12th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival
The 12th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival was a success just by virtue of the fact that it was supposed to rain torrents; but didn’t!! I overheard one spectator remark, “Ol’ Gram’s got his foot down on Waycross!” Whatever the reason, the weather was perfect and so was the festival!
Thursday night kicked off the 3-day event with solo performances at Waycross College with local songwriters Corey Bradley, Tracie Mattox, Sean Clark, and Luke Johnson, ending with an informal and intimate Q&A session hosted by International Submarine Band cohort Ian Dunlop. Present to make sure he set the record straight was none other than Bob Buchanan, co-writer with Gram of “Hickory Wind.” Needless to say the answers were witty, educational, and satisfying to the small, yet inquisitive audience.
Moving across Waycross to the Cypress Creek Bar and Grill, the momentum notched up with fine electric performances beginning with local group, The Georgia Pines, followed by a soulful set featuring Deepwell from Cochran GA.
Deepwell remained on the stage after their segment to back Ian Dunlop on one of the most entertaining musical sets of the weekend. Ian is a very visual artist, choosing this night to let it all hang out in bare feet, khaki shorts, and a pink t-shirt underneath a sequin-studded black cowboy shirt. He rocked the joint!
Winding up the first evening of Cosmic American Soul Music were local youngsters, The Woodgrains, a trio of talented songwriter/musicians whose combined ages total only 54 years. They satisfied the crowd with their harmony-laden blend of rough-edged funky country music.
Abby Owens and her top-notch band of brothers opened up Friday night as the Guitar Pull moved into festival mode outdoors at the Okefenokee Fairgrounds. Soulful and sexy, this little girl is on the verge of something big in Americana circles. Two stages of non-stop music provided concert-goers plenty of entertainment; and first up on the side stage was Bros. Marler, a 3-piece Athens GA ensemble featuring ol’ time fiddle, banjo, and mandolin.
Sean Clark fielded the main stage next with another of his fine Waycross groups, Jack Cadillac, whose debut cd, featuring Clapton drummer Jamie Oldaker, will be available on all the internet-ready outlets in the near future. Following JC was talented songwriter, Marlin Brackett, from Marietta GA, performing solo on the side stage.
Yet another local group……you get the message here: “There’s somethin’ in the water in Waycross”…… Hayshaker, led by Chris Rider, head songwriter and lead vocalist, and joined by his wife Laurie on harmonies, pushed the crowd upward and onward as the night came down soft and heavy like it has a way of doin’ in the swampland of South Georgia. Joined on the side stage by Jack Cadillac drummer Lee O’Neal and Waycross bassist Jesse Herrin, Canadians Ray Harris and Shawn Brown greeted the festive crowd with an equal dose of Parsons’ tunes and quality originals.
Two Southern Rock icons, one from Florida and one from Georgia, Tommy Talton formerly of Cowboy and Randall Bramblett formerly of Sea Level, segued into an intimate set of acoustic, sax-driven original music that had the Guitar Pull devotees mesmerized.
As the lights dimmed low, local entertainer Lamar Deal, strolled out to introduce the one and only Master of Space and Time….Leon Russell!!! Leon doesn’t say a whole lot these days; but his music still speaks loud and clear! As I was escorting him from his bus to the stage, he walked cane in hand, a very dignified rock and roll legend, long flowing beard and hair gloriously crowned with a beautiful white Stetson cowboy hat.
He climbed the stage steps to a warm Waycross reception, paused beside his keyboard for just a minute to soak it in, then sat down and launched into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash!” Okefenokee is a Seminole word meaning “land of the trembling earth” and I’m here to tell you….the Okefenokee Fairgrounds were tremblin’ under the sound of Leon Russell’s voice and piano and the dancin’ feet of every able-bodied audience member in attendance!
The highlight of the night, for me, came midway through Leon’s set, as he was introducing “Wild Horses.” I had read alot of concert reviews detailing how Leon was not much for interrelating with the audience; but was hoping that he might somehow get caught up in the spirit of our little organic, home-grown homage to Gram.
He detailed an account of a gift Gram presented to him back in the Sixties…..a silk top hat, which Leon wore proudly for several years after. “The hat,” said Leon, “went on the road with Mad Dogs and Englishmen, got laid around, throwed around, sat on and stepped on. And one day, I noticed a little tag pokin’ out from inside the headband that read “MGM Studios, 1932, Al Jolson.” Beautiful! Leon went on to play “Wild Horses” and a slew of his many other trademark songs as he went over and beyond his contracted performance time. What a night!!!
Saturday started for me with a packet of Vitamin C energy boost dissolved in a bottle of spring water; but I was already runnin’ on sunshine and high spirits as the Guitar Pull kicked off again at 3 pm. The forecast was for 50% chance of rain, gradually fallin’ off to 20% by evening. That didn’t deter anyone.
The Woodgrains once again played their happy, melodic songs to a responsive outdoor audience of happy, melodic people. Gram Guitar Pull fans are some of the best! There was nary a cross word heard the entire weekend and everyone got along handsomely. Following up on the side stage for the first of two performances were Hapi and Patty Pfister of Tampa FL’s Crabgrass Cowboys, an energetic husband/wife duo with the most beautiful 1930’s retro cowpoke outfits of the entire weekend!
Next up on the main stage was Waycross’ own Dixie Wreck, rockin’ the crowd for all it’s worth as a cool breeze whipped across the stage and clouds pushed to the northwest and southeast corners of the festival grounds. Still no rain! Gainesville FL’s Quartermoon warmed the afternoon breeze with the lush harmonies of Raven and John Smith and guitar twang of Ned Stewart on the side stage.
