A Week of Roots Music in Arizona and Texas, in Photos
There’s been a lot going on in the past week or so, beginning with the McDowell Mountain Music Festival and ending with a glimpse of things to come from SXSW. In between, there have also been some notable standalone performances. So, this time I capture the flavors of the wide assortment of invigorating music styles and performances of the week just passed.
First up are photographs by longtime ND photographer C. Elliott and Peter Dervin from the McDowell Music Festival. It is Arizona’s 100% non-profit music festival. Designed to promote three elements – community involvement, corporate participation, and charity – it exists to support, entertain, and educate the community. All of the proceeds benefit two local, family-based nonprofits: Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation and UMOM New Day Center. The latter provides homeless families and individuals with safe shelter, housing, and supportive services.
We have photos of bands like Bird Dog – a recently formed quintet based out of Los Angeles. Their music is mainly folk-rock with a flavor of Americana, but is heavier in drums and guitar. They also have added an indie pop feel to most of their songs.
The Oh Hellos’ recent second album, Dear Wormwood, was inspired in part by the writings of C.S. Lewis. The brother-sister duo is also from Texas and just kicked off an East Coast tour. They will appear at the Newport Folk Festival in July. They also did an NPR Tiny Desk Concert last December.
The Avett Brothers need no introduction. When I first saw them at MerleFest many years ago, they came across as a backwoods Ramones. Now, they are among the top acts in the Americana genre.
Likewise, the reputations of Gary Clark Jr. and Beck are well-deserved. I have never seen Clark live, but his performance on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” two years ago at The Beatles tribute show was magnificent, clearly the highlight of that mostly boring show. Beck’s 12 albums firmly place him at the center of the indie music scene.
Which brings us to a quick taste of SXSW.
One of the most buzzed-about debuts this spring is Margo Price’s Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter, which will be out this Friday and was streamed on NPR last week. To set the stage for the release, she performed six times over a four-day period last week at SXSW. Her photo was captured by ND’s books columnist and frequent contributor Henry Carrigan, who I hope got an interview. She’ll also be on Conan this Thursday as his music guest. She’s currently on tour, and there will be an album release party at Third Man Records in Nashville on April 7.
There seems to be a proliferation of soul – retro, neo, and other otherwise – music out there now, much with a Janis Joplin-like rock sensibility. The group with whom I have been most taken – the one I think gets it right – is a septet from Brooklyn, New York, called Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. They have just released a two-disc live set, Fowl Play, which was recorded at their New Year’s Eve performance in Connecticut. It’s an entire show, not stitched-together performances, so you get the band’s full immediacy, including horns and a Charlie Musselwhite-like harmonica. I have seen them at outdoor festivals and most indoors, where they threatened to blow the doors off the place. They are currently on tour with an album release party at the Troubadour in L.A. on March 31 before they head east. Catch them when you can.
Parker Millsap’s new release, The Very Last Day, will be also released this Friday and was featured on last week’s NPR’s First Listen. He is one of the brightest young talents to appear on the Americana scene this decade. From jump blues to Appalachian-flavored tunes, he runs the gamut of roots music singer-songwriter styles, from Willie Watson to Jason Isbell.
David Crosby is still at it, meanwhile. I have only seen him once, at one of the Dolphin festivals he helped put together with Fred Neil in the 1970s. He’s known for many things, including a song that many of us considered an anthem, “I Almost Cut My Hair.” And that first CSN album.
Finally, we have Amy Helm. I first became acquainted with her in the early days of Ollabelle, a group that has had a greater influence on their peers than it has been given credit for. Helm went solo, performing mostly live – notably with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams – and like her friends finally released an excellent album of her own. Didn’t It Rain gives full measure to her soul and gospel-tinged vocals.