“The ’90s weren’t a very good decade for me.”
That was how veteran bluesman Johnny Winter summed up that period of his career in a recent phone interview. A man who is succinct with his words – at least in interviews – he certainly doesn’t want to re-live that lost decade.
Actually the early half of the 2000s was no laugh riot either for Winter. But then came a turn-around from a very unintended source.
During sessions for Winter’s 2004 album, “I’m a Bluesman,” Paul Nelson, a top session guitarist who had studied under Steve Vai, Mike Stern and Steve Khan, was brought in to play guitar and write a few songs for the album.
“The manager was looking for somebody (to cover Winter’s parts) in case Johnny didn’t make it,” Nelson said in a phone interview that followed the conversation with Winter.
Little did Winter’s manager at the time, Teddy Slatus, know that Nelson would not only fill those roles on the album, he would eventually take over as Winter’s manager.
It’s been the best thing that could have happened to Winter. At the time the veteran blues guitarist was in the throes of addiction to anti-depressants that dated back to the aforementioned early ’90s, and his health had been deteriorating for some time.
Nelson said he knew something was terribly wrong as soon as he started coming to the studio.
“I’m like ‘Something’s wrong with his voice. What’s the matter?’ And it was ‘Don’t ask,’” Nelson recalled. “Then I started noticing stuff, the drugs, the medication they were pumping into him. I was like, ‘This is not working.’”
As time went on, Nelson said, he began to discover that that Slatus was not working in Winter’s best career interests and keeping Winter in the dark about a variety of issues.
Winter’s decline began in the early 1990s after he began experiencing anxiety problems and panic attacks. To treat the problem, he was prescribed anti-depressants and became addicted to the drugs. He was also taking methadone and drinking.
Nelson, who considered Winter one of his musical heroes, decided to do something about Winter’s health.
“I just started taking the bull by the horns and I said you know, I’m just going to start weaning him off of this stuff,” Nelson said. “It worked. I basically sat there with his methadone and whittled pieces off of his pills for three years without anyone knowing.”
Today, Winter is off of the pills and alcohol. He even stopped smoking about a year ago.
He’s also back to being himself as a musician. He’s playing energized live shows, and with his acclaimed 2011, CD, “Roots,” Winter has given fans recorded evidence of his resurgence.
The album features Winter (who is joined on the CD by a host of guests, including Vince Gill, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Susan Tedeschi) performing songs that helped shape his blues-rooted rocking sound.
Nelson, who produced “Roots” (and along with Winter’s touring bassist Scott Spray and drummer Vito Luizzi, played on the album), was the one who came up with the concept for the album.
“I said, ‘Let’s do a whole album of songs that you weren’t allowed to do before,’” Nelson said, noting that especially in the ’70s, Winter was discouraged from doing blues songs in favor of rock-pop material. “We’ll do one song by each artist. You pick the songs. He goes ‘Oh, I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to play those songs.’
“I go OK, let’s find ones you’ve never recorded before and pick specific artists. And he picked all of the songs in 15 minutes.”
Winter clearly relished the idea of the “Roots” CD.
“It was fun to do because it was songs I already knew, and had been doing since I was a teenager,” Winter said. “I didn’t have to learn anything.”
“Roots” was such a success that recording has already begun on a sequel, “Roots II.”
Winter and Nelson will be away from the studio for awhile as they return to touring. And while “Roots” has done well, Winter said he only does a couple of songs from the album, preferring to play material from throughout his career instead.
“We do songs from all of the different time periods,” Winter said.
That means that the native of Beaumont, Texas, might go back as far as his career-making self-titled 1969 debut album and touch on his rock-oriented albums of the early 1970s (such as “Still Alive and Well” and “Live Johnny Winter And”) that made him a major star during that period before he began focusing on blues in the late ’70s.
“It (rock) just wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” Winter said. “I loved blues and that was what I wanted to be playing. I didn’t want to be a rock star, never wanted to be a rock star.
“I’m doing what I want to do now, finally,” he said.
Spoken like a man who is happy to have the blues – and his health – after some truly difficult times.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:46
Sacrifice Cliff Theatre Company is the newest arts venue in Billings, nestled in humble quarters in the Grafix Studio building at 504 N. 20th St.
The performance area, which seats 50, brings to mind the shabby garret room in Act I of “La Boheme,” all odd corners and mismatched sections of wall. The space, with seating for up to 50, has a fun, edgy feel. It all reminded me of Venture Theatre’s early days in the garage on Central Avenue.
“We want a place where artists in the community can produce local work,” said Patrick Wilson, the theater’s mastermind. “A place to share their unique voices and get instant feedback from the audience.”
