On June 17th 2015, a nearly cloudless day, I set out for a bike ride of the former Milwaukee Road railway between Easton and Cedar Falls in Washington state. It is now the Iron Horse state park AKA the John Wayne trail. This album shows the best of the many photos I took along the way, documenting the area for the purposes of reconstructing it via model railroading. Hence there is a heavy emphasis on tunnels and bridges, rocks, and small details that may only be of interest to railroad fans. There are also several large panoramas which you’ll need to download to view full size. I may use these to build a photo backdrop. There are 217 photos and I highly recommend viewing them on flickr if you want to enlarge anything. There’s a slideshow below which gives a preview but here is the full link:
Archive for the ‘photography’ Category
Photographs of the model contest from the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima
As the title suggests, I recently attended the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima Washington. I’m really glad I did this, since it was centered on the region where my model railroad is located and there were lots of former railroad employees, historians, and fellow modelers in attendance.
As part of the conference, the MRHA held a model contest to which anyone could submit as many entries as they liked. I brought along several models and there were lots of excellent submissions. Naturally I had my camera along so I took lots of photos of all the models that were there.
The winner of the contest was Mr. Noel Holley, author of the book “The Milwaukee Electrics” which is widely regarded as the authoritative volume on the railroad’s electrified operations. He brought a superbly impressive model of the Hyak substation modeled in HO scale. To accompany the substation he had brought along a 2-3 foot section of track with his custom built catenary wire above it. We had an excellent conversation about how he had built his catenary (since I will be following in his footsteps to build my own) and he was kind enough to let me pose the two Creek series observation sleepers on the electrified track for some photos. He had brought along a 1952 maroon-stripe bipolar which is posed with the Coffee Creek and I had brought my E-1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme, which is posed with the Gold Creek. I saved the best photos until the end in this slideshow. Click the title of the image if you want to go to flickr and view it in full resolution. Enjoy!:
Okay, I’ve got a few more photos worth sharing that show the models that I had been working on to take along to the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima. As seen previously, here is Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha paint scheme, this time from a different angle:
And here’s his buddy, the Skytop sleeper/observation car #16 “Gold Creek” in the 1948 paint scheme with gold lettering, additional maroon band and gray roof. I did a lot of work on this car: decals, dull coats, gloss coats, added stainless fluting to the rear, etched stainless lettering for “Olympian Hiawatha”, painted grabirons, interior partition, window glazing with Lee Filters #730 Liberty Green, and lightly weathered the trucks, which I swapped in from a Walthers car for better looks.
When running around Seattle’s Union Station on the unelectrified tracks, the fellow below would do the pulling: an NW2 switcher. It’s a custom painted (not by me) Kato shell on a Broadway Limited SW2 frame which has sound and DCC.
Below we have some trailers for TOFC service (Trailer on Flat Car), as they would have looked in 1980, right at the end of the Milwaukee. I did all decaling with Microscale decals, dull coat, light dirt weathering, and black diesel exhaust.
This week I’m heading to Yakima Washington to take part in the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association conference, which will be focused on the very area where my model railroad is set! As part of the convention there is a modeling competition, so I decided to polish up a few models and be a part of it. Here is probably my favorite, Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme. Weathered the trucks with Tamiya desert yellow, black weathering chalk to fill in surface details then wiped off, floquil hi-gloss over the whole body, added wires to the bells, white flags to denote a passenger extra. I’ll have more photos down the line…..
Here’s a few more photos to document the transitory pedalboard setup of the month. I’ve continued borrowing pedals from the fantastic service PedalGenie.com and this month I’m enjoying three new ones: 1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser 2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla envelope filter and 3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo. Here’s an overall shot of the board as she appeared for the 5/15/15 and 5/22/15 sessions:
1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser is a decent-to-good phaser packed with some totally amazing features. What I mean by that is, purely as a phaser, I still prefer the 1970s Maestro Phaser also seen in the overall photo, BUT the Apollo has some super creative ways of applying the phase that I’ve never seen on another phaser. First off, you can connect an expression pedal and use it to control the position of the phase combination. They describe it as an interesting take on the wah, but since a phaser is totally different than an envelope I’m going to say that the similarity ends with the fact that both are controlled by your foot. This was the feature that drew me to the pedal and I will say that it delivered, conceptually, on what I envisioned when I read the description. In use, the expression control seems to be subtle in the context of a full band. Turning up the resonance of the filter makes it cut a bit harder, and it is quite captivating to mess around with. Matter of fact I have held onto this one from PedalGenie for two months to give myself more time to see what plays out with this expression pedal control.
