Archive for March, 2017

ANN WILSON: STRUGGLING TO BE FREE

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2017 by midliferocker

Photo by Jess Griffin

A rock and roll legend finds a much needed respite away from her groundbreaking band.

By Steve Houk

At 66, she remains the reigning queen of classic rock, still with the unmistakably powerful pipes that blazed through such hits as “Barracuda”, “Crazy On You” and “Even It Up.” But even with the almost 45-year career of her legendary Hall of Fame band Heart still going strong, Ann Wilson yearns for more, a chance to get out from under the behemoth she helped create, and find other outlets. She talked to us about her musical desires, her current tour, and even a little politics.

Steve Houk: After seeing Heart last summer here in the DC area, it’s clear at 66 that your voice still remains as strong as ever. What do you attribute that to?

Ann Wilson: Thank you very much, that’s a nice compliment. Honestly, I just think it’s stopping some things, ya know like smoking and drinking, now I live a pretty healthy life. And I don’t always scream and yell at shows by doing other things than just Heart. And it also really helps when you put the songs in just the right key for yourself.

SH: What’s the main motivation for you to do a solo tour?

AW: I think I’m always struggling to be free, from even the best situations. I’m always moving on. Though I really enjoyed last year touring and everything, I felt that I wanted to get out from under the expectations that are on Heart, and just see where it would take me. I’m really not satisfied with being a nostalgia act, so it’s a chance for me to stretch out. That’s part of the reason for me doing this thing this year.

SH: What can people expect when they come see you and your band at The Birchmere on March 23rd?

AW: This is the first time I’ve done a solo tour of this scale. Last year we did just small little jaunts out, this is the first time it’s full scale. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s gonna be really fun. And hopefully when people come to the show, they know that they’re only to get maybe fifty percent Heart songs, and the rest of the songs are going to be things that I choose to do like really super cool covers, and other songs that I’ve written.

SH: What do you attribute the longevity of you and Heart to…is it the songs, or is it the familiarity, I know I feel so wonderfully comfortable when I hear your music.

AW: I think it is the latter, what you just said to a large degree. It’s also the fact that we keep showing up. Ever since about the turn of the century, we’ve been out touring, so people can come out and they can see something and hear something that they love.

SH: You’re no stranger to Washington, having lobbied on Capitol Hill for fairer payments to musicians by online music portals. Is that still a focus for you?

AW: You know, right now, to be honest, I see that there are a lot more important things that would need skin. Way more important things than that. Say funding for Planned Parenthood, for example. I’m much more apt to get out there and lobby for women’s education and reproductive rights right now.

WL: What has your career in music given you that you couldn’t have gotten elsewhere?

A complete connection to people. It’s a blessing being able to stand up in front of thousands of people and feel that you’re connecting with their one mind. Their common mind, you know. That’s pretty powerful stuff. It’s hard enough in real life to connect with one person, so that’s the thing that I’ve been given, really, through all these years.

Ann Wilson performs Wednesday March 29th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here

RISING APPALACHIA: NEVERTHELESS, PERSISTING

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2017 by midliferocker

An exceptional folk-hybrid band takes stock of a rapidly changing world as they continue on their journey.

By Steve Houk

Of all the bands in the land that could have their heart and soul most deeply affected by the recent US presidential election, it just may be Rising Appalachia.

Not only because of their own inner belief systems, but because of the beliefs and practices of the “collective” that their band experience encompasses — which includes not only their fans but the roving community of activism they have fostered — and how they might be most potentially impacted by the new political climate.

But with worrisome, tumultuous times comes the power of a voice, or millions of voices. And along with dissent can come meaningful and powerful music also borne from turmoil.

“If you look at times like the 60’s, and even the Bush years, the creativity was pretty on point, and on fire, and charged,” said Chloe Smith, one quarter of Rising Appalachia, as she and her bandmates drove from Raleigh to Charlotte on the start of their 2017 tour which stops Saturday at 930 Club. “And I think that will be the balancing side of this political time frame that we’re in right now. That artists and teachers and activists and movers and shakers will be the voices of America even more. And I think Rising Appalachia feels that so much right now, since we have this massive voice that does not at all represent our feelings or emotions. So we have to do that much more to make sure that the voice of this country is not…well…what I want to say you shouldn’t print.”

As Smith and her three Rising Appalachia cohorts — her sister and band co-founder Leah Song, percussionist Biko Casini and multi-instrumentalist David Brown – prepare for the next phase of their wondrous musical and spiritual journey, they are keenly aware and quite concerned about the effect a Trump administration will undoubtedly have, and in some cases already has, on the people and groups and movements within their core, their center, their base, one they have come to rely on and adore and learn from, all as they have made their way across the world playing their exceptional brand of folk/world/bluegrass music.

“There’s alot of deep concern for different things,” Smith continued as the RA caravan rolled through the North Carolina hills. “Like cutting funding for the arts. We have so many friends that are in theater companies and circus groups and journalists and all sorts of things that rely heavily on grant funding. Luckily our project is funded by the people, which we are very grateful for, and we don’t really rely on any government arts funding. However, so many of our collaborators do, and there’s alot of anxiety and care for people’s careers, for people’s passions and their work and their neighborhoods and their funding, alot of that is getting cut pretty drastically. So as an artist, you know, seeing our collective get sort of cut, cut, cut, is a little concerning.”

