We continue on the road with wife and husband Avant Folk duo Shanti and Buck Curran, better known as Arborea. Read all the entries for this guest blog here.
Day 5: The Day of the Robbie Basho Tribute Concert
I hadn’t gotten to bed until 4:30am but somehow managed to get up at 11:00am. Shanti is nearly always early to rise, so she was fueling up with coffee. I already had anxious electricity running through me as we had a 5:00pm Load In at Johnny Brenda’s for the Robbie Basho Tribute Concert, so there wasn’t much time to relax.
Organizing the Basho tribute to benefit Liam Barker’s Basho documentary was definitely one of the most complicated musical events I’ve ever worked on.
I’d began with the idea of having it in Boston and Glenn Jones suggested contacting a promoter he knew, who organizes shows at an Art Gallery there. I exchanged a couple of emails with him, but from a promotional angle he thought a Basho tribute would be a hard sell in Boston. This tribute would also primarily focus on musicians from the East Coast so I had to think about the logistics of traveling for everyone involved. There had been a similar event successfully organized on the West Coast last year with most of those artists being based in Northern California. Glenn Jones was an obvious first choice because of his personal history with Robbie Basho, the friendship Shanti and I have with him along with all the past shows we’ve played together, and his contribution to the Basho tribute album that we produced for Important Records (released in 2010).
After I moved away from the idea of having it in Boston, I envisioned New York City as being another great location. Steve Gunn was also an early choice for the tribute and he’s based in NYC…but in the end Steve couldn’t do it. I’d then turned my thoughts to Philadelphia and the great community of friends we have there. It wasn’t until playing a show in State College, Pennsylvania with Daniel Bachman and Alexander Turnquist, that Philly became the focus. After the show we were hanging out at the promoters house, and Daniel and I started discussing the tribute and he encouraged the idea of having the show in Philly. Once that was settled it took months of going back and forth with venues and figuring out the best way to make the show happen. I have so many people to thank for investing their time with ideas and helping me organize the tribute as everything moved along….Steven Tobin of Fire Museum Records (who released our 2008 Self-titled album), Philly based musician Scott Verrastro, Philly native and guitarist Matt Sowell, Chris Ward and Nicky Devine at Johnny Brenda’s, just to name a few. The key person I have to thank for coming to my aid and really making the event a success is Philly based film-maker and musician Jesse Sheppard. I’m forever grateful for all the hours of work and brilliant sense of organization that Jesse helped provide. It just wouldn’t have been the show I’d envisioned without him. Production costs for this event were very high and Jesse had the brilliant idea of doing a fund raiser to help with artists guarantees, raising funds for the film, etc (we already had plans for him to film the concert for possible inclusion in Liam Barker’s film). Rewards to those who donated to the fundraiser, included a digital download of the filmed concert and a beautiful concert poster created by Mariano Rodriguez, who lives all the way down in Argentina. Even up to the last few weeks, we had complications with Glenn not being available as he was already being booked for another show in the area. In the end Jesse contacted me and told me we Had to get Glenn back on the tribute lineup…and that the other Philly show had just fallen through, so he was available. And so the tribute was finally confirmed for Saturday, August 23rd and aside from Shanti and I, the lineup would be…Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman and Ryley Walker.
We arrived at Johnny Brenda’s at 5:00pm and I quickly loaded all the gear into the Green Room upstairs while Shanti stayed with the van near the side door. It took us another 15 minutes to find parking…driving down various streets and around back alley’s near the venue. A huge relief was finding a parking Space directly in front of JB’s which had just opened up as I drove around again. When on tour, the risk of having your vehicle broken into or vandalized can be a big concern (especially in big cities)…so finding a safe place to park is essential.
After we had parked we headed back to the Green Room and soon Glenn, Ryley, Daniel, Shanti and I were all gathered together…catching up, relaxing and sharing some great laughs (perfect remedy for pre-show anxiety). Sound checks soon followed.