It took me a while to figure it out, but the expression pedal control is best used slowly, to create a textural metamorphosis rather than quickly, like you’d “waka-chicka” on a wah. With that approach a ‘bigger’ sound is yielded, one which allows more subtlety to come out. Surprisingly, in the context of improvisation the feature I find myself reaching for more than the expression pedal control is the randomizer function, which bounces the phase position all over whimsically. This, combined with the tap tempo control allows you to create a rhythmic texture that sounds similar to a step filter. I really like that effect. The randomizer and the expression control both do a lot to make this pedal something special. I know I am going to miss this one a lot when it’s gone.
2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla Envelope Filter–with a name like that, how could it be bad?! It might be the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen with the Godzilla graphic and the sparkly purple paint job. It also has expression pedal input although I couldn’t seem to make it do much that felt interesting. Last month I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo pedal which is a wah, step filter, and autowah all in one. Regretfully the attack range of the autowah on that pedal was simply out of range for what my trumpet produces, and it literally did nothing. So the Funkzilla is the autowah sound I was wishing for! When you play a very fast phrase you can feel it getting slightly behind on its attack but for the most part it keeps up well even through brisk phrases. This sound is a lot of fun.
The first session I Funkzilla’d (YES!) I had the ‘Zil after the wah pedal which I think was a mistake. On the second one I used it before the wah, which allows me to slowly sculpt the tone without losing the Funkzilla filter attack. So this guy belongs early in the signal chain I think.
One thing I despise about both of these SolidGold FX pedals is the footswitches they use are hard as a rock and click very loudly when you engage them. Even if I was a guitarist and these were on the floor, I think I’d still dislike that. In our recordings you can hear them click on and off loud and clear. Why anyone would prefer this type of a switch, I do not understand. I’m very biased since most of my pedals reside at waist height and I actuate them with my hands, but were I to buy either of these pedals, I think I would open them up and rip out these awful switches to replace them with soft ones.
3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo is the most complicated tremolo I’ve ever seen. Complexity is a double edged sword of course, and I feel like I’m stumbling through hallways in the vast mansion of what it can truly do. Right away the coolest feature seems to be the fact that this tremolo offers a few rhythmic patterns besides a constant on/off cycle. Those patterns can also be adjusted to have a different attack with the waveform style knob, swapping from a hard-edged square wave to a smoother triangle wave, to the smoothest sine wave setting. There is a ton of variety in here. I’m blown away by the possibilities that it offers but I’m also left wondering how many people ever touch the bottom on this thing. One dangerous aspect of a very complicated pedal is when you’re in the heat of a cool moment and you reach for it, expecting, you know, a tremolo–but instead it’s still set to that weird-ass setting from earlier in the jam that you were playing around with and was cool at the time but is totally out of place now. The Eventide Pitch Factor has burned me a few times in the same way. Awesome pedals, and they do so much, but they demand your attention to really control them.
4. The TC Electronic Flashback Delay–I got this pedal as a loaner from PedalGenie and I liked it so much that I had to actually buy one to keep full time. This now makes 3 (yes, three) delay pedals on the board, which is getting a little bit ridiculous, but wow, it has such a tremendously big soundstage when used in stereo that I was instantly hooked to it. Vince (our guitarist) commented on a portion of our jam “that’s quite a trumpetscape”… any pedal that can coin a new word deserves consideration as a permanent member, I think. Besides it’s giant stereo field which immediately makes it presence known, the Flashback also has a host of varied sounds which each have their own appeal. I’ve been digging the LoFi mode and the Ping Pong most of all, but the mod has quite a pleasing modulation sound as well. And the Tone Print setting lets you add in pretty much anything else you can think of using the very comprehensive editor which runs on your PC and transfers new settings over via USB. That’s a brilliant idea.
So full-time TrumpetScape™ Technology is now on hand and life is good. Having these extra pedals around is a lot of fun and stimulating.
