Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2016 by midliferocker

The Krickets lurkin’ in the swamp (L-R: Katrina Kolb, Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Lauren Spring)

Sheer talent, a love of home and some Muscle Shoals magic make beautiful music for The Krickets.

By Steve Houk

During just about any evening down on the Florida panhandle, if you listen closely, along with the sounds of lapping waves or a distant boat horn…you can hear it.

Amidst the Gulf Coast’s swaying cypress trees and blowing palms, amidst the ambling gators, skittering lizards and floating pelicans, amidst the thick marshes and moonlit beaches, there is…music. Oh boy, is there ever. Singers and songwriters are plentiful and plenty talented down here, with many often writing musical homages to, and evoking the legendary lore of, this truly breathtaking part of the world.

No group of artists is more happily steeped in the innate beauty and fascination of their homeland than The Krickets, one of the Gulf Coast region’s musical treasures. A quartet of supremely talented women who recently found brilliance as a powerful folk/Americana quartet, there’s is a tale of four individual talents who became one big one. And no one is more appreciative of where they live, and what they write about, than they are.

“You cannot live here and not be touched by the beauty in what God put out there in front of you,” said Lauren Spring, one of the four multi-talented ladies who make up The Krickets. “It’s absolutely stunning. Every day, in some different way, it doesn’t matter if you’re staring at the water, or you’re staring at an eagle, you’re staring at something pretty awesome every single day. You can’t help being inspired, you can’t help writing songs about it. And to find a group of people who want to do that with you, and they’re like, pretty phenomenal? I’m gonna do it every day.”


That “group of people” are Spring’s beloved Krickets’ bandmates Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Katrina Kolb, and these four forces of nature, their beautiful harmonies wrapped around the sounds of mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and stand-up bass, are like one of those majestic osprey that you see soaring and then diving into the Gulf after fish: they’re flying high and on a mission. With their indigenous panhandle-bluegrass-meets-Americana sound —  “swamp folk” as it’s been coined — they’re gigging consistently on the Gulf Coast and beyond to adoring crowds, were just named Best Folk Artist at the International Music and Entertainment Association’s (IMEA) Awards, and recently released their first record, Spanish Moss Sirens, which has not only garnered a slew of positive reviews, but was just nominated for three Independent Music Awards for Best Alt-Country Album, Concept Album, and won for Best Folk Song (Cool Cool Water). Seems they’ve caught that fish.

The Krickets’ personal connections run deep and wide, sorta like the long strips of Gulf sand bar these ladies have spent time wading along. Sellers and Bowman played with each other years ago in their native Alabama, and after Bowman moved to Port St Joe on the eastern panhandle, she hooked up with Spring amidst some poignant circumstances surrounding a fund raiser for The Cricket Fund (thus the band’s name although with a “K”), which supplies free mammograms to local residents in memory of 22 year-old Port St Joe resident Kristina “Cricket” Russell, who died of breast cancer.

“Lauren was asked to play this Cricket Fund event because they wanted a female musician, and she wanted to have somebody play with her, and knew that I played,” Bowman said. “So we practiced I think one time, and then got together for the event, and we had so much fun practicing and playing that we decided that we wanted to do it as a weekly thing just so that we could get together and see each other and keep playing music. We had a connection on a couple of different levels.”

Sellers eventually moved to the Coast and joined up with Spring and old pal Bowman, and things clicked from minute one. “We knew it was magical,” said Spring. “The first time we heard our three part harmony, I looked around at the audience just to see if anyone else is like, hearing this, I mean, I was thinking, is anybody else picking up on this?” Then Sellers recruited her friend Kolb, and last fall, the Krickets were born. “I was like, you wanna come jam with us and (Katrina) was like, yeah!” Sellers said. “So we all got together, and that was another big explosion of awesomeness.”


After raising nearly $25,000 from fans and friends via Kickstarter to record Spanish Moss Sirens, The Krickets felt obligated to deliver a worthy product. “It makes you feel responsible to them, you’re accountable to give them something worth what they gave,” Spring said. The band first tried to book sessions at revered Muscle Shoals Sound, not just because of the studio’s legendary reputation, but also because of something deeper and even more meaningful. Bowman’s father had been close with the Swampers, Muscle Shoals’ storied group of session musicians, and after his passing a year before the Krickets’ sessions, she and her family had scattered his ashes in Muscle Shoals. Unfortunately, Muscle Shoals Sound was closed for renovations so they recorded at Sun Drop Sound in nearby Florence. But when The Krickets arrived, they had a special welcoming committee, in both body and soul.

