Over the past week or so, while there were some exciting festivals going on in the eastern half of the US, there was an extremely nice one-day celebration of the 75th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The evening's theme centered on the songs Guthrie was commissioned to write by the Bonneville Power Administration, about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. However, the invited performers took the liberty of including other songs from Guthrie's vast catalog, too. Artists who came out to pay tribute included Bill Frisell, Luke Bergman, Christy McWilson, Gerald Collier, Shelby Earl, Dave Alvin, Tim Easton, Sera Cahoone, and John Doe. Fortunately, longtime ND photographer Peter Dervin was on hand to record the event.
Ever since his "conversion" to Americana with his album Nashville, Bill Frisell has been been a quiet yet vital force in exploring our country's past. From scoring some Buster Keaton silent movies to his own Disfarmer album, he is unlike any other artist working today. One has to think that Guthrie himself would have been pleased with this line-up, especially the inclusion of John Doe and Dave Alvin who have kept the faith alive.
Highlights of that night included Frisell and Bergman doing a medley of Guthrie's songs, including "Pastures of Plenty." Although Frisell had done the song before, he admitted he was unaware until this outing that it was about the Columbia River. John Doe also finished his set with "Pastures" but tore into the crowd with “Vigilante Man” and X’s own “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.” Wow. Dave Alvin got everyone involved with a "Do-Re-Mi" sing-along. And the evening wrapped up with everyone on stage for the grand finale: “So Long, It's Been Good to Know You,” “Roll on Columbia,” and a rousing “This Land Is Your Land.”
In the midst of all this, I feel a tinge of nostalgia -- Guthrie has become but a patron saint of sorts, and we so badly need someone like him today. As Steve Earle so aptly lamented in "Christmas in Washington":
Come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow.
On the other end of the musical spectrum, I hope that you have read Chris Griffy's gripping day-by-day dispatches from Bonnaroo in Tennessee, and his insightful backstage interviews with Sara Watkins, Henry Wagons, Luke Bell, and Anderson East. While I refer you to those, you will find some additional photos that he took during his marathon of a festival, below.
I'll end this week's column with some photos by two of our regulars, Cynthia Elliott and Kirk Stauffer. Elliott's includes the Master of Time and Space himself, Leon Russell, who at one time was the biggest name in American music. If you have not checked out Les Blank's A Poem is a Naked Person documentary that is centered around Russell, I urge you to do so.
Elliott also captures former Survivor cast member Chase Rice quite nicely. He has three albums out, and wrote a hit single for Florida Georgia Line.
Last, and certainly not least, is Elliott's photos of Sam Beam and Jessica Hoop. Although solo artists, they teamed up for one of this Spring's most intriguing releases, Love Letter for Five. I wish I could've been there as these two artists have definitely attracted a lot of attention and new fans to one another.
Meanwhile, Stauffer's photos of mandolinist Marie Miller are enchanting. Miller has an interesting story -- she's one of ten children and has performed as a duo (The Miller Sisters) with her sister. She has since gone solo, recording two EPs, both of which are on heavy rotation on VH1 and CMT. She has a Number 1 single on Billboard's Christian Music chart, and has just broadened her scope by releasing a cover of Adele's "Send My Love." Take a listen.
Just as inspiring are Stauffer's photos of Tina Dico. Dico is from Denmark and has released ten albums on her own label. She is well-known and well-regarded in Europe. He reports that catching her live was a treat.