Funding for upkeep and performances is based on a wing and a prayer. “We do ‘pay what you will.’ So far, it’s working well,” he continued. Patrons are asked to pitch what they think the performance is worth, anything from a quarter to a few dollars.
Ern, who collects the donations, sits at the door. Ern really is a green urn (pun, pun!) Is Ern a real 1940s urn? I flipped him over. No. A reproduction, made in China.
Last Friday, three gifted actors read the play “Among Beautiful Women” by George Carroll with poetry by George Lachlan, a work written to be performed anywhere without having to pay a royalty. There were no props, no set, and C.J. Armstrong read the stage directions and descriptions. I liked this. I allowed me to use my imagination.
Carroll’s play is replete with allusions to fairy tales, great literature, psychology and history. For instance, “A bake sale for the Black Panthers.” You laugh if you know who the Black Panthers were.
The cast of three, Burl/Toad, played by Gustavo Bottega, girlfriend Casey/Princess played by Donita Beeman, and X wife Kate played by Amanda Megyisi-McCave, shift positions. The X wife becomes the other woman, who’s jealous of the current girlfriend, who’s jealous of the X wife.
It’s all reminiscent of an 18th century farce. They sneak around, eavesdrop, and, improbably, have a long conversation where, to begin with, neither recognizes the other.
It’s a laugh a minute. But as the story progresses, a dark undertone appears.
Casey decides to solve her and Burl’s problems by leaving. “What’s wrong is the result of where you are.” She’s off to New York or Tangiers, but makes it a mere 40 miles into the California desert, only to return.
Remarks about drinking start with Burl’s clever poem about beer, move to his bitter “Johnny Walker’s my tour guide, my amber love,” to a gritty confrontation between Burl and Kate about his drunken behavior at the end of their marriage.
The three actors, scripts in hand, with no costumes, props or set, did a splendid job of creating that “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge). This play left me with so much to think about that I’d like to see it again. And there may be a chance for that. The company is considering a full production in the fall, possibly late September.
Still on the program for July:
This Saturday, at 5 p.m. July 13, Go! The Artist’s Workshop Presents: Jamie Greene and Ryan Gage. The playwrights read excerpts from their current works with an audience critique.
At 8 p.m. Friday, July 19, is Shad Scott’s “Awful Movie Friday.” Viewers are encouraged to boo, hiss and throw popcorn at the screen. The movie is to be announced.
From July 26-28 is “Lysastrata.” Details will follow.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 15:01
By CAL CUMIN - For The Outpost
It was always such a unique place to go even for those who don’t love the high Montana plains edged faraway by the glistening Beartooth Mountains.
“We’ve got volumes of guest books,” said Jerry Urfer, who with his wife, Fran, owns the Prairie Winds Café here in Molt. “They contain names of people from all the United States plus 48 countries.”
Still, it was tough to make a go of it, even though the Saturday breakfast crowd in good weather often had to wait outside for a seat, the locals mixing with Billings and Laurel people, a few dogs and brightly clad bicyclists.
There were also the ghostly remains of former gas pumps that once stood in front of the old hardware building. It’s all been cleaned up about four times, Jerry says, but the environmental people seem to make a career of it.
“They never tell you it’s finally clean enough. They just give you a letter saying, ‘No further action needed at this time,’” he says.
Try to get a bank loan with that kind of certification. In July another 8,000 cubic feet of soil will be removed. Jerry says maybe he and Fran will have an auction in September or sometime, but in the meantime they’ve got grandkids to visit.
So on this hot early summer Saturday, those who will miss the Prairie Winds Café the most gather with their lawn chairs, sun umbrellas, cameras, kids and dogs to express their appreciation of the small café located where the pavement ends on Highway 302. Several of the young girls from area farms who worked as part-time waitresses still seem to exude a clean innocence as they observe the crowd. Lots of pictures are taken, the backdrop of round grain bins, the now dark café, an old grain elevator, and the big open - all vignettes to collective experiences and the end of an era.
Proceeds from a breakfast-lunch prepared by the Billings Heights Lions Club will help send the Urfers off on a badly needed vacation. Not everyone here eats, but at the end of the day the Lions will have fed 350.
Longtime and multiple instrument player Doug Habermann organized the almost spontaneous event along with Molt residents Bonnie Ziske and Larry Larson. Portable potties were donated, and the Lions were contacted to provide food.
The bluegrass and country bands that had showed up at the café on Saturday mornings over the 11 years the café operated were contacted. The bands had all benefited from the exposure they got at the breakfast soirees playing for the always appreciative audiences.