“When we showed up in town to record,” Spring recalled, “his people were there that he used to run with, the Swampers crew, they were there waiting for us with open arms. We felt his presence there too, it’s just magic, it’s all holy, and you couldn’t not feel him there. When we were frustrated or it got harder during the sessions, you could just feel it.”

“I was incredibly nervous because these people, the Swampers, were our heroes,” said Bowman, whose musical lore also includes being babysat for by Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood when she was a kid. “When we were ready to record, I knew we were just standing on the precipice of something great. And the studio itself was really laid back and cool and quirky, and the engineer and the assistant engineer were hilarious. And we could be ourselves, we could make inappropriate jokes and have fun, and also make great music.”

As if the Daddy and the Swampers legend plus recording at a top studio wasn’t enough, the group also had Alabama Shakes‘ touring keyboardist Ben Tanner as their producer, seems he had asked to record the band once he heard some of their demos. It was his ability to let The Krickets’ music remain their own while also making his presence known just enough that made the sessions so successful and fulfilling.

“(Ben) was really encouraging us to stick with our authentic sound and not try to make it sound too perfect and too commercialized,” Bowman elaborated. “He wanted to make sure that we kept the ‘it’ that we have, that thing that we have. So alot of it we did live, alot of the vocals we all sang at the same time in the same room, alot of the instrumentation is done at the same time in the same room. So it was all very real, and he would push us to make the right take, and then would be a wizard on things that just really had to be twerked….wait, is that the right word? Ha! Tweaked.


All of the Krickets also have solo or side projects, Spring with her husband Bo in his excellent (and also local) Bo Spring Band, and the others with their own enriching endeavors. But when they get onstage in Kricket mode, it’s all for one and one for all, for sure.

“As far as personalities go, we are actually really good in kind of specializing in different things,” Bowman said. “So it makes it run pretty smoothly when we’re onstage, we have alot of fun and it’s really a joy to be able to share the spotlight and not worry about stepping on people’s toes. This is the least diva-ish group of musicians I’ve ever worked with before, which is hilarious ‘cuz it’s an all-female band.”

And as far as their beautiful, memorable music, it is the spirit of the Gulf Coast that drives them, and fills their music with evocative images of home.

“There’s something healing and sacred about those waters, and I don’t know exactly what it is,” Bowman said. “It was important to us to kind of contribute to the mythology of this area, the panhandle area. I was inspired to write the songs that I did because of Lauren’s song ‘To And Fro’ where she talks about cypress trees, and that was really kind of the song that inspired the whole mood of the album. Kind of like that, ethereal, dark, talking about the water, talking about the area, it really kind of inspired the whole thing.”

“The history of Port St Joe is a folk story that you could not make up if you tried,” Spring added. “I thought it was the coolest story I’d ever heard in my life. Bringing the stories and the traditions and these weird quirky things that are old Florida kind of out into the limelight, it’s just incredible to me.”


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 16, 2016 by midliferocker


Three recent Rock & Roll HOF inductees bring their rockin’ A-game to a sizzling summer triple bill.

By Steve Houk

If there was anything to come away with from last weekend’s Heart/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Cheap Trick triple bill out at Jiffy Lube Live (other than they raised the damn beer prices again), it’s that the heart of rock and roll is still alive and well and beating hard in three bands who were all FM radio darlings of the 70’s and 80’s. One thing that connects them is they were all recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (Heart in 2013, and the other two last year), thus the cute “Rock Hall Three For All” label on the tour.

But the more deep-seeded connection is that when all is said and done, when these bands are long gone, they’ll say that all three always delivered damn good rock and roll music. They may have different modes of delivery for said R & R, but this common thread was never more evident on this balmy yet comfortable late summer evening. From the first chords of Cheap Trick’s opening song “Hello There” (“Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?“) to the last notes of Heart’s epic cover of the rock-anthem-to-beat-all-rock anthems, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” good ol’ rock and roll was the name of the game on this night, and all three bands came, saw and conquered because they fell right into the rock and roll wheelhouse that has kept each of them going for decades.

If anyone has a standard rock and roll type repertoire, it’s opener Cheap Trick, and their set was rife with classic rock riffs, lyrics and postures. Amidst a couple of their 80’s power ballads like “Tonight It’s You” and “The Flame” and a cool Velvet Underground cover, the Illinois-bred band steamed through a short set comprised mostly of true hard rockers, from the short “Hello There” opener to “Baby Loves To Rock” to their live Budokan staple “I Want You To Want Me” to their ode to teen survival, “Surrender.” Between the textbook rock posing (complete with top hat) from lead singer Robin Zander, to the wild guitar God persona of Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick reminded us why legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin produced one of their early 80’s records: because he knows what good old fashioned rock and roll sounds like. And when these guys really get down to it, even decades in, they can still hang with alot of great rock and roll bands.