As posted about previously, I had encouraged my drummer to get the Marantz HD-440 speakers, since I have very much enjoyed owning a pair of their big brothers, the HD-770s. The “High Definition Series” speakers have walnut veneer cabinets and were built sometime in the 70s. In the Marantz 25th anniversary catalog (dated 1978) they are for sale as the medium tier product underneath the “Design Series”. For a mid-tier product though, these are extremely nice. And as an aside, that 25th anniversary catalog is a feast for the eyes if you’re into this kind of thing… here is a link to it at HiFiEngine. You’ll need an account to view it but it is easy to create one… it’s worth the effort to check out that super sweet catalog.
It’s clear they put some thought into the design of these units. The most attention-grabbing feature for me was the 1″ dome driver, which is labeled as a tweeter. I’d call that a misnomer though, since the overall frequency response is given as 33-22kHz +/- 3dB @ 125W of “program material”. Crossover Frequencies are 750, 2300, 5000Hz so that 1-inch “tweeter” is handling 2.3k-5kHz. I have always been a big fan of dome midranges for their lifelike sound, especially on anything of an earthy, organic variety like acoustic guitar, piano, or exposed vocals. Dome mids do a great job of putting those things “in the room” with you. Interestingly the HD-770 has a stated efficiency of 90dB which is very high for a speaker depending on a 12″ woofer to handle the low end, since the woofer is almost always the limiting factor on efficiency and high efficiency woofers are relatively rare in larger sizes.
From the factory HD series units were supplied with a “Vari-Q damping acoustical plug” which you could insert to tune the port if you wanted to change the bass response. The trade-off was more definition in the 50-75Hz range, at the expense of anything below. My speakers were bought secondhand off Craigslist and did not come with this accessory. I see some on ebay with the mention that the original foam is long gone… a running theme. Like the HD-440s, the woofer foam on the HD-770s also crumbles away with time. In my case the previous owner swapped out the original woofer for a replacement driver instead of re-foaming it. This can easily be spotted by the convex woofer dustcap; the original was concave. Given the apparent attention that the Marantz engineers paid to driver selection, I wish he had re-foamed the original. If an opportunity ever presents itself, I would like to acquire the original driver and restore these to their intended stock configuration, although the replacement is doing just fine for the time being. After searching a while on eBay that seems like a pipe dream though, since a pair in need of re-foaming recently sold for $227.50. That says something though–one, the original drivers were good and two, the market of people out there enthusiastic about keeping theirs in prime condition remains hot. My set is also missing the metal ring which mounts around the largest woofer, which is too bad because it does look cool.
The HD-770s have a three-section resistor (aka L-pad) control panel on the front which allows you to individually adjust the volume of the super tweeter, dome midrange and cone mid-bass drivers. When I built the green speakers for my brother I definitely learned that L-pads are a tremendous asset to any speaker design. They really allow you to tweak the “voicing” of the sound to whatever suits your liking. It can’t be over-emphasized just how much of an impact this has on the sound. Put it this way: never again would I built another set of speakers without L-pads.
These units have a really funky grille, which has brown fabric which comes outward at the center. I can’t decide if they look cooler with out without the grille on, so I keep the one closer to the door equipped with the grille to protect it from passing foot traffic and the one near the window exposed so I can enjoy the neat appearance of the drivers. Hopefully these units will last me a long time. They are certainly ready to pump out some serious dB’s but still have a soft touch for nuance at the same time. That’s a real nice combination.
Happy to report that I’ve finally gotten out and done some more shooting on my Infrared-converted Canon XTi. I don’t use this camera near enough so when we planned a camping trip, I knew this was my chance to get some great captures out in nature, where the IR SLR really shines. Here’s a gallery of my favorites. Some are color-shifted to appear blue instead of red, a few I left red and one is black’n’white. Enjoy:
I’ve got a cheap set of MXL 990 and 991 microphones that I’ve been using as room mics and overhead drum mics for all my sessions and they’ve been doing well considering how cheap they are. A while back I saw on the web that there’s a community of people who are into modifying these mics to punch above their weight. The simplest mod is a capacitor replacement; three ceramic caps which are part of the audio signal path are swapped out for film caps. I know my way around a soldering iron so this was a slam dunk for $7 a mic. A few before and after pics are below with audio results on the way later….