Nine bands responded and played one after another continually from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in the hot afternoon on an open sound stage pulled into the big lot next to the Molt Community Center. The Unexpected, StringStretchers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs, Spur of the Moment, Southbound, Bluegrass for Breakfast, Song Dog Serenade, Cold Frosty Morning and Highway 302 — the names of the bands as colorful and memorable as a visit to the Prairie Winds.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 14:41
“And, the Hammie Award goes to ...”
The Hammie. Sounds a little pejorative for a theater award, but it’s not. The Hammie is coveted among local actors, directors, set designers, costumers and others involved in staging productions at Billings Studio Theatre.
It’s a People’s Choice award, voted on by audience members who have seen all eight main stage shows in the annual season.
Then, there are the awards that are determined by a secret panel of judges who also attend every show. So secret, says BST Executive Director A.J. Kalanick, that the judges are unknown to each other.
After voting, the ballots are delivered to Nancy Wollenburg, the theater’s office manager.
Ms. Wollenburg is tasked with tabulating the ballots and sending the winners’ names off to the folks making the plaques and trophies.
It culminates with the annual Awards Ceremony, held this year on June 27. Mr. Kalanick notes that this year’s ceremony was one of the largest, with more than 170 people attending.
So, without further ado, the winners are:
BEST DEBUT: Jubal Rife in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
DARK HORSE BEST NON-HUMAN: Mija Fox
BEST ENSEMBLE: The Plaids
BEST CAMEO, MALE: Shoots Veis in “On Golden Pond”
BEST CAMEO, FEMALE: Dee Cates in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST RISING STAR: Keatin Hertz in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST SET DESIGN: Mark Heisenga in “Is He Dead?”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Joyce Evanson for “Forever Plaid”
BEST CHOREOGRAPHER: Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld for “Forever Plaid”
BEST CHARACTER ACTOR IN A PLAY: Roland Bach in “Is He Dead?”
BEST CHARACTER ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Kevin Cates in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST CHARACTER ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Renee Sobering in “Legally Blonde”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Ryan Smith in “On Golden Pond”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Stephanie Byars in “On Golden Pond”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Zak Kreiter in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Wendy Carlin in “Legally Blonde”
ED HARRIS EXCELLENCE IN MUSICAL DIRECTION – Tie: Darin Niebuhr for “Forever Plaid” and Joe Sullivan for “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY: Kenneth Crouch in “On Golden Pond”
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Rita Heizer in “On Golden Pond”
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL – Tie: Dan Jurovich and Bret Weston in “Forever Plaid”
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Megan McClave Dukart in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST DIRECTOR FOR A PLAY: Byrl Skovgaard for “On Golden Pond”
BEST DIRECTOR FOR A MUSICAL: Jayme C. Green for “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST PLAY: “On Golden Pond”
BEST MUSICAL – Tie: “Forever Plaid” and “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
JANE McINTYRE VOLUNTEER AWARD: Kevin and Dee Cates
BRUCE K. MEYERS AWARD: Jayme C. Green
FREDRICK J. URBASKA “SPIRIT OF BST AWARD”: Jana Stockdale
And the “Hammies” were awarded to:
FAVORITE ACTOR: Jayme C. Green
FAVORITE ACTRESS – Tie: Rita Heizer and Sondra Baker
FAVORITE SHOW: “The 39 Steps”
Billings Studio Theatre’s 2013-14 season begins Sept. 6 with “Les Miserables,” directed by Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:03
When it came to Killswitch Engage, vocalist Jesse Leach didn’t want the band to have a Gary Cherone or Ian Gillan experience.
Leach was the metal group’s original vocalist, recording Killswitch Engage’s first 2000 self-titled debut album released on Ferret Music, and its follow-up on the larger Roadrunner Records, 2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing,” before leaving the band. When his replacement, Howard Jones, left the band at the start of 2012, Leach had an opportunity to return, only to initially turn it down.
But then he realized this would mean Killswitch Engage would have to continue with a third different vocalist.
“I think in the history of rock and roll, the third singer is really never a charm,” Leach said in a late-May interview.
Van Halen and singer Gary Cherone would probably agree, as would most people who listened to Cherone’s lone album with the band, “Van Halen 3.”
So might Black Sabbath. (Anyone remember Ian Gillan and his one-album stint with Sabbath?)
So Leach changed his mind and threw his hat into the ring to audition for the Killswitch Engage vocalist slot.
What also had happened was that by the time the other members of Killswitch Engage – guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joe Stroetzel and drummer Justin Foley - had decided to audition for a new vocalist, Leach had already resolved the main issue that kept him from accepting the invitation to rejoin the band in the first place.
