Live Review

Born In The USA: The Waybacks' Hillside Album Hour, MerleFest, April 25, 2015

The Waybacks on April 25, 2015

I have a different take on the Album Hour performances and won't say that it doesn't have to do with my age (61). I have been to Merlefest for the past six years and have seen all the Album Hour performances. Unless the album is part of my personal musical history, I find the performances not very interesting. I won't argue with you about all the effort that is put into arranging the songs on the album but if the songs themselves are not part of my personal musical history, it leaves me cold. A few years back, they performed Abbey Road (yes, my age again) and I thought it was terrific. It is an album that I know intimately and can listen to every note to marvel how it was arranged. At one point, I heard lines that I knew were from a piano and looked to see that they were being played by a banjo (Jens Kruger, an amazing banjo player and I don't even like banjos very much). Two years ago, they performed the Dylan/Band album After the Flood. I didn't understand this as a choice that would resonate with many people. I suppose I come at this from a very specific angle that many people might not appreciate. 

"Myrtle Grant" anagrams to "Mr. Tyrant Leg," which seems somehow appropriate for those clues. But hey, it's worth it for the extraordinary music that the Waybacks give us year after year. What a joy!

You may be 61 Mr Baily...but this 32 year old is inclined to agree with you on most points!

I'm a HUGE fan of Album Hour....what a great concept.
The Waybacks are SO MUCH FUN, Nash is an amazing musician and brings so much energy to the stage.
I also LOVE Jens, Sam, JohnnyC, Joan, ...alright.....pretty much everyone who has ever been involved; except for Mr. walk on every set at merlefest Lauderdale.   He's more of a punch line to me...lol Him and that ridiculous suit couldnt play his way out of a paper bag...but I digress

I've been going to Merlefest for about 8-9 years now.  The thing that sets Merlefest apart from other festivals is the family/musician friendly atmosphere.   Being musician friendly sets it apart because it really clears the way for the technical players to shine.  Sure the "G,C,D strummers' get their due..like ol Jim L..  but people like Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, Bela Fleck, Sammy Shelor, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, et al are the main focus.  High quality music....and high quality musicianship.

Given all of that.... it makes sence  ...  you cover a full album and you pick damn near monumental, classic albums with a high grade of technical profficiency.    Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Allman Bros, The Beatles......  and then out of left field..... Bruce Springsteen?    I was SHOCKED! Shocked I tell you!      

 

Barefoot, I think we are coming from the same place, regardless of our ages. It is all about the musicianship. Stellar pickers. Springsteen is not a musician in that sense. Showing my age again, with a little bragging, I saw Springsteen live in the mid-1970s. Those were some of the best concerts I have ever seen. The Hamburg video in the 25th anniversary Born to Run box set captured the concerts of that era beatifully and the sound is actually superb. That does not translate, at least for me, what the Album Hour should be. Again, this is my own personal perspective. I am looking to hear an album that I know note for note (not an album that stresses lyrical content) and marvel how Nash and company would reimagine and rearrange it. This is why I travel all the way from New York City to bathe in a pickers heaven. The level of musicianship, in even the unknown bands, can be amazing. One example was seeing the Belleville Outfit (now somewhat disbanded) a few years ago. The musical relationship between Phoebe Hunt (fiddle) and Connor Forsyth (piano) was amazing. Typically, the relationship would be between fiddle and guitar (any kind). To be fair, people come at music from different perspectives and different expectations. It is clear that many people enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, the Album Hour in however it is presented.

What a beautifully written and insightful article, Amos! You really nailed it!

This album hour was an absolute tour de force. As you noted, James's musical arrangment incorporated a wide range of themes and motifs to evoke memories of different eras in musical history. The musicianship was outstanding - particularly when considering that rehearsal opportunities were limited for this star-studded group!

Like you, I appreciated the expressivity and subtlety of Ms. Osborne's voice and I agree that Jim Lauderdale's vocals melded beautifully with hers in "I'm Going Down."  

James's social commentary - reminding us of what it is to be American and that the strength of our country lies in embracing our differences - hit the target. Although the refrain "Born in the USA" could superficially be regarded as a jingoistic call of isolationism, this interpretation ignores the meaning that Springsteen himself wrote into his lyrics.

 

Keep the love coming, Amos!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm kind of surprised we all agree exactly on the issue of familiarity as it relates to enjoying the album hour and also pick the same problematic years (after the flood and this year).  I would disagree a bit about Lauderdale.  He is not one of my favorites, but he did a good set this year and his vocals on the psychedelic songs from Hendrix were pretty interesting.  The thing that puzzles me is the lack of mention of the absence of Warren Hood (who is one of my favorites) and also no mention of the organ player subbing (????) for him.

I agree with the reference to Warren Hood. He is a very good fiddler. I always assumed he was a hired hand as the Waybacks, at this point, don't seem to exist outside of Merlefest. Nash, and the rest of the band, seem to reside on the west coast as Warren lives in Austin. No affence to Warren as I love the combination of fiddle and guitar but since Nash is the star of the show, the keyboard felt like a better instrument for him to play against. This was after seeing the Waybacks non-Album Hour set in the Walker Center the day before.

Some interesting points, but I'm not exactly clear on some meanings.  The Waybacks have pretty much always had a fiddler, even when they were bringing in Darol Anger between Chojo'sand Warren's eras.  Warren seems to have been an integral part of the Waybacks for years, not just a hired gun..  He has certainly been both writing and bringing material in to the repertoire.  I had kind of assumed a hiatus crrently, but you may be correct that the bicoastal foursome has fallen apart.  James' comments about Warren missing and not able to come to Merlefest at the Walker center set made me think otherwise, but it would be interesting to know if anyone has any information one way or the other.

Tom, I hope you are correct about Warren being only a temporary absence. I never saw Darol Anger with them. I came in with Warren. The first time I saw the Waybacks was at the Watson stage and they had just started a version of Richard Thompson's Red Molly (real title is too long). I was hooked. They have always been a much better cover band than their original material.

Well, I could list some originals that I thought were quite good, but Vincent Black Lightning is hard to top.  I first saw the Waybacks because we were following MIke Marshall and Darol Anger around Merlefest (figuratively) and they were sitting in with the Waybacks.  I can't recall if Chojo Jaques was still with the band at that point or not.  Saw Darol sit in at Hardly Stricly (where they did a VG Cumberland).  I am a big fan of the From the Pasture to the Future CD, which I think was done with a couple of ringers on fiddle but Warren came on as they toured that material, IIRC.

I have seen the last 5 years of Hillside and this year might have been my second favorite after the 2 1/2 hour Band/Dylan extravaganza with Mike Farris a couple of years ago (some of the best Youtube videos of Hillside were made that year).  Cooking band again this year.  The spirit of the band, as well as the crowd, especially on the extended last song makes this a real treat.  I'm a big fan of Joan Osborne.  Since many of the roots performers at Merlefest may have started their music career in a rock and roll garage band (my personal theory), they know how to get in the spirit of a classic rock album they grew up on. 

My least favorite year was last year's Crosby Still and Nash but this is merely a personal choice thing.  It was performed well.

Amos, you're right the weather can be tricky.  Last year we roasted in the 85 degree afternoon sun wishing the band and sound techs would finish their never ending sound check.  This year the Saturday and Sunday parts of the festival were cool but not much rain and most folks were dressed for the occasion.  It did not seem to dampen attendance or enthusiasm. 

A source of entertainment each year is watching folks file in and stake out their viewing spot on the steep hill.  A couple of years ago I found a spot in the woods to the left of the stage.  This worked well when the rain started.  

I missed seeing John Cowan at the festival this year.