John Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, hailing from New Orleans, was the first band I had the pleasure of seeing during the 5th annual 10,000 Lakes Festival, and immediately I felt lucky to be able to see a band from the bayou so far up in the woods of rural Northern Minnesota. Cleary is an all-star of the New Orleans scene, and often tours with Bonnie Raitt, who has called him "The ninth wonder in the world." The New Orleans based band consists of Jon Cleary on the funky, funky keyboards, a 6 string guitar virtuoso who happens to be a very large, (you might say monster of a) gentleman, Derwin 'Big D' Perkins, Terence Higgins (of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band) does the drums and Cornell Williams plays bass in this high energy dirty south bluesy rock band. The weekend (lets get this party started already, it is Wednesday after all!) was off to a good start.
It was 2 in the afternoon on Thursday when Green Lemon's set begun, but by the way people were grooving to the Colorado quintet's synth-jam-rock, you might have guessed it was 3 in the morning at a Saturday night rave. Fairly new to the scene, Relix Magazine has suggested that they "could very well lead the next generation of jam bands". That's because Green Lemon has as much in common with the likes of Chemical Brothers and 311 as they do with what may be termed "classic" jam bands such as Phish. Their unique fusion of funk, reggae, jazz, and electronica make them stand out in the crowd, and makes for an intriguing and new sound. In typical communal fashion, Green Lemon invited a couple of guests from the band Bump, who would play the Saloon later in the evening, to join them onstage for a song or two, and had a strong showing at 10KLF.
Galactic is another New Orleans band, but they do not travel down the same roads of Blues music as Jon Cleary. They create their own sound that can only be described as New Orleans Cosmic Funk. Two bands from New Orleans? Fantastic! Galactic seldom sing lyrics, they simply jam out and get the folks to move their asses like it was the end of the funkin world.
The Disco Biscuits play dynamite psychedelic electronica and had one of the most enthusiastic, "east coastie" audiences of the weekend. Even before Umphrey's McGee finished on the Main Stage Thursday night, hundreds of young festival goers had made their way across the concert bowl to where the four piece, Philadelphia based outfit would soon take the stage. "How many times have you seen these guys?" a young man asked me, motioning toward the stage where the Disco Biscuits would soon be playing. "None actually, this'll be my first," I replied.
"Oh man! I've seen 'em like...27 times! You're gonna love 'em!" he excitedly told me. Chants of "Bis-co! Bis-co!" filled the air as thousands more fans flooded into the Field Stage area after Umphrey's finished. Then the beach balls began flying above the crowds heads. There were dozens of beach balls of varying sizes bouncing off people's heads; some were insanely oversized with many glow sticks floating around inside of them. Along with beach balls were hundreds of brightly colored glow sticks and a gigantic inflatable caterpillar, and the bright flashing lights emerging from the stage throughout the performance created the illusion of being at some sort of a beach rave. Bisco had the crowd moving in a dazed hysteria when I left to go check out Cornmeal.
Entering the Barn Stage area, where Cornmeal playing, I thought to myself, "Now, *this* is where all the Midwestern kids are at". When you think of Bluegrass, you don't normally think of Chicago, but the incredibly talented 5 piece Cornmeal may make you think a bit differently about Bluegrass altogether. Take a stand-up bass, a killer banjo, a fast paced guitar, and a wicked drummer, all of whom harmonize brilliantly together, and you have yourself a kick ass band. But, throw in a mean female fiddle player, one of the most skillful I ever saw, who also happened to have the biggest, happiest smile I ever saw on someone sawing on a fiddle, and what you've got is a down-home phenomenon. A phenomenon is exactly what you would have found on the Barn Stage at 11:30 Thursday night following Umphrey's McGee. Cornmeal is bluegrass electrified, maybe even electrocuted. Although the entire band are precise and tight musicians, it’s hard to take your eyes off that unassuming, humble in a Melinda Doolittle kind of way fiddle player, Allie Kral, who absolutely tears that fiddle up.
The Everyone Orchestra took to the field stage on a very hot and sunny beautiful afternoon, 11 pieces strong plus the conductor, Matt Butler. Butler conducted the massive collection of musicians (chosen from other bands performing at the festival) not with the traditional conductor's magical wand, but instead with the use of a dry erase board, creating on-the-spot cue cards to instruct the band. The audience got their chance to participate when Butler hoisted signs directing the crowd to “SCREAM,” yell “HEY” and, my favorite, the open-ended, “How lucky are we?” which had Butler waving his hands around at the glorious afternoon sun we basked under and danced in.
