August 13th, 2009
03:38 PM ET

News of the Absurd :: Episode 106

In this week's episode, we offer a small tribute to one of my heroes, Jerry Garcia.  It was 14 years ago on August 9 that Jerry went to that great Shakedown Street in the sky.  So, for NOTA #106, I was able to string a few completely unrelated stories together in his honor.

To be slightly more relevant and timely, this episode was actually planned for last week.  However, technical difficulties pushed back our schedule (read: Paul the editor had to go out of town).  Still, this thing was already written and we figured we might as well go ahead with it, now. Better late than never.

Also worth mentioning... long-time viewers may notice our fancy new studio.  Technically, it's not a studio.  Even more technically, it's not all that fancy.  It's the CNN.com employee lounge – those are real co-workers playing FIFA '09 in the background.  Slackers.

I suppose that's sort of the beauty behind NOTA.  We're totally rogue.  And by "rogue" I mean poorly-budgeted.  And by "poorly-budgeted" I mean we have no budget.  But, that never stops us – we actually once shot an entire episode up on the CNN Center roof.  Why?  Because it was a nice day, Paul found a hidden stairway, and, well, it was there.

So, enjoy this (loosely) Jerry Garcia-themed episode of News of the Absurd, shot in front of a rather inattentive and unaware live studio audience in the employee lounge.

July 15th, 2009
03:05 PM ET

News of the Absurd :: Episode 103

Paul has to head out of town on assignment tomorrow, so this week's News of the Absurd is coming in a day earlier than usual. The topic for one-oh-three: TWITTER! Yes, even NOTA is a part of whatever it is that this Twitter thing is doing to our brains. So, you can follow us at twitter.com/newsoftheabsurd

(But I promise it'll be a huge letdown.)

July 13th, 2009
09:28 PM ET

All Good Festival :: Wrap

(Photo: John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra)

(Photo: John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra)

Jarrett Bellini reports from the 13th annual All Good Festival in Masontown, West Virginia

All Good 2009 is now done and dusted, and what a weekend it was!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I opted out of Saturday's late night Umphrey's McGee set in favor of this really awesome new band called My Head Hitting the Pillow Inside My Tent.  I play every instrument.

However, reports that came back throughout the day on Sunday told of one wildly fantastic late night.  Oh well... you can't see 'em all.  And, as it turned out, not seeing 'em all would sort of be my personal theme for Sunday, a notoriously wild day on the mountain.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue was the first band I missed, and I was told they played a terrific opening set to start out the day.  That said, I was able to catch Donna the Buffalo, immediately after.  My friends really enjoyed them, and I thought they were pretty good, but nothing spectacular – just some quality feel good music to help liven up the mood for the final push.

Tea Leaf Green would be the next band to hold down the main stage, and I had every intention of checking them out.  However, something big happened that forced me to pass, something that would turn out to be the highlight of my weekend.

bk3_small_caption

A few of us from the media were hanging out in the press tent, filing our reports and sharing war stories from the previous night.  Then, from out of nowhere, Bill Kreutzmann, one of the drummers from the Grateful Dead, casually strolled into our area, beer in hand.  I had to do a double take as he wandered over to where we were all sitting.  But it was definitely him.

Apparently, he was bored hanging out in the artist compound and just felt like going for a stroll.  We must have seemed like fresh, friendly faces, so he decided to sit down and shoot the breeze.  Here we were, sitting with a member of the Grateful Dead, just having a normal, everyday conversation that ranged from talking about his home in Hawaii to some of his efforts in protecting marine wildlife.  It wasn't an interview – just a rock legend killing some time with strangers.  He even shared some personal thoughts on Jerry Garcia, and recounted his experiences recording with Bob Dylan.  To our surprise, he was amazingly candid about a number of things, both good and bad.

So, with all due respect to Tea Leaf Green, there was simply no way I was leaving that tent.

Naturally, I did make it out to catch Kreutzmann's new band, BK3, who played a really good, hour-long set on the side stage.  Donna the Buffalo's Tara Nevins sat in with them for the entire performance, which consisted of a mix of original songs as well as some old Dead tunes.  Scott Murawski turned in some heavy hitting guitar work, making BK3 one of the better performances of the weekend.

The final act, closing things out, was Dark Star Orchestra, who, last year, belted out what I thought was the best set of the entire festival.  For those who aren't aware of the concept behind DSO, they're a Grateful Dead tribute band that, for eleven years, has been killing audiences nationwide with their commitment to "raising the dead."

To be honest, I'm not even entirely comfortable using the term tribute band – I'd hate for someone to misinterpret that as them being in any way amateur, because I can assure you there is nothing amateur about these guys.  The musicianship is absolutely out of this world and sometimes, if you close your eyes, I swear you'd think Jerry and boys (and girl) were up on stage.

Mister_Shuffles_caption

Unfortunately, needing to get back on the road to head back to Atlanta, we only managed to stay for half the set.  However, I was more than pleased to leave having heard my favorite Dead song, Jack Straw, and another classic, Terrapin Station.

