Front Row Focus: Blog http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog en-us (C) Copyright David Simchock david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:26:00 GMT Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:26:00 GMT http://www.frontrowfocus.com/img/s4/v12/u433708976-o192245421-50.jpg Front Row Focus: Blog http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog 90 120 Concert Review: Umphrey's McGee (February 18, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/2/concert-review-umphreys-mcgee-february-18-2017 ARTIST:  Umphrey's McGee

VENUE:  US Cellular Center, Asheville, NC

DATE:  February 18, 2017

Review By:  Joshua Marc Levy

Photos By:  David Simchock

Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock Last year at about this time, Umphrey's McGee inaugurated the now-annual Blue Ridge Rockway weekend concert series at the ExploreAsheville.com arena, rocking out two nights in a row. In 2016, they were supported by New York City instrumental jam outfit, TAUK. This year, UM brought on board Greensky Bluegrass for a slight change of pace, but certainly with no less energy and fanfare. Another change to this year's event was the addition of a third night of music, down-sizing the venue to the cross-town Orange Peel, providing fans with a more intimate experience of Umphyre's McGee (minus the GSBG opener). Front Row Focus was in the US Cellular Center for the Saturday show, and we're glad we could make it.

Umphrey’s McGee has a dedicated fan base who is there for one purpose -- to have fun and rock out. Long-time fan Wally McLendon said, “The band played over 300 songs in 2016, plus they have over 200 covers in rotation. It’s an exciting time, they are on fire right now.”

After 19 years on the road, the band are masters of time, quickly morphing their songs across many genres including: metal, island, jam rock, electronic, jazz, and funk. The ability to combine some of these styles within a single song is what makes them special. Was that a 25-minute jam we just experienced, or was it a stretched out 5 minutes?
Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock
Sometimes the introductions to these performances are mysterious and trippy “Pink Floyd-like” anthems. Band members switched up their instruments, and at one point guitarist Jake Cinninger was on keys and bass player Ryan Stasik was playing synthesizer. The first set ended with Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist/singer, Paul Hoffman, and Dobro guitarit, Anders Beck, for an epic cover of The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” which had everyone singing along. Brendan Bayliss, lead vocalist and guitar proclaimed, “Asheville, You look spectacular tonight!” The entire first set was arena rock gold.

Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock The sound experience is married by lighting genius Jefferson Waful who seamlessly changes with the band, morphing white lights into full color in a flash. Sometimes the lights are smoke ring halos, whirling snowflake wave storms, or transported rainbow tornadoes trapped inside of triangular beams. At times the lights make the band appear to be trapped inside a flashing psychedelic hologram. It’s all about dynamic perception.

The show ended with an outstanding cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” as the crowd went wild, and long time fan William Byrd yelled out to me, “I’ll never miss another show!” Wally McLendon said, “It was the best “Puppet String” they have ever played.” Douglas Mischley declared, “I’m Speechless!”

Umphrey’s McGee, we’ll see you again next year. Let’s do the time warp again!

Set 1: Gurgle > Higgins, Make It Right, In The Kitchen > White Man's Moccasins, Puppet String[1], Can't You See[2]
Set 2: Mulche's Odyssey, Hajimemashite > JaJunk > Miami Virtue[3] > Remind Me, Professor Wormbog, Much Obliged > In The Kitchen > JaJunk[4]
Encore: Tom Sawyer
[1] with Jake on keys
[2] with Anders Beck on dobro and Paul Hoffman on vocals and mandolin
[3] with (Don't Fear) The Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult) teases
[4] with Top Gun Anthem (Harold Faltermeyer) tease

 

CHECK OUT THE UMPHREY'S MCGEE PHOTO GALLERY HERE

Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Umphrey's McGee 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville US Cellular Center USCC Umphreys McGee artist band concert concertreview event live music music photography performance photo photography rock and roll souther rock http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/2/concert-review-umphreys-mcgee-february-18-2017 Tue, 21 Feb 2017 16:10:33 GMT
Foto Focus: Greensky Bluegrass (February 18, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/2/foto-focus-greensky-bluegrass-february-18-2017 ARTIST:  Greensky Bluegrass

VENUE:  Thomas Wolfe Auditorium - Asheville, NC

DATE:  February 18, 2017

Insight By: Joshua Marc Levy

Photos By:  David Simchock

Greensky Bluegrass 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Greensky Bluegrass 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock This year's Blue Ridge Rockway weekend concert series at the ExploreAsheville.com arena brought in Kalamazoo "jamgrass" outfit Greensky Bluegrass to warm things up for headliners Umphrey's McGee. Led by singer/mandolin-extraordinaire, Paul Hoffman, the band was more than comfortable playing in front of an Asheville crowd measured in the thousands. 

Greensky Bluegrass "live" is a musical companion of a country home commute to the big city. They start off on the country road, vast and beautiful. The music speeds up and rides the rails as we get into the city. It’s a fast, fun, and sweet ride. The boys played a very tasty cover of Traffic’s “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” which had teases of Phish’s “Tweezer” and more within.

Set 1: Past My Prime> Run or Die, Room Without a Roof, Jay Walking1, Light Up or Leave Me Alone2,3, I'd Probably Kill You, Demons, Forget Everything, Kerosene4
        1.      "Foxy Lady" tease
        2.      "Reuben's Train" tease
        3.      "Tweezer Reprise" tease
        4.      "Let It Grow" tease
 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE

Greensky Bluegrass 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)Greensky Bluegrass 2017-02-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Blue Ridge Rockway Explore Asheville Greensky Bluegrass US Cellular Center artist band concert event folk fotofocus jam band', music, live, music, bluegrass, performance, photo, photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/2/foto-focus-greensky-bluegrass-february-18-2017 Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:22:00 GMT
Concert Preview: Blackberry Smoke - Asheville, NC (February 3, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-blackberry-smoke-asheville-nc-february-3-2017 CONCERT:  Blackberry Smoke

Venue:  Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Asheville, NC

Date:  Friday, February 3, 2017

Artist's Website: www.blackberrysmoke.com  

Preview by: David Simchock

Blackberry Smoke 2016-02-05 (Asheville, NC)Blackberry Smoke 2016-02-05 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Friday evening (February 3rd) marks the return of Atlanta rockers, Blackberry Smoke, to Asheville, this time moving on to the 2,400-seat Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. It was just about one year ago that Charlie Starr and the fellas sold out two consecutive nights at The Orange Peel music club just across town. This year they have their sights set higher, and at the time of this writing, tickets are in short supply, but still available. (click here for tickets)

Blackberry Smoke is celebrating the release of their sixth studio album, Like An Arrow, where they continue to push their creative comfort zone, and expand their development as artists and performers. "We just want the sound of the band to continue to grow and broaden." says lead vocalist / guitarist Starr. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the band continues down their path of global success while looking for inspiration from the likes of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, using the evolution of those two mega-groups and their respective journeys as role models for keeping things fresh and exciting for their fans.

