With warm weather approaching, Ear Bliss kicks off its periodic series of music festival alerts for some of the finer events happening in Northeast this summer. Leading things off is a preview of Solid Sound Festival of Music & Art hosted and curated by the band Wilco. Featuring music, comedy, discussion, art, activities and more, it takes place June 28-30 both on the grounds and inside the extraordinary Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (a.k.a. MASS MoCA) located in North Adams, MA.
Before getting into that, we shine the Ear Bliss spotlight on the recent album from legendary alt country/roots rocker Steve Earle called Guy. It finds Earle paying homage to the late singer/songwriter Guy Clark with honest renditions of many of Clark’s most memorable songs by Earle and his band The Dukes. Earle was just a fresh-faced songwriter in his late teens when he left San Antonio in 1974 for Nashville in hopes and taking that next step in a music career. He’d meet Clark quickly after arriving and join his band even performing on Clark’s classic 1975 album, Old No. 1. Clark would become both coach and mentor to the young Earle who just over a decade later, would strike his own gold with the 1986 album Guitar Town and single of the same name. The rest, so they say, is history. Earle never forgot the impact of Clark on his own path and salutes him in the best way he knows how, by recreating a collection of his Clark favorites. Let’s take a look.
Steve Earle & The Dukes
New West Records
Boy did Guy Clark write some great and timeless tunes in his lifetime. The oeuvre of the late singer/songwriter has given us such time-tested classics as “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “Rita Ballou,” and “The Randall Knife,” to name just a handful from his revered catalogue. It is impressionable stuff for any emerging singer/songwriter. When a young Steve Earle met Clark in 1974 in Nashville after hitchhiking all the way from his San Antonio home in search of greater things, little did he know what lied ahead. Earle would land a spot in Clark’s band playing bass taking over for an equally young fresh face on the Nashville scene, Rodney Crowell. He’d also fall into a circle of songwriters that included the likes of Clark and Crowell along with the legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Earle would tire of Nashville and return to Texas in the early ‘80s forming his own band The Dukes, before returning to Music City to focus on his own career. That restart would culminate with the 1986 album Guitar Town which would make it to number one on the Billboard country albums chart. Whereas his life has had its many peaks and valleys, Earle is still in the game to this day and has never forgotten his two true mentors, Clark and Van Zandt. The year 2009 saw the release of his Grammy award-winning Van Zandt tribute album simply titled Townes. Now a decade later, Earle shines a light on Clark with the release called Guy. The 16-track homage to Clark features Earle and his band, The Dukes, along with a guest cast that includes the likes of Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mickey Raphael, Shawn Camp, long-time Clark co-hort Verlon Thompson, and Gary Nicholson. Appropriately, that cast of guests joins Earle on the Clark classic “Old Friends” which closes out the recording in perfect style. Now one of the elder statesmen of the Americana genre, Earle’s voice is not the instrument it once was, nonetheless the “age” in it fits these songs better than at any time in his career giving the album and these songs a patina that resonates in all the right ways. Visit www.newwestrecords.com.
Ear Bliss Festival Alert: Solid Sound Festival June 28-30, North Adams, MA
With summer approaching, music festival time in New England is soon upon us and based on content and locale, few can match the band Wilco’s music and arts festival called Solid Sound (a.k.a. The “Wilco” Festival) which happens June 28-30. Begun in 2010, this year marks the sixth iteration of the event which went to an every-other-year periodicity starting in 2011. The true beauty of Solid Sound is that it’s so much more than just a music festival. Credit in large part its locale, that being the sprawling grounds of the incredible Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (a.k.a. MASS MoCA) located in North Adams, MA. Add in the wide array of artists tapped year in and year out by Wilco to take part and it makes for quite the event. The 2019 edition is no exception to that creativity on the curation front. Once again leading the charge is Wilco itself which will perform two of the festival’s three days closing out the Friday and Saturday night outdoor stage festivities. Other acts scheduled to appear over the course of the three days represent a big tent of genres. Friday’s lineup includes Courtney Barnett, experimental rockers Tortoise, composer and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, Lithics, and The Expandards featuring Wilco’s Mikael Jorgensen along with Isaac Koren reimagining selections from the great American songbook. On the non-music side of the ledger that day, there is Penguin Random House presenting the “Authors in Discussion” with John Hodgman, Abbi Jacobson and Nate Chinen. Saturday’s music performers in addition to Wilco include The Feelies, Tortoise, Cate Le Bon, The Minus 5, Clipping, Tuareg songwriter and musician Mdou Moctar, Julian Lage Trio, OHMME, Foxwarren and Skyway Man, along with youth troupe Circus Smirkus and Story Pirates. Sunday’s lineup features Jeff Tweedy & friends, Jonathan Richman, CUP with Wilco’s Nels Cline, Lonnie Holley, “Fishing” which is a multi-disciplinary collaboration featuring actor Jon Hamm with Glenn Kottche from Wilco, Autumn Defense, Wand, Buck Meek, Quindar, genre-blending Haitian collective Lakou Mizik, Rough Francis, and the Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem Family Show. In addition to multiple stages of live music, a full lineup of comedy, and a museum-full of world-class contemporary art, Solid Sound 2019 features lots of diverse and eclectic non-musical programming. That includes John Hodgman’s Comedy Cabaret, axe throwing, nature hikes, a printing workshop given by Pawtucket’s own Ghost Town Studios, a pop-up record store, yoga, and an exclusive Mad Libs Lounge for the kids with custom Solid Sound activities, coloring, temporary tattoos, and more. It has all the makings of a highly eclectic and stimulating three days! Festival ticket admission also gives you access to the entirety MASS MoCA with its many nooks and crannies and most importantly, its wonderful galleries and art installations. Food trucks aplenty will also be on site. Weekend tickets are still available, as are single day tickets, and Solid Sound also offers camping options. If there is such thing as an Ear Bliss guarantee of a good time, this festival is it. Check out www.solidsoundfestival.com for complete information, including tickets.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.