The Real Thing

“Keep Me In Your Heart” Warren Zevon

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Internationally he was known as El Tigre. (this is not made up)

I met Mike Windham in the early 2000s, but had heard tales of him for years prior when I lived in Atlanta. His daughter is my best friend. She beamed when she spoke of him, and I must say I liked the man, too.  What struck me first about him was how little fat there was in anything he said. Every word from him was necessary toward his meaning. Yet, he wasn’t dry. He was not a serious man. He was too intelligent for that.

Last week he lost his fight with cancer. My heart goes out to my best friend and her family who are rocked and robbed by this disease. I know a good man’s gone.

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El Tigre held dominion over all cucurbitaea, which enabled him to rally and command pumpkins, gourds, and squash. (also, not made up)

We traded books. I still talk about the first thing he recommended for me to read, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” I was surprised and thrilled when he read the first thing I recommended to him, Nick Tosches’ “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” He gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker when I moved here, so as to help me acclimate to the city. I returned the favor by signing him up to the Oxford American. He told me he was glad I was doing this blog. He was my first vocal supporter. Kindness and faith in his family and friends, those things he took seriously. He was smart like that.

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Amanda Neill of Barefoot & Bankside, asked me to impart: “While I don’t have the words to heal, I do know, somehow, strangely, music has the power of soothing. My prayers are for you, your family, and my friend Jody.” El Tigre has told me on more than one occasion how he enjoyed her songs.

When I learned he was to start chemotherapy, I knew he’d be spending many hours a day in a chemo chair. I asked the musicians I was just getting to know from doing this blog if they’d donate some music and merch to a care package I was putting together for him as he very much enjoyed their music, and they were gracious enough to do so. I sent it to him with two of my favorite books (“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey, and “Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen), and some special mouthwash to counter the cotton mouth I knew to be a side effect of the chemo treatments. I hoped for him, and I hoped for my best friend.

It is unfair.

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El Tigre knew exactly how to set the scene.

He let me know how much he enjoyed the blog, and how much he enjoyed my writing regularly. It was an honor that made me bashful. He was the best kind of reader. It’s a rare thing to feel that kind of support when you know you’re nobody. I don’t say that cynically. I mean to convey what it’s like to be cared about by that man. He makes you feel like somebody.

Every time  I was able  to hangout with him and through our correspondence he made me laugh. In fact, when his daughter told me he had gone, the first thing that went through my head was a time when we were at her place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her visiting father spat his chewing gum at her apropos of nothing, but to signify that he was very bored. It was the first time he’d made me laugh so hard from the gut that I couldn’t stop. I think it’d have pleased him that my first reaction to his death was to replay this moment in my mind all day.

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Should you see his daughter, spit your gum at her. She probably won’t get the homage, but it’d make me laugh.

Mike Windham was strange and brilliant. He was a good thing in this world. He saw a good thing in me, and this blog. In those moments that I would seriously reconsider whether or not I have the time and inclination to continue writing here, it was his encouragement, his enjoyment of how I write and what I write about that has helped keep this going. I always knew at least one person was reading my stuff, and that it was the best kind of reader doing so. And to know his daughter, equally strange and brilliant, is to know he was the best kind of father. He is missed.

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B&B’s Lastest Song of Their Lastest Show Ever!

As you know, Barefoot & Bankside had their last show ever, what with Jamey “Brother” Hamm leaving for Alabama and all. I recorded their closing song with my phone and futzed with it in some editing software as a learning project, and decided to show off my rudimentary skillz. So, please enjoy the very last performance of fan favorite “Make Me Stay” by Barefoot & Bankside.

Y’all have a good’n!