Look for Blackberry Smoke to drop a few somewhat "heavy" tracks into their set list, which will certainly be welcomed by their Friday-night fans in Western North Carolina. When asked about Like An Arrow, Starr even made a comparison of their recent work to Black Sabbath. Woah. Sounds like Asheville is in for quite a treat this time around.

PURCHASE TICKETS

Blackberry Smoke 2016-02-05 (Asheville, NC)Blackberry Smoke 2016-02-05 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Blackberry Smoke Thomas Wolfe Auditorium artist band concert concertpreview event live music performance photo preview rock and roll southern rock tour http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-blackberry-smoke-asheville-nc-february-3-2017 Wed, 25 Jan 2017 20:44:00 GMT
Concert Preview: Son Volt - The Grey Eagle (Asheville, NC - March 14, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-son-volt-the-grey-eagle-asheville-nc-march-14-2017 CONCERT:  Son Volt

Venue:  The Grey Eagle, Asheville, NC

Date:  Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Artist's Website: www.sonvolt.net  

Preview by: David Simchock

Son Volt - Orange Peel 2013-04-11 (Asheville)Son Volt - Orange Peel 2013-04-11 (Asheville)© Copyright David J. Simchock<br/>www.DavidSimchock.com It's been nearly four years since Son Volt passed through Asheville, delivering a solid performance at The Orange Peel back in April of 2013. This time around, the band is switching venue gears a bit, and will be gracing the stage at the more-intimate cross-town music hall, The Grey Eagle. With a capacity of half of what The Peel holds, this is guaranteed to present a totally different atmosphere for band leader Jay Farrar and his compatriots, not to mention their fans.

Son Volt's next studio album, Notes Of Blue, will be released on February 17th, giving everyone about a month to warm up to their new material. The album can be pre-ordered HERE. Says Farrar of the latest effort...

“For years I’ve been drawn to the passion, common struggle and possibility for redemption that’s always been a part of the blues. Everyone has to pay the rent and get along with their significant others, so many of the themes are universal. For me, the blues fills that void that's there for religion, really. That's the place I turn to be lifted up.”

Sounds to us like renowned vibe of The Grey Eagle will be a perfect match for Farrar's interpretation of the blues, not to mention everything else he and the band have added to their repertoire over the years.

At the time of this writing, tickets are still available (surprisingly!). No doubt, this will be a sold-out show, so fans would be wise to secure their tickets sooner rather than later. Who knows when we'll again get such a special opportunity to see such a special band in such a special venue?

PURCHASE TICKETS

Son Volt - Orange Peel 2013-04-11 (Asheville)Son Volt - Orange Peel 2013-04-11 (Asheville)© Copyright David J. Simchock<br/>www.DavidSimchock.com

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Jay Farrar Son Volt The Grey Eagle artist band concert concertpreview event live music performance photo preview tour http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-son-volt-the-grey-eagle-asheville-nc-march-14-2017 Thu, 19 Jan 2017 14:36:44 GMT
Back Stage Pass: Billy Strings (Asheville, January 12, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/back-stage-pass-billy-strings-asheville-january-12-2017 After a solid hour of live-streaming a performance for iamavl's Echo Sessions, Billy "Strings" Apostol kicks back in the control room of Echo Mountain Recording Studios (Asheville, NC) to catch the replay of the session. This intimate event would prove to be just a warm-up to what was to come the following night when Billy and his band opened for The Infamous Stringdusters at the Orange Peel. Click here and here for Foto Focus write-ups and photo galleries of both show.

See more photos of the Billy Strings Echo Sessions HERE.

Billy Strings 2017-01-12 (Asheville, NC)Billy Strings 2017-01-12 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Billy Strings Echo Mountain Recording Studios Echo Sessions Infamous Stringdusters Josh Blake William Apostol artist back stage backstagepass band bluegrass concert event iamavl jam band live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/back-stage-pass-billy-strings-asheville-january-12-2017 Thu, 19 Jan 2017 01:39:44 GMT
Foto Focus: Infamous Stringdusters (January 13, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-infamous-stringdusters-january-13-2017 ARTIST:  The Infamous Stringdusters

VENUE:  The Orange Peel - Asheville, NC

DATE:  January 13, 2017

Photos By:  David Simchock

Just because it's January in the mountains doesn't mean that things aren't going to heat up at The Orange Peel. I mean this in the figurative sense, of course, but the 60-degree weather we've been having gave cause for the The Peel management to keep the Big-ass Fan humming throughout this winter evening, helping to cool things off in the room but not on the stage. Though it's been a while since I caught an Infamous Stringdusters show at The Peel, I did catch their show at Pisgah Brewing Company a few months back. and I was excited to catch them again on the day of the release of their latest album, Laws Of Gravity.

Nonetheless, I was looking forward to covering my first big-ish show of 2017, and what better way to kick things than a two-set energy-infused bluegrass jam with such a talented bunch of fellas? And, not only was the capacity crowd given their money's worth from the band, but they had a couple of guests join in for a couple of songs (Jon Stickley and Billy "Strings" Apostol) for a mind-blowing jam coined "Guitarmageddon". Woah. Acoustic guitar picking doesn't get much better than this! 

From a photography perspective, the Stringdusters are always fun to shoot. Never ones to stand still for too long, their habits of playing off each other makes for endless photo ops. I do find the five mic stands to be a challenge when attempting to compose unobstructed shots, but that only adds to the satisfaction when I pull off a full band shot, with nothing major blocking the band members (see below). Props go out to their Lighting Designer/Director, who keeps it mixed up and colorful for the entire show.