As for Joan Jett, she has proudly carried the tattered rock and roll flag ever since her early days with groundbreaking all-girl band The Runaways, and so many shows later, she and her Blackhearts haven’t really missed a beat. Her strong set would have been just as good, or maybe better, in a dark, beer-soaked basement rock club, but it was still cool to see her still get down and dirty even with high-tech screens and high-end lighting blaring around her four-piece rock and roll steam engine. And rock she did, through a swath of her biggest hits, pounding through pump-your-fist tunes like (what else) “I Love Rock and Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Do You Wanna Touch” and her popular cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover.”  The pinnacle was the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Light Of Day” which roared good and loud amidst clips of the film of the same name that Jett and Michael J. Fox starred in 1987. Jett finally got her just due with her recent HOF induction, but to see her play such a formidable and solid set 40-plus years after her Runaways blasted into the picture was a testimony to her status as a true rocker.

Headlining the night was Heart, and after a long and sometimes meandering career since their heyday, the Wilson sisters and company showed up and delivered an excellent rock and roll power punch to close the night. In a set that also featured 80’s power ditties (“These Dreams”, “Alone” and “What About Love” had women throughout singing aloud), Heart churned more than admirably through some of their biggest radio rockers like “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” “Magic Man,” and an especially good “Crazy On You” preceded by Nancy’s stellar acoustic intro. Ann’s vocals were even stronger than expected and she impressed throughout the set, and Nancy looked and played as delicious as ever handling her various axes.  But their lasting rock and roll brand was never more evident than in the encore, when the world’s greatest Zeppelin cover band rolled an impressive finishing double shot of “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Not a bad twofer to end with.

Those Zep tunes were the cherry on top of a highly satisfying hot fudge sundae of classic rock, as these three legendary bands supplied a packed crowd with rock and roll music that even decades later still rattles your teeth and makes you shake your tail feather. And isn’t that exactly what rock and roll is supposed to do?



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 6, 2016 by midliferocker


A gifted songwriter sees her unexpected career take yet another positive and surprising turn. 

By Steve Houk


Who knew?

I mean, who knew that Mary Gauthier, whose early life reads like a bad luck hardship tale — left in an orphanage shortly after birth, foster family, addiction, DWI, jail and so on — and who didn’t even write a song until she was 35, would not only become revered worldwide as one of Americana-folk music’s most powerful and talented singer/songwriters, but that she would also be asked to write a book on songwriting this year.

Well, of all people, even Gauthier herself didn’t expect it to happen. In fact, in many ways, she didn’t see this last dozen or so years of success coming either.

“(Writing the book) is right up there will all the other things that I never saw coming. For them to come to me and give me an opportunity, it came out of nowhere, and I’m thrilled and honored. It just seems like I’ve been blessed with opportunities to keep going. Good thing is I don’t have to push so hard anymore, it just keeps coming.”

Gauthier (pronounced Go-Shay) is one of those rare songwriters whose music gets inside you, it just does. Whether or not you can understand the place from where she writes some of her very affecting and very personal songs, the depth of emotion, the words, the mood, grabs you and won’t let go, often for a long time. That has been her trademark since springing onto the scene 14 years ago, all the way up to her most recent effort, the magnificent Trouble and Love (2014) which propelled her to new fame and a solid reputation. And on a current swing that stops at D.C’s Hamilton on Thursday September 8th, she’s upped the ante even higher by bringing along some very talented buddies, Americana-folk cohorts and two-time Grammy nominees Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson, in a show labeled Three Women and the Truth, guaranteeing it to be a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The show came together as an opportunity to spend time with my friends really, I so love Eliza and Gretchen as people, and their work is fantastic as well,” Gauthier, 54, said on a brief tour break recently. “I just asked them if they thought it’d be a good idea to team up and do some stuff together, so that we’re not out there on our own the whole year. It just came together in such a way that it was easy, and that’s a sign that it might be the right thing. The three of us are out there kinda solo’ing it, and it’s just been working. It’s a great show and we have a great time. Putting strong women on stage together and swapping songs, it’s pretty bad ass.”

As far as the book, her reputation had grown so wide not only due to her music but her renowned songwriting seminars and sessions including one for veterans returning from overseas, that Yale University Press tapped her last year to write a book on…what else…songwriting. She’d had some of her short stories published before, but a book on her craft? She jumped at the chance.

