Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 4, 2015 by midliferocker

Powerful & modern folk-bluegrass sounds keep things going strong for a close-knit Pennsylvania band.

By Steve Houk

What’s a key part of folk and bluegrass music? Bringing people together. You sit close, you lean in, you smell the bonfire and taste the whiskey, and make raw, beautiful music on sometimes no more than a guitar, perhaps a mandolin, often an upright bass, and sometimes the scraping beat of a washboard. It’s great music. But it’s the communal nature that gets everyone dialed in.

Pennsylvania’s Mason Porter is a perfect example of a successful 21st century bluegrass-folk-rock band, a close-knit group of buds hitting traditional folk-bluegrass buttons while also tossing in a hit of country rock energy and power for good measure. They are one of a number of regionally/nationally popular bands right now that love to take you back, while also bringing you forward. And thankfully for the recurring traditions and innate camraderie of this music, it makes for a winning combination for these guys.

“It seems like it’s cycled back, which is the great thing with the folk music tradition, it is timeless,” says band co-founder and guitarist Paul Wilkinson. “It might cycle out for a few years here and there, but it’s gonna cycle back. Because there’s nothing more basic than people sitting around playing music. Like around the fireplace and sharing songs. And that’s what comes through from this folksy Americana genre, that kind of camraderie. Just hanging out, just trying to make peace with the wonder and awe of things.”

All the guys had their own musical influences, and as a kid, Wilkinson’s parents played alot of Dylan and Dead which, after a period of resistance, helped open the door to what he and his mates would eventually make their living playing.

“We’d have to listen to Bob Dylan to clean the house, you know, so I had started with a distaste for Bob Dylan and all that music,” Wilkinson said. “Probably in my early teens, it finally clicked and I was like, wait a minute, there’s something goin’ on here. So through the records my parents had around, which were alot of Dylan, and also Grateful Dead stuff, which is a great gateway band into all kinds of stuff, ‘cuz all of a sudden you’re listening to Merle Haggard and that’s blowing your mind, then the Garcia/Grisman discs started coming out, and then I’d start listening to Doc Watson and Bill Monroe, the real bluegrass guys. So through those areas with Dylan and the Dead, I was introduced to the whole American songbook pretty much, I guess.”

Mason Porter formed in West Chester PA in 2006 when Wilkinson (from North Central PA), Joe D’Amico (closer to Philly) and Tim Celfo (a Jersey boy), had been jamming together and apart and found they had shared musical interests, so they decided to make a go of it. The trio has stuck together ever since, carving out a wide niche of popularity in and around West Chester that’s now expanded across the state and beyond to include stops at festivals and even occasional gigs in the Big Apple.

“Me and Joe were playing a little bit with a couple other guys,” Wilkinson said, “and then we’re like, hey, let’s get an upright bass player, and Tim was in town so we called him up. We played a gig and then stuck around and it became just the three of us, and we’ve stuck together since. It was the right time and place for all of us. We would up being good musical friends and friends in general. Been together going on nine years, the core trio of us.”

During their nine years together, Mason Porter has put out a couple records before truly hitting their stride with 2014’s excellent Home For The Harvest, a record that resoundingly put on display both traditional folkgrass as well as the more dynamic aspects and songwriting chops of the band.

“Joe’s the most prolific songwriter of the three of us, always writing something, always has something going. Tim has a song here and there, and I’ve had a couple. I think it had really been two or three years since our prior record, and Home For The Harvest really got back to the basics, some nice acoustic arrangements, with a drummer in the studio, and the harmonies, it’s real song-centric. We felt had a great record. The one song “That’s Alright By Me” on there got picked up by XM Sirius Coffee House, they started playing that alot, so that did help us to the next step a little bit by getting that radio recognition.”

Mason Porter plays live in 2015 (photo courtesy Lisa Schaeffer)

Mason Porter plays live in 2015 (photo courtesy Lisa Schaeffer)

Mason Porter’s most recent release is the 5-song EP Key To The Skyway, recorded in Philadelphia, which further illustrates the power of this talented band. How they weave the modern with the old school, it’s impressive. Rounding out their always stellar live shows these days are the superb Sara Larsen on fiddle and Kevin Killen on drums, who both also contributed to the EP in studio. So why just release an EP, after the success of the full-length prior record?

“It was more a matter of logistics, and resources available. We had the extra musicians from Home For The Harvest and we wanted to get something of out that, and we had new material. We thought, let’s try to do less songs and get it out to more people. Do more with less. Overall, now we’ve flushed out the sonic landscape if you will with the keys and the fiddle added. It adds a boost of energy and sound.”