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
The Infamous Stringdusters 2017-01-13 (Asheville, NC)The Infamous Stringdusters 2017-01-13 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Billy Strings Infamous Stringdusters Jon Stickley The Orange Peel artist band concert event folk fotofocus jam band', music,live, music, performance, photo, photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-infamous-stringdusters-january-13-2017 Thu, 19 Jan 2017 01:01:13 GMT
Foto Focus: Billy Strings (January 13, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-billy-strings-january-13-2016 ARTIST:  Billy Strings

VENUE:  The Orange Peel - Asheville, NC

DATE:  January 13, 2016

Photos By:  David Simchock

Every now and then I head to a show where I'm as excited as covering the opening act as I am the headliner. Friday night at The Orange Peel in Asheville was one of those gigs. I've been hearing about Billy Strings (William Apostol) for a few months now, and nearly caught he and his band at the LEAF Festival back in October, but I wasn't expecting to get a double dose of him this week, first with his iamavl Echo Sessions event on Thursday, and then his opening for the Infamous Stringdusters on Friday. Having had a preview on Thursday of what was to come Friday, I knew I was in for a treat even before the Stringdusters took the stage. Bluegrass and jam band fans alike should keep an eye on this "kid". Not only can he play a guitar that exceeds the expectations of his nickname, but he's got the vocals to match. 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
 

Billy Strings 2017-01-13 (Asheville, NC)Billy Strings 2017-01-13 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Billy Strings Infamous Stringdusters The Orange Peel William Apostol artist band concert event folk fotofocus iamavl live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-billy-strings-january-13-2016 Thu, 19 Jan 2017 00:37:42 GMT
Concert Preview: The Infamous Stringdusters - The Orange Peel (Asheville, NC - January 13, 2017) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-the-infamous-stringdusters-the-orange-peel-asheville-nc-january-13-2017 CONCERT:  The Infamous Stringdusters

Venue:  The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC

Date:  Friday, January 13, 2017

Artist's Website: www.thestringdusters.com  

Preview by: David Simchock

Friday evening (Jan. 13th) marks the return of The Infamous Stringdusters to The Orange Peel in Asheville. They last rolled through town at The Peel in late 2015 (click here for FRF photo gallery), and were in the area this past summer headlining at the Pisgah Brewing Company's outdoor stage (click here for FRF photo gallery).

Every Stringdusters' show is a treat, and there's no tellin' what they'll be serving up this time around. No doubt, we'll hear a few new tunes from their soon-to-be-released album, Laws Of Gravity (Compass Records), mixed in with a few crowd favorites, and maybe even a cover song or two.

Opening for the Stringdusters is rising bluegrass picker who goes by the name of Billy Strings. Strings, whose real name is William Apostol and originally hails from Michigan, now resides in Nashville and is quickly making a name for himself on the bluegrass and jam band circuit. Providing the intro to veterans such as the Infamous Stringdusters should prove to be a perfect complement of talent from start to finish.

With Appalachia now into a mid-winter and mid-week thaw after a cold and snowy first weekend of 2017, what better way to treat some cabin fever than to get out to The Orange Peel for a night of jammy bluegrass, and some serious Americana pickin' and grinnin'?

PURCHASE TICKETS

Infamous Stringdusters 2015-11-14 (Asheville, NC)Infamous Stringdusters 2015-11-14 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Billy Strings Infamous Stringdusters The Orange Peel artist band concert concertpreview event live music performance photo preview tour http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/concert-preview-the-infamous-stringdusters-the-orange-peel-asheville-nc-january-13-2017 Fri, 06 Jan 2017 23:07:00 GMT
Foto Focus: 2016 Concert and Festival Highlights by David Simchock http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-2016-concert-and-festival-highlights-by-david-simchock 2016 was quite a year in the Asheville, NC area, and Front Row Focus founder and lead photographer David Simchock was, once again, very actively covering the action. For the second year running, David was the house photographer at the popular Pisgah Brewing Company for their outdoor stage concert series. He also (finally) made it up to MerleFest for a couple of days, and continued his volunteer contribution to the LEAF Community Arts organization. David also spent a lot of time at the Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Downtown Asheville, documenting still photos for the iamavl Echo Sessions events.

Front Row Focus is proud to present a comprehensive photo gallery of David's work, capturing the energy of each performance, as well as the passion of the fans that attended them. Be on the lookout for a banner year in 2017, with more from the Asheville area, as well as a return to FloydFest in Virginia!

All photos © Copyright David Simchock


CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE

My Morning Jacket 2016-10-27 (Asheville, NC)My Morning Jacket 2016-10-27 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) 2016 Asheville Diana Wortham Theatre LEAF festival MerleFest WNC altamont theatre artist asheville music asheville music hall band concert concert photography echo mountain recording studios event festival photography fotofocus grey eagle iamavl isis restaurant and music hall live music music photography new mountain asheville orange peel performance photo photo highlight photography pisgah brewing company recording thomas wolfe auditorium us cellular center asheville http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2017/1/foto-focus-2016-concert-and-festival-highlights-by-david-simchock Sun, 01 Jan 2017 20:38:00 GMT
Festival Review: Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 28 (December 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/12/festival-review-warren-haynes-christmas-jam-28-december-2016 FESTIVAL:  Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 28

VENUE:  US Cellular Center - Asheville, NC

DATE:  December 10, 2016

Review By:  Beth Baldino

Photos By:  David Simchock
 

Warren Haynes w/ Gov't Mule - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)Warren Haynes w/ Gov't Mule - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock There’s a sort of unofficial kick-off to the holiday season in western North Carolina, at least for die-hard music lovers in these parts.  It’s an annual musical extravaganza hosted by renowned guitarist and Asheville native, Warren Haynes, equally beloved as longtime guitarist with The Allman Brothers Band, founding member of the band Gov't Mule, and now most generous and dedicated coordinator of this blow-out charity event, Christmas Jam.  All proceeds from this musical extravaganza, which involves pre-parties all weekend at venues around town, go to the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

The 28th Christmas Jam was held at the US Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, on December 10th. Holly Bowling, a classically trained pianist known for reinterpreting the tunes of Phish and Grateful Dead as fully developed classical pieces, served as the closest thing to a master of ceremonies for the evening. She was the first to perform and then continued to entertain the delighted crowd between sets with her tributes to jam-band luminaries.

With no introduction needed, Haynes got up next, making the first of his multiple appearances by sharing solo renditions of “The Real Thing,” and “And It Stoned Me.” From there, the evening brought an impressive showcase of incredibly-talented, highly-respected musical masters, collaborating in various configurations, well into the wee hours of the morning.  

Following Haynes’s solo intro, Multiple-Grammy nominee, Jamey Johnson, joined the winner of 27 Grammy awards, Alison Krauss. The two are frequent collaborators and one can see why; his deep husky voice the perfect complement to her angelic soprano. Their set featured a collection of country/bluegrass ballads including “High Cost of Living,” and “When You Say Nothing At All.”  These two singing the old-school romantic number to each other, “Make the World Go Away,” was both a highlight and quite timely a plea for some relief in what some perceive to be dark times.

George Porter, Jr. (& Friends) - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (AsGeorge Porter, Jr. (& Friends) - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (As© Copyright David Simchock Next up, Funky Meters’ bassist, George Porter, Jr., joined forces with Eric Krasno, Terence Higgins, Branford Marsalis and John Medeski to kick things into high gear with a super fun set of mostly Meters hits. This session ultimately pulled in the gifted young guitarist, Marcus King, just 20 years old and quickly becoming a Jam regular and favorite. Fulfilling Porter’s promise to keep it “disgustingly funky,” a smoking rendition of “Just Kissed My Baby” in which King and Porter traded lyrics, ensured that anyone in the venue who wasn’t already moving and grooving got up on their feet.

