With the desperate need to experience a change of scenery, a plan to get up to Atlanta to visit friends completely morphed into a musical journey that transported me through several Southern cities.
Those of us who live in South Florida know the drive can seem like a week long just to get out of the state, therefore, in order to get the most of my time away, jumping quick flight to Atlanta was wise choice. Including my spontaneous musical counterpart and friend in my plans was the other wise choice besides the obvious fact that she picked me up in a sharp looking white convertible, she too, is impulsively willing to follow her ears, wherever they may lead.
Night one led us to the bar/restaurant The Tin Roof, on the outskirts of Atlanta in Briarcliff, to hear a great band of musicians called The Employee play an acoustic set of covers and originals (a.k.a. Stokeswood when performing their electronic pop originals.) To hear this Atlanta-based band do an acoustic jam was a rare treat, seriously folks, not a better way to spend a Thursday night in the ‘burbs.
My dear friend and once-upon-a-time-college DJ/radio personality extraordinaire during her years at UGA interviewed every musical (and some political) personality that came through Athens. Through social media she has been reconnecting with some of the talent from that period, including Glenn Phillips, the remarkable guitarist, who Lowell George, of Little Feat, called “the most amazing guitarist I’ve ever seen.” Phillip’s little known, Hampton Grease Band, opened for numerous bands over the years including The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Frank Zappa and John Lennon. Phillips’ style is known to have influenced the music of Widespread Panic and Phish. Indeed this brilliant musician has been around for years producing great music and on night two, at Steve’s Live, it was obvious that his hands can still perform with the expertise of a young surgeon’s and that his music has the heart and soul of a man who has lived. Brilliantly moving. In fact, his CD became the soundtrack for the continuation of our ride through the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Glenn Phillips’s show ended at 11 leaving just enough time to get across town to Terminal West to catch Stokeswood jammin’ the stage complete with a fantastic light show and video backdrop. Stokeswood describes their style as “electroacoustic – an electronic dance beast without losing the aesthetic or the lyrics.” Utterly a different band from the night before (hence the same band/different name), we walked into a hive of frenetic energy on stage and in the audience. Impossible for anyone to stand still at a Stokeswood set. They played the crowd favorites including many from In The Field of Vibrations album. They also rolled out a few new songs on the receptive crowd, still in the style they are best known for. The tightly cohesive band played hard and solid for one long, exhaustive set, building on the frenzy of their fans. A good night all around indeed!
Day three began with a beautiful, top down, wind in our hair drive through the hills of Georgia into Tennessee as we made our way to Music City. Nashville, with it’s vibrant downtown scene and pockets of hip communities, combined with the friendliness of the Southern charms and comfort foods, as well as a prolific music scene makes it one of America’s best cities to explore.
How many times have you walked easily into a concert arena without so much as a sour face, groan or shove? We made our way into the Bridgestone Arena to take in the Avett Brother’s show. You know you are witnessing greatness when you walk into a show with little knowledge of a band’s music nor any expectations and within minutes feel as though you are being given a private concert of some of the most brilliant and charismatic musicians you’ve ever seen. With no stage production other than a couple of video screens for close ups, this band poured it all out on the stage with movement and vocals that captured the full attention of the arena. About three songs in, I momentarily snapped out of a satisfying trance to look around the arena to see every single face experiencing a trance of their own. The last time I saw an entire audience captivated like this was Springsteen’s Born to Run Tour ions ago. Up until this show, I repeatedly said that Cowboy Mouth is one of the best bands to see live. Avett Brothers have as much or more energy with the same obsessed fans, only the Avetts’ musical talents reach across the spectrum of instrumentation – a bass drum powered by Scott Avett while strumming on either an acoustic guitar, banjo or fiddle; Seth Avett on acoustic guitar; Bob Crawford on stand-up bass, sometimes electric bass, and Joe Kwon with his cello strapped on his chest so that he could easily move across the stage. Every one of these players are one with their music/instruments in movement and rhythm. Their style is described as a blend of bluegrass, country, pop, rock, honky tonk, ragtime and sometimes with a punk edge. No other band with their style comes to mind. They are The original Avett Brothers.
Leaving Nashville was bitter sweet as we drove up into the misty Smokey Mountains, alternating our tunes between the Stokeswood, Glenn Phillips and The Avett Brothers. Though our journey continued through North Carolina and back with many more musical experiences of singer/songwriters in numerous small venues the above mentioned will be forever etched into our musical memories.
Meandering from music hall to honky tonk is a highly recommended way of the highway.