In addition to their contemporary folkgrassrock sound that continues to develop and grow even stronger with every release and every live show, it comes down to that ever-elusive harmony that has kept this hard-working band churning forward into their next decade. And just by staying together this long, they’ve proven that the camraderie inherent in playing this timeless music is as important as anything.

“When the respect for each other and the music is there, I mean, being able to stay together for a few years is a feat in itself I think. When we got together, we said, ”Hey if we stay together, that’s more than half the battle.’ Alot of great bands get together and do something great, and then they fall out with each other. We’ve been able to hang in there, one of our strengths is camraderie with each other.”



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by midliferocker

Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster bring their powerful Celtic-infused fiddle magic to The Birchmere on October 29th (photo courtesy Rebecca Littlejohn)

Working with legendary rock producers and touring the world together is how great it is for this fiddling supercouple. 

By Steve Houk

One amazing fiddle virtuoso in the family is a cool enough thing.

But two? Out of this world.

And that’s what fiddling dynamos Donnell Leahy and his wife Natalie MacMaster have goin’ on. The pair are not only highly respected and successful fiddle players on their own, but together they encompass perhaps the most powerful fiddle duo of all time. And if you ask Leahy how it all came to be, he’ll tell you it’s really just a beautiful twist of fate.

“I like to think it was meant to be, and that the stars aligned at the right time. First, I’m a fan of Natalie’s since before I married her. And I love her taste in music. And she was a fan of what I did before we got married. So we dated for a couple years and did our own thing, and then the stars aligned, and this is the result.”

And what a fabulous supernova it is. After years of playing some of the best fiddle on the planet in their own careers — he with his internationally acclaimed family band Leahy and she with her own top shelf status– this dynamic pair have joined forces not only in matrimony (they’ve been married 12 years) and parenting (they have six children together) but they have also become what many in the genre call the “first couple of contemporary Celtic music,” melding their different styles into a rich cacophony of traditional and modern fiddle music. It has culminated in their exceptional first record together, One, that came out last fall, produced by legendary rock producer Bob Ezrin. Donnell, Natalie and their band grace the stage with their “Cape Breton and Beyond” at The Birchmere on October 29th.

This pair makes so much sense, it’s almost scary.

The Irish Leahy grew up in Ontario in a musical family where fiddling was a mainstay. Being the oldest boy in a family of 11, Leahy knew that the fiddle was going to be a part of his life from an early age. “As a young lad, you want to be like your Dad,” said Leahy. “And that’s the only instrument Dad played, so Dad and Mom bought me a fiddle when I was 3, and I just tried to be like Dad.”

As for his wife, who grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Leahy says even when she was in the womb, her mother introduced her to the comforting sounds of the fiddle and the die was cast. “Before she was even born, her mother would literally put the music on and put it up to her tummy. Natalie couldn’t go to bed unless she had fiddle music on. The day she picked up the fiddle she could play it because the sounds were so engrained in her. [Her family] never even thought of Natalie playing the fiddle until an uncle from Boston came home with a little fiddle. He said, ‘Does anyone want to play?’ He asked all the cousins, and Natalie jumped up and said, ‘I’d love it!’ and so she got the fiddle from her uncle, and she played two tunes that day. Almost like chance if you will, they had never even thought of getting her a fiddle.”

Given they grew up in different regions, Leahy and MacMaster drew on the different fiddling styles of their upbringing to learn and establish their own sounds.

“The differences in our sound is where we come from. Natalie is from Cape Breton and the tradition in Cape Breton is Scottish,” Leahy said. “I’m told that the Cape Breton fiddling is the purest form of Scottish traditional fiddling there is. Natalie listened to Cape Breton music as she grew up. I grew up listening to different things, my Dad was an Ontario fiddle player but I wasn’t from a big fiddle area. So I listened to my Dad, and I listened to the radio, country music and rock music and classical music. Whatever I heard I tried to play. I started when I was 3, and when I was was around 8, or 9, an Irish accordion player, a local guy who I’d listened to a little bit, he gave me four records (by famous fiddlers), and I played by ear and learned every note on those records.”

MacMaster & Leahy (photo courtesy Rebekah Littlejohn)

Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster (photo courtesy Rebekah Littlejohn)

Leahy and MacMaster went on to have very successful fiddle-focused careers; Natalie is considered one of the world’s preeminent fiddle players, her collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma won a Grammy,  and Donnell’s family band is one of Canada’s most beloved groups. They had been planning to record together for a while, but life kept getting in the way.

