play some of the most enjoyable “World” music I have ever heard. Their styles and influences include Flamenco, Latin, Middle Eastern, Jazz and World Fusion. This makes sense since Jorge Strunz was born in Costa Rica, and Ardeshir Farah, comes from Iran.

I remember getting into them at college and thinking I was so sophisticated! 1992’s Américas is my personal favorite.

Some sound issues and a less than attentive crowd did not deter them, and they played a blistering set… that would also stand as an incredible guitar master class.

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The amazing actor, Robert Davi was on next and sounded great on a whole slew of standards. What a showman!

Then came the incomparable Michael McDonald. The last time I saw him play out here his voice was shot and I was afraid that his iconic pipes might be gone for good, but he sounded amazing. From the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan to his great solo records, his voice is one of the most unique in all of rock… that rich and resounding rasp that just cuts through the din and goes straight to the rhythm and soul. Mmm! He covered almost all of what we wanted to hear and got the crowd to their feet and dancing.

Some of the issues of the day began to fade… Not disappear… but fade. Good music is definitely a soother.

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Covers of “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” along with monster hits: “Sweet Freedom”, “Minute By Minute”, “What A Fool Believes” and “Takin’ It To The Streets” had us all singing along and up on our feet. Music DEFINITELY does that!!!

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Headliners Hall & Oates played a way too short set, but covered many of the songs we wanted to hear, though NOT “Kiss On My List”. Hey, it’s a testament to a band that they can have so many hits they cannot play them all.

They also sounded great and really seemed to be enjoying themselves… and watching John during the sax solos was a lot of fun. Seeing musicians take such pride and joy in watching other musicians, especially when they are sharing the same stage, is one of those magical moments a live concert can provide… and knowing that an artist or band is still thrilled by the music… their own music… and even songs they have played over and over… is what makes concert going a unique experience. Every show is different, because every audience is different… even if the setlist does not alter much from night to night.

They opened with “Maneater” and in addition to a great cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” hit us with “She’s Gone”, “Sara Smile” and of course, “Rich Girl”. This is another band who could have played another hour and still left us wanting more.

There is something magical about an outdoor concert, especially a festival or an all-day affair. Immersing oneself into the music is like receiving an infusion of energy and bliss… a life force. And the fact that this was almost literally in my backyard made it even better… so here’s to hoping the kinks can be ironed out… and that next year is smoother and better.

We need more music… Heck the world needs it now more than ever.

 

 

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