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Fire on the Mountain Music Festival, Sonora, California

 

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   Pretty Boy's Corner

August 14, 2010
   



We are up and loaded in the van by 7:30 am. It is cool and foggy as we drive out of the Bay Area. Once over the hills, however, the sun is shining and it looks to be a warm and pleasant day. It is not too hot, nor is it too cool. It is just right.

Once in Sonora we pass the fairgrounds where the festival is being held and go to the hotel to change for the show. The hotel is very accommodating. It is only 10 am but one of the rooms is ready for us to check into. We load our luggage into this one room and everyone changes. Another room becomes available and Susan and I take it. We will need to get the rooms for Donto and Tommy when we return after the festival.

Over at the festival we drive Big Mama right up to the big stage we will be playing on. The Alistair Greene Band is already into their set as we pull up. They sound good which sounds like a southern blues rock trio. The bass player was using a pick on a Jazz bass which gives you the consummate Barry Oakley sound typical of the early Allman Brothers.

We are greeted by an eager bunch of volunteers that want to help us get our gear near the stage and ready to go. Although everyone was great and helpful, Mike was the guy I dealt with the most. He was extremely helpful. We get what we need out of Big Mama and check in at the artist's table. Donto and I are going to use the backline so we leave our gear in the van. Susan goes off to the merchandizing area to set up. She is disappointed that she does not get to see the bands from the merchandising area.

After the Alistair Greene band is done, we take the stage and have about 15-20 minutes to set-up. From the get go, the soundman doing the monitors on stage worries us. He is confused over how the in-ear monitors are going to work and when we ask for certain things in our monitors it takes him a while to find the correct patch or program to send it to our individual monitor.

We start our show which is to be a seventy-five minute set. There is a large crowd already assembled for our show. It looks as though most of the seating area is full except for way in the back behind the main mixer. They are digging it and their response is enthusiastic after each song. I wish I could say the same for the band on stage. The sound was difficult to deal with while we were playing. There was a low mid-range pitch that occurred every time Laurie spoke or the ladies sang. The monitor guy seemed oblivious of this ring but it was annoying the hell out of us. Anytime we asked him to do something it made the situation worse. At one point he had the kick drum blasting through our monitors so Laurie walked over and asked him to get rid of the kick. His solution was to turn all our monitors off, so Tommy, Donto, and I had to finish the show with only the house speakers as our guide. Gratefully we are seasoned pros who can deal with this but as Tommy said afterward, "It throws you off your game." At times like this you just have to go on faith that what we are playing and singing is getting heard out in the audience, after all, the audience are the most important people at any performance. It seems that our difficulties on stage are not affecting the house sound as the audience response after every song and some solos gets a healthy round of applause and cheering.

We finish our set, put away our gear, and move Big Mama. Tommy and I move Big Mama away from the staging area to give room for the other bands that are coming in to set up. As we pull away we hear Rick Estrin and the Nightcats start their set. Rick is a good harmonica play who has a dynamite guitar player by the name of 'Kid' Anderson. The Nightcats also has an upright bass player which sounded good. His style of blues music is jump with a little bit of Cajun peppered into it.
After we get Big Mama situated we go back to the merchandizing area. When we get there we see a good size line of people waiting for autographs from Laurie and the band. CD sales are going brisk and I believe that this audience was pleasantly surprised by this relatively new band on the festival scene. I hope they hear a lot more of us.

Back stage throughout the day inside a building there is food and drinks available for the bands, their support people, and the volunteers. There are clean restrooms also in here. Very cool. Porta Potties can be miserable places to do your business, especially on a warm day if you know what I mean.
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats are followed by Nick Moss and the Fliptops, Michael Burks, Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, and the Tommy Castro Band with special guest Deanna Bogart. What a line up. Not a filler band in the bunch. To top this off there is an indoor stage with five other bands performing and another stage where workshops are being held. These workshops included a guitar workshop, a workshop on harmonica playing, and a workshop on woman in music that included Laurie, Deanna Bogart, and Valerie Johnson. Susan and I attended the Woman in Music workshop to support Laurie and to represent the band. Deanna had her tenor sax, Valerie had a washboard and tambourine, and Laurie had her guitar. They started with an impromptu blues where they all three made up their own verses. This was very cool. They then answered many questions and finished with another impromptu blues based on 'Dust My Broom'.