“As soon as we were engaged, we started thinking, wouldn’t it be great to play concerts together and record together, so it was always in our minds. But as life happens, Natalie had a record she was working on, and I had a project with Leahy, and then a baby would come along, and another one came along, and finally about two years ago, we said this is ridiculous, we have to make this record. We planned to do it last May, then we got delayed again, and so we wanted to get going last September but we met Bob Ezrin in August, so that changed our plans because Bob was not available in September. Another twist of fate you might say.”

Yes, that Bob Ezrin, the legendary producer who helmed such epic records as Alice Cooper‘s School’s Out, Pink Floyd‘s The Wall, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell and KissDestroyer among dozens of others. Leahy and MacMaster were stunned to not only meet Ezrin and talk music, but by the call they received soon after.

“Incredible, the day he called and said, ‘I know you’re doing a project and I’d love to be involved if you’d have me.’ That day was just unreal. Crazy that Bob Ezrin called us. We’re fiddle players, you know! He said he’d always wanted to do a Celtic record, and he had been given many opportunities and he just never really was drawn to one. And he somehow liked what we did and away we go. He said, ‘I want to hear the tunes you have in mind.’ So we went and we had about 18 ideas, tunes or ideas, and the first thing he said was, ‘This is your record, and we’re gonna make your record.’ Lovely thing to say right off the start. Just to watch him work, he’s so creative. It was great.”

(photo courtesy Rob Corrado)

Natalie and Donnell with their six children (photo courtesy Rob Corrado)

And the experience of not only working with Ezrin, but with his own immensely talented wife? Two words sum it up, not only the musical but the personal aspects of the time they spent together making One. 

“Real joyful. Some people think, oh you guys working together, you must be at each other all the time. We just loved it. I love what Natalie brings to a tune or to a project, not only the communicality, but the fresh ideas. Plus, we have six children now, that is our main focus, but when we made this record last October, we only had a week to get down to Nashville and do all the bed tracks, and it was just crazy. We made the decision we’re not taking the children with us. And it was like the first time in nine or ten years that we’d been away together without the children.  Not to be negative, they were well taken care of by their grandparents, but we were guilt free. It was just an awesome week.”

Leahy and MacMaster’s sound is mostly traditional at its core, yet infused with a level of power, energy and passion rivaling that of any musical genre. So what do they want you to come away with after experiencing their music?

“I want people to come away knowing that we’re playing the music we love,” Leahy said. “We’re not seeking a sound or an audience, we’re playing the music we love. If people like it, we’re thrilled and honored. But everything we do is really honest and heartfelt.”

MacMaster and Leahy perform Thursday October 29th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here.

Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for and his own blog at He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover bands  Second Wind  and Heywoodja plus a Rolling Stones cover band and other local rock ensembles.







Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2015 by midliferocker
One of the Mansion's themed dining rooms (Photo courtesy The Washington Center)

One of the Mansion’s themed dining rooms (Photo courtesy The Washington Center)

On several levels, literally, the astounding Mansion on O is something to be experienced.

By Steve Houk

It’s a mesmerizing and unforgettable cross between, say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Alice’s Wonderland. With maybe a dose of Downton Abbey thrown in, given its aura of grandness and formal majesty.

But as you carefully yet excitedly navigate the five floors, the over 100 rooms, sometimes via one of the Mansion on Os 70 secret doors, you notice that nearly every open space is overflowing with everything from kitschy assorted trinkets to priceless art and music collectibles. You climb the meandering tight staircases (or use the mirrored elevator) and discover eclectic and stunning guest rooms like the Log Cabin room replete with a fish tank in the headboard, or the John Lennon Room with one of his guitars and his art everywhere. Maybe you wander into the Beatles billiard room with the rare Yellow Submarine juke box, or come upon the elegant sitting room with the uncommon acoustic bass.

Hey, what was that I just passed? Just a guitar signed by a dozen of the biggest rock stars of all time, ya know, Richards, Beck, Clapton, Guy, Young, etc.

Oh yeah….and nearly everything in the place is for sale. And they have cool rock concerts. No, I’m not kidding.