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Rising Appalachia (L-R: Biko Casini, David Brown, Leah Song and Chloe Smith)

For generations, songwriting has been a conduit for thoughts and feelings and emotions surrounding political upheaval. And that’s no exception for Rising Appalachia, who are currently working on a new album that will follow a live record due out this spring. Their music has always managed to walk the line between measured political expression and preachiness, and this period in world history will be no exception.

“There’s inspiration to be drawn from unrest,” Smith said. “So I’ve been writing quite furiously. Some of it’s political, but alot of it is also just like a balm to get out of the political spectrum and speak to some of the beautiful things that songs are always being written about, like love and life and family and nature. So it’s a bit of both, we always try to strike that balance of being political but not bashing anybody over the head with one political rant after another.”

Smith realizes that despite the vehemence of those who are opposed to the policies of the new administration, change can’t happen overnight. But it’s staying active and involved that is the common mantra.

“I see it already,” Smith said, “I think one of the main hopes is the daily localized efforts which have been fortified. I think alot of people have been like, OK, now’s the time where I really need to step it up. But I also see people getting more involved in local politics, like, who are your representatives, and getting to know a little bit more about the localized government system, which I think people of my generation were a little bit clueless about to a certain extent. And I think there’s been a magnification of that being a necessity of change, of people running for office, at least knowing who is in their local offices, calling them, writing them letters, showing up for meetings. And I hope that will continue in the years to come.”

“I know it’s gonna be a long journey,” Smith continued. “I think people will need to step in and out of that so as to maintain their own internal fire and not get burnt out, cuz it’s not necessarily like immediate change that you see when you write a representative a letter. But I think hopefully that some scales will get tipped even in the years to come, even in five years. It might not be immediate, but I hope that people will get more engaged and activated with the political system of this country. Because obviously it slips quite far out of so many of our hands.”

Rising Appalachia’s main focus is their incredible music, it always has been, and theirs is a musical experience that has transfixed a legion of followers over their 11 years together. But amidst the turbulent and even explosive times now facing the landscape, they know that in addition to dissension and objection, that togetherness and understanding are still what can best save the soul, not division and alienation.

“We can’t let anxiety and fear run away with our better selves,” Smith said with a clear passion. “There’s already so much separation and this ‘us versus them’ mentality in this country, it’s not gonna get us any further if we continue down that route of separation and fear. So I think it’s about the daily work and daily practice of talking to people that don’t look like you and think like you, and reaching out and knowing your neighbors. And yes, doing daily acts of ‘resistance’ but really also love and kindness, that will help soothe alot of the boistrous unsettled energy that I think we’re all feeling.”

Rising Appalachia with special guest Lowland Hum performs Saturday March 25th at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. For tickets, click here.

 

SUBLIME STORYTELLING WITH THE SOUTHERN SOUL ASSEMBLY

Posted in Uncategorized on March 3, 2017 by midliferocker

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Four superb musicians make magic together playing stripped down songs and telling stories.

By Steve Houk

If you’re gonna sit around the bonfire or up on the front porch, drinkin’ a couple cold ones with your buddies and playing music, laughing, telling the stories that made the songs, it’s hard to think of four more exceptional players to do that with than (left to right above) Marc Broussard, Anders Osborne, Luther Dickinson and JJ Grey. I mean, all four of these guys have songs that, especially when played stripped down and just with guitar, make your hair stand up on end and then some.

And even though each of these incredibly talented guys has a rabid following with their individual bands — Grey with his band Mofro, Dickinson with the North Mississippi All Stars etc, and Broussard and Osborne leading their own bands — collectively as the Southern Soul Assembly, they have found a truly unique and special bond, one that they might not necessarily get with a bigger band. And mutual respect is in full force when these boys get together.

“It’s awesome,” said Grey, in between mopping up hurricane damage at his Florida home. “We do it every couple years, just get together and do a string of dates, and just have fun. I really enjoy it, I’m blown away by those guys, they’re all such heavy hitters, in what they do. It’s inspiring, to be honest with you, to be able to hang out with ’em, and watch them do what they do.”

Southern Soul Assembly (L-R) Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osbonrne (photo by Arthur VanRooy

Southern Soul Assembly (L-R) Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osborne (photo by Arthur VanRooy

The four men knew each other through their various musical endeavors and got together three years ago as the SSA, just to explore the potential. They have let the remarkable vibe they discovered continue to evolve with no real road map, finding a rare, acoustic sanctuary for their often deeply personal music.

“We just figure it out as we go,” said Grey. “We just keep tradin’ out songs, and tellin’ stories about our songs, and just kinda let it go where it goes. That’s how we did it to begin with, we didn’t rehearse or nothin’, we just all showed up the first day and just started playin’. Watch each other’s hands and figure out what the chord changes are for all the songs, and just roll with it. It’s a little bit more like we’re all sitting on a porch drinkin’ beer, and somebody had a guitar laying there, and we’d grab it and play. ”

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Dickinson, Grey, Broussard and Osborne have all played solo shows and done solo projects largely sans a band behind them before, but that solo vibe times four has produced some of the most special musical moments any of them has ever had. And for four of the best singer/songwriters music has to offer, the atmosphere created around the Southern Soul Assembly provides unforgettably raw and real experiences for all of them, and their audience.

“It becomes a little bit more about the songs,” Grey said. “It’s just you and a guitar, so it becomes really about the lyrics. No soloing, or that kind of stuff. It’s more about the stories, and the songs. Kind of more like a storytelling like thing. It’s special, man.”

Southern Soul Assembly performs on Saturday March 11th at The Howard Theater, 620 T Street, NW • Washington, DC 20001. For tickets, click here