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So Long, Jamey Hamm

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It seems an apt tune as I reboot this little blog o’ mine. And, so, my apologies to the two or three of you that read this. Since the last time I wrote in these pages, Brooklyn has lost some good folks. It began with Matt “Cracked” Frye who’s down North Carolina way now. Then ol’ Alex Mallett wandered west to Kansas City. Trisha Ivy went on back to Tennessee. Now it’s Jamey “Brother” Hamm’s turn. He, his wife, and their brood have pulled up stakes, and as of this writing they are currently ‘Bama bound. Everybody’s going home, it feels like.

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Jamey “Brother” Hamm

While these folks were making their exits, I was working a lot at the shitty day job, keeping up with a nice gal, and trying to write a book. The blog fell to the side. There wasn’t any time for checking out bands, then writing, then editing, then putting together a multimedia post. Then the nice gal fell by the side. We hired new help at the day job, and I’m working less. So, now I’m in danger of having too much time on my hands. In the interim, I was sad to watch these musicians go. And, yeah, sad about the nice gal, too. It felt like the life I had built myself through TRS was dissipating. I suppose in actuality it was. I accept it, though. Not just because I have to, but because I understand it. The people of your life, they are a river. It’s like when ol’ Vonnegut wrote those three little words that sum up the whole of our personal experience in this world. You remember. He wrote, “So it goes.”

 

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Celebratin’ Brother Hamm

I’ll miss the music of those fine singers and players. And the conversation. But Jamey’s going home is a big one. His band Barefoot & Bankside got this blog started. On May 29th, a Sunday, he had himself a farewell show at Littlefield in Gowanus. It was, like most solidifying moments, bittersweet. Brother Hamm had been here for almost a decade, and in that time had made a substantial mark on the Brooklyn Americana music scene. Literally everyone I’ve written about in these pages can be traced back to having met Jamey “Brother” Hamm at his coffee shop, Roots Café, in South Slope, which he made a nexus of southern/Americana culture in Brooklyn.

 

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His farewell show was itself a musical history of Brother Hamm’s Brooklyn tenure. Beginning with a gospel duo he had started upon first moving here, he went on to fill the stage a la Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” with many of the performers he’d worked with through the years. It was, in short, a kickass night. A good way to see him off, as he’d picked the most appropriate way to see us off. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss all of them. So it goes.

Amanda of Barefoot & Bankside, and soon to be Amanda of just Amanda (She’s playing Threes Brewing June 22nd in a solo capacity.), now owns Roots Café with her husband. It’s where I do most of my writing, and I get to watch her welcome new folks to the neighborhood, to Brooklyn, to NYC. She makes them feel welcome. That’s a thing that doesn’t really happen to most of those fresh off the bus.

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Possessed By Paul James

And wouldn’t you know it, as I was wondering if I should restart this blog, a friend let me know that Possessed By Paul James is in town. I found this musical entity when I first started this blog and fell in love with his album “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely.” He’s out of Texas. And he don’t get much out of the Texas area, but for one night he was in Brooklyn. And I went to go to see him. And once again I was happy to see and hear an artist representing the absolute best of the South. I found myself back on that road home, that road that is home. It’s like when ol’ Robert Frost said those three little words that sum up the whole of human life. He said, “It goes on.”

Y’all have a good’n!

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IVY. BECK. NEILL. DESK (THAT IS TINY).

Last week The Road Southern was honored, thrilled and prouder’n all hell to shoot Ivy, Beck, and Neill’s Tiny Desk Contest entry! Well, intrepid photog Andreea shot the video expertly. I just held the stick that had a magical pointy-looky machine on top, but I did it like a goddamn demon warrior hell bent on saving the whole friggin’ world from its ugly self is all!

Behold, y’all!

And stay tuned (can you say that on the internet? Stay bookmarked?), because TRS has a kickass interview with that “Cracked” Mother Fucker Matt Frye a’coming!