Adding to the overall atmosphere of those closing hours was the fact that this was Sunday on the mountain – the day when things get a little weird.  Generally, the crowds are smaller; many have left early to drive home and others are simply "too tired" to make it out.  However, the crowd that does emerge on the hill tends to bring it strong – the tops come off, the dancing gets wild, and there seems to be a real music-first attitude among the fans.  Of course, this is also the day you're most likely to see some wookie burn away his final brain cell, fall into another guy's folding chair, and then attempt to explain that he can't pay for the damage because he spent all his money on drugs.  The chair owner's response, "I know.  It's all over your face!"

So, yeah, Sunday's can get a little wild.  But that's All Good for you... a weekend of great music and great friends that always seems to go out with a bang!  Or, in this case, a broken folding chair.

*** FESTIVAL NOTES ***

BEST SET: Yonder Mountain String Band

BEST SONG: Morning Dew (performed by Bob Weir & RatDog)

BEST DARK HORSE PERFORMANCE: Cornmeal

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Buckethead

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Todd Snider... love the guy, and his set was cut way too short

THE WEATHER: A+++

BEST NEW FRIEND: Eric, the HeadCount.org intern

FUNNIEST MOMENT: "Mr. Shuffles" breaking the folding chair

BEST PERSONAL MOMENT: Meeting Bill Kreutzmann

BIGGEST "FEELING OLD" MOMENT: From the hill, watching the amazing rave atmosphere during Bassnectar and wishing I could still hang

BAND I MISSED, BUT WISH I CAUGHT: Tie: Trombone Shorty and Lotus

BAND MOST LIKELY TO GIVE ME NIGHTMARES: Les Claypool... the whole stage get-up was a bit creepy

ONE THING I WOULD HAVE CHANGED: Dark Star Orchestra to headline Saturday instead of Ben Harper

PERFORMER I'D LIKE TO SEE AT A FUTURE ALL GOOD (BUT WON'T): Roger Waters

NOTE: Though I may not have mentioned every act in my posts, I did see most of them.  You can read all of my All Good posts by going here.

July 12th, 2009
03:52 PM ET

All Good Festival :: Saturday Madness

Yonder

(Photo: Yonder Mountain String Band)

Jarrett Bellini reports from the 13th annual All Good Festival in Masontown, West Virginia

“These guys are good.”

Cornmeal had an early 1pm time slot on Saturday, but those four words were overheard multiple times throughout the hill as the Chicago-based progressive bluegrass band treated the few early risers to a beyond solid set – one that goes down among the best of the fest.

Cornmeal_caption

However, Cornmeal wasn’t alone when it came to wowing the audience. Steve Kimock Crazy Engine also shined in the early hours, giving fans an opportunity to see the latest project by the guitar virtuoso. And joining him on this new venture is the legendary Jerry Garcia Band organist, Melvin Seals, providing a real extra special treat.

But it wasn’t either of these sets which will likely leave people still talking long after the festival. That honor belongs to the one and only Buckethead. All I’m going to say is that this set, while not my favorite performance of the weekend, was certainly the most memorable. It’s sort of a long story, so I’ve posted it separately, here.

The trophy for best musical set goes to Yonder Mountain String Band who, as the sun began to set, left it all on the stage for an hour and a half. The pickers from Colorado had the audience dancing and shaking, kicking up a joyful storm of dust into the cool summer sky. Of all the times I’ve seen them, this was the most fun they appeared to have, and their playful vibe carried on perfectly over the hill.

Melvin_caption

That being said, the evening went a little downhill from there. Ben Harper & RELENTLESS7 were the big Saturday headliner, but I just couldn’t seem to get into the show. Other people said they really enjoyed his new sound, but, for me, having already seen several great sets early in the day, and the night peaking with Yonder, everything else was kind of a let down.  It shouldn't have been, but that's just a testament to how great of a day we had out there.

Fortunately, I didn’t feel at all obligated to stick around into the wee hours of the morning; Umphrey’s McGee owned the late night hours, much to the pleasure of their younger audience. However, not being familiar with their music, I was more than happy to call it a (relatively) early night.

All in all, it was a solid day on the mountain.

July 12th, 2009
10:46 AM ET

All Good Festival :: Buckethead

Jarrett Bellini reports from the 13th annual All Good Festival in Masontown, West Virginia

Fifteen minutes before Buckethead was scheduled to play, my friends and I decided to go backstage to see if we might catch a glimpse of the famed metal guitarist who dons a creepy white mask and, yes, a KFC bucket on his head. It’s not just a clever name.

bcukethead_walks

As we stood there in the back, I suppose I was expecting something completely normal – just some dude with a guitar walking up the stairs, only to be handed his mask and bucket before revealing himself to the crowd. “Here’s your bucket. Have a good show.”

However, the quest for seeing the real Buckethead quickly became the weirdest, and, perhaps, most memorable, part of our entire All Good Festival weekend.