“Sugaree” ushered in a moment the audience was anxiously anticipating, as Bob Weir, most recognized as founding member of the Grateful Dead, joined Porter’s group to deafening cheers from the crowd.  Milking this number for all it’s worth, in typical jam fashion, there was time and space to bring a bluesy, sexy vibe to the classic tune. With Weir still on stage, this session wrapped up with “Iko Iko,” the old New Orleans tune that became a standard number in the Dead’s repertoire.  

Michael McDonald - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)Michael McDonald - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock Michael McDonald began his set with some commentary referencing to the challenging political season we’d just survived, with a call for equality and peace which segued perfectly into “Marching on the Freedom Highway” by the Staples Singers. Higgins and Medeski stayed for this set and Audley Freed and Don Was joined in. Doobie Brothers favorites covered included, “I Keep Forgettin’,” “What A Fool Believes” and “Taking It To the Streets.”

Up next, Weir led a group composed of guitarist Steve Kimock, drummer Duane Trucks, Was, Haynes, Bowling and Marsalis. Weir sang “Easy to Slip” on acoustic guitar before dueting with Krauss on “Peggy-O”, the two of them on the same mic, to make a tender song even more touching. A couple of Weir’s Blue Mountain numbers ultimately led to several Dead favorites, including “He’s Gone,” “Eyes Of The World,” “Truckin’” and “Ripple.”
Alison Krauss w/ Bob Weir - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)Alison Krauss w/ Bob Weir - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David Simchock
In honor of the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz (The Band’s 1976 farewell concert in San Francisco) Haynes was joined by  Medeski, McDonald, Was, Higgins, Johnson, Krauss and a horn section, on renditions of “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Ophelia” and “It Makes No Difference.” Weir guested on “The Weight” and former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin (a participant in the actual Last Waltz) contributed to “Mannish Boy” and “Further On Up the Road,” along with harmonica player Smoky Greenwell. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” brought an end to this powerful set.

Following Christmas Jam tradition, Warren Haynes, along with Gov’t Mule, closed out the evening, at which point everyone who’d performed over the course of the event made an appearance and additional musicians including Rocky Lindsley, Mike Barnes, Jeff Sipe, Paul Riddle, and Tony Coleman joined in. Those hearty souls still in the house at nearly 3:00 AM, rocked out to “Mountain Jam” before reluctantly calling it a night.
The Last Waltz Band - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NCThe Last Waltz Band - 2016 Warren Haynes Xmas Jam (Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock

 

CHRISTMAS JAM PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS HERE

CHRISTMAS JAM ARTIST PHOTO GALLERIES HERE

 

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Alison Krauss Asheville Bob Weir Branford Marsalis Christmas Jam David Simchock Photography Don Was Eric Krasno George Porter Govt Mule Habitat for Humanity Holly Bowling Jamey Johnson Jeff Sipe John Medesky Marcus King Michael McDonald The Last Waltz Band Warren Haynes Xmas Jam artist band charity concert event festival festivalreview fund raiser live music music photography performance photo photography review http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/12/festival-review-warren-haynes-christmas-jam-28-december-2016 Wed, 28 Dec 2016 05:38:00 GMT
Foto Focus: My Morning Jacket (October 27, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/11/foto-focus-my-morning-jacket-october-27-2016 ARTISTS:  My Morning Jacket

VENUE:  Thomas Wolfe Auditorium - Asheville, NC

DATE:  October 27, 2016

Photos By:  David Simchock

Okay, I admit that I was skeptical going into this show. Prior to this gig, I had never seen My Morning Jacket perform live, but I did see Jim James on his last solo tour when he passed through Asheville, and I just couldn't get into it.  Truth be told, I left the Orange Peel half-way through his set, long before he apparently got into some acoustic MMJ material (which I always love hearing on various Pandora stations). So, my expectations weren't very high as I walked into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and found my way to the photo pit.

Lo and behold, by the time I finally left the venue, I was buzzing like everyone else as I had just seen one of the most memorable shows of 2016 in Asheville. Not only was it a fantastic production of music, but it was also a fun show to photograph. I hope that the energy of Jim James and band comes through in these photos. It was quite a show, and I now look forward to seeing MMJ again in 2017.

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
 

My Morning Jacket 2016-10-27 (Asheville, NC)My Morning Jacket 2016-10-27 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Jim James MMJ My Morning Jacket Thomas Wolfe Auditorium artist band concert event fotofocus jam band live music music photography performance photo photography rock and roll http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/11/foto-focus-my-morning-jacket-october-27-2016 Thu, 03 Nov 2016 01:36:00 GMT
Foto Focus: Greensky Bluegrass (September 29, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/10/foto-focus-greensky-bluegrass-september-29-2016 ARTIST:  Greensky Bluegrass

VENUE:  Pisgah Brewing Company - Black Mountain, NC

DATE:  September 29, 2016

Photos By:  David Simchock

There's nothing like an early start to the weekend with a Thursday night jam session at the outdoor stage at Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain. Just because the summer officially came to an end a few days ago, doesn't mean that the summer's live music vibe is over.  And, what better way to jam than with a band like Greensky Bluegrass? Better yet, how about opening the evening with Larry Keel?

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Greensky Bluegrass 2016-09-29 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)Greensky Bluegrass 2016-09-29 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Greensky Bluegrass Larry Keel Pisgah Brewing Company artist band bluegrass concert event fotofocus jam jam band jam grass live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/10/foto-focus-greensky-bluegrass-september-29-2016 Sat, 01 Oct 2016 21:28:00 GMT
Concert Review: Michael McDonald (August 16, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/9/concert-review-michael-mcdonald-august-16-2016 ARTIST:  Michael McDonald

VENUE:  Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

DATE:  August 16, 2016

Review & Photos By:  David Simchock

Michael McDonald 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)Michael McDonald 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock It could not have been a more beautiful evening in the Blue Ridge Mountains as the annual Biltmore Concert Series presented a mid-August split-bill featuring Michael McDonald, followed by Boz Scaggs -- two 1970's music icons who have managed to maintain a loyal following over the years. Mother Nature was more than happy to cooperate with the 3,000 or so folks who made their way to the outdoor stage on the South Terrace of the world-famous Biltmore House as she delivered a stunning cloud-infused sunset as Michael McDonald finished up his opening set.

Of course, even with this colorful bonus, the evening remained all about the music. Though I would have personally thought (and hoped) that McDonald would be placed in the second slot for the evening, he settled in during daylight taking center stage behind his keyboard to pave the way for his long-time peer, Boz Scaggs.  Though I was initially told that McDonalds set would be a mere 30 minutes long, this proved to be false info as he entertained the Asheville crowd for at least an hour.

