Riverfest in Review

A long three days had I, working at Riverfest. Every year this thing keeps getting bigger and more complex. My friend Randall was serving his first year as captain of the Triple S stage, and I was his chief henchman. Friday we didn’t do much. The acts were self-contained – no catering requirements or transportation issues. First up was Nik and Sam, the twin girl bluegrass duo who I saw briefly last year. They were really good. They’re like the Olsen Twins meet the Dixie Chicks. Then came the Governor’s band, Capitol Offense. They’re a classic rock cover band. They played “Freebird.” Because that’s what the universe demanded. Hannah Blaylock & Eden’s Edge followed, with more sweet-voiced female-led bluegrass. Our headliner was the legendary Del McCoury Band. These guys are the best at what they do; I’m a little sad I didn’t have the opportunity to offer them snacks or beverages.

Instead Mike and I were called over to the Acxiom/Miller Lite stage, better known as the Riverfront Amphitheatre, to provide an extra van to transport Kool, the Gang, and their apparently massive posse to the Peabody hotel. Kool and the Gang did provide one of the rockingest sets of the entire weekend for me. They’re really a funky soul band, the kind of group you just don’t see around very often, and the crowd was the single most diverse group of people I’ve ever seen at a concert – old and young, black and white. It was magical, really. Add to that the fact that the amphitheatre is an open stage with no walls, so I got my first taste of rock stardom, staring at the faces of thousands of very happy people.

Saturday started off right: with breakfast and strawberry mimosas on Heather’s porch. The weather was hot but very breezy, which was nice for the crowd but caused problems for The Rockin Guys, who had a shorter than expected setup due to a last-minute opening act addition. The beleaguered Guys (featuring Hendrix profs Danny Grace and Mark Schantz) soldiered through it, though, and came out the other side with a set of pure rock and roll insanity. They offered something of a contrast to Crisis![1] who didn’t play “Freebird” but did play several tunes from the Capitol Offense repertoire. Brothers with Different Mothers followed, but I couldn’t catch them as I had to run errands to pick up deli trays for the Neville Brothers. I made it back in time for Ted Ludwig, Little Rock’s newest jazz guitar hero. A recent transplant from New Orleans, Ted is now my hero, and hopefully soon also my guitar teacher. Backing him up was Little Rock’s finest jazz rhythm section: Joe Vick on bass and Brian Brown on drums. I beat Brian at Scrabble once, but that’s all I’m ever going to have on those cats.

Just before that the news came down that the Neville Brothers’ flight had been cancelled, so they were renting some wheels in Memphis. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk was supposed to go on earlier than the Brothers; but luckily they all got in pretty close to their load-in time. However, we soon discovered that for whatever reason, we had their old rider. So certain necessities needed procuring: Evian, Fuze green tea, and four 9-volt batteries. I made a mad dash to Harvest Foods over on Main and picked it all up just in time for the Dumpstaphunk sound check, but some bastard stole my parking spot, so I had to walk several blocks to get back.

Mike had this in-depth interview with Ivan regarding the name Dumpsaphunk:

Mike: So, “Dumpstaphunk.”

Ivan: Yeah.

Mike: How…?

Ivan. …Stanky.

That pretty much says it all. Ivan was a little demanding, but the guys really delivered, and his group are a fun bunch. I drove them to the hotel later, and took them to the airport the next morning. One of them commented on the sculpture in front of Robinson Auditorium, and its resemblance to a certain part of the female anatomy. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Needless to say I’ll never look at Robinson quite the same way again.

During Dumpstaphunk’s set, Heather, her friend Kriqui, and I had to jet[2] across the river to catch my boys Spiraling over at the Bud Stage. I took quite a few pictures there from the side of the stage. Again the weird excitement of standing on a Big Rock Stage set in, and double this time because I realized I am mostly responsible for Spiraling’s presence at the festival. I got their promo CD to the booking people at Riverfest, who were then excited enough about them to give them a prime slot between Switchfoot and Live. Hopefully Spiraling made some new friends in the crowd. Because they’re still an unsigned, on-a-budget band, they crashed at my house again. I gave them a map and a key in case I wasn’t back by the time they got there.

After their set, Heather and Kriqui went over to see Dwight Yoakum, and I walked back to Triple S with my friend Jennifer. We caught the latter half of the Neville Brothers’ set, which brought the largest crowd the Triple S stage has ever seen. Good times.

I made it home at the same time Spiraling arrived. We listened to records (Magma, Eberhard Weber), which was great because the guys listen to a lot of the same stuff I do: Marty is into the Jellyfish pop stuff, Paul into ECM jazz, Tom into obscure prog, and Bob shares my guilty pleasure of 80’s shred guitar excess[3]. We jammed until 3AM. What started out as a jazz thing morphed into Yes tunes, “Love Rollercoaster,” and as Tom and Bob flew off into space, I gave up and picked up my Speak and Spell and used its tones for fills, while spelling out whatever I could think of in basic letters[4].

I got up at 7AM while the guys slept in; they left around 1PM. I had to get down to the stage at 8AM to help take care of Pat Green and his people who arrived overnight from Fayetteville, as well as make three trips to the airport with the Nevilles. I was super tired and the weather was so hot, I spent a lot of time staying cool in the trailer, so I missed the opening acts. I was back to normal in time for The Boondogs, who played a great set. I can’t recommend more their last CD, Fever Dreams; I would venture to say it’s my favorite CD to come out of Little Rock ever, with Ho-Hum’s Landau Zeal a close second. After them came another bright spot on Little Rock’s horizon, Chris Denny[5]. At that point I had to pick up Pat Green from the Pleasant Valley country club and later take some of his guys to get some food. And I ran back to my house to let my dog in because I heard thunder and knew that she might freak out, jump the fence and run.

When I returned to the Triple S, I had to go back out again to provide an extra van for The Doobie Brothers at the Peabody. I wasn’t even necessary, as each passenger van can hold 12 people, but oh well. I followed the other van over to the Bud Stage across the river and stayed there for the show. It was nice to relax; I wasn’t from that stage so nobody needed me to do anything. I took off my shoes and walked in the grass by the river, and had cookies and beer[6]. I met up with Jennifer again and we watched the Doobie Brothers with all the attendant insanity (crowd surfing, young girls flashing people? at a Doobies show?) and fireworks.

The Doobies only needed one van to get back to the hotel, so we made our way[1] back to the Triple S. Traffic was absolutely bonkers; we saw several Doobies hop out of their van to walk over the bridge to the Peabody rather than wait the hour-long drive. Over the weekend, between the golf cart and the vans, I completely wore out my right foot because the pedals are so different from my car. My foot was nearly numb by this point.

We cleaned everything up backstage and dropped the vans off at the rental place and went home absolutely pooped. I’m glad this thing only happens once a year.

1.) I’m not ending the sentence there; the exclamation point is part of the name. Because that’s just how exciting they are – the excitement is built into the name.

2.) And by “jet,” I mean take a long walk, tracing a route so circuitous as to rival one of those Family Circus Sunday panels where one of the kids takes the longest route between two points.

3.) Bob’s a better guitar player than I am, and he’s the bass player! These guys are all such incredible musicians, it’s silly.

4.) IOU, FU, ICU…we couldn’t stop giggling.

5.) His myspace page already has a picture from the show yesterday. That’s the speed of technology.

6.) The head of the Bud Stage is Mahlon Maris, son of my family doctor in Harrison. He knows where to get the cookies, that’s how in command he is.

7.) Again, with a route so convoluted as to make Bil Keane jealous.

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