Shortly after we arrived backstage, a non-descript SUV pulled up to the loading ramp, and was met by an All Good stage worker. The driver side window rolled down, and a man who might as well have been your dad, spoke to the stage hand in what seemed like a nervous hush. Had there not been this moment of slight tension, the general presence of the SUV would have more or less gone unnoticed.

Trying not to be too obvious, I uncapped my camera and directed it at the car, readying myself for a few hip shots if things got juicy – it was sort of like being in the paparazzi.

For another five minutes, nothing happened. The car just sat there. Then, as we settled back into our Buckethead holding pattern, either from the far side of the car or from somewhere beyond the stage, a man appeared with a mask over his face. It wasn’t the ghostly mask that Buckethead wears on stage, but, rather, a surgical mask.

Buckethead_Helped

Our immediate assessment was that this man was either trying to avoid the dust or, maybe, it was really Buckethead trying to keep himself just slightly hidden before going on stage. Either way, we knew that he was somehow involved with the Buckethead performance when he approached the SUV and, through the driver’s window, was handed a white Gibson Les Paul. Unquestionably, this was Buckethead’s axe.

He fitted the guitar with a wireless transmitter, and then returned it to the man inside the SUV – just a little pre-show prep.

It would be five more minutes before everything changed.

In a slight “this is the moment” fury, the surgically masked man opened up the car’s side door. Then, from a hiding position on the floor, covered by a blanket, Buckethead emerged, clad in Chucks, a one-piece jumpsuit, his mask, and the bucket. The guy had seriously been hiding there in that car all along. And it couldn’t have been comfortable. Buckethead is astonishingly tall and skinny, which ruled out my theory that he’s really Warren Haynes in disguise.

The man in the surgical mask helped Buckethead up the stage, holding his shoulders and directing him with both hands. Once he was situated, standing alone in front of the crowd, Buckethead proceeded to hammer away, slaying his guitar to backing music that came from, perhaps, an iPod, a DJ, or maybe Jupiter. The whole thing was so weird – I stopped asking questions.

In the photo pit in front of the stage, there was more press crammed together than I had seen for any other act all weekend. It was like, Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead? Nah… I’m here for the bucket guy.

Buckethead_Slays

Be it a fun gimmick or strange alter-ego, whatever it was that inspired this man – this Buckethead – was working. People were absolutely eating it up.

Now, I’m not into metal, but I stood there truly amazed at the performance I was seeing on stage. In actuality, it wasn’t really even metal. It was just… odd. But good. As I turned to my friend Ryan, he said, “This is like a train wreck. I can’t turn away.” Next to him, my other friend, Andrew, said nothing, only allowing his jaw to drop.

The day’s plan for us was to watch one Buckethead song and then head back to camp to cook a quick dinner. However, fifteen minutes into the set, we were still standing there, dinner be damned.

Finally, Ryan tapped my shoulder and mimed eating with a spoon, the international signal for I’m hungry. Later, he would explain, “I felt like one of us had to make a move. Otherwise we would have been there for an hour.”

July 11th, 2009
12:57 PM ET

All Good Festival :: Saturday Morning Update

Bob

(Photo: Bob Weir & RatDog)

Jarrett Bellini reports from the 13th annual All Good Festival in Masontown, West Virginia

Friday night belonged to Bob Weir & RatDog, who blasted through a strong set that, at first, actually seemed a bit pedestrian.  However, with guest appearances by bass legend, Les Claypool, and moe. guitarist, Al Schnier, things really took off in the second half.  The major highlights came from the last three songs, a trio of some of the most beloved Grateful Dead tunes: Morning Dew, China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider.

moe_caption

At the conclusion of RatDog, the concert hill on Marvin's Mountaintop turned into an absolute party for the ages as Bassnectar spun in the start of Late Night in what turned into a carnival of dancing, glowsticks, and fire breathing.  Sitting comfortably at the top of the hill, Team Geritol watched the action below, each of us silently thinking the exact same thing: "I think I'm getting old."

But rest assured, I powered through all the way until four in the morning as moe. closed out the night with an epic three-hour set.  I can't say that my buddies, Andrew and Ryan, managed to keep their eyes open the entire time, but, for what it's worth, they were technically still on the hill.  This is not to suggest that I was acting the Jedi... I was really tired.

Those were the highlights from the evening sets, but, no doubt, there was plenty of great music happening during the daylight.

Perhaps the most notable performance of the afternoon came from Robert Randolph & the Family Band, who had the crowd on their feet as they paid tribute to Michael Jackson with inspiring versions of Billie Jean and Man in the Mirror.  Though it was a definite crowd pleaser, the Family Band's set seemed to go a little long, cutting into Todd Snider's.  However, the acoustic troubadour still managed to do what he always does – winning over new fans with his amusing lyrics and humble hippie attitude toward life.

Saturday looks to be another winner, with notable sets expected from Cornmeal, Steve Kimock Crazy Engine, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Ben Harper and RELENTLESS7.

More updates to come...

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