Shown above is the PCB with the three new caps sitting beside it, and there they are installed in the image below, noted by the green arrows. Not the world’s most beautiful solder joints but they’ll get the job done.
Time for an update on the Pacific Coast Extension model railroad progress! When last we left off, I had just completed the upper deck benchwork and subroadbed (i.e. flat plywood) over the staging. As you can see in the photos, I’ve now completed the entire upper deck benchwork and subroadbed, which, like many things in this hobby, is a simple sentence to say but a huge amount of work to actually do.
I’ve also completed the inclined subroadbed which leads from the lower deck to the upper, although all the track is not yet in place there. A small section remains where three tracks of singled ended staging branch off. I added this area since I do enjoy running very long trains–long enough that some of them need to be broken up to fit in the double ended staging below. The wiring is installed for all new track mentioned in here as well. I did miss my self-imposed deadline of completing all mainline trackwork by the end of 2014 although since I only missed it by a couple weeks, I’m going to call that a win. Such deadlines are created to motivate oneself, and in that regard it was a success.
An autoreverser has been installed on the newly-completed mountain loop (shown above), although I’ve been struggling to get it to work correctly with the snap-coil switch motors which will allow a train to automatically run endless loops on the upper deck. Right now I’m thinking something just isn’t wired correctly and I need to spend the time to figure that out.
The incline between decks never exceeded 4.5% as measured with my Micro Mark precision level, an invaluable tool. However it does appear quite steep visually and I know certain trains are definitely going to require helpers or multiple trips to make it up the grade between levels. That’s alright though, I’m okay with that. Real life worked the same way. Now if only MTH would hurry up and make some Boxcab motors. Shown below is the large curve which will eventually be built into the Mine Creek trestle, and the incline between decks. The plexiglass is there because that ledge is open to the living room, probably like 20 feet below! This photo is looking just to the right of the one above.
To continue looking to the left of the photo above, here is another view, showing how the laypout wraps around the desk with a window behind it:
Speaking of the trains themselves, there are a few great new additions to the railroad. Foremost of these would be a Milwaukee Road creek series observation car, something available only in brass although fortunately it has been produced several times by different makers in the last several decades. I believe mine comes from the 1980s although I’m not sure. It has already been sent off for a custom paint job to match the Walthers cars, and I intended to further customize it by building an interior and adding lighting.
Another beaut I’m delighted to have around is an MTH Little Joe in the orange and black freight scheme. Although my railroad is set in Washington state, there is a large amount of scenic overlap between Milwaukee’s Coast Division where the Bipolars ruled, and their Rocky Mountain division where the Joes ruled electric operations. That’s as far as I intend to ‘bend the rules’ at least at this point. Besides, any self-resepecting Milwaukee electrics modeler has got to have a Joe or three around; they’re debatably the most iconic of all Milwaukee Electrics, lasting from the 50s right up to the end. You can see E73 in the picture below, which shows the staging area:
A few interesting things I’ve learned: Micro Engineering flextrack is great, especially if you use Peco track fixing pins along the edges of the ties, as opposed to large Atlas spikes on the center of the ties. This hides the spikes quite well and makes the track look more realistic. However it does hide the spikes so well you may accidentally do some damage trying to reposition the track later, by overlooking that hidden extra spike you put on the far side of the rail which is nearly impossible to see. ME flextrack also has a very annoying way of shortening the far end when bent even slightly–always check BOTH ends of the track before you cut any rail. And I do mean always.
I’ve also ordered the supplies to commence with rock building on a large scale, which is a stage of construction I’ve LONG been itching to reach. I will have more details on that stage later this year.
As we’ve done for the last 5 years, my buddy Bill and I made the pilgrimage to Bear Creek music festival in Florida. Every year this fest is dynamite, dipped in gold. That might be selling it short. Bear Creek is really the only place on planet Earth where you can get this concentrated of a dose of funky music in the span of 3 days. Not even Jazzfest in New Orleans can match the density of pure funk-per-minute that goes on here. There is no peer. From my standpoint, 2014 may be my favorite yet. Let’s rap about it:
Right off the bat I’ll mention a few groups whom I’d never even heard of prior to BC14 that took me there. First thing we saw when we arrived was a band called Turquaz who came in with something to prove. Their punchy horns and funky vibes immediately set the tone for the rest of the fest. It was a positively ideal first act to catch. Their street team was walking through the crowd handing out slap-koozies–which are exactly what you think they are. This idea is so brilliant that it is somewhat baffling that I have never heard of it until now. Well played Turquaz. They had a peppy sound and ooh, their trumpet player also had some effects going on, which was a running theme to my delight.