During our soundcheck, I got really concerned because I couldn’t hear my acoustic guitar very well, and what little I could hear didn’t sound too pleasant to my ears. When these kind of complications arise during soundcheck, it can definitely raise anxiety…but at that point, I pretty much resigned myself to hoping for the best. The sound can always end up changing drastically at showtime when a room is packed with people. Ryley Walker played first…he got on stage and greeted the Philly crowd and proceeded to down an entire pint of ale in one swigg. He then tore into his songs like a Wild Man…his weathered, warm voice sustaining, sometimes booming like a cannon in the room. His agressive, but equally delicate fingerpicking made the sound of his guitar roar and shimmer in the air. Unfortunately Shanti and I only got a chance to focus on a couple of Ryley’s songs, as we were overwhelmed with mental preparation for the following Arborea set. Ryley is really an incredibly talented 25 year old singer-songwriter guitarist from Chicago. He’s been compared to the likes of Bert Jansch and Tim Buckley, and certainly has that vibe. You can perfectly hear the influence of British Folk tradition on his music, through his beautiful interpretation of Anne Briggs ‘Go Your Way’:
(Full KEXP Session)
Ryley Walker playing at the Basho Tribute Concert. Photo by Jesse Sheppard https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ryley-Walker/1405815259669307
I actually only remember a few things about our performance. As I hadn’t planned on signing any songs, my complete focus would be on my guitar playing and where I was going musically within the rhythm and flow of Shanti’s voice and harmonium, or her voice and guitar as on the final piece. We performed ‘Black is the Colour’ that night, which was all the more appropriate for a Basho tribute, as I’d learned earlier this month that an influential musical moment for Robbie Basho was when touring back East for a bit after his move to Berkeley, California. On that trip he had an encounter with a woman who sang ‘Black is the Color’ and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar tuned to DADGAD. I’ve been playing ‘Black Is The Colour’ in DADGAD since we first arranged our version (listen below) so I was really surprised and excited to have learned something new of Basho’s past. The greatest challenge that night, was during our most delicate performance, our arrangement of Basho’s ‘Blue Crystal Fire’…the adjacent side room to the performance space is the bar, and it started to get a little rowdy over there and was bleeding into the performance hall. The noise and laughter was definitely a distraction for us. But having lots of experience playing in bars, we’ve learned to just grit our teeth and bear down harder into the music. Shanti’s singing was incredibly gorgeous that night…especially during ‘Black is the Colour’. We’ve been playing together for nearly a decade now and I have to say that it’s really such a deep pleasure performing with her. It’s such an inspiration that elevates my consciousness and compells me to play the very best that I possibly can. She’s always right there in the moment…providing such a beautiful foundation in everything we do. When it comes to songs where I’m strictly playing counterpoint melodies on the guitar, I often imagine her as the ocean and the waves, with all it’s strength and movement…and I feel almost like a dolphin, like I’m weightless and gliding through the water..occasionally circling around and playing in the crests of the waves. Another great analogy for playing with Shanti would be…as if we were in a synchronized dance together…but a dance where we aren’t allowed to physically touch…but that fire is there, and I want desparately to hold her in my arms. And so the Dance envelopes and consumes, and takes me away.
Arborea performing at the Basho Tribute Concert. Photo by Jesse Sheppard
Glenn Jones was next and he played the guitar with the reserved confidence and lyrical grace that he is known for. Musically and personally he really provided the foundation for the entire event…being a direct link to Basho. Laura Baird joined Glenn for a duet in which they both played Banjo…performing a wonderfuly playful piece of music. During their performance, the noise from the bar had started to rise again, so after their performance I went into the bar to to ask folks to lower their voices. It was a great idea I thought, but didn’t make sense after a few minutes, because as I stepped into the bar, a few of the loudest talkers had suddenly went downstairs and the existing noise seemed to dissipate and was hard to pinpoint.
Glenn Jones performing at the Basho Tribute Concert. Photo by Jesse Sheppard http://www.thrilljockey.com/thrill/Glenn-Jones/
Acoustic guitarist and Virginia native Daniel Bachman played the final set of music that night and he played with such focus and passion. We’ve played a few shows with Daniel and he just gets better with each gig. I actually had an incredible transcendent moment during the performance of one of Daniel’s new un-titled pieces. Time seemed to stand still as his playing seemlessly shifted from a very Americana feel to an Eastern (Raga) section. The flow of Daniel’s right hand was just awe inspiring and he played with eyes closed and his head tilted down and to the side, slowly pulsing in time with the rhythm. He was lost in the heavy currents of music that were flowing out…as if a mighty river had broken through a great Dam and was rushing him far away (and all of us listening)…heading somewhere beyond the realm of our solar system. Thankfully Jesse Sheppard captured all this on video. We all have others to Thank for helping with the event that night…Keanne Irwin, Leah Fenimore, and Frank Reis who worked the merchandise table for all the artists. Artistically the Basho Tribute was an incredible success. Though it didn’t sell out, we still had a nice size audience who really appreciated the event…the management at Johnny Brenda’s was extremely happy to have hosted the event, and we raised a little money to go towards the film. The night however, with everything going on, was nearly a blur and we soon found ourselves back at Frank and Keanne’s in Germantown…and well, after nearly a year and a half of working on the tribute, it was time to relax, breathe and Celebrate with some pints of Ale…which led to another 4:00am bedtime!
Daniel Bachman performing at the Basho Tribute Concert. Photo by Jesse Sheppard https://www.facebook.com/danilbachman
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