It was a Saturday afternoon session of dynamic instrumental funk. The few lyrics sung were during a rousing cover of Aretha Franklin's "Think", and a low key version of Phish's "Stash" by the keyboarder, during which the astute audience chimed in at certain points with the two claps that only Phishheads would know.
The second vocalist was a scat singer, who took his own turn with vocal instrumentation. Two drummers held the rhythm section down and banjo and fiddle solos abounded as well.
Toward the end of the set, Butler brought out someone from the Rex Foundation, an organization started by the Grateful Dead 25 years ago, to encourage people to donate money that would be used to purchase instruments for the Detroit Lakes High School music program. People seemed genuinely happy to be able to help such a worthy cause.
Next on the Field Stage was The New Riders of the Purple Sage, perhaps the only band that has been around longer than most of the festival attendees had been alive. This was by far the highest concentration of old Heads all festival long. The classic, old school hippies who witnessed the birth of what could be called the psychedelic cowboy genre were out in full force. NRPS started in 1970, when Jerry Garcia needed some steel guitar practice, and Dead drummer Mickey Hart and bassist Phil Lesh also were frequent contributors to the band. Some thirty-seven years later, the band is still on the road and sounding polished and vibrant as ever. The five piece band featured original member David Nelson on guitar, Buddy Cage (who replaced Garcia) on pedal steel, bassist Ronnie Penque, Michael Falzarano (of Hot Tuna fame) on the guitar and drummer Johnny Markowski.
Immediately following the String Cheese Incident's headlining performance on Friday night, the Barn Stage was packed with people and excitement as the Wizard, the weekend's emcee, introduced the hometown bluegrass heroes known as Trampled by Turtles. The Duluth-based TBT have been called "The Ramones of Bluegrass" because their songs are hard and fast and over within about three minutes. Unlike the Ramones though, these four young gentlemen play sitting down in modest folding chairs at every show. Dave Simmonett is the primary singer and songwriter for the band, and also plays a lightning fast guitar. To his right sits Tim Saxhaug, keeping time on the bass. Dave Carroll (aka Banjo Dave) is a banjo prodigy, and Eric Berry has been known to wail so hard on his mandolin that he actually breaks the strings. Together, the four had the breakout performance of the weekend. Few in attendance were unfamiliar with the band, and those who had not seen them before had certainly heard the buzz surrounding one of the weekend's most anticipated shows. TBT has become one of the biggest bands in the state in the last couple years, and have maintained and continued to grow an especially devoted following in the North Country.
A bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey is often shared between the boys onstage between songs, and this night was no different. It seemed the crowd had enjoyed a splash of whiskey or two as well, for when the band kicked in, the place was no more than one shove away from a frenzied string instrument induced mosh pit. Ryan Young, the fiddle player from Pert Near Sandstone, was invited to join TBT for a good part of the show, which added even more to the flurry of string play. The show included a Dylan cover, a tribute to local folk singer storyteller Charlie Parr, and such standard TBT favorites as 'Valley', 'Never Again', and 'Burn for Free'.
An encore was demanded by the audience with relentless cheering and screaming, and to placate the fans, TBT covered The Beach Boys' "Sloop John B", once again showing the diverse musical ability of this band that has been known to perform everything from traditional Celtic harmonies to Nirvana. This was a show not to be missed.
Little Feat is a seven piece powerhouse of a band formed in 1969 by Lowell George and Roy Estrada, both former members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. After enjoying great success with the album and song "Dixie Chicken", Little Feat took a lengthy hiatus following the untimely death of George in 1979, but reformed with a new lineup in the late 80's and have been playing ever since. This was my first time seeing Little Feat live, and I was blown away. Saturday afternoon's set on the Field Stage was certainly one of the most recorded shows at the festival this year, with dozens of dedicated tapers setting up equipment near the sound board. The band had an outstanding female vocalist, an additional vocalist who specialized in scat singing, and two set of drums as well, one hand drummer and one kit player. Somehow, over the years the band has figured out how to incorporate both funk and twang into their sound, and everything in between. You could call it good old American music, because it has a little bit of everything it in. During their set, Little Feat covered songs by Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, The Band, and even teased Scarlet Begonias from the Grateful Dead. A very impressive and fresh show from an old time band.
Gov't Mule is the brainchild of Warren Haynes, who is considered the Iron man of the Jam genre. He has collaborated with countless bands, most notably The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, and The Dead, and was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as the 23rd greatest guitarist of all time. This was a show infused with a flare of reggae throughout the set, like the crowd favorite "Unring the Bell", and a tease of the anthemic "Get Up, Stand Up". Mule also covered The Beatles' "Love Me Do" in the middle of their song "I'm a Ram", before inviting Derek Trucks to play on the song "30/20 Blues". The Grateful Dead's disco masterpiece "Shakedown Street" was also teased (but not played, damnit!). Closing the set was a heartfelt version of the Allman Brothers classic "Soulshine".