As expected, McDonald's repertoire of hits spread across both his solo career and his stint with the Doobie Brothers. Until you see him in concert, McDonald is one of those artists who you often forget had so many big hits. Though I have been a fan of his work since his days with the Doobies, I didn't remember how many popular songs he has put out over the years, all of which were included in this special Biltmore performance.

Michael McDonald 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)Michael McDonald 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)Michael McDonald
16 August 2016
Biltmore Estate
Asheville, NC

© Copyright David J. Simchock
The set list included solo hits such as  "Sweet Freedom" and "Keep Forgettin'", and also tapped into his Doobie Brothers catalog with "Here To Love You", "Minute By Minute" and "What A Fool Believes", as well as some older songs like the funky version of "It Keeps You Runnin'" and the final encore, the much-anticipated "Takin' It To The Streets". McDonald also peppered the set list with a few notable covers, including Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine" and his sentimental call for more peace and love in this world with Burt Bacherach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love".

Though I was a little disappointed that McDonald wasn't given the top slot for the evening, I left the venue more than pleased with his show, reminiscing about singing along to many of his songs in the 1970s and 80s. Whether your a fan of his unique, raspy voice or not, it was in perfect form, and he had a solid band to back him along the way. I wasn't able to attend any of the other Concert Series shows this summer at the Biltmore Estate, but I'm glad that I was able to make this one. Now, to see what the folks at the Biltmore (and Mother Nature) have in store for us in 2017.

Blue Ridge Sunset 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)Blue Ridge Sunset 2016-08-16 (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Biltmore Concert Series Biltmore Estate Boz Scaggs Doobie Brothers Michael McDonald North Carolina artist band concert concertreview event grunge keyboardist live music music photography performance photo photography singer http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/9/concert-review-michael-mcdonald-august-16-2016 Thu, 01 Sep 2016 17:08:00 GMT
Foto Focus: Michael Franti and Spearhead (July 20, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/8/foto-focus-michael-franti-and-spearhead-july-20-2016 ARTIST:  Michael Franti & Spearhead

VENUE:  Pisgah Brewing Company - Black Mountain, NC

DATE:  July 20, 2016

Photos By:  David J. Simchock

Though the line-up at Pisgah Brewing's outdoor stage seems to get better and better each summer, I don't think the venue has ever seen or felt the energy that Michael Franti & Spearhead brought to Black Mountain on this evening. Not only did Franti provide the high-energy and love-filled performance that he has become known for the world over, but he and his crew were very kind to the media photographers on hand, allowing them to photograph the entire show. Woah. This was a concert photographer's dream come true. Of course, Front Row Focus founder and lead photographer, David Simchock, was on hand to capture the electricity of the evening, from start to finish.  
 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
 

Michael Franti & SpearheadMichael Franti & Spearhead© Copyright David J. Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Michael Franti Pisgah Brewing Company Spearhead artist band concert event fotofocus live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/8/foto-focus-michael-franti-and-spearhead-july-20-2016 Wed, 03 Aug 2016 17:31:00 GMT
Foto Focus: Infamous Stringdusters (June 4, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/foto-focus-infamous-stringdusters-june-4-2016 ARTIST:  Infamous Stringdusters

VENUE:  Pisgah Brewing Company - Black Mountain, NC

DATE:  June 4, 2016

Photos By:  David J. Simchock

The Infamous Stringdusters rolled into Black Mountain, NC on Saturday night filling the middle slot of a triple-header evening. Keller Williams opened up the night with an entertaining solo performance, and after the 'dusters finished their main set, he joined them for a full set of Grateful Grass. It was yet another night of music where I left the venue in awe, immensely grateful for live music scene in Western North Carolina.  
 

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Infamous Stringdusters 2016-06-04 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)Infamous Stringdusters 2016-06-04 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Infamous Stringdusters Pisgah Brewing Company artist band bluegrass concert event fotofocus jam jam band jam grass live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/foto-focus-infamous-stringdusters-june-4-2016 Wed, 15 Jun 2016 21:28:00 GMT
Back Stage Pass: Infamous Stringdusters (Pisgah Brewing, June 4, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/back-stage-pass-infamous-stringdusters-pisgah-brewing-june-4-2016 Travis Book of The Infamous Stringdusters stands tall behind his upright bass as he and his bandmates casually limber up back-stage for their show at Pisgah Brewing Company

For more photos from the show, including more from back-stage, CLICK HERE.  

 

Infamous Stringdusters 2016-06-04 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)Infamous Stringdusters 2016-06-04 (Pisgah Brewing, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Infamous Stringdusters Pisgah Brewing Company Travis Book artist back stage backstagepass band banjo bluegress concert event fiddle green room guitar live music music photography performance photo photography violin http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/back-stage-pass-infamous-stringdusters-pisgah-brewing-june-4-2016 Sat, 11 Jun 2016 17:46:00 GMT
Foto Focus: Josh Ritter (May 18, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/foto-focus-josh-ritter-may-18-2016 ARTIST:  Josh Ritter

VENUE:  The Orange Peel - Asheville, NC

DATE:  May 18, 2016

Photos By:  David J. Simchock

It's no surprise how Josh Ritter has managed to establish such a loyal following in the Blue Ridge Mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina. And, his fans showed up in droves for his 2016 return to The Orange Peel to take in his latest melodic offerings, as well as a few of his popular compositions of past but, in my opinion, not enough of them on this night!. Nonetheless, Ritter and his band delivered a passionate performance, as they always do. 

Front Row Focus founder and lead photographer, David Simchock, was at The Peel to capture the essence of the evening.  
 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
 

Josh Ritter 2016-05-18 (Asheville, NC)Josh Ritter 2016-05-18 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Josh Ritter The Orange Peel artist band concert event folk fotofocus live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/6/foto-focus-josh-ritter-may-18-2016 Thu, 02 Jun 2016 17:08:00 GMT
Concert Review: Jimmy Buffett (April 23, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/5/concert-review-jimmy-buffett-april-23-2016 ARTIST:  Jimmy Buffett

VENUE:  PNC Music Pavilion - Charlotte, NC

DATE:  April 23, 2016

Review & Photos By: David Simchock

Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock It's been a long time coming. Finally, on this 80-degree summer-like April evening, a big tick was made on my personal concert bucket list. After years and years of my own beach-bar karaoke-style renditions of Margaritaville dating back to my mid-1980s days on the Jersey Shore, the opportunity presented itself to experience a live Jimmy Buffett performance. History was made on April 23rd, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I got to celebrate this long-awaited milestone with my partner, Beth, and thousands upon thousands of  real-life Parrotheads who flocked to the PNC Music Pavilion with a tequilla-fueled frenzy that one has grown to expect from fans of this iconic singer-songwriter. This wasn't just a concert. This was a beach party in the middle of North Carolina.