As the day rolls on it is fun to walk about and check out the vendors and hear all the great artists performing during the day. Nick Moss and his band put in a fine set, Michael Burks sounded great as usual, and Roy Rogers' band was exceptional. Carlos Reyes joined Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings on electric violin and what a talent. Roy and his band love to camp on a New Orleans type sound with a good taste of Delta blues thrown into the mix. Roy plays a great slide style guitar on acoustic instruments and at one time he played a 12 string dobro-like guitar. I like his rhythm section and I got to talk to his bass player, Steve, at the hotel the next day. They are based out of the Bay area.

The evening is running long and, after Roy and his band finishes their set, there is supposed to be a piano jam with Deanna Bogart, Piano Willie, and Tommy Castro's piano player. They start setting up for Tommy Castro and the piano jam. It is getting late. According to the schedule of events the shows are running at least 1 ½ hours behind. If blame was to be placed on the delay it would have to be on the sound crew. They have caused many delays during the day. By this time the sun has gone down. For what seems like an interminably long time the crew is trying to set up for the last act. Castro has his own soundman working the stage. They are trying to get the three piano players and Castro's band set up at the same time. At times Castro's soundman looks like he would like to strangle the sound crew for their ineptness at doing sound. I don't know. It could just be me, but he looked exasperated.

Finally, the piano jam gets under way and it is underwhelming. The sound is not good and they spent a lot of time setting up mics for each piano player but no one is singing. Huh?! If it wasn't for Deanna Bogart giving direction and playing with such awesome skill the whole thing would have been a waste. The highlight was when Deanna had all the pianists play a boogie on one piano. She started it out with a ripping stride bass part and chords. The other two joined in soloing with one hand on the upper registers. Deanna really showed her skills as an entertainer during this set. Glad to say that this set is finally over. It is now time for Tommy and his band.

The band starts out with, of all tunes, "A Good Fool is Hard to Find". This an Albert Collins that we have been doing lately. It sounds good but the band is having some balance issues. From where we are sitting the snare and guitar is on top of everything. The keyboard player's sound is negligible. It takes 4 to 5 songs for the sound crew to get something reasonably dialed in. Tommy's band, however, takes it in stride. Being the pros they are, they play their asses off no matter what. There's a good motto if ever I heard one. "Play your ass off no matter what." I really dig Scott Sutherland's bass playing. He has a real command of the bass and lays down a groove without letting his chops get in the way. He also has a stage persona that is fun to watch. His two tone pointy shoes also help.

Halfway through Tommy's set we decide that it is time for the LMB to load up and head for the hotel. There is a jam going on at the Sonora Brewery but I don't think anyone in the band is up for it. It has already been a long day. We load up Big Mama but during the load up we run into Michael Burks and have a nice chat with him. We swap stories about being on the road. Michael and his band works hard to do this thing called music. He tells us he was at the Arcadia Blues Club in Los Angeles on Friday night and then drove up to Sonora Saturday morning to play a 4 pm set at the Fire on the Mountain Music Festival. He and his band will then head home the next morning to Little Rock, Arkansas which is a 40 hour drive. They plan to drive straight through with no layovers. Michael says he will do most of the driving. What a nut. Whew that's either crazy or dedication to your art. If I ever start complaining about the touring life just remind me of this.

As we are talking I can hear Scott Sutherland taking a bass solo which is then followed by a drum solo. Kind of wish I was still out front to hear this. Oh, well. We head back to the hotel and get some sleep before our drive home tomorrow.

 
 
 
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