Monday, September 13, 2010

Belfast Open House Festival 2010

i haven't had the heart for much blogging recently, but this weekend has made a difference.

I have to say i was stoked when i heard the Old Crow Medicine Show were playing the Open House Festival in Belfast this year. There is something different about a festival. A gig is great but really - you walk in watch the show and walk out - then talk about it on the way home with the stereo on. At a festival you get a chance to savour the music, get to know people, and sometimes see odd collaborations as the musicians meet up with old friends. So when the news started to come in that the Festival also had The Felice Brothers who toured with the Old Crows for the Big Surprise tour last year, along with Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch who would also be playing it was announced, and Pokey Lafarge from St Louis (whom Ketch Secor has played fiddle for), plus possessed banjo player Morgan O'Kane (whose Band includes Ferd Four of the Hackensaw Boys) it was exciting to say the least.


But then i started to realise that it was a different gig every night, separate tickets for each one and the artists would just come in, do their show and go out the back door. It wasn't going to be Glastonbury, or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or the Frog Fair, camping out in the sunshine and mud eating all-day food. Ah well Buckle up boys and don't think twice, buy your tickets, book a hotel and figure out the cheapest way of getting there.

I came in on the Friday afternoon resigned to miss the Felice Brothers who were opening for Wilco (the top-price ticket of the week) but i had to walk down and see what was going on. At the far end is a little tent with some rip-roaring banjo/fiddle coming through - so i peer through the fence and am rewarded with a big grin from Ferd Hackensaw - it's Morgan O'Kanes band warming the place up. Heaven.

You could only get in if you had one of those aforementioned luxury tickets (well luxury if you only wanted to see the support band) but by some fortune of good management (aka miracle 1) the fence outside the marquee was nicely arranged so people could look in and see the stage only a 100 yards away - not so different from Glastonbury after all - I could see James Felice's piano being sound checked. It was a difficult moment knowing i could just walk over and buy a ticket right then so i went and got some chips and came back at 8.30 in time to hear Murder By Mistletoe, Whiskey In My Whiskey, Run Chicken Run, Penn Station, all while looking over the heads of Wilco fans in the 'courtyard'. I was chuffed. I don't know which song it was, perhaps White Limo but a girl walked up to the inside of the fence and said (you have to imagine the Belfast accent) "Do you not have a ticket?"


You guessed it! Miracle 2. She had a spare complimentary ticket so i thanked her kindly, and managed to walk the length of the marquee floor to the opening bars of Frankie's Gun where the Felice Brothers fans were tearing it up and i got to hear how good the sound was. Then Kevin Hayes and Willie Watson came onstage to join in which threw the security into confusion for a while. It was the last song of their set but it felt great to be there with everyone howling for an encore, and James and Ian getting ovations when they came out to collect bits of kit.

By the time I got outside Farley of the Felice Brothers and Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show were into some fiddle tune near the bar until Pokey LaFarge played in the little tent where I'd seen Morgan O'Kane. And when i say little here i mean big enough to hold the band, not the audience! The Pokey LaFarge band played a beautiful set of 30s jazz/swing/ragtime harmony tunes reminiscent of the early Mills Brothers, or The Delmore Brothers with Pokey the epitome of the suave and elegant bandleader and equally at home playing Blind Blake or standards like 'Sunny Side Of The Street'. I'd have to digress quite a lot to cover all the bases they touch on as they head for home but you might get the idea. The thing is that Pokey plays the blues but he doesn't have the blues. He's a happy guy. Friendly, warm, open, and he sings it that way. So I'm going out on a limb here to say this music is like a cross between Blind Blake, the Hoosier Hotshots and Bing Crosby. Polished, fun, and witty. See them when you can.


When the set finished Ketch reappeared and politely commandeered the 14 foot caravan of the Alternative Ink Tattoo Artist, Shane Sunday, somehow managing to squeeze himself, Farley, and all of the Pokey LaFarge band (including Joey Glynn's double bass ) into one end of the little space.
At first it's Ketch teaching fiddle tunes until everyone is up to speed and they can cut loose and fly. He's calling out chord changes ( "I, I, I, I, IV, IV, V, I etc) and A and B parts and having a great old time. Then they are swapping songs and tunes, Pokey LaFarge did a great version of Going To Germany, Sail Away Ladies was played and sung, instruments are exchanged, Hank's Lost Highway, and Bucket's Got a Hole in it are played, by which time the windows are wide open and a small crowd (whoever wasn't tempted by Wilco in the Marquee) can't believe their luck. Gill Landry is taking photos in the window, Ian and Christmas Felice are outside, Kevin Hayes of Old Crow, too and then Ferd Hackensaw and Morgan O'Kane come in and the tempo kicks up it's heels. They know the tunes as well as Ketch and we are treated to some firey music, with Ferd and Ketch almost knocking foreheads across the small caravan space which is rocking like the ship on the proverbial stormy sea.


Security eventually had to clear us all out and nobody really minded. We knew how lucky we were to find a real festival in the heart of the city, and friends we hadn't spoken to yet all through the weekend.

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