There are very few places you come across that live up to the moniker “you’ve never seen anything like it.” The Mansion on O near Dupont Circle in Washington is one of those places. An astoundingly unique series of five interconnected town houses, yes, on the one hand it is a music and curio collector’s paradise — items on display as you wander the massive space include a John Lennon letter he wrote to his laundromat, Bob Dylan & Bruce Springsteen signed guitars from their Hall of Fame inductions, original sculpture by Frederick Hart, all three signed Lord of the Rings film scripts, the list goes on.

But it is so much more than that — it’s also a high end B & B with the most unique guest rooms in town, a magical event and meeting space, and last but not least, the home of the O Street Museum Foundation that curates the collection and also serves to enrich the arts in different and unique ways.

Breaking 'em up in the Beatles Pool Room (Photo courtesy Steve Houk)

Breaking ’em up in the Beatles Pool Room (Photo courtesy Steve Houk)

I mean, this is one incredible place that, like the structure of the Mansion itself, is special on a number of levels.

Owner H.H. Leonards is the main reason the Mansion on O exists, it was her dream and her vision, and because of her passion and the subsequent magic of its contents, it remains by far one of Washington’s most special attractions, yet still also one of its best kept secrets. Leonard’s husband Ted Spero beams when he speaks of the long road H has hoed to get the Mansion to where it is today.

“In her brain, she pictured this place,” Spero said. “When H created the house, there was a purpose, and the purpose is she wanted to create a space where people can find their passion, get out of themselves, forget about who you are. That’s why she put in secret doors. She had no money, she got about 30 credit cards, took out all the cash advance she could, she found the one house here with a side garden, and it was perfect in her mind, they were actually going to sell it to someone else, they had a better offer. But when she explained what she wanted to do, to make it a bigger thing, they really wanted to sell it to her. ”


All of the pictures on the wall are for sale in this dining room that also hosts the live concerts

Spero recollects a moment when if not for the generosity of a stranger, the Mansion might not exist.

“H was on an airplane going from New York to DC, sitting next to what seemed to be a homeless guy,” Spero said. “She started talking to him, she was $40,000 short for the down payment, and when she got off the plane, she had a check for $40,000. He said, “What’s the address, I’ll see you in two years.” He’s a good friend to this day, he’s still under the radar, an anonymous guy, that’s how she got the first house. Every one of the houses is the same kind of story.”

Spero has been an integrally relied upon and very supportive right hand since he and H married 12 years ago. But he knows who really is the brainchild behind it all.

“It’s her, it’s all H. I’ve been here twelve years, she’s been here 36 years. She got the one house, then she built the second house in ’85.There were three original houses, so she originally bought house number three in a row, then she built house number four in a row, and then got house number one, then house number two, then house number five, that’s how they’re laid out. The second house she bought, which was house number two, #2018, was trashed, it was for sale forever, she finally bought it, she gutted it, restored it. And then she got the first house that was the original last of the three that were bulk at the same time. Each one has a different story on how she acquired ’em. It’s now 30,000 square feet.”


A guitar signed by music legends Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Neil Young, Bob Weir, John Mayer and others sits at the top of a staircase (Photo courtesy Steve Houk)

The musical connection to the Mansion is as organic and important a part of the place as anything, from its exceptional collection of memorabilia to its very intimate and direct involvement with musicians and artists. Leonards is on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and along with Spero’s also-deep connections to the music industry, the pair has been able to create almost an East Coast version of the Hall right in the Mansion, with a stunning array of musically-related items placed throughout the house that are as rare as many in Cleveland. And through those musical connections, musicians themselves have found the Mansion to be a magical haven where they can marvel at their surroundings and concentrate on their craft while they get away from the normal drag of tour hotels. In fact, the musicians who stay there are encouraged to grab and play any of the dozens of collectible instruments strewn about the place. Spero said he has stayed up until the wee hours sitting around jamming with whomever may be staying there at the time.

“When musicians come here, you never know what’s gonna happen,” Spero continued. “Jackson Browne was here for a week, he took the whole house, his band, his crew, they rehearsed here, they lived here. Vanilla Ice was just here too. It was incredible for them because they usually stay in hotels. What’s a hotel, so impersonal. But here, they’ll never forget it. It’s just something about the house that allows you to be who you are, forget about that facade. You walk in here, it’s a home, pick up a guitar, do your thing, you know.”