HEY!:

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Friends And Lovers And Sisters And Mercy

I started this blog because I found a New York music scene that isn’t being written about a whole lot. I had been meaning to start a blog for a while, but couldn’t find the right niche to separate myself. Then I heard Amanda Neill from Barefoot & Bankside sing for the first time. Also, I began this for self-promotion. It’s something I’ll be putting in query letters to agents as I shop my first novel. My hope is that this blog will gain a decent following and the writing quality be exceptional to a sufficient degree so as to show off. In that regard, I’m ostensibly here to piggy back on very talented hard working people for my own gain. Truth be known, truth be told—as the Barefoot & Bankside song goes (and whoever else said it. Jesus, maybe? And who knows who He stole it from.).

I started writing because I thought I could be a beacon. I thought I might put a signal out there to all my lonely kin, and cull them in, so that I might be less alone. When I started I didn’t know that was why. I thought I was being a badass like Happy Harry Hard-on, Christian Slater’s character in Pump Up The Volume. That movie lit me up. That soundtrack may have been the ignition switch to launch me ever away from that trailer park. I mean, every piece of music played in the film was a revelation. Beastie Boys, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and Was (Not Was). It was the first time I heard that slow cover of The Pixies “Wave of Mutilation.” And the very first time I heard the voice of Leonard Cohen. In my younger, dumber days I fancied myself a spiritual student of L. Cohen, and self-professedly his most apt pupil.

I started this blog because I needed to. Desperately, even. I’m not a joiner. That girl, the one whose heart I loved best, the one who up and died, she joined in on everything. I only ever wanted to go to bars and shows and drink and joke and be debauched. She wanted community. She sought to help and support others, and she embraced the help and support of others. Then she died, like people do. I was set adrift, which is a natural state for me. To be aimless, to wander, brings me a measure of comfort. I wasn’t paying attention then. I thought her desire for a herd was weakness. I wasn’t foolish for thinking her inclination toward communion was needy of her. I was foolish for thinking that I am above that neediness. I am not.

Last week Mary-Elaine Jenkins pulled me aside to thank me for the post about her. After my interview with Amanda Neill (post forthcoming), Amanda and I went back to her place. We hung out. She eagerly showed me her song journal, and some ridiculous costumes her husband wanted the Roots Café employees to wear on Halloween. She asked what started me writing. I played that first song I ever heard of Leonard Cohen. She’s (slowly) reading my novel. Intrepid photog, Andreea who is invaluable in her contribution to The Road Southern, has told me both drunkenly and sober how thankful she is to be a part of this blog. I have since almost the beginning of this endeavor considered her its other half. And it is a favorite thing of ours when we get together to discuss the goings on of these BK Country artists’ lives. But, who put me on this thanksgiving jaunt was Miss Trisha Ivy.


I’m not sure how Trisha became a touchstone for me and this blog. Maybe because we share the loss of a loved one whose life was cut short. Maybe because I’ve looked at life as through the window of a moving car and for this brief moment there she is looking through her own car’s window. She’s hard to gauge. She’s told me she doesn’t mean to be, but one still wonders. I believe we are friends. We are friends. I know it because I went to see her at Friends And Lovers. Twice. I thought she was playing one cold, rainy Wednesday night, and I busted my ass to get to her set on time. She wasn’t even playing that night but the next Wednesday. I wrote it down wrong. That following Wednesday was just as cold and rainy, and I busted more ass to get through it. Her gig was part of the CMJ showcase. I wasn’t even going for the blog. I just wanted to be in the audience. One amongst others. I was joining in for support. I realize I’ve been doing this for all of them. The last Mary-Elaine show was just to be there. The same with B&B, and subsequent Alex Mallet sets, or Dylan Sneed.