“In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to write a book, always wanted to be an author,” said the genuine and affable Gauthier. “But I never would take the time out of songwriting to pursue that. So they came to me and wanted me to write one on songwriting for them, and yeah, I’m closing in on it, I think I should have a first draft in the next two weeks. All my writing energy this year and been poured into writing this book, but I think it’s just about there. And there’s alot of songs piled up in my brain, so when I turn this book in, I’m going to return to songs.”

And judging by Gauthier’s vibe, it’s got to be a book about the process of real songwriting, not the churn-out-a-song-one-hit-wonder style of writing songs that seems so prevalent today, right?

“Exactly,” said Gauthier emphatically. “Exactly. It’s about approaching songwriting as a troubadour, as an art. As opposed to commerce and hitmaking. Articulating the distinction between approaching songwriting as an art, or approaching it as a Chicken McNugget. And articulating what it means to be connected to some form of truth in your work. And what the meaning of integrity is for the artist, for the individual.”

Three Women and the Truth, featuring Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters, perform at the Hamilton, 600 14th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.









Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 21, 2016 by midliferocker

Barbra - The Music... The Mem'ries... The Magic! Tour - Washington DC

One of music’s most legendary artists brings along power and poise and a room full of memories.

By Steve Houk

If you flip through the record album synapses of your life, a rare few of them spark and then spring out at you as unforgettable early moments in your growth, both as a person, and a music fan.

For me, a 55 year-old on the edge of the boomers, it’s The Beatles, it’s Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Herb Alpert…and yes, Barbra Streisand…that shine the brightest as artists whose music was most deeply woven into the fabric of life growing up on Millstone Road in the 60’s and 70’s. For me and millions of others, this kind of music acts as a blanket of comfort, a familiar sound, mindful of a time when life was full of love, wonder and possibility. But the same music also acts as a chronicler of history, of time passing, of things and events and moments, both personal, and as a society, that have built the framework of our lives.

So when Barbra Streisand gracefully took the stage last week in Washington, she took her thrilled and devoted audience’s hand and led them down a path full of both personal retrospection and emotional recollection as well as a stunning look at how the world has changed over the decades since she first graced mankind with those pipes. In strong voice with just a hint of rasp, and also brimming with an onstage poise and confidence tinged with humor and wistfulness, she gave the sellout DC crowd a very rare moment in time: a couple of hours in the same room with one of music’s most brilliant and enduring voices, inviting them along on a sentimental journey for the ages.

Any concert that starts with “The Way We Were” is going to have some deep emotion, it’s just a no-brainer. And after telling the audience, “This is what the evening is about,” Streisand launched into the throat-lumping, mist-inducing title track from the movie of the same name — a song that cemented her legend status when it came out in 1973 — and never looked back. The 74 year-old icon, looking a good ten years younger, guided the adoring crowd —  which poignantly included many wheelchair-bound elderly fans who no doubt braved much effort to get to their idol’s show — through the many fascinating pages of her long career story, most notably with other tear-inducers like “Evergreen,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and her signature song “People.” Not only were you moved to recall her when she sang these songs so many years ago, but where you were in your life when she sang them. It’s that kind of music, creating swirling memories of long ago.

In looking back at her almost unparalleled cluster of achievements — as singer, songwriter, director, actress on both on stage and screen — Streisand fondly recalled a number of pivotal and personal moments. They included summing up her most famous film role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Funny Lady with a wistful yet defiant and energetic “Rain On My Parade,” conveying the pride in her experience as director and star in Yentl with a heartbreaking “Papa Can You Hear Me” and paying homage to dear friend Anthony Newley (another synapse) in a moving on-the-Jumbotron “duet” with the late star on “Who Can I Turn To.” She also admitted to wearing “musk only” in a “rebellious period” when she danced on the edge of rock and soul, illustrated by a buoyant version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” and amidst steamy pictures of her and her A Star Is Born co-star Kris Kristofferson, she crooned beautifully through “One More Look At You.”

But Streisand, who is on this mini-tour to precede the release of “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” also used this rare live opportunity to remind her audience of what has happened, and what may happen, in the world around us during her six decades as an entertainer, and in a different way than the emotional reminiscence that dominated the evening, it was a powerful series of messages. She wondered aloud why she always seems to tour during an election — “and this one is a doozy” — and couldn’t help a few Hillary Clinton high fives and Trump jabs given her long standing as a close friend of Hill and Bill, saying she “passed the White House where Hillary is going to live” on the way to the show. But more profoundly, her stunning rendering of Carole King’s “Being At War With With Each Other” accompanied by stirring video and photos of civil and societal strife from the 60’s to today, and her beautiful version of the Willy Wonka film tune “Pure Imagination” embellished by HD footage of the beauty and also climate change-induced destruction of the natural world, took the night away from simple nostalgia and injected it with an impactful sense of realism. It also no doubt caused everyone in attendance to remember how long Streisand has been a part of their lives, and how much has changed, or hasn’t, during that time.