And, what a show it was, living up to all expectations, if not exceeding them in many ways. Sure, I anticipated a huge, zealous, colorful crowd of die-hard fans. But, what I didn't really prepare myself for was how energetic and youthful this pirate-looking-at-70 would be for a solid two-hour show, filled with just about every sing-along hit he ever recorded, along with a few notable covers thrown in. Jimmy Buffett is still the real deal, as he showed no signs of "mailing it in" (or, flying it in), treating his impassioned fans to a set list of hits, touring tales, and lots of genuine positivity.

Though Buffett's appearance these days resembles more a retired dentist on a Caribbean cruise than it does a "gulf and western" rock star who has been entertaining folks with his beach-friendly lyrics for 50 years, his passion for performing hasn't waned a bit over the past half-century. In fact, if I were to compare the quality of this evening's music to the the 1999 live album, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, that we listened to on the drive from Asheville to Charlotte, I'd have to say that Buffett has taken it up a couple of notches. Not only that, but he seemed to be having the time of his life, as if it was just yesterday that he went out on the road, ready to uplift the planet with his tales of travel, sailing, and over-indulgence of rum.

Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Apart from a few fans who looked worse for wear before they even made it into the arena, the only over-indulgence we witnessed from Buffett was his immense joyfulness and gratitude for being where he was in the moment, and for sharing such sincere happiness with his family of fans. Despite the tour being titled Workin' and Playin', it hardly seemed like work for the perpetually-smiling bare-footed singer as he took center-stage donning shorts and a tee shirt, flanked by 11 band members and a huge jumbotron screen as a backdrop to the stage. 

I am a fan, but I would hardly consider myself a full-fledged card-carrying Parrothead, so the first four or five songs of the evening weren't all that familiar, and the show seemed to get off to a slow-ish start for me. Then, as Buffett and his band eased into "Come Monday", followed by another personal favorite, "Son Of A Son Of A Sailor", it was time join the rest of the crowd in a stand-for-the-duration sing-song that would carry us all through the evening. From there on out, Buffett belted out a string of songs I knew by heart, including "Volcano", "Cheeseburger In Paradise" and, of course, his signature mega-hit, "Margaritaville".

Perhaps the song that inspired the greatest audience participation was "Fins", as thousands of Parrothead faithful swung their "fins to the left" then their "fins to the right", as a sea of human sharks made it clear that the PNC Music Pavilion was offering the only musical bait in town. Other notable selections included "License To Chill", "One Particular Harbor", an NC dedication, "Coast Of Carolina", and a family-friendly "Why Don't We Get Drunk/Books". The fun but profound "Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes" was saved for the encore, rounding off every Buffett hit that I'm aware of, apart from "Pencil Thin Mustache" which was absent from tonight's set list.
Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock
There was no shortage of covers woven into the show, including long-standing Buffett staples, "Southern Cross" (Crosby, Stills & Nash), "Brown-eyed Girl (Van Morrison), and "Scarlet Begonias" (Grateful Dead). The band also paid their respects to recent fallen stars, playing "Silver Wings", (Merle Haggard), and closing out the encore set with a tribute to Prince with a very moving rendition of "Purple Rain".

As the crowd emptied the amphitheater into the sprawling parking lot and we hiked back to my car, I couldn't help but feel good about my first live Jimmy Buffett experience. In fact, I couldn't help but feel good about life. Through his songs, his story-telling, and his infectious laughter, this happy-go-lucky beach-bum of a musician exemplifies what it means to live life to its fullest. He's been livin' the dream for about five decades, and doesn't appear to be letting up any time soon. Sure, his tour schedule is a bit lighter these days, but the man needs some time for his entrepreneurial activities, not to mention his writing, acting and charity work. Though I may no longer need to cross Jimmy Buffett off of my ever-expanding concert bucket list, that doesn't mean that I'm one-and-done with seeing him perform. I will, however, be adding him to my "people I'd like to fish with" bucket list. I wonder how long it will take to cross that one off?

Author's note... Though Front Row Focus prides itself on our high-quality photo galleries that always accompany our gig reviews, unfortunately, I was not issued a photo pass for this show, so my Jimmy Buffett photo gallery is very limited, including only three performance shots that were captured from my seat with my point-and-shoot camera. Maybe next time I'll be able to grab a few choice photos from the pit!


Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)Jimmy Buffett 2016-04-23 (Charlotte, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock
 

 

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Charlotte Cheeseburger In Paradise Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville PNC Music Pavilion Prince Purple Rain artist audience band concert concertreview crowd event fins gulf and western live music music photography parrot head parrothead performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/5/concert-review-jimmy-buffett-april-23-2016 Wed, 04 May 2016 13:51:16 GMT
Foto Focus: Rhiannon Giddens (April 12, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/4/foto-focus-rhiannon-giddens-april-12-2016 ARTIST:  Rhiannon Giddens

VENUE:  Diana Wortham Theatre - Asheville, NC

DATE:  April 12, 2016

Photos By:  David J. Simchock

Rhiannon Giddens 2016-04-12 (Asheville, NC)Rhiannon Giddens 2016-04-12 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Rhiannon Giddens, of Carolina Chocolate Drops fame, recently passed through Asheville performing under her own name to a sold out crowd at the intimate Diana Wortham Theatre. Ms. Giddens was accompanied by a solid backing band, which featured a couple of fellas from the most recent CCD formation (multi-instrumentalists Hubby Jenkins and Rowan Corbett).

The two-hour performance spanned a diverse pool of selections ranging from Giddens' recent contribution to The New Basement Tapes (a supergroup collaborative recording of Bob Dylan lyrics / songs) to a track or two from her Carolina Chocolate Drops endeavors.

A native of North Carolina, Giddens was right at home in front of an audience that couldn't have been more appreciative of her captivating and powerful voice, engaging story-telling, with a bit political commentary thrown in. 

Front Row Focus founder and lead photographer, David Simchock, was at the theatre to capture the magic of the evening.  
 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE
 

Rhiannon Giddens 2016-04-12 (Asheville, NC)Rhiannon Giddens 2016-04-12 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Asheville Bob Dylan Carolina Chocolate Drops Diana Wortham Theatre Hubby Jenkins Rhiannon Giddens Rowan Corbett The New Basement Tapes artist band concert event folk fotofocus live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/4/foto-focus-rhiannon-giddens-april-12-2016 Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:35:31 GMT
Concert Review: Pearl Jam (April 16, 2016) http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/4/concert-review-pearl-jam-april-16-2016 ARTIST:  Pearl Jam

VENUE:  Bon Secours Wellness Arena - Greenville, SC

DATE:  April 16, 2016

Review By:  Beth Baldino

Photos By:  David Simchock

Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock I would have hesitated to reveal my true feelings while hanging out in Greenville on April 16th waiting to see the Pearl Jam show, considering I was so completely surrounded by seriously-diehard fans of the American rock institution that brought us all to town. But, the truth is, although I was enjoying the night out and was curious about what lay ahead of me, I wasn’t exactly crawling out of my skin to see Pearl Jam, nor was I anticipating that this would be a peak musical experience. 