World class Led Zeppelin cover band Lez Zeppelin performs as part of the O Street Museum Foundation's concert series (Photo courtesy Steve Houk)

World class Led Zeppelin cover band Lez Zeppelin performs as part of the O Street Museum Foundation’s concert series (Photo courtesy Steve Houk)

The O Street Museum Foundation, a part of the Mansion on O family which offers a number of varied cultural experiences and holds court over much of the Mansion’s vast collection of artifacts, puts on several intimate concerts a month in the Mansion’s parlor, with talent as deep as Led Zeppelin cover band extraordinaire Lez Zeppelin, Eagles hit maker Jack Tempchin, Hootie and the Blowfish member Mark Bryan and others. It’s a rare treat to see musicians in such a small setting, where they often interact with the crowd as they provide a platform for the Foundation to raise much-needed funds to cover the high cost of keeping the Mansion alive. Ted and H feel that once people pay a visit to the Mansion, they’ll never forget it, and will keep coming back to see what’s new.

“We are a non-profit, we don’t have money ourselves, everything goes into this house,” Spero said. “This is our passion. And for us, every day when people walk in and we see their face, and they’re in this different place and they have this big smile on their face, and the experience they have in this house is different than anything they’ve ever had, that’s what does it for us.”

For details on events and programs at the Mansion on O, click here.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 12, 2015 by midliferocker
Gregg Allman and his band play The Birchmere August 24th and 25th (photo courtesy Danny Clinch)

(photo courtesy Danny Clinch)

Lucky for us, Gregg Allman is largely at peace with his past, present and future. 

By Steve Houk

Last fall, when the sun finally set and the legendary churning rock and roll steam train that was The Allman Brothers Band pulled into its last station, at least Gregg Allman knew it was coming.

The band desperately wanted to go out with a bang and not a whimper, and thanks to Allman, his longest standing brothers-in-arms Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks, and his superb newer additions, the dynamic duo of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, they did just that, closing out an unparalleled 40-year run with a full compliment of grace, power and dignity. It wasn’t an easy close, as Trucks has told me himself, but after facing some hard realities, they managed to usher the band out beautifully.

So when the last notes of “Trouble No More” — the first song the band ever played, and now the last  — echoed through New York City’s Beacon Theater, was Allman full of sadness, weepy nostalgia and even some regret? Not on your life.

“I was at peace with it long before that last show, so that night I was completely relaxed, man,” Allman told me recently as he continued on his solo tour which stops at The Birchmere August 25th and 26th. “I just wanted us to go out on top, and the other guys also felt that way, too. We really cut loose during that show, we played three sets man, and we left it all on the stage. We were laughing and having fun. I couldn’t be prouder of how the Brothers closed it out.”

And very proud is how he should feel. Allman’s legacy will surely be one that will last into future generations, especially when they talk about spectacular, groundbreaking bands that changed the face of not only blues-based, country glazed rock and roll, but of the whole live performance experience in general.

But just because The Allman Brothers have stopped playing together doesn’t mean that their leader, their namesake, their heart and soul, goes away quietly. On the contrary, Allman has been getting raves for what’s been happening in this next phase of his career, as he finally transitions from Allman Brother to just Gregg Allman. He’s toured solo many times before, but this time, it’s all there is, and he’s as jazzed about it as he’s ever been.

“Well, it’s not like I just put this band together,” said Allman, 67, with a likely smile. “I’ve been working on this lineup for years, and now I have one of the finest bands I’ve ever played with. When we get up there, we just smoke it, boy. These cats can flat-out play, and I’m really enjoying every minute of it.”

There have to be at least some moments here and there when Allman is perhaps sitting out on the porch, the wind blowing through the trees and thus through his long blonde locks, maybe an ol’ hound dog sitting at his feet, when he reminisces about the greatest moments in The Allmans’ storied career. And surely one particular moment in time comes to mind, when the magic coalesced, when everything fell together perfectly, when he realized that he was a part of something very, very special.

“I’d have to say when we recorded the Fillmore East album,” Allman said reflectively. “We had a few nights to do it, and by the last show I knew. We all knew, that we had done something very special, man.”

Gregg and Duane whip it up in the early 70’s (Credit Peter Tarnoff/Retna Ltd, via Corbis)

Amidst the glory, Allman’s memories of his past also must inevitably lean sometimes toward the sad and bittersweet, as in some that come to him of his cherished and supremely talented older brother Duane, who died at 24 just as the band was hitting its stride. In fact, when he is asked who influenced him the most musically, personally, whatever, it’s a short, easy and poignant answer as to who was his true mentor.

“My brother, in both regards. He kept me from giving up on music. Because he believed in me, before I believed in myself.”