“I didn’t think I was the guy because I just wasn’t sure I was going to be comfortable singing someone else’s material,” Leach said. “I listened to his (Jones’) tracks sort of as objectively as possible initially when they came out, just following the band, and kind of just felt like it wasn’t really my style.”
But when Leach got word that an audition for a new vocalist was happening, he started thinking again about Killswitch Engage.
“What I did was I went in and really listened to the songs as a fan, and started reading the lyrics and sort of putting my head in the headspace of how could I relate to these lyrics?” he said.
“What do they mean to me? How can I place them in my life that would make sense to me that I would be able to re-produce them, not only sonically, but also have my heart and soul in it. And the first song that really struck me was ‘Arms of Sorrow.’ I read the lyrics and then I listened to it, and I was like this is sonically unique. The music to it is different. It kind of reminded me of ‘Faith No More’ a little bit. Then I just read the lyrics and it was just I could relate to them being someone who suffered with depression. And I think from that point on, it just kind of opened me up and I became a fan and I started to really fall in love with the songs.”
When Leach nailed his audition, it was clear that the chemistry he had enjoyed with his former bandmates was still there.
After a couple of tours, it was clear Leach was again a good fit for the band.
Then the band, which had begun work on its new CD, “Disarm the Dissent,” before the change in vocalists, went back to work on the album.
Going in, the band wanted to make a more aggressive, heavier album than its previous release, a 2010 self-titled album.
“I feel like these guys came out of that record, even before I came on board, thinking to themselves, all right we’ve got to really put the balls back on this,” Leach said. “We’ve got to make really make this record more of a metal record, make it more of an in your face (record), bring it back to the energy, sort of the roots of what Killswitch is.”
“Disarm the Dissent” delivers on the group’s intentions. There is still a pop sense to the new songs, which are concisely structured, blend melodic vocal sections with Leach’s fiercely screamed parts and frequently add in hooky guitar lines. But songs like “The New Awakening,” “A Tribute to the Fallen” and “All We Have” are full-throttle bangers with plenty of churning guitars and pummeling drums to go with the hookier elements.
Killswitch Engage is now on its first headlining tour in support of the new album, playing a set that numbers about 18 songs spanning the group’s career. And Leach says he feels at home on stage with Killswitch Engage the second time around.
“I think just from living, doing tours with other bands and trying out other styles of music, and just from growing up and becoming a man, it’s now something I’m quite confident with,” Leach said of performing. “I know how to deliver my voice. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd of people … . I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, where years ago, it definitely wasn’t the case.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 11:42
HARDIN — Country music veterans Confederate Railroad will perform a concert at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, in downtown Hardin (300 block of Center Avenue).
Also performing will be the Road Kill Rangers of Sheridan, Wyo. The public is invited, and there is no charge.
The free concert is part of Little Big Horn Days, a four-day celebration of Western culture and history presented annually by the Hardin Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
“Confederate Railroad is a perfect fit for Little Big Horn Days,” said Al Sargent, chairman of the Little Big Horn Days Committee. “We are celebrating our Western culture, and what better way to celebrate than with great country music, outdoors, on a Saturday night in Montana?”
Confederate Railroad, the former backup band for both David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck, got their big break by signing with Atlantic Records. The first single from their debut album (“Confederate Railroad”) was “She Took It Like A Man.” It went to No. 26. “The next two singles, “Jesus and Mama” and “Queen of Memphis,” went to the top of the charts. Three more huge hits followed, “Trashy Women,” “When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” and “She Never Cried.” “Trashy” would lead to a Grammy nomination and become their signature song.
That album, with six hits and nearly 3 million in sales, brought Confederate the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Group Award in 1993 as well as numerous nominations from the Country Music Association and the British Country Music Foundation.
The second album, “Notorious,” produced one of the group’s most popular songs, “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,” which became a No. 1 video as well. “Elvis and Andy” and “Summer in Dixie” would further establish the Railroad as one of the most versatile acts in the business. This album would sell more than a million copies. Their overall totals are 18 charted hits and 5 million albums sold.
From rowdy country to raw emotion, a Confederate Railroad concert today covers a wide range of feelings. Young people will be there rocking to “Trashy Women,” while their parents and even grandparents will likely be singing along to “Jesus and Mama.”
The band plays 100 or so dates each year. Whatever the venue, they are right at home, be it a fair, a club, or a biker show. Danny Shirley, the lead singer and vocalist, and his mates, Mark Dufresne on drums, Wayne Secrest on bass, Rusty Hendrix on lead guitar and Cody McCarver on keyboards and vocals, are obviously having fun right along with their appreciative audience. At the end of each show, the band stays around until every fan who wants an autograph, or to pose with the group for a picture or just say “hello” is taken care of.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 10:03
When I first heard Queensrÿche in 1983, I thought they were going to be the new reigning heavy metal band for the ’80s. I was living in Portland, Ore., and the new Seattle band were playing their second public performance at the Paramount Theater, opening for the Zeppelin-esque trio, Zebra. They did indeed go on to be one of the greatest metal bands of the decade.