Hanging out on Greenville's tree-lined North Main Street for drinks and a meal earlier in the evening, I picked up on a kind of jam band vibe among the crowded streets, bars and cafés. From the couple with the adorable four-month old infant in the Pearl Jam onesie (they assured us he wouldn’t be going with them to the arena), to the gatherings of friends meeting up pre-show who wanted to swap stories about how many times they’ve seen the band and how old they were when they first got turned on to them, this was a community of music lovers who took their devotion seriously.

The fact is, my photographer partner, David, and I were PJ virgins that evening. And while I knew and deeply appreciated the group’s most popular hits, I think I only owned a couple of their CD’s and I didn’t remember them in great detail, as I had never bothered to load them into my iTunes library. The subgenre of alternative rock known as “grunge” that emerged from the area of Seattle hit its stride in the early 90’s, which was post-high school/college for my partner and me, just past that period of peak intensity in musical obsession during which you’re most likely to gravitate towards and quickly adopt the latest styles and trends. Plus, as we launched careers and attempted to seriously “adult”, the themes of alienated youth so prevalent in this musical form were not quite in sync with where our heads where at.

Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Having said all that, Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam’s front man, I have always really loved. With a voice both undeniably strong and masculine but at the same time so romantically beautiful, melodic and emotional, anything he’s singing always stands out for me. With his unique ability to both rough you up and soothe you within the same song, you’d never mistake Vedder for another singer. His solo work, in particular, includes some of my favorite songs (and I do own both of those albums).

But now, post-show, I feel like I missed a train I could have easily had a ticket for because I never realized it was going somewhere I would have actually really enjoyed so much. The thing is, while Pearl Jam has been majorly responsible for helping to popularize grunge -- the fusion of punk and heavy metal featuring distorted electric guitar, dissonant harmonies and raw sound -- the group has ultimately broadened beyond the heavier influences to create a uniquely diverse and endlessly interesting body of work with great appeal for varied moods and moments. Don’t get me wrong, Pearl Jam can rock out with the best of them, but their emotional depth and the full breadth of the styles they have mastered, when you really dig into their full catalog, are incredibly impressive.

The Greenville show began without pretense as Vedder and the band walked out and got right down to business while the fans in the 15,000-seat sold-out Bon Secours Wellness Arena took to their feet in a roar of appreciation. Starting with “Corduroy” from the third studio album, 1994’s Vitalogy, this initial number highlighted PJ’s ability to produce simple, straightforward rock and roll. Afterwards, without comment, Vedder and the five band-mates who have mostly been with him since the 90’s, launched right into “Go”, the first song of their second studio album, Vs, released in 1993. They proceeded to play the album straight through, in order, highlighting the rawer and more aggressive sound of this particular piece of work. Apparently, Pearl Jam has only played a full album in concert twice before (Yield in Milwaukee and No Code in Moline, Illinois). The band’s choice made me wonder if they felt a need to quickly confirm their credentials as card-carrying rockers who can still kill it, despite being 25 years into this gig. In confirmation, a few songs down the line, Vedder asked the crowd if the music was too loud for them, replying “I was hoping you’d say that” to the resounding, “no” that came from hyped-up devotees, the majority of whom were still on their feet (and stayed on their feet for the show’s entirety).
Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock
Another  noteworthy point on Vs, which may have no connection to the set determination but is interesting because of Vedder’s well-known social justice engagement and career-long commitment to using his voice to highlight causes ranging from abortion rights to Kosovar refugees, is that this was the album the group put out right before the Ticketmaster fight in the early 90’s. When Pearl Jam went up against the concert industry behemoth in a very public dispute over concert ticket service charges, the band ended up canceling its 1994 summer tour. Whether intentional or not, this album, for which no promotional videos were produced because of all the uproar, got a full and proper airing on this evening, making up for at least a little of the lost opportunity 22 years ago.

The four numbers that followed Vs came off the band’s 10th studio album, the 2013 release, Lightning Bolt. This collection explores the full range of style and theme that Pearl Jam is capable of, and the numbers included here were a perfect, varied, tasting of this skill-set. “Mind your Manners,” which guitarist Mike McCready has described as an attempt at making a really hard edge, Dead Kennedys-sounding song, was first-up. The lyrics on this tune reflect Vedder’s feelings about the hypocrisy of organized religion. “Swallowed Whole” an evocative, mid-tempo number, followed. Reportedly written after a late night, full-moon, solo surfing session during which Vedder has been both thrilled and humbled by the huge waves, it’s one of several songs on this album that involve Vedder contemplating mortality, reflecting on “what lies beyond the grave” and how these considerations may influence how we live our lives: “I can hear the crash, I can feel the pound, I could feel the current pulling down, down, down, down. Down, down, down, down.” The artist explained to Billboard magazine that rather than wanting to focus on mortality he found it something he couldn't get away from because of the troubled society we live in, “I think part of it is not getting around it, it's getting through it,” he elaborated, “songs end up being mantras that you end up playing for yourself as well."

Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock “Sirens,” my personal favorite from this album, was up next. With its gorgeous, poetic lyrics and romantic melody, this is a ballad about the fragility of life in the shadow of the ever-present “death over our shoulders.” Describing how we can be in one moment overwhelmed by the contemplation of whether the sirens may be coming next for us, this song points out that we may also experience the sweet relief of being brought back to the moment with just a simple gaze at our loved ones. Closing out the four, the group performed “Let the Records Play”, an uplifting, fun song with a full-on boogie sound and lyrics that are relatable for any true music fan: “Shakened, awakened, not one for faking, kneeling, his healing, he lets the records play. There's wisdom in his ways.”

At this point in the show, PJ went back to Vitalogy to share more on the same theme. “Spin the Black Circle” also focused on the restorative power of music, describes the now quaint relationship one might have with a record player: “You're so warm, oh, the ritual, when I lay down your crooked arm.”  “Do the Evolution” from the 1998 release, Yield, followed. In this tune, with music written by guitarist Stone Gossard, Vedder assumes the persona of a stereotypically destructive, demonic “first mammal to wear pants,” so selfish and egotistical he’s actually bragging on what an ass-hole he is. With a nod to controversy in that other Carolina just north, Vedder added a line referencing the LGBT community, in parody of how the noxious character in his musical tale might regard these folks.