Allman may not have his beloved Allman Brothers to play with anymore, but he certainly has many cherished memories, as well as a shimmering present and hopeful future that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Despite past health problems that almost killed him, he appears vital and excited for this next chapter, luckily for us baby boomers who have grown up with his music. Heck, I took my now 19 year-old son Ben to see the Brothers back when he was 4, and even he appreciates their legacy and his part in it, even if he did fall asleep in my arms as I carried him to the car during the encore of “Revival.”

And when those aforementioned future generations, maybe even Ben’s grandkids and their grandkids, when they talk about Gregg Allman and his legendary career, he truly hopes they remember how deeply he cared — whether he was with it or not — every time he stepped on stage to play that exceptional music.

“Maybe the fact that I always showed up and played, man. I gave it my all, every night, even when I wasn’t at my best. Now that I’m feeling good, I plan on doing this for a long, long time, brother.”

Yes, he did call me…brother.

Gregg Allman and his band perform Tuesday August 25th and Wednesday August 26th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here or here.


Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2015 by midliferocker


One of rock music’s quietly powerful geniuses remains both reflective and hopeful.

By Steve Houk

With the wonderful life that Graham Nash has had to date, there are many things to be thankful for. Being a prolific, revered two time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is a biggie. Being a talented and respected photographer ain’t bad either. Heck, being Joni Mitchell‘s boyfriend — he wrote “Our House” after a romantic day with her, and she wrote “Woodstock” after he recalled to her tales of the festival — well, that should be up there as well, if you ask me.

But Nash is a little more reflective, a little more down to earth, a little more present day with what he is most thankful for these days.

Breathing. I think that leads to alot of things,” Nash told me recently as he was preparing for his summer solo tour, which hits The Birchmere on August 5th. “I like being alive, I like being creative, I feel excellent and I’ve had a good time with my life and it doesn’t show any sign of changing. ”

Graham Nash continues to tour with CSN, the legendary band is scheduled to go to Europe this fall. But as with his legendary bandmates, he also possesses the innate need, the burning desire to keep venturing out solo, to always keep establishing his life outside of the three (and sometimes four) headed monster, even amidst the many life challenges even a rock legend can have.

“I’ve been going through personal turmoil in my life, and I’m loving being able to feel again,” Nash reflected with a healthy dash of optimism. “Everything’s fine. It’s just life, and I’ll deal with it as it comes to me. For this tour, I’m going to be playing by myself, but I’m going to have Shane Fontayne playing guitar with me. Anything from The Hollies to a song that I’ll probably write that morning. And last October, I had an incredible month with Shane, who is the second guitar player in the Crosby Stills and Nash band, we wrote twenty songs, came off the road earlier this year, went into the studio and cooked those twenty songs in eight days. So I’m bringing [the new record] out in spring of next year, that’s only, what, seven months away.”

Only needing to worry about his own music is a relief of sorts for Nash, as it is with anyone who goes out solo having been in a tight knit and often contentious band for decades.

“I’ve taken such delicate care with the music of Crosby Stills and Nash and all our recordings and all our archives for so long, you know, it’s very interesting only having to deal with my music. I’m always the democratic one in the band, I want equal representation from everybody. But having to only deal with the music that I have written is kind of freeing in a way. Really is.”

Nash, 73, is a British-raised American citizen, so it makes sense that the basic values of free speech in America would give him joy and comfort, this being the guy who wrote such scathing political anthems as “Chicago”, “Immigration Man” and “Military Madness,” all songs that in some other countries might have gotten you arrested, or worse.

“I enjoy my ability to speak my mind, which I can here in America,” Nash said, with that aura of quiet passion that always is apparent in both his gentle manner and his music. “I’m not so sure that some of the stuff that me and David and Stephen and Neil talked about in this last 45 years would have been allowed in a different country. This is the United States and it has its problems, obviously, but it is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful. The people here want exactly what people around the world want, they want a better world for their children than they had, they want their children to be fed and educated and taken care of, basic stuff, you know?”

Crosby Still and Nash on the

Crosby Stills and Nash on the “couch” made famous on the cover of the first album (photo copyright Henry Diltz)

Nash agrees with what his cohort Crosby told me in our interview a couple weeks before, that when all is said and done, people won’t remember any of the abuse, strife or struggle, they’ll remember the incredible songs.