Former Waycrossan Ross Pead, playin’ a miniature Martin acoustic with bottleneck finesse, and backed by a funky 3-piece band including festival soundman, Paul Lee on bass guitar, had the crowd dancin’ again as Ross finished his set with a blistering funky version of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” replete with guest black girl harmony vocals courtesy of John Randall Smith and myself! David Kraai and Sean Powell, who drove all the way from New York to be a part of this hometown tribute, showed us once again that Gram Parsons’ appeal crosses cultural, musical, and geographical boundaries.
Columbia SC’s Devils in Disguise were deluged by floods in Atlanta as they made their way to Waycross early Saturday morning and almost had to turn and head back home. We’re glad they didn’t. This 4-piece band is one of the most appreciative of Gram’s musical legacy and are most appreciated here at the Guitar Pull every year.
May I digress for a moment? Back in February, me and Kevin McArthur, festival T-shirt vendor, drove non-stop to Texas, the whole trip listening to recordings of past Guitar Pulls. We got to talkin’ about how the majority of artists who play at this event do so at their own expense, giving entirely of their talents, time, and money just to be in Gram’s hometown for a weekend of music and camaraderie. Now, all I’m able to offer these artists for their sacrifice is a nice meal and a place to lay their head.
During this Texas road trip, though, Kevin and I came up with the idea for the Brass Button Award, saluting the artist or group at the Guitar Pull who best exemplifies the spirit of Gram’s music. I was proud to present the first Brass Button, a beautiful wood plaque with a deepset brass button engraved with the words…”In appreciation of selfless dedication, heartfelt musicianship, and constant devotion in keeping the musical legacy of Gram Parsons alive and well”…to The Crabgrass Cowboys, who have played every Guitar Pull since their first visit in 2002.
Hickory Wind, Waycross’ very own host band of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, went on at 7 pm with The Byrds’ “Tambourine Man” as a reminiscent nod to the sound of California music that Gram manipulated into his own blend of country stew. The band of over-50 veteran musicians is made up of drummer John Randall Smith, guitarist Bill Smith, bassist Steve Glisson, excellent B-Bender pickin’ fool Tony Cason, local Gram historian Billy Ray Herrin, and myself, Guitar Pull founder and host.
Backing several other locals…singer/songwriter Amanda Lynn Taylor, who sang in classic country duet fashion her poignant self-penned “Down I’ve Fallen”…and Ashton Herrin, 12-year old guitar phenom and grandson of Billy Ray, singin’ and pickin’ lead on “Big Mouth Blues”, Hickory Wind then called up wildman Ian Dunlop for 2 songs. In true psychedelic music meets art visionary frontman status, Ian tore up the stage with his rendition of Terry Fell’s roadhouse classic, “Truck Drivin’ Man.” He then promoted his new cd, Cocktail of the Absurd, which was recorded here in Waycross in March of this year, by performing his Stax Record-inspired version of Gram’s “Do You Know How it Feels to Be Lonesome.”
Quartermoon added another lovely set on the side stage, which was handily covered and decorated by local Guitar Pull volunteers Michael James, Cal Thomas, Brad Williams and April Herndon.
A country music legend and inspiration to Gram Parsons took the main stage in the form of Charlie Louvin and proceeded to ingratiate himself with every man, woman, and child in the festival crowd, which pushed past 1,000 over the weekend. He announced during his set that his performance at the Guitar Pull was being recorded for worldwide release on the Tompkins Square Label!
How appealing that would be….Gram recorded Charlie and Ira’s songs during his career and now Charlie was doin’ the same….as he performed a beautiful version of Gram and Bob Buchanan’s “Hickory Wind” to a reverent crowd. My good buddy and fine musician/songwriter Sean Clark later relayed a moment he witnessed at the end of that song.
“When Charlie finished the song, he started wipin’ his face with his sleeve. I don’t know if it was the humidity or tears. Then I turned and saw Bob Buchanan, who was definitely wipin’ away the tears. He just heard Charlie Louvin, a country legend, sing his song….that’d be like me or you hearin’ Johnny Cash sing one of our songs!”
Epiphone Guitars, one of the Guitar Pull’s prime sponsors, contributed a beautiful EJ-200 jumbo acoustic/electric guitar with hardshell case, to be raffled off to a lucky concert-goer. Mr. Charlie Louvin was called back to the stage to draw the winning ticket and a proud Eric Duncan from Waycross was the lucky man!
Local favorites The Bearfoot Hookers with Ty Manning brought their beer-drinkin’ gospel music back to the Guitar Pull for a high energy set of music that ended with an all-star jam on The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, complete with background “whoo-whoos” supplied by the Drunken Hooker Choir and a scintillating trombone solo by Waycrossan Jeff Nelson.
Now, one might feel hesitant about following such a raucous set-ender as that; but, mind you, David Kraai and Sean Powell didn’t drive all the way from New York to pass up their second set on the side stage. They ripped into some Gram songs with David on harmonica and acoustic while Sean deftly coaxed some high energy twang out of his hollow-body electric guitar. Another highlight of the weekend tribute came during this side stage set when Bob Buchanan, who drove all the way down from his home in Michigan to be a part of the celebration, was introduced to the crowd and rendered an emotional “Hickory Wind” to the delight of everyone, backed by David and Sean.
Closing out the weekend event was Athens GA-based alt-rockers, Bloodkin, who’s songs have been recorded by Widespread Panic. After the show was over, most of the musicians resigned to the beautiful on-site campgrounds and proceeded to play into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I can’t tell you how tired I was when the sun woke me up at 9 am Sunday; but I can tell you that the magic of this year’s Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival was worth every achin’ bone in my satisfied body!
For photos of the 12th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, visit www.myspace.com/gramparsonsguitarpull and stay informed on next year’s event by visiting www.gramparsonsguitarpull.com
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