I hung out with Trisha after that Friends And Lovers set. I believe this was the first time she and I did so, and with drinks. You know, like people do. I went outside with her while she smoked her clove. I was not dressed for the cold. Amanda and I have talked about how cool Trisha is, how intimidating her persona can be. She was wearing a black jacket, long dark dress, and boots. Her big blond tendrils licked in the wind as if she were under water. She was looking something lovely and dark. Though I’m older than she, I felt like a high school freshman allowed to hang out with a bad girl senior. She will say that she is not that cool—when she comes into Roots Café in frumpy, comfy clothes and hair pulled back. But she doesn’t know that’s cool, too. We talked about how Amanda shits artistic gold, and Mike Beck’s (her guitar player) love life. Trisha is exceedingly animated when she tells stories. She seemed the most at ease that I’ve seen her. She told me that night that I should loosen up. The gist was that I’m no longer an outsider to the Roots Family & Co. I believe she actually said that I’m “in.” Then in reference to the blog she said quite kindly and clearly, “We’re paying attention.” And I am made less alone.

I can’t imagine what these pickin’ and a’singin’ folk think if they chance to notice me among their audience, sitting still, looking down at my notebook, or stern face (I have a resting hostile face though I am an absolute sweetheart) lit up by my phone, which I also use to take notes, but I’m listening.

HEY!:

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Banjos & Guitars at Pianos

The other night intrepid photog and I caught Alex Mallett and Dylan Sneed playing solo sets at Pianos on the LES. What was heard was awesome! What was had was fun!

I very much enjoy Alex backed by his band, but this night I was entreated to just the man and his banjo, and sometimes guitar. I’ve noted on this blog before that the banjo makes my favorite noise in this world. Better than the bird’s song it is. Better than the laughter of a child it is. Better, even, than a whispered “I need you” from a fine-ass lover who lays bare naked, biting her lip, and ready to go. Yes, better, even, than that.

When it comes to the ol’ banjo, I like it best when it’s up front and in charge of the show. I enjoy to a lesser extent when it is relegated to the background and its purpose is to harmonize and provide a little rattle. And when that ol’ banjo is front and center, I like it two ways. The first, when it’s a slow dripping pluck like Dock Boggs. Secondly, damn it, I like when that tinny li’l sumbitch is banged on. Alex Mallett is a banger. I may have been sitting but I couldn’t stop my foot from stomping in time.

Sammi, Alex’s newly wedded wife, sang a couple of numbers with her man. It was a sweet noise, I can swear to you that. It was a sweet sight, and Andreea’s photos will prove it.

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Dylan Sneed seems to have won over everyone in the Roots Family scene. I met him as a barista at Roots Café. He’s a funny man. Supremely easy going. There is a profundity to the breeziness of his conversation, and the soft handed acceptance of all ideas put forth to him. The more I come to know him, the more of the Buddha I see in him.

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His songs are uncomplicated. This is a feat that usually comes from the studious, and the obsessive. When I think of Dylan’s sweet, James Taylor-esque tunes, I think of the main character in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Blue Beard.” The main character, Rabo Karabekian, is an artist who in his early career could paint photo realistic scenes masterfully. The artist didn’t find fame and fortune until he started doing more abstract expressionist pieces. At a gallery a man approached him. The man was unnerved and asked why Karabekian bothered with such “easy” pieces, and that his five year old child could paint this abstract stuff. Karabekian agreed, and said but the child could not paint this, and drew to a wonderfully detailed degree a real life scene. He then referred back to his new work on display, which was just a couple of colored lines on blank canvas, and said he paints this simple way because he has options.

Dylan has options, y’all.

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Notes From The Underground Bluegrass Scene

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Deceptively huge venue inside.

This past Monday TRS went to Pianos on the Lower East Side to hear Alex Mallett and Dylan Sneed do their singer/songwriter thing. There will be a post on that later after intrepid photog, Andreea, sends me her pics of the event that as usual capture the inner rock star of her subjects, and lends this blog far more integrity than it has earned.

This story begins after the show. Dylan and Andreea, sleepy-bear photog, called it a night. Alex wanted to go to this bluegrass jam session. I was game. He, his wife Sammie, and I walked the small LES streets where rock and roll youngsters bustled and smoked cigarettes. Little hipster fashionistas sipped insanely priced drinks in the gastropubs. They’re probably all good people, just dressed like dumb kids.

