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The American Roots Music and Arts Festival

By: Sheryl Bryant

Sunday’s weather was already very cool but the sun kept the lawn seats warmer. The grass pass people actually fared better because those of us far enough under the seats were sheltered from what heat the sun would provide. All the seat people who were thinking ahead wore layers. Problem solved.

Sunday’s lineup was phenomenal. It played out like this:

Greensky Bluegrass
Trombone Shorty
Grace Potter
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Warren Haynes
Sheryl Crow
Willie Nelson
Eric Church

Grace Potter is a talented multi-instrumentalist with an amazingly soulful voice. If I were asked to describe her voice, it would be one part Rindy Ross (Quarterflash) one part Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) and one part Joyce Kennedy (Mothers Finest). The music she plays and the songs she writes mix sixties rock, seventies soul, eighties punk and nineties indie. That’s a volatile combination and the mixture explodes into numbers like “I Can’t Take It No More” “You Struck the Match” “Turntable” and “Empty Heart”. Potter is stellar on guitar, can bang a mean drum, and then packs a punch on the organ. Her “Amazing Grace/Take Me Down Medley was sensational, the guitar on fire with a Zeppelin-like mystique. After ripping through about 13 songs, she did a TKO on her round of the Stones’ “Not Fade Away”.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are an indie-folk band from Los Angeles. The band’s name came from a story that lead vocalist and front man Alex Ebert created during a particularly rough time (rehab, end of relationship) of his life. The music is loose and limber and Ebert allows himself to become a free thought expressionist on all his songs. Twists are taken at every turn with the Zeroes music, some into sixties psychedelics, some into gospel and some into spoken word. Ebert has amazing rapport and positive energy, connecting easily with his “following” on a very deep level. On the second song, Ebert popped off the stage and mingled affectionately, shaking hands and even hugging and dancing with one ecstatic lady, all the while still hitting every note vocally. Songs like “Truth” and “Home” and this writer’s personal favorite “All Wash Out” worked well for ES& the MZ.

Asheville native and the pride of North Carolina’s Warren Haynes stepped out onto the stage as the sun quickened its descent. The guitar virtuoso consistently captivates an audience with his guitar prowess. This evening would be no exception. Hitting hard with cuts off of his newest release, including the title track “Ashes and Dust”, Warren delivered “Company Man” (about his father) and “Stranded in Self Pity” (phenomenal fiddling ) among others. More than one tear was shed over “Soul Shine” a poignant song about a Daddy’s wisdom bestowed on his son. Clearly this is one song that seeps through your skin and reaches bone. The band delivered an excellent version of The Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” and then Mickey Raphael (from Willie Nelson’s band) blew us away on harmonica with the Warren Haynes penned, Garth Brooks recorded “Two of A Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” which Haynes explained he wrote for Brooks but hasn’t performed live in ages.

Never having seen or particularly been into Sheryl Crow, I have to say she put on one helluva show. She, like her Festival sisters Grace Potter and Susan Tedeschi before her, proved to be multi-talented. Not only does she have the chops, she is a skilled guitarist who doesn’t hesitate to commandeer the keyboards or get happy with the harmonica,and in so doing move the crowd to its feet. Clad in blue jeans and a long white fringed vest, Crow ages gracefully and looked pretty stunning. The crowd was clearly motivated as Sheryl proceeded to shower them with her hits including “All I Wanna Do” , “Strong Enough”, “My Favorite Mistake”, “Can’t Cry Anymore” and others. Crow aced two cover songs with her version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and the Cat Stevens penned, Rod Stewart recorded “The First Cut Is the Deepest”. Following up with what she expressed as “my song about hope” entitled “The Best of Times” the band then immersed themselves into a rather odd coupling of “ Picture”(sans Kid Rock) which melted into a strikingly good run of “If It Makes You Happy”. I’m impressed.

It would be a rare or very special occasion for me to sit for eight continuous hours outside in the cold, night air for just anyone, but we all did for the Godfather of Outlaw Country Rock, Mr. Willie Nelson. The temperature was 39 degrees the last time I chose to look. As I say, unless the music is in your blood and you are genetically predisposed, you may not get this. Common sense does not prevail. But the music does. The lawn was packed, the seats were all taken and the dance floor was filled as Sir Willie walked onstage. I have to say Willie is as tough as nails and worn around the edges just like ole’ Trigger, his faithful guitar. Both look a little aged and rough, but still sound ground-breakingly awesome. Those gathered at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre on this Sunday night came to worship. And that we did. The preacher threw out all his gold, starting as he always does with “Whiskey River”. It’s a tribute to Willie that he played at all, as he has been quite ill and cancelled all his prior engagements, but made good on his gig in Raleigh. You go, Willie, my man. Raleigh loves you back.

Eighty-two years young this year, Willie may get a little stumped on the words now and then, but he’s still got it. His fingers are still nimble and quick, and diligently they produce sounds that few other Texas cowboys can emulate. There on that vast piece of land at the corner of Rock Quarry and Sunnybrook Roads, we got to see history being made with the following numbers:

Whiskey River
Still is Still Moving to Me
Beer for My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Funny How Time Slips Away
Crazy
The Night Life Ain’t No Good Life
Down Yonder (featuring little sister Bobbie who happens to be hell on the piano on this and other tunes)
If You’ve Got the Money
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
You Were Always On My Mind
At least three Hank Williams tunes including Jambalaya, Hey, Good Lookin’ and Move it On Over
It’s All Going to Pot
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
Will the Circle Be Unbroken with Warren Haynes joining for the remaining songs)
I’ll Fly Away
I Saw The Light
Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain
Touch Me

As Willie has done countless nights before, he threw out his red bandanna, blew kisses at the fans and waved to everyone. He was clearly shaken by the applause and affection shown. He strode away twice only to return to wave and blow more kisses and clutch his chest.

The cold of the night couldn’t keep me from Willie, as he and Waylon were the train that took me to their style of Country, but there was just no way I could stay out in the elements any longer. Two days and nights of it can put the hurt on you. Work starts early on Monday morning for me, so I wasn't able to wait for Eric Church on this trip. He certainly is popular and many of his die-hard fans braved the cold and remained locked in. A field of fine folk and a slew of seats that were packed with dedicated fans waited it out. Now, that’s devotion.

I’m sure Eric didn’t miss me, and truth is, I may not have been able to do him justice, because I’d already been Sunday Schooled at another Church with a sermon of songs from Pastor Willie. It doesn’t get much better than that.



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