For an artist who has not only performed for three sitting Presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton — but also won ten Grammys, two Oscars, five Emmys, a Tony and the Presidential Medal of Freedom over a career that has spanned almost 60 years, you have to be someone very special, a rare talent that really comes along once in a millenium. And from the first note to the last song, Barbra Streisand put an exclamation point on her legend status by not only giving a powerful and meaningful performance, but by reminding us all how closely we have been connected to her, in one way or another, all these years, and how we need to stay connected in order to make the world a better place. And for most in the packed arena, that made them feel like the luckiest people in the world.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage for BSB Touring) 


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 26, 2016 by midliferocker
Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

A beloved and extraordinary rock band finds that a second life can be even better than the first.

By Steve Houk

You know that old saying, “you never know what you got until its gone”? Or something like that?

Well, whatever that saying is could easily refer to the exceptional Pennsylvania-borne band Marah who, after 20-plus years of grinding it out, recording great music and playing epically euphoric shows to adoring fans all over the place, called it quits, and for a host of pretty common reasons lots of bands break up: people grow up and want another life, or they just grow apart, or it’s just time.

For Marah co-founder/singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Bielanko, there was really no other life, no other choice. Music was him, and he was music. The end of the band hit him hard, real hard, but he did what lifetime musicians do, he survived, playing music even without his beloved band.

But five years later, a sort of miracle happened, well, a miracle as far as already broken-up rock bands go.

“It’s all kind of a little bit surprising ‘cuz we weren’t planning to bring ourselves back together,” Bielanko told me recently as the band readied for its upcoming tour. “It just started in 2015 with reissuing (2000’s Kids In Philly) for its fifteenth anniversary which was something that we had really wanted to do. And then one thing led to another, and we had a party to celebrate it, and it felt good to play. Everybody was at a kinda different place in their life, and the music kinda meant something different.”

Thankfully for both the reunited band and their rabid fan base, it looks like Marah — a band writer Stephen King once called “the best rock band in America nobody knows” — may be in for an extended second wind. They’re playing a few reunion shows on the East Coast this summer, including the first place they played after reuniting in 2015, Vienna’s Jammin Java on July 29th, followed by the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and a closer to home gig in Sellersville PA, all before they head over to Spain for a number of shows in October. And rumblings are that a new record isn’t far away. Marah is back…something not fathomed a few years back.

Bielanko speaks rather eloquently, especially for a weathered, seasoned rocker, when he talks about the wonder of Marah’s rebirth, and how a second chance can be even sweeter than the first, given you’ve already been down a long road together.

“Pretty much the second we stepped back onstage together, we were laughing and smiling,” Bielanko said effusively. “And it was like, wow, all of that experience exists somewhere within you, and it doesn’t go anywhere. That was kind of one of the big motivators, that stepping back into it when we’re 150 yards down the field already. Being in a band suddenly meant something that it didn’t mean when we were going through it six nights a week just because that’s what you did from the time you were 15 years old.  I think it might have been the same with anybody who had been in a good band or worked as hard as we did, playing six nights a week in bullshit night clubs or whatever, you develop something, and we had that. It wasn’t alot of work coming back because we’d done all that work. It felt really good. I think it’s a pretty cool and slightly righteous reason to play music.”

Did Bielanko ever think the band would get back together after their 2010 split?

“Hell no. The only thing that’s making it quite as special as it might be right now is the fact that it did go away and it went away for all the people that it meant something to. It was completely gone, no one had thought it was gonna come back. My brother (and bandmate Serge Bielanko) had children, and wasn’t available to me anymore. So I kept growing in the way that I could, and to all of a sudden have it come back, it’s more valuable.”


Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith (photo courtesy Tim Yarrington)

After their breakup, Bielanko looked at any way to make music, and much-needed relief came in a most unlikely but astounding way, the stunning collection Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, a unique project based on the songs and writings of Henry Shoemaker that came about when he and bandmate Christine Smith took on a project that surprised even them.