This area is also old stomping grounds for me. I was living in Bushwick still, but worked at a Starbucks on Delancey & Allen. Yeah, Starbucks. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the worst job I’ve had in this city. That honor goes to Buffalo Wild Wings at Atlantic Center where patrons would jump managers over fifty cent wings taking fifteen minutes too long, where customers would brandish pistols causing a riot—where one night detectives showed up to ask me if I recalled a particular person dining the night before. I did. Just before sitting at my table he had beat a man to death with a baseball bat and immediately went to B-dubs for a meal with the dead man’s credit card. My reaction to the news was indignant because that murderous mother fucker didn’t even tip with the stolen credit card.

Be ye warned: If you come to NYC with less than a professional transplant and/or trust fund, you will be humiliated. You will be humbled. You will be broken way, way down before you are able to build yourself up. So, past the age of 30 I was mopping a bathroom in a Manhattan Starbucks when I finally snapped. Well, I had just finished cleaning the bathroom. This nice guy, I mean it, he was totally nice and respectful, came to me and asked to use the restroom, and that he would be quick and clean and apologized for the trouble. I wasn’t even in a bad mood that day. Up until that moment I was fine. I’M a nice guy, I’M friendly and respectful, but for no reason, I told him, no. I told him to go to a bar around the corner that is friendly to most interlopers in need of bladder emptying. He apologized again and stressed that it was an emergency. This actually infuriated me, and despite the fact that I believed him. He had been in the joint all night pounding shitty, watery Starbucks coffee while studying. I flat out said, no. Meanly. I squared up. He, baffled and feeding off my energy, became equally pissed. It became a shouting match. I don’t remember what all was said, but I remember seeing his eyes flash in hate and his body language indicating he was about to shove me or throw a punch. I remember thinking, yes, hell yes! I remember thinking it is important that I either beat this man’s ass, or get my ass beaten by him. That is a badass line, but it is a profoundly stupid and shameful way to behave. He wound up leaving in a huff. I assume a strong need to urinate and good reasoning that this was dumb and I am an asshole led him out the door.

Sometimes they get my name right.

Sometimes they get my name right.

A friendly regular came up to me and asked if I was alright, as what he had just witnessed was out of character for me. He said, nicely, that in NYC it’s a law that if you’re open and have a public restroom you can’t refuse anyone its service. Which I knew. His tone had told me that basic human curtesy should have been the rule. Which I knew. I felt terrible. I kept hoping I’d see Mr. Full-bladder in the days that followed so I could apologize, get him some shitty, watery coffee on the house. I never saw him again.

jamboreeAlex Mallett and his wife led me to Rockwood Music Hall. We were all here a few weeks back for the Songs of the South show with Trisha Ivy, B&B, and Dylan Sneed. The probably-good-people-that-are-dressed-like-dumb-kids peopled the main floor. The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” welcomed us over the sound system. I’ve actually been having a Cure renaissance in my listening life, and was singing along upon entry. We went downstairs, below street level. Robert Smith could not reach, and just before I could lament not having closure with the favorable song, the doors to Stage 3 swung open and we were swallowed whole by the lively sounds of mandolins, violins, guitars, and banjos. It was a packed room, and everyone had a stringed instrument in their hand. On stage and off everyone in the room was playing along to old bluegrass standards. The scene was old, young, all colors, all creeds gathered up in a room. No one was left out. Everyone got a chance to pick a song, lead a song, and/or solo. Alex told me this isn’t even an nth of the country/bluegrass scene in NYC. There aren’t just scenes here, there are worlds. Comfort is not the reward of those early hard and humiliating days. Discovery is.

HEY!:

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Viva Revival! (or something. hard to title this one.)