Another band which made an instant fan out of me was The Fritz from Asheville NC. They mixed 80% funky dance grooves with 20% tricky synchonized unison lines, which was totally a formula for success in my book. Centerstage was their keyboard player who also did main vocals and brought a lot of showmanship to the spectacle. Although they were young guys, they really knew how to play. I’d love to see them again. They were almost prog-rock at times, which I generally shy away from, but their funkyness always brought me back.
Completing the trifecta of winning first introductions was a band called Tauk. Bill bought their CD which we listened to on the way back to the airport–it was very Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck inspired, which is cool and all, but not really my thing. However their live performance was great. Most notably they played a double-length version of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles that slammed absurdly hard. Bill commented that as hard as Soulive has rocked that tune in the past, these guys dialed it up a notch further, which was an accomplishment.
The Nth Power was fun to watch, bringing their vocal driven comtemporary soul to life on the Purple Hat stage which was the best-sounding stage of the fest this year. At the climax of their tune “Only Love” maybe ten people suddenly appeared in the crowd holding up big placards with the word “LOVE” on them, which was a synergistic moment for sure.
BC’14 was one of my favorite Creeks in a long time–possibly ever–because of the TRUMPETS! Me, being a trumpet player myself, I’m obviously very biased by this aspect of the music and 2014 was the year those brass players collectively decided to get the hell up in there and deliver. In terms of both veterans and newcomers alike, the trumpets of Bear Creek delivered a delicious, heaping platter of excellence, which warrants a through digression:
The best awesome new thing (which I knew beforehand was going to be awesome) was The Heard, a horn-section driven band from my old stomping grounds in Chicago. Those three horns (tenor sax, trombone, trumpet) brought a lot of rambunctious energy and very tight section playing. They had a polished, rehearsed-sounding feel to their hits, with a pleasing length to their punches. A section like the one in Lettuce tends to clip their hits super short, which is great for their style, but it was nice to hear the Heard Horns deliver some fatter punches by comparison, a choice that seemed deliberate. Anyone could have predicted their set was gonna be hot simply by the oh-so-enviable late night Saturday timeslot they were given, and indeed that contract went filled. The horns also sat in with the New Mastersounds on both their sets and lended some very well-executed performances of familiar lines. In particular, the nimble melodies of “Fast Man” sounded right on the money: notes were clean, articulations were tight, and the three players were together in their timing. It was a real treat.
Jen Hartswick is a perennial representive of the trumpet community at Bear Creek and this year she too delivered bigger and better than before. In previous years I felt underwhelmed by her playing; the power/chops were adequate but not strong, and her phrases were unfocused, trailing off–like a speechgiver who was obviously winging it, unsure of what she was going to say next and clumsily tripping over sentences. Not this year. Her tone was brighter and clearer, with more strength. And her phrases were well-spoken musical ideas which connected between the pauses. Musically there was just a lot more substance in her thoughts… I’m sure my listening has probably improved as the years have passed but it certainly wasn’t just that.
In prior Bear Creeks I watched the trumpet players and thought to myself “man, I could be up there. I can do those things these guys are doing and I can hang with the level of improv that’s being put forth.” Not this year. One man who firmly put his foot down and said “here’s the bar” was Nicholas Payton. His group was introduced as being “at the forefront of modern American music” and correspondingly he blew me away with his talent, playing keyboards and trumpet at the same time–and doing it WELL. Payton understands how to handle the Rhodes in particular, and his trumpet is customized with a short metal stand coming off the bottom of his valve casings, so that he can rest the weight of the horn on the keyboard edge, and play both instruments without the weight of the trumpet fatiguing his right hand. His tone was loud and powerful, with clear, searing highs which he used as violent punctuation against the tones of his well-seasoned jazz trio who had put on their funky caps to tackle this festival. After a long stint on keys, mainly between Rhodes and B3, he’d re-enter on the horn with a piercing high note, like a burst of lightning from the sky, out of the blue. His solos were those of a jazz player who knew the real book, knew how to play changes.