“At that point in time, I didn’t have a rock and roll band, I couldn’t think of anything to do. I had a big tape recorder and someone offered us this church in this tiny little town, and we said wouldn’t it be cool if we made a band out of these local people and we wrote these old songs. It kind of worked but it was such a rewarding and cool thing to do. We mad a couple thousand records and sold them all and that’s it. Closed up the shop. As far as Henry Shoemaker, we were drinking in some cabin one night and this guy brought down a book from his attic, and I couldn’t even believe it existed. I was looking through it and the romantic notion of it hit me pretty and I kept doubling back to it and looking at those songs and realizing no one knew anything about any of that music. You couldn’t even tell if it was true or if it was fabricated after the fact. That’s the cool thing about art, you know, you grab what you can at the moment, and that’s where it ended up.

Bielanko doesn’t hold back when talking about what the future could hold as a result of the band’s serendipitous reunion. He wants he and his band family to complete the story, and that means hitting the studio.

“We have to. There’s this bottomless hole in people like us, you can’t fake it. It was cool to get back together once and play in front of people, and then maybe do that five times, but then it’s like, where is it going? It has to be headed somewhere in order for us to feel validated. So the next obvious place it points to is to start to think about, what would we say? What would happen next if we were to make another record, and then that starts the wheel turning. It’s all lined up in a pretty cool way. I can’t tell you for sure that’s gonna go down that way, but I would really like to see that happen.”

Part of Marah’s legend, and part of what makes their return so exciting to their fans across the world, is their exulting live experience, and Bielanko and his Marah bandmates – brother Serge, Smith, Adam Garbinski, Dave Petersen and Mark Sosnoskie are elated that both band and crowd are feeling like the magic is back when they hit the boards.

“The coolest thing that’s happening is the looks on our faces when we walk on stage. And people are smart, they get alot out of it as long as you’re putting alot out. People are walking away from these shows like they really saw something. And I reckon that they really did. And that’s what we value more than anything right now. There’s not too too many people who can really do that, and that’s cool. We’re lucky to have it in our corner. But we did it the hard way, and didn’t really realize we were doing that back then, maybe. To have it is a kind of gift now in 2016. It’s something great.”

Marah performs Friday July 29th at Jammin’ Java, 227 Maple Ave E Vienna, VA 22180. For tickets, click here






Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by midliferocker


A two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer takes us down yet another extraordinary path.

By Steve Houk

“Where are we going?

Those four simple yet provocative words, set on top of a soft, pulsating yet haunting beat, begin Graham Nash‘s exceptional and most recent album, This Path Tonight. And like the bulk of Nash’s music since the early 60’s, the words, and the album, resonate deeply. Why? Because it’s a question most of us ask ourselves all the time: Where are we going? Is this the right path? Am I going to make it?

For Nash, who turns 75 this month, it’s been an incredible life full of a myriad of different paths taken, musically, and in his personal life as well, which has been tumultuous of late to say the least. But his music is what always helps him navigate the journey, it helps him to gain perspective, as he tries to find his next path.

“Everything’s going well, I’m about to start touring again,” the kind and affable Nash told me as he prepared to hit the road. “But recently I divorced my wife of many many years, and fell in love with a beautiful lady artist from New York City, and this record is my emotional journey through my life right now. And it is indeed why I started [the record] with a question…where are we going?”

For over 50 years, Graham Nash has taken us down his many paths with him, whether it be with his first band The Hollies, or with his famous quartet and then trio, or by himself on his solo forays. And his latest effort is no exception, it seems to have affected people more profoundly than ever, giving them a voice that reflects what they’re going through as well, especially in their middle to later years.

“It really does seem that I have managed to touch people’s hearts,” Nash said softly. “Alot of people are responding to this in a very emotional way. I seem to have touched a nerve here, in alot of people. And This Path Tonight is showing how I dealt with my circumstances, and doing it hopefully so that it helped other people.”

Nash’s music has always been reflective and thoughtful, whether addressing matters of the heart, or as an activist and social conscience. And he’s wanted to touch people deeply since the very beginning.

“When I first heard the Everly Brothers‘ ‘Bye Bye Love’ when I was about fifteen years old, their music affected me very deeply.,” Nash reflected. “And I’ve always wanted to make music that affected people the same way. I don’t want to waste your time. Time is our only true currency. That’s all we’ve got. Time and our family and friends. So we have to take care of ourselves, we have to utilize every second the best way we can.”


For this tour, which stops at The Birchmere in Alexandria on July 21st, Nash has once again brought along only his current collaborator Shane Fontayne on guitar, a gifted longtime musician in his own right and co-producer of This Path Tonight. Fontayne, 20 years Nash’s junior, has been a staple in Nash’s musical life for a while now, and helps bring Nash’s glorious music, both his old classics and newer tunes, to grand life in a powerful way.

