As The Spin rolled onto the green hills of the Junebug Boogie Ranch just north of Cookeville on the second day of the Muddy Roots Music Festival, we wondered what the day would bring. A mostly clear sky meant little chance for rain, but the blistering heat meant it would be an endurance test for the hundreds of music fans already on the scene.
We were immediately welcomed by the familiar tune "Polk Salad Annie" echoing off the hills behind us. The Florida swamp-rock trio The Gladezmen kicked off Saturday's program on the main stage with a set of down-home blues and rock 'n' roll that got the shade-seeking audience whooping with the best of them. Dashing down the Muddy Roots midway, ducking in and out of tents for the occasional patch of shade, we soon discovered the Middle Tennessee quartet The Glade City Rounders laying down old-timey string-band music to a smaller but just as appreciative crowd.
The contrast between the heavy electric crunch of one band and the good-time acoustic sound of the other was a perfect way to begin the Muddy Roots experience. The apparent stylistic dissonances continued to unfurl throughout the day on three different stages. Traveling the circuit, we moved from the crankin' hick metal of Left Lane Cruiser to the astounding folk-blues one-man band Hangdog Hearts, and on to the raunchy psychobilly of Hellfire Revival. It was that mix of country and punk and "everything in between" that constituted the colorful spectrum of Muddy Roots. The stylistic hues changed, but the intensity of the performances remained consistent — from the simmering infrared of front-porch bluesman L.C. Ulmer to the crackling ultraviolet of Swiss garage punks The Monsters.
But of course the question most people will ask about Muddy Roots 2013 is, "How was Black Flag?" For those not up on current punk-culture kerfuffles, the seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag recently reconstituted with Muddy Roots as the first stop on their U.S. tour. The current lineup includes original guitarist and core member Greg Ginn, plus Ron Reyes (the second vocalist to front the band in its early years) and two younger recruits, Gregory Moore on drums and Dave Klein on bass.
Leaving the question, "Are reunion tours truly 'punk'?" aside, the "registered trademark" version of Black Flag delivered a great set of the band's best known songs. Ginn remains an amazing guitarist, and Reyes still delivers a heaping serving of punk fury. In fact, if The Spin had plunked down cash solely to see this act, we would have left satisfied. But taken in the context of the day, there seemed to be something missing. Of all the bands we saw at Muddy Roots, Black Flag's performance was the only one that seemed like a concert — the only time we sensed a divide between band and audience.
We couldn't help contrasting Black Flag's set to that of duo Sean and Zander, which we saw earlier in the day. Both veterans of the same L.A. punk scene that spawned Black Flag, Sean Wheeler (Throw Rag) and Zander Schloss (The Weirdos, Circle Jerks) now play acoustic folk music that demonstrates no punk pedigree in form, but heaps of hardcore spirit and indie attitude in function. Their performance demonstrated the Muddy Roots aesthetic in full flower. In reality we were spectators, but we felt we were just as much a part of the "event" as the musicians onstage.
It's been a roller coaster year for Nashville's Dead, the local blog/promotion machine/record label which emerged from the garage-revival scene some four years ago. Last year's birthday party was over the top in that good sort of way, boasting two nationally touring headliners in a warehouse bursting at the seams with excited fans of all stripes, the good vibes indicating a bright future for a scene now reaching its adolescence. In February, ND co-founder Ben Todd's death sent a shock wave through the community — it was a tragedy to which it responded by making Freakin' Weekend IV a massive public celebration of Todd's life and his contributions to local music. By comparison, Monday night's fourth birthday party felt more like an intimate family gathering — a trip back to the garages and basements where Nashville's Dead was born.
The Spin began our evening by catching Oblivians' Greg Cartwright at East Nashville's Fond Object — the record shop owned in part by Ettes frontwoman and Cartwright's Parting Gifts bandmate/co-writer Coco Hames. It was an intimate set of rock 'n' roll numbers culled from Cartwright's extensive catalog, but presented as solo ballads rather than in the sort of fiery garage-rock-blowout aesthetic Oblivians are known for. It was transfixing, and we're lucky to have caught it.
We hustled across down and shook an umbrella at the threatening sky as we shuffled down Elliston Place. Inside Exit/In, we found the newly reconstituted Heavy Cream, with Nashville's Dead captain Dillon Watson on bass and JP5's Rachel Hortman on the skins, set up in front of the stage with the crowd gathered around. Intense as ever, fire-breathing frontwoman Jessica McFarland took full advantage of being on our level, slam-dancing with us while the well-rehearsed band rumbled and chugged along.
Opening with a quotation from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy — "History is like a wheel ... Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope" — is not something you generally expect at a punk show, but it set the stage for the first performance of Cy Barkley and the Way Outsiders' new record, appropriately titled Mutability, which hit stores this week. The album showcases post-punk angularity seeping into the Way Outsiders' well-established hardcore barrage, a natural evolution for an energetic, old-school band. The live set, however, stuck to the core principles of fast and loud that CB&TWO have built their name on, pausing only to sing "Happy Birthday to You" to guitarist Mimi Galbierz.
Fictional Boys were the surprise hit of the night. Composed of members of local outfits Fox Fun and D. Watusi, the band backs up John Webster Johns, the Lou Reed-voiced singer-songwriter who had a track covered on White Fence's Family Perfume and who took the producer's chair on Cass McCombs' Humor Risk. The band appeared to be experimenting with the glam lifestyle, with everyone in some level of glitter and face paint but only Johns and drummer Asher Horton fully made up, so we giggled at an imagined dialog backstage — "C'mon guys, everybody's doing it, the girls are gonna love it." After the first few bars, we stopped giggling, as their sound hit a bunch of our sweet spots at once: electrified pastoral psychedelia in the vein of Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan, splattered with bratty glam. We're going to go ahead and demand an album as soon as possible.
Memphis' Ex-Cult were handed a tough break, thanks to some difficulties with the sound system that never quite got resolved. Even with that handicap, they turned in an impressive performance, the rhythm section growling and thundering while echoes of spooky psych, trad metal and juke-joint R&B howled around the room like pissed-off banshees. Summer single "Mr. Fantasy," cuts from their Ty Segall-produced LP, and one brand-new song premiered at the show rounded out a solid set.
Shortly before midnight, Oblivians took over, charging out of the gate never to let go. Guitarist and Goner Records founder Eric Friedl, drummer Jack Yarber and top-notch guitar-slinger Cartwright tore through two decades' worth of the craft they've turned into an art: the two-minute pop song cranked to 11. The band traded vocals and instruments fluidly, as much a testament to their skill and deep love for the material as to the common ground shared by the songs; Cartwright even goofed and started playing the wrong song once. Playing their hearts out to a crowd drastically thinned by the impending workweek, these three elder statesmen of the garage renaissance ultimately revealed a truth about music's place in culture, borne out by the continued success of Nashville's Dead: Record sales may come and go, but the joy of experiencing music with your friends is a permanent fixture, whether you're on the stage or in the audience.
kinda bummed about these picks. for sure woulda thought some of the nashvilles dead scene…
Thanks Gold. If his home base is in LA I can definitely understand now why…
Here's a link to the record. http://ponychase.bandcamp.com/album/parade…
Cherub is amazing!!! Check out their video for Doses and Mimosas!!!
He lives in L.A.