Nicholas got up centerstage with Lettuce during the last set of the festival and proceeded to play the most “out” solo of the weekend. Watching the facial expressions of the string instrument players was almost comedy: Jesus on the bass and Schmeens on the guitar looked at each other with some alarm, their expressions seeming to say “Does he know what key we’re in? Should we… should we change the key? Wait… wait, no? Okay there he’s in. No. Now he’s off again. Okay. Ummm. There, he found it. No, he’s out….. Alright, well he’s obviously doing his own thing here, just let him go.” Personally I always enjoy a mostly “in” solo more than I enjoy a mostly “out” solo but heady jazz cats always love the out. Watching Nicholas’ jazz-rooted trio take things in-and-funky was a treat for me, someone who lives on the funk side of the fence, but seeing him solo with Lettuce was the inverse! I imagine that would have been a treat for someone who really loves an outside soloist; if Skerik was around and listening, I bet he ate that moment up.
Speaking of Skerik, he got up with The New Mastersounds and played a pretty “in” solo for his usual tastes. Although he’s a brilliant tenor player, his tendency is to get up and go nuts, squawking and squealing like a madman–which he pulls off well, ratcheting up the overall intensity of what’s happening onstage. But it was cool to hear him get inside the groove and do something a bit more thoughtful. My comment at the time was, ‘okay, I guess you can play like that too, you just always choose not to.’
So as an aside, last year I didn’t write about Bear Creek, mostly because it was a bit of a “down” year. The weather was rainy and the mixing on the main amphitheater soundboard was… regrettable, leaving many potentially great moments seemingly unamplified. This year we did do a fair amount of moving around during the shows, and as Bill discovered about the main amphitheater, “something is off about that bowl”. Indeed. You actually don’t want to be close to the stage for the best sound. There are some definite “dead zones” where a soloist seems to disappear into the back of the mix. Walk back toward the soundboard another 20 feet and surpise, you can hear everything again! Maybe it’s the wide distance between the left and right speaker arrays, maybe it’s the absorbtion of the crowd when it gets densely populated? In any event, the takeaway is that location is pivotal for getting the most out of those shows. They also keep changing their other stages around every year and bafflingly they did away with Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage this year which was unfortunate since that one clearly had the best sound quality every year. I’d be willing to bet money they just walked that sound system down the hill over to the Purple Hat stage, since it sounded better than it ever has. That stage was the hot place to be this year.
And about that Purple Hat Stage: probably my 3 favorite acts of the fest all tore it apart there. Predictably: The New Mastersounds, Lettuce, and Soulive. The Mastersounds were their usual selves, serving up tasty versions of their classics with a few new treats from their bag of endlessly refilling compositions. Simon declared “as is customary, we will fill the stage with incredible guest appearances” and so they did. Highlights were the aforementioned “The Heard” horns, and Bernard Perdy. Two years ago their Keyboard player Joe Tatton couldn’t make the journey due to passport issues so B3 wrangler-extraordinare Robert Walter filled his seat for the duration, which was a special treat. Those kind of special permutations of your favorite acts are a hallmark of BC. Having seen NMS live shows too many times to count anymore, I was greatly pleased with their sets although I wouldn’t say they did much to catch me off-guard. But that’s alright. Sometimes a great show is exactly what you expect it to be, and NMS fell into that category this year. I bought a zip up sweatshirt with their logo on it at the merchandise booth but barely got a chance to brandish it. Friday was long-underwear weather, Saturday was jeans, and Sunday was shorts-all-night weather, which was splendid.