“He’s a great listener,” Nash said. “About six years ago, (David) Crosby and I were singing at a show with our friend Marc Cohn, and Shane was Marc’s lead guitar player, and obviously very good. Crosby and I were supposed to go to Europe like two or three weeks later, but our lead guitar player Dean Parks couldn’t go. So we asked Shane if he could learn the songs, and he learned about 35 songs in a week. Plus…he’s English.”

As other paths in Nash’s life continue on, one that seems to have finally come to an end is the one with his legendary bandmates C S and Y. But even as he bids farewell to that amazing chapter, he can still see past the acrimony to recognize just what a great band he and his uber-talented buddies created.

“That’s completely over. But I’m very proud of the work that I did, not only with The Hollies but with David and Stephen and Neil, too. I thought we were a great rock and roll band, that’s why I took so long to do the Crosby Stills Nash & Young box set from our 1974 stadium tour. I wanted people to realize just what a fine rock and roll band CSNY was.”

Graham Nash is still going strong, stronger than ever perhaps, and he is able to use not only his musical talents but his inner strength to forge ahead and make the very best out of what otherwise could be an uncertain road ahead. And it looks like his childhood amidst the shadow of war set him up for just that kind of survival.

“I’ve always had the ability to turn what looks like a problem into a solution. I think that my upbringing in England after World War II stood me in good stead for that, because we made it through World War II, we’re all still alive. Some of our friends aren’t, and some of the houses we used to love aren’t there anymore. But we’re all still alive, so let’s get on with life.

Graham Nash performs Thursday July 21st at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here






Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2016 by midliferocker

nils 2

A legendary solo artist and sideman keeps making beautiful music no matter where he straps on his guitar.

By Steve Houk

So just for a minute, imagine you’re Nils Lofgren. Pretty darn cool thing to imagine, actually.

But imagine sitting there, carefully mapping out your next few months, planning shows to follow the release of your new live record, you have it all set. And then the phone rings. You hear that familiar, growly voice on the other end, saying something like, “Hey Nils man, what’s up, how’s it hangin’, ya ready to hit the ROAD?”

And just like that, all of your carefully laid-out plans, your own solo career, even your life, are put on the shelf so you can go out again on tour with your buddy Bruce Springsteen and conquer the world. Even though it may put your own priorities on hold for a while, you can bet that neither Nils or anyone else in the E Street Band minds one bit. But even though it’s always hanging in the air as a possibility, it’s still a bit jarring when you think your life will go one way, and then, with one phone call, all bets are off.

“I’m good, still in kind of the twilight zone,” Lofgren told me recently as Springsteen’s River Redux tour kicked into high gear. “I had this whole year planned, doing my little acoustic shows, and here I am on the E Street run, and very happy about it. A very different year than I thought it would be, and grateful for it. Anytime Bruce wants to have a chapter with the E Street Band, it’s critical to make that happen, and a beautiful opportunity. Not just for us, but for millions of people that get a hit out of it.”

Even with the huge thrill of being a lead guitarist for Springsteen for 30 some odd years, Nils Lofgren is talented and gifted and revered enough that he can jump on the E Street Express for a year or two, wailing and spinning in front of millions worldwide, then come back to earth and jump right back into his own successful solo career, one that has spanned a decade longer than his time with Bruce. And he has certainly kept busy on his own, having recently released a stellar live record UK 2015 Face The Music, only a year after putting out a massive 10 disc/169 track career retrospective, Face The Music, that spans his entire 45 year career.

Lofgren, who just turned 65, is excited about this latest live record and about what the next chapter of his solo career will bear, all after he says goodbye to Bruce…at least until the next call.

“I had just started writing again, then tabled that for a little bit, heh,” the enthusiastic and amicable Lofgren said. “But when I get home, hopefully I’ll get a record written, and you know, just start another chapter for my solo thing. I managed to get this great new live CD done last year thanks to my wife Amy, she said look, these are the best shows you’ve done, and she’s watched me for 20 years. Happy ’bout that. And I’m still kinda blown away that Fantasy did a 10 disc box set, and let me handpick the best of 50 years of work.”


Anyone who has followed Lofgren’s illustrious career knows that one of his strengths is the live performance, whether it was during his days with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with Springsteen, or solo. He is a master showman and mesmerizing player, and relishes engaging with his audience. And even this deep into his long run, he still takes the live experience very seriously.