“Yes, I think it only comes down to the music. No matter what we have done to ourselves in the past, no matter how much we’ve argued or backstabbed or any of those other silly things that go on when you’re in close contact with three or four people for so many years, the most important part of our relationship without question is the music. That’s the thing that will live on long after our bodies fall apart.”

Although life is still very vital and exciting and productive for Graham Nash, when you ask him to remember his happiest moments as a musician, you can sense a bit of wistfulness the likes of which we all feel about something sometime, as he remembered a magical time with David and Stephen when life was less complicated, it was fresh, and it must have been truly miraculous.

“It was exciting, it was new, it was sunny, and it was friendly. It was creative. We loved each other, we loved each other’s songs, and we loved the opportunity that was given to us when we first discovered that vocal blend. Yeah, that’s the happiest I’ve ever been recording, is that first Crosby Stills and Nash record.”

Graham Nash performs Wednesday August 5th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here.


Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2015 by midliferocker
Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band plays The Hamilton Friday July 3rd

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band plays The Hamilton Friday July 3rd

This seasoned funk/rock quintet brings their booty-shaking party from town to town. 

By Steve Houk

For any band playing live, getting the crowd to fall into your music at the show is obviously key. But for some bands, getting the crowd to become almost a part of the show is one of their main goals.

Take Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band for example. This uber-high energy funk/rock/soul/dance ensemble not only wants to be in sync with each other during their live shows, but they also want the crowd to be in the mix too. And it’s that interaction, and the ability to just let people be themselves and cut loose with the band, that’s kept them out there making music and records and doing their thing for more than a dozen funk-filled, booty shakin’ years.

“We keep people dancin’ and having fun,” said vocalist/keyboardist Mary Frances, who also goes by the aptly-bestowed name Mama Funk. “I think our music promotes just being you, no boundaries, no boxes, you just come out and be yourself. People who come out and see the Booty Band are gonna have an experience. And each night is different, each night for us is different on stage. As far as the show goes, or how the crowd interacts with us, it can get wild. That unknown, what’s gonna happen at this Booty Band show, that’s what we love. People know that they’re gonna come out and have the time of their life. I think that’s really sustained it.”

Formed in 2002 in North Carolina, this hybrid concoction of 70’s soul, 80’s dance funk rooted in the blues and soaked in their own very cool “thang” has seen a few different lineups over the years. But along with Frances, their current buncha funkmasters – featuring Al Al Ingram, JP Miller, Derrick Johnson and Lee Allen – is the best the band has ever had to offer.

“It’s just all these little things that happen along the way,” said Frances. “Seems like fate just brought everything together, and this lineup’s been the same for the last six years. It’s by far the best lineup ever. We really gel on stage, and off stage, and I think the music on our latest album really shows that it’s the tightest the band’s been ever.”

When Frances isn’t boogeying down in her role as the band’s queen, she teaches music back home, an enriching experience that helps her learn as much about her own presentation as it does teach her young students, as well as bring her a bit back to earth after being out on the road.

“They teach me as much as I teach them,” Frances said. “It’s fun to come off this road life and bars and playing shows to really hanging out with young kids and really seeing how they see music, and how they learn and write. I’ve really benefited from teaching children how to write. It’s really allowed me to free up and write way more. It’s been a cool experience.”

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band’s most recent record is what they seem to be living every day: Funk Life.  The band’s fourth release and by all accounts, their funkiest and most solid offering yet, was recorded in their hometown of Asheville, and combines the expected with the unexpected, a true party fest full of  funk grooves, dance riffs and bigtime contagious rhythms. But when it comes down to it, playing live is this quintet’s bread and butter, because after doing it for a while, they know just how to get people shakin’ their, well, you know.

“I feel we really understand after doing this for so long, how to connect with the crowd and keep ’em dancing all night. As entertainers we’ve really come a long way over the last years. Something that’s really strong at our show is keeping people connected and part of the show. And everybody’s ready to come out, let go of their day, have a few drinks, and let loose on the dance floor. We’re Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, so we like to get that booty shakin’.”

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band plays July 3rd at The Hamilton, 600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.


Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2015 by midliferocker

America co-founders Dewey Bunnell (L) and Gerry Beckley

A seminal 70’s band keeps playing its classic songs for new generations.

By Steve Houk

Whether it was sitting in the back seat as a teenager listening to their songs on FM radio with the windows down and your hair flying in the wind, or hanging with your best friend in your bedroom singing along to their landmark Greatest Hits album “History,” the band America is as much a part of many of us who grew up in the 70’s as bellbottoms, a Stingray bicycle or Wacky Packages were.