A familiar act who did catch me off guard was Lettuce, with a half-dozen or so forays into dub territory–something I’ve never heard them do as prominently or repeatedly as in their two sets at BC14. I completely endorse this new playing field for their repertoire. Dubbing out with some trippy delays and free spaces gives some nice breathing room to contrast against their dense, in-your-face slam tracks. The horns each had little effects units they were tweaking during these moments, which was straight up my alley. Returning again to the excellent trumpet playing this year, Eric Bloom has taken over Rashawn Ross’ old shoes, which are some mighty big shoes to fill. Rashawn has a searing, cutting high range that slices authoratively through any sound known to man so he can’t really be outgunned in that regard, but Eric sounded better than ever this year with clear, clean chops and better solo ideas for sure. Where Rashawn always seemed to build up to some high note climax in his solos but then didn’t really have anywhere to go, Bloom had lots of ideas, lots of places to go. Which is maybe not as dramatic, but more intellectually stimualting as a player. Lettuce was maybe at their peak shortly after the release of “Rage!” and two years back they owned the festival with their explosive, razor-sharp funk. Indeed at the time the comment was made “If god himself had a funk band, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” A sentiment I still stand by–they still gots it.
My one complaint–and complaning about anything that happens at Bear Creek is like saying the bread that came with your flawless surf’n’turf dinner was maybe too doughy–was that we didn’t get enough Eric Krasno. He was “Space Krasno” this year with Lettuce, standing literally in the back and fiddling with some weird noise-making keyboard that was only sometimes audible when he wasn’t neck-deep in some oddball effects setting on his guitar that turned it into a dubbed-out sound machine. And yeah, that’s awesome and all. I enjoyed this strange-flavored, alternate reality Lettuce from outer space. Outer space is definitely a part of the big bad funk sound for sure. But it’s just that, c’mon, this is the guy–in my eyes more than anyone else here–who can deliver that throat-grabbing, oh-my-god, face-melting solo freakout that gives you that feeling. You know the one. That feeling that takes you to another place. So Krasno was around, but he was more of a wheel on the train rather than wearing the engineer hat. Only twice did he step up for a “big” solo and having seen what he is capable of in the past, I think he only took it to like 65%. On this note I miss his Chapter 2 project with Nigel Hall on vocals. That was some real take-me-to-church get-down action which needs to come back again.
And all this finally brings me to the Soulive set.
I’ve seen Soulive many times, again too many times to count anymore. Maybe my all time favorite was at the House of Blues in Chicago circa 2006 when the Shady Horns were backing them up with Rashawn on trumpet. And then their Bear Creek set shortly after the release of “Rubber Soulive” where they played all the great Beatles tunes, that was something special. But this set, this set… knocked me out. Like I said already sometimes a great set is where you get just what you expected like NMS this year, or when a familiar act goes a new direction like Lettuce with the dub. But for a very familiar act to blow you away again like you’re seeing them fresh, for the first time, they’ve got to really come out of left field with something unexpected and that’s what Soulive did. Out of all the sets I saw this year, theirs covered the widest stylistic range. They came out swinging with three well-chosen originals including Aladdin, a personal favorite of mine. Bill commented that he wished they had horns up there, and yeah, there were the unlimited resources of Bear Creek horns probably standing around backstage so that was maybe a questionable choice to keep it just the trio for that moment but even so, they brought the energy. Between tracks the comment was made, “Fire. Breathing. Monsters… and there’s only 3 of them!” Which sums it up. And I’m guessing that’s the point they were trying to make.
But from there-on-out the pendulum started to swing wildly; a slow bluesy gospel section, followed by Eleanor Rigby with a ripping guitar solo. When the music paused at last I leaned over to Bill and said, “submitted for your consideration by Eric Krasno; his entry for best guitar solo of the fest.” And maybe it was, for my tastes. Out of all the many possible things a guitarist can possibly do–everyone is looking for a certain blend of stylistic rootings and phrasing sensiblities–Krasno barks right up my tree with his pentatonic/blues roots and thick application of bended notes, so I am inherently biased toward his playing. This year he was awash with phaser, even over sections he typically play clean. As previously mentioned he didn’t really step out front and *grab it* with Lettuce this year, so Soulive was his best moment. When I interviewed him a few years back, he commented a bit on what factors will push him to “take it there”. To paraphrase I’d say there has to be three things: A. the internal motivation to rock it B. the available sonic space to fit (the sound can’t be too loud or crowded) and C. the band behind him pushing it.