The show ended at this point, but to everyone’s delight, was far from over. The first encore began by going back to Lightning Bolt for the sweetly hopeful “Future Days,” a choice inspired by an audience member who had contacted the band about being cancer-free after a multi-year struggle with the disease.  Next was “Nothingman” from Vitalogy, a simple song with music written by bassist, Jeff Ament, on which Vedder once commented, “The idea is about if you love someone and they love you, don't fuck up...'cause you are left with less than nothing." In response to a young woman requesting the band play, “Inside Job” in honor of the shooting victims from the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, PJ offered out “Given to Fly,” another number from Yield, this one a classic rocker loosely based on Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” (Vedder explained the group hadn’t prepared to play the song she was asking for). In this tale of a misunderstood youth who rises above his challenges and detractors, the soaring melody represents the ability of the protagonist to transcend it all and become “a human being given to fly.”

Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock “Present Tense,” also included in this set, suggests there are two ways to live--alone and agonizing over the past or in the moment, consistently reaching towards the sun, as the tree does, naturally.  This one is from No Code, PJ’s fourth studio album, released in 1996 and known for including greater diversity in sound and style than what the band had produced previously. “Comfortably Numb,” by Pink Floyd, was the first cover tune performed, during which Vedder temporarily took over pianist Boom Kasper’s instrument to show off his keyboard skills. And this encore finished with the title track from Lightning Bolt, and then “Porch” the first of two numbers the group would do from Ten, PJ’s debut studio album, wrapping up on a high energy note with this angry, anxious song about love gone awry.  

After another short break, the group returned for a final encore, this time completely repositioning themselves to face the folks in the back of the stage who’d been staring at the artist’s backs for most of the evening. These delighted fans were treated to “Last Kiss,” the teen tragedy song by Wayne Cochran. Facing to the front once again, PJ proceeded with “Breath” from the movie soundtrack for Singles, an encouraging number about grabbing life by the horns and making the most of it.  Next up was “Comatose” from the self-titled 2006 album, which epitomized the band’s hard rock roots. The iconic “Better Man” from Vitalogy, followed. Never released as a single, “Better Man” has allegedly received the most radio play of any PJ song. It also spent eight weeks as number one on Billboard’s Main Stream Rock Tracks, all the more impressive for the fact that the song was written by Vedder while he was still in high school. The melody and chord progression of the tune were loosely based on the English Beat song, “Save it for Later,” and the band segued from "Better Man" into this song, ironically also written by English Beat singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling when he was a teenager.  

“Alive” provided one of the most touching moments all evening, as Vedder went into the audience to hug a fan holding a sign reading, “Alive Saved My Life,” and he sung a few minutes of the song with him. The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” was up next, serving as a perfect pre-grunge teen angst anthem tying two generations together in solidarity. The simultaneously intense and wistful “Yellow Ledbetter,” originally the back-side of the “Jeremy” single and the only song shared from Lost Dog, a double-disc collection of B-sides and other released and unreleased rarities, proved to be the final number of the show. Co-written by Ament and McCready, "Yellow Ledbetter" was an outtake from the band's debut album, Ten, and is noteworthy for McCready’s Hendrix-style riffs. Although the song has never been released on one of Pearl Jam’s studio albums, it remains one of their most popular songs and provided a satisfying closure.


Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock While Vedder had come out, at the start of the show, with his signature notebook and bottle of red, I wondered during the early part of the evening if he would reveal any of the warm, engaging personality I’d been assured was an integral part of his stage persona. But once he did start talking, about half way through Vs, his interaction became and then remained a major part of the performance through to the end. Vedder made several trips into the crowd, trailed by a couple of imposing body guards, to get up close and personal with excited fans. He also acknowledged a number of people who had sent in requests for some kind of recognition. In addition to what was mentioned previously, Vedder toasted a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary and another out on date night (joking that this evening was at least a bit of a step up from their usual dinner at Bennigan’s). He spoke to several children in the crowd, including a young girl sitting on her Dad’s shoulders, introduced to the crowd as Magda, while her bright beaming face hovered over the venue on the jumbotrons. He gave a shout out to engineer Karrie Keyes, who also ended up on the big screen, to her apparent embarrassment. And he acknowledged Horizon Records, a local shop, congratulating owner Gene Berger on their 40th anniversary; McCready had bought the band a bunch of vinyl from Berger earlier in the day in support of “record store day.” Though Vedder took the obvious lead this evening in working the crowd, the rest of the band certainly wasn’t slacking in this regard; McCready crouched down low at the edge of the stage and got close enough to allow fans to touch his Gibson, several times. He also entered the crowd, performing a solo at one point, and throughout the show he shared guitar picks with fans eager to take home a piece of the experience.
Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock
While Vedder’s stage theatrics may have been taken down a notch after 25 years on the road, as he’s no longer climbing the scaffolding and speaker rigs, or hanging from the rafters or jumping into the crowd as he was known to in the early days, he was impressively active for all three hours of the show. He’s still stomping and jumping, swinging the mike rodeo-style, pounding the mic stand, and perching himself upon his monitor occasionally getting some air here and there. Between the all-out energy, spot-on musicianship throughout the show, consistent crowd interaction and appreciation, and the jam-packed set list, Pearl Jam was eager to please. It seemed as if it was vitally important to Vedder that he demonstrate his genuine appreciation and deeply-held respect for the people who put them on that stage in front of yet another sold out crowd of thousands. Even at the close, after the group had waved their goodbyes and his bandmates turned to walk off stage, Vedder seemed to hesitate for just a moment, looking out over the audience once more as if he was wondering if he forget to acknowledge someone who was waiting to hear from him or there could be one more young person hoping to get one of the dozens of tambourines he had tossed out during the finale.

It was nice to see someone of Vedder’s stature with a band that has reached the pinnacle of success still working so hard to be authentic with the fans, providing a top-notch, well-rounded performance. That attitude and approach will serve Pearl Jam well going forward. And, thankfully, that should give me enough time to work towards becoming a full-fledged part of the community of passionate PJ devotees as the band matures and continues on for many more years, we hope, in the tradition of other life-long rockers. I’m already looking forward to the next tour and feeling grateful that Pearl Jam seems poised to go on evolving, entertaining and enlightening us for a long time to come. 

Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)Pearl Jam 2016-04-16 (Greenville, SC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

 

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david@frontrowfocus.com (Front Row Focus) Bon Secours Wellness Arena Boom Kasper Eddie Vedder Greenville Jeff Ament Mike McCready PJGreenville PJTour2016 Pearl Jam SC Seattle South Carolina Stone Gossard artist band concert concertreview event grunge live music music photography performance photo photography http://www.frontrowfocus.com/blog/2016/4/concert-review-pearl-jam-april-16-2016 Wed, 20 Apr 2016 15:26:40 GMT