Ratdog, the Saturday night headliner and creation of co-founding Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, delivered the most distinguished and nostalgic performance of the weekend. It was my first time seeing Ratdog, and the audience of 15,000-20,000 people at 10KLF was ready for it. As an added bonus, we were able to enjoy Steve Kimock with Ratdog all night, since Mark Karan, the band's usual guitar player, had been sidelined due to a medical issue.
Starting off the first set was the classic "Help on the Way > Slipknot", which was really exciting, and made me wonder whether they would come back to what is traditionally the third song in that trilogy, "Franklin's Tower".
They slowed it down considerably with the lesser known Dead number, "Liberty", then deliberately brought the pace down even more with "She Says" (the only original Ratdog song of the evening), "Tennessee Jed", "Cassidy" and "Lazy River Road". I was a bit surprised by this slower tempo the set had adopted, but when they teased "All Along The Watchtower" and launched into "Bird Song", one of the most lyrically and musically beautiful songs ever done by the Dead, all was forgiven, and I thought "This may just be the best of the dozen or so Dead related shows I have ever seen." And it had just gotten started. The first set ended on a high note with a hard rockin' "Big Railroad Blues", featuring the stellar guitar work of guest Warren Haynes.
Following a brief set-break, the second set began with "Mexicali Blues", then came Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall". When I heard the opening bars of the epic Grateful Dead signature song "Terrapin Station", I knew we were all in for a special treat. I had never heard a live "Terrapin" in my life. It is one of my favorite songs of all time and it was the most exciting moment of the entire festival for me.
After an extended "Terrapin" jam, Ratdog invited Keller Williams to join them for the remainder of the set, and launched into another mind-bending cover from that magical, mysterious decade, "Come Together" from the Beatles. "One more Saturday Night" followed (it was, of course, Saturday Night). Then came, as an encore, the ending of what Bobby had started with the first note of his show, the conclusion to that splendid "Help" triad, "Franklin's Tower". The show concluded with a nice "U.S. Blues". Ratdog had won me over, and I will definitely go see them the next chance I get.
Right after the Main Stage went dark for the weekend, while the fireworks were still exploding high in night sky, the Saloon began to fill up with the The Faithful Followers of God Johnson. God Johnson is a Minneapolis based 6 piece "rawk" band, founded by former Big Wu guitarist Jason Fladager. Having held the coveted weekly Wednesday night gig at The Cabooze for a couple years now, their shows have come to be known by the faithful as "The Service", "Church" or "The Altar". Also featuring former members of The Sweet Potato Project and Pleasure Pause, GJ boasts two outstanding keyboardists, one of which does a perfectly geeky, jerkingly accurate David Byrne impersonation. The rhythm section is held down by Jimmy Rogers on bass and Royce Rock (yes, that's his real name - and yes, he does rock) on drums. Kevin Sinclair, saxophone player, adds an extra dose of funk to the already stellar sound.
Opening their set with Pink Floyd's 'Have a Cigar', GJ soon had the audience (who by all standards should have been absolutely exhausted by this point after three or four nights of killer music) enchantedly swaying and grooving like it was the first show of the festival. Next on the GJ set list was 'Electric Shoes', one of many songs penned by keyboardist Tim Carrow, and a funky number that had the whole place jumping like the floor was indeed electric. "Take Me to the River" granted the other keyboardist, Scott Rourke, an opportunity to show off his precise, unmatched David Byrne-esque stage presence, as Al Oikari, keyboardist for The Big Wu, temporarily took over Rourke's keyboards.
Since the Saloon was so packed and everyone wanted to rock out one last time during the festival, security informed me that the Saloon had reached capacity and once I left, I would not be allowed to return. That was a drag, for sure, but I was happy that I got to see God Johnson away from our hometown of Minneapolis for a little while.
That disappointment was quickly forgotten, and replaced with jubilation, as soon as I stumbled upon Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk enthusiastically rocking the Barn Stage with The Rolling Stones classic "Miss You". Yet another band from New Orleans, (How lucky were we?!) Dumpstaphunk is a full on celebration of The Big Easy's music and culture. In fact, they've been pegged New Orleans' *Best* Funk Band by more than one publication of that fine city. They also boast not one, but two members of the legendary Neville family, and Trey Anastasio's drummer, Raymond Weber. Funk abounded throughout the set, with a passionate tribute to the late Godfather of Soul James Brown, and ending with a stirring cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)". Dumpstaphunk was a fitting "shake your ass and shout" kind of band to end a spectacular 5th 10KLF weekend.