It’s hard to think of another band whose songs are so familiar to our generation, so engrained in us, that hearing them even today still makes us feel a whole range of emotions, like happiness, youthfulness, familiarity, as well as just digging on some really good music. Bands like The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith or for us in Connecticut, any one of a number of Southern rock bands, were also part of our burgeoning rock fibre back then, but America’s beautifully written, evocative, easily-sung-along-to music — come on, if you’re my age, you can hum at least five of their tunes right now — remains a coveted time capsule of our youth. And hey, the songs still sound great all these years later.

And for the sixty-something guys in America, it feels incredible, and even a bit surreal, that it’s actually lasted all these years, that they’re still going strong, introducing their classic music to new generations, as well as the fact that people like me are still so drawn to their songs decades later.

“It’s very bizarre,” said Dewey Bunnell, America’s co-founder along with Gerry Beckley and former member, the late Dan Peek. “We’ve obviously accepted and lived each and every one of those years, but when you add ’em up and look back, it’s pretty amazing. We’ve said it over and over that we didn’t really expect to be around this long, at least musically and professionally. But it’s been good to us and we’re more than grateful for it. We really enjoy it that much more as each year has gone on.”

America co-founders (L-R) Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell

America co-founders (L-R) Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell on the cover of their second album

America burst onto the music scene in 1971, when their first major hit “Horse With No Name” caused a reissue of their debut album to go platinum. Things began to happen fast and furious for this new band right out of the chute, which can be a blessing, and a curse.

“We were always kind of the new kids on the block,” said Bunnell, “because we came out of the shoot with a number one record, and that can hobble you. We didn’t think it hobbled us at the time, but in retrospect, it opened alot of doors but also created this sort of ‘they didn’t pay their dues’ thing. In ’72-’73, David Geffen took us on and he already had a stable of very seasoned veterans, The Eagles were coming up and we were rubbing shoulders with them in the office constantly, and Neil Young was in there and Joni Mitchell and all the people we looked up to at that time. We always felt kinda like, sorry we had a hit.”

America continued on a stratospheric track through the 70’s, even partnering with Beatles producer George Martin for another string of hits. Little known fact: the late comedian Phil Hartman did the cover art for several of their albums when he was working as a graphic artist. But just as America’s star was shooting skyward, the band took a big hit when co-founder Peek abruptly announced he was leaving the band in 1977. Shaken, Bunnell and Beckley took a breath and kept forging ahead.

“Dan leaving did shake us a little,” Bunnell said. “We were at the crest of this whole thing, at our biggest cumbersome elephant of a band with alot of crew, and the band just got bloated. And Dan really didn’t handle it as well, and had other things he wanted to do. We were all in our own worlds, alot was happening fast, and I think Dan was a victim of that. Gerry and I weathered the storm, and came out the other end with the beginnings of this commitment to keep this thing going.”


America live in concert in 2015

Although their huge level of success would wane through the 80’s and 90’s (they did have one more hit in 1982 with “Magic”), their hard work, cohesiveness and solid live shows have kept them active and productive ever since. They recently released “Lost and Found,” a deep cuts type of album they hope will appeal to both their older and newer fans.

“It’s a little slice of the last decade, things that didn’t make it onto other albums, things we never got back to,” said Bunnell. “At worst, it’s odds and ends, at best it’s songs that should have been spotlit at the time. It’s a bridge between a new album, which may or may not happen, and having our real dedicated fans keep wanting to hear new stuff.”

Bunnell and Beckley have kept the legacy of this great American band alive and well for 45 years now, and show no signs of letting up, putting on solid, memorable shows every night during a very busy worldwide tour schedule. That’s good news for not only those of us who relish our trips down Ventura Highway with the Tin Man, that unnamed Horse, and the Sandman, as well as those who are just discovering their timeless music. And for the guys in America, the music is what drives their ongoing journey.

“I think the music is what it’s all about,” said Bunnell. “The music is what you’re keeping alive, and those songs, you want them to be as fresh feeling as you can every night.  We want people to walk out of there going, ‘Yeah, we got out of ourselves for an hour and a half.’  All the bands from the 60’s and 70’s are bringing a slice of people’s past back to them, and I think what’s you aspire to. And now that we’ve sort of passed over that line into being more than an also-ran band, it’s about keeping this thing going. It’s about the here and now. And in this moment in time, we really seem to be clicking.”

America plays The Birchmere on Wednesday July 1st. The show is sold out. 


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