This past year, the band has experienced an antagonistic and rather public split, with the three remaining founding instrumentalists sacking lead singer and chief songwriter, Geoff Tate.
Without going into all the ugly details, claims and counter claims, I’ll just say that a judge has allowed both entities to continue recording and performing under the Queensrÿche banner for about a year, until a decision is made.
In the meantime, Queensrÿche fans will get a double dose of what has been called thinking man’s metal. Tate and a slightly revolving band of backing musicians are touring in support of “Frequency Unknown” (as Queensrÿche) an album released a few months ago. The other three original members, guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, plus second guitarist Parker Lundgren (Tate’s former son-in-law; born three years after the first Queensrÿche release!), have recruited former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd LaTorre to sing in Tate’s place. That lineup is releasing its eponymously titled album next Tuesday, June 25.
To the good fortune of Billings and regional metal fans, this three-fifths version of Queensrÿche is headlining Rockin’ the Railroad, a day-long festival show in Sheridan, Wyo., this Saturday, June 22. Also on the bill are fellow ’80s metal bands Great White and Slaughter, plus four relatively unknown regional bands.
Most longtime Queensrÿche fans will agree that the band’s greatest material can be found on their debut EP and the five albums that followed: “Warning,” “Rage for Order,” “Operation: Mindcrime,” “Empire” and “Promised Land.” These albums all shared three essential things: They all preceded the Seattle grunge revolution; they all featured all five original members; and they all were predominantly written or co-written by original guitar player Chris DeGarmo.
While Tate was working on his second solo album – last year’s mediocre “Kings and Thieves” - the other guys decided to put together a side project with LaTorre called “Rising West,” which played songs from the initial Queensrÿche albums listed above. When the Tate mutiny occurred, they essentially continued performing under the Queensrÿche moniker. Tate hastily put together a fine bunch of metal musicians himself and tried to re-establish himself as heir apparent to the Ryche (incidentally, Heir Apparent was a Queensrÿche -inspired Seattle band in the late ’80s).
The jury is out in more ways than one. The judge is still hearing oral arguments.
I have listened to the 90-second samples of all the songs of Tate-rche a few times and even though it has guest appearances by the likes of K.K. Downing (Judas Priest) and Ty Tabor (Kings X), it sounded a lot like the Queensrÿche albums of the past two decades: uninspired.
I have listened to a pre-release download of the Todd-rche album, and it sounds like classic Queensrÿche of the late-’80s. LaTorre sounds so much like the younger Tate, that if I was told the songs were outtakes from either “Empire” or “Promised Land,” I would have believed it. I say outtakes, because while the performance is exciting and the production excellent, the songs lack some of the hooks that made so many of the songs from that era memorable.
But, according to LaTorre, whom I spoke with last week, all five band members contributed to the writing on this new album, which was a most enjoyable experience. He did mention that the songs might take a few listens to really make their full impression, so perhaps I will have to listen to it a few more times this week.
In fairness, I should do the same for Tate. But I will say that the Todd-ryche album is the first one that’s really impressed me since “Promised Land.”
Tickets for the show are $49. But in addition to three top ’80s metal bands, there will be Bombay Black, Quitters Anonymous, Tango Down, and 3oT7. Google ’em.
Expect to hear all the hits, fan favorites, and a few new songs. Based on the YouTube clips, fans should not even notice anything has changed but the set list. It should be a great show.
The show will be held at Trail’s End Concert Park in Sheridan, behind Trail’s End Hotel. For more info, go to TrailsEndConcertPark.com. Then go bang your head.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 09:51
There’s a new Pied Piper in town and his name is Ben Klein. That may be a clichéd term for describing a flute player, but as one audience member proclaimed after last Saturday’s performance, “I seriously think Ben might be the best flautist in the entire universe!”
The Morning Folk music series at The Fieldhouse Café offered a unique duo whose one-half is one-third of this year’s Renaissance Festival’s opening night headlining act, Trillian Green. Flute player extraordinaire Ben Klein, along with multi-instrumental maestro Jake Fleming, performed an improvisational set that left the brunch crowd in absolute awe.
The Saturday morning series usually finds the musicians set up in the corner near the entrance, in order for the music to be seen and heard in both dining areas of The Fieldhouse. For this event, Klein and Fleming