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The proposal has been made that TRS go to church. Specifically Trinity Grace Church, where a lot of the Roots Family attend and have met one another. I am having trouble with this idea. The trouble mostly being that I’m overthinking it. We should get that out of the way upfront. You see, when I left my home in Georgia I had made an unofficial vow to never set foot in a church again. “Vow” is used lightly. I’m an atheist. I don’t go to church because I have no need to. I’m not actively refusing entry into any temple. It’s more in the vain that I don’t drive, so I don’t go walking into any car lots.

I have no ill will here. I’m not afraid of anyone being weird or everyone trying to save me, or witness to me. Honestly, I’m mostly afraid of being bored. That’s the thing with non-crazy, non-cultish Christian gatherings. The regular ones, the “normal” ones bore me to tears. Or have. It’s been forever since I’ve sat through any sermon.

Of course, I’d be in church every day of the week if Nick Cave were leading the choir!

I’ve been racking my brain to remember the last time I was in a church. It was probably the girl who is gone now. She was Catholic. After much cajoling, she finally got me to attend service with her family. The chanting, the habitual responses, the ritualistic standing and kneeling—I remember thinking “this is how Baptists think satanic church goes.” I also remember being unimpressed. My only idea of Catholic church at the time was from TV and movies, which made it seem so romantic, and holy-as-all-hell. In reality it was, well, more realistic; meaning, not very dramatic at all. The preacher droned on like any other preacher. Every “normal” service I’ve been to seemed so rote. Every day you work, come home, fix supper, and watch TV. Every Sunday you go to church, sit there, stand there, go home, fix lunch, and watch TV.

So, I’m about to embark on hipster church. I don’t mean to use the term “hipster” snidely. I mean to separate it from cool-kid church, because I hope that it is something different from cool-kid church, which to me was when they let the youth do rap songs, and heavy metal songs. Hipster church, and perhaps I’ll find a new name for it, is more millennial in my mind. For example, they might fucking cuss, because what would a god care? Or in regards to homosexuals, they drop the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” deal and simply don’t feel any sin has been committed, because what would a god care about anybody’s genitals? That’s weird, right? War, famine, women and children the world over shit upon, and the only things a god makes itself clear on is shellfish and where penises go. Anyway, I shouldn’t be writing about this while half-lit.

I reckon I’ll see y’all at church!

HEY!:

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All Work and All Play

It is not just out of laziness that I keep this post short, but the intrepid photographer, Andreea, kicks so much ass that I want her pics to run this entry. Enjoy!

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Amanda was seriously fretting that her outfit was too revealing. Bless her heart!

The Road Southern caught another Barefoot & Bankside and Trisha Ivy set at Rockwood Music Hall, and it should be a surprise to no one that both sets were phenomenal. They let us hang around with them before the show. I got to hear Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck, and Amanda Neill practice a song in the green room. In that small room I found myself in a moment I had been hoping for since starting this blog. I got to witness a bit of the “work” that makes a show. Listening to their first play through, I thought it immensely pleasurable to watch them correct each other on notes that my lay ears thought were executed perfectly, then they corrected, and I thought, oh, Jesus, damn!

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To test out how good the sound quality is on my voice recorder I recorded Amanda Neill and Jamey Hamm rehearsing their cover of Shovel & Rope’s “The Devil is All Around.” The quality is on the low to mid side of decent. The recording doesn’t come close to the actual performance of the song, of course. I really love the feeling I got witnessing them ironing out any kinks before the show. Amanda and Jamey were about two feet apart facing each other. Both were keeping a close eye on the other. Myself and others were in the room, but Amanda and Jamey were in the song. Something about how quickly they correct themselves toward the end was where the bit o’ magic was for me. And, of course, I like the smart ass comments by band mates.

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What did give me a surprise was opener Dylan Sneed. I’d seen him play at Roots Café where it was just himself a couple times. He’s a great song writer, and exemplary on guitar. At Rockwood he had a full band backing him. They blew me and everyone else away. I knew he could sing and play, but it was something else to see him rock!

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