When Eleanor Rigby had seemingly run its course with solo section completed, out comes rap artist Talib Kweli. He did some freestyle on the verse sections and then made the crowd sing along for the chorus of the tune, which brought a whole new energy. It was like this build up/intensify thing with the rhymes then when the choruses dropped it felt even more anthemic. Pretty rad, and unexpected. When that was done, they did a rendition of Talib’s tune “Get By” and one other jam I didn’t recognize. A decent foray into hip hop territory. After that, the trio dove deep underwater into some dubbed-out seas which resonated big time with this guy since my own musical project has been messing around with dub too. This was before either of the Lettuce sets so it had the impact of surprise. But the biggest surprise of the whole fest was immediately after the first dub moment.
For a rendition of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” the trio brought out… an 11 year old guitar-playing boy with the stage name Taz. Who then proceeded to genuinely blow everyone’s mind. “How old is this person?!” exclaimed Bill. From where we stood in the crowd it was hard to tell if this was a kid or a young looking midget, or even a male or a female with a pretty rocking afro who was mostly facing Krasno. After struggling to discern who or what I was looking at, one thing became clear: this little boy could rock. Like no other kid you’ve seen, ever, anywhere. On TV or the internet or anything. He new how to play tunes, he knew how to solo with fast notes or with bends and tension, he knew what facial expressions to make, he knew how to pay attention and respond musically. He just… had it all. I even found out later that he had his own shirt in the merchandise booth! Disbelief would be the best word to describe the collective reaction to this kid. I’ve seen child prodigies before but this kid, this is something else. And as a piece of the Soulive performance, this clinched it as the set that just defied all predictions. They played their classics, they played the Beatles, they featured a hip-hop star, they dubbed it out, and then they brought out a little child who proceeded to deliever a blistering guitar solo you never thought was even possible from someone that age. Mind = blown.
Walking away from the show to go see the New Mastersounds at the amphitheater I was shouting to Bill, “What did we just watch!? No, really, what was that? Did I imagine it?” But no, I did not, and over the rest of the weekend Taz went on to be the toast of the fest this year, making brief appearances with all the major acts on classic rock hits with screaming solos like you’ve never heard from a kid. A humorous moment happened during the Orchestra at Large set when a bee flew up to him and he got scared. Taz stopped playing and his eyes widened as he backed up slowly until it flew away. “A BEE!” he mouthed to the crowd as he started up again, rocking the wah on his Pedaltrain Jr. “From the mouthes of babes!” exclaimed Ivan Neville from Dumpstaphunk, shaking his head. Eddie Roberts chuckled that “I had just STARTED playing guitar when I was 11.” Every year you bump into some memorable faces at the fest and there is a guy who always wears a peanut shell as an earring whom we’ve made friends with. Mr. Peanut-Earring commented “Look at the other musicians on stage. Half of them are looking at him so proud like he’s their own son, and the other half are just mad! Like, what the hell!? I had to WORK for this!?” I burst out laughing because he was so right.
Mr. Peanut-Earring has been a fixture of the fest every year and this year when we bumped into him in the crowd he seemed very excited to see us. He gave both Bill and I a big hug and we talked music for a while. You meet all kinds of funny characters at fests like this so I shrugged it off when he seemed strangely emotional that we remembered him and was loving the conversation. It wasn’t until after he walked away that Bill told me Mr. Peanut-Earring had informed him he was diagnosed with cancer. Here I thought maybe he was on something but no, the emotion was genuine. It was a sobering moment, and I felt sad for him. But maybe also happy too. After all, he was here, and he had been here many times now. This place, for people who love this kind of music, is a spiritual gathering, a religious experience. I don’t think that’s exaggerating it. Sure it’s a meeting of the minds, where like minded travelers from parts far-flung unite under a groove but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dance like you mean it, it’s a cathartic escape into some other dimension with the hippest soundtrack imaginable, flooding into your ears and mind, controlling your legs. It’s a place where you forget everything that’s wrong and let the sound take you away. Where all the musicians push it to their top level and that does something to you too, watching that magic when the performers themselves seem to become infected with this viral euphoria that feeds back and forth between everyone in the whole forest. I said to Bill, “you know some day they’re going to stop doing this fest for one reason or another. And we’ll look back on this like it was some kind of golden age or utopia where everyone who was anyone all just had to be.” I know Mr. Peanut-Earring knows exactly what I’m talking about here and damn, if you gotta go out, one last dose of that sweet Bear Creek gospel sure would be comforting. I know I’d want it. We’ll be looking for you there next year buddy.