“I’m always improving with the energy of the crowd,” Lofgren said. “Main thing I notice at a show is there’s an inevitable comfortability and confidence, mixed with some humility and excitement. For example, there’s like 600 people in the middle of nowhere in some little town in England that are sitting there, that went through the trouble of being there, that are expecting great things from me. And if I just prepare properly, usually it always works out.  It’s just more a function of knowing how to take the energy of the audience and make the most of it night to night. It’s a home away from home for me, and it’s just a place I thrive in and feel really natural in. It’s kind of a magical thing for me, I do love to perform more than anything else.”

Lofgren is known for his exceptional talent and musicianship, whether it’s as solo artist or side man. Despite torn up shoulders and two replaced hips, he can bring a vitality and dynamic to his work that many players half his age wish they could muster. So where does all of this deep talent and keen instinct come from?

“Honestly, the way I hear notes, the main reason I was able to practice and have it lead to a music career? That gift is not of my own making. Because my parent’s DNA, and some higher power, I got a gift that I didn’t ask for, and I’m just trying to make the most of it. But I have worked at it ever since I was 5 and playing the accordion, which was part of learning and integrating music into my DNA.”

Lofgren’s longstanding relationship with Springsteen goes back even farther than when he started actually playing with the Boss onstage in 1984. “I bought a ticket to see (Springsteen) play in the early 70’s, and in the early 80’s I was at the River show in LA. So I was at the Sunset Marquis and I happen to bump into Bruce one morning, he was off to the final mix of the (River) album, and he invited me along. I got to sit and hear it all working out. I still remember being impressed that past his songwriting and playing, that they got the sizzle and electricity of a live show into the grooves more I thought than any record had done previously. And to be playing it now, and have all these shows in front of us, I mean, come on, amazing.”

(photo courtesy rayshasho.com)

(photo courtesy rayshasho.com)

A huge part of the magic of his E Street Band experience was standing onstage right next to beloved saxophonist Clarence Clemons for so many years. He and the Big Man developed a camraderie as tight as anyone in the band ever has, and Clemons’ death five years ago this month still deeply affects Lofgren to his core, even prompting him to write a beautiful ode to Clemons, “I Miss You C,” a few years back.

“We were very dear friends, stood next to him for 27 years,” Lofgren reminisced poignantly. “He was the one who liked to talk the most. I love all the guys, but C and I, we’d chat all the time, off the road, and just really liked to, ya know, gab with each other. Very dear friends. On my 60th birthday, we buried him. I can still feel him and hear him, and used to sit in the dark while Bruce would do something alone on stage for countless hours, and just have so many thousands of memories that are still very vivid. I still feel like he’s with us as a band and certainly as an individual, and I am grateful for the time I had. Although of course being greedy and selfish, I would have liked another thirty years with him, but that wasn’t to be. So I’m grateful with what I had. And keepin’ it alive through that song.”

When Clemons passed, the future of the E Street Band was up in the air. Could Springsteen really take the stage without his foil, his pal, his sidekick at his side? Lofgren says not only was Springsteen able to carry on without Clemons, but he remains very impressed at how Bruce and his band have even thrived, all with an amazingly serendipitous replacement.

“I will say hats off to Bruce, because, you know, I mean, it was so traumatic, he had a much longer deeper history with Clarence than me. And if he had said, look guys, my heart is not in playing without Clarence, I would have respected that. The fact that he took a long time to decide, and decided let’s try to recreate the band to honor him. There’s no Clarence II, Jake his nephew is doing a fabulous job. And he’s playing Clarence’s instruments, which only Clarence would let Jake do, no one else. There’s a respect and homage there that could probably only happen with someone in the family. It’s just beautiful that it worked out.”

And what about the seeing a new player, albeit still a Clemons, playing that incomparable sax solo in “Jungleland” and on other songs that were the domain of the Big Man?

“As traumatic as it is, the best way to heal is to play those songs and honor those parts (Clarence) wrote with Bruce, and share them with people night after night. I mean that song, so many times I would just sit there in the dark watching Clarence play this brilliant piece, and then step up and do my part. Still just a great honor to play all those pieces, but that was certainly one of Clarence’s signatures.”

For Nils Lofgren, music is clearly sacred, it’s what he lives for. Whether it’s with Springsteen in front of 90,000 in a stadium, or 500 in an intimate club, Lofgren knows the magic of music is really inside each and every one of us.

“I wrote an album a few records ago called Sacred Weapon, and certainly music is just that, for billions. And the beauty is you don’t need to play, you don’t have to have musical talent. You can bang on the drum or you can just listen, but it soothes the soul, it’s the universal language. Like I said, music’s a sacred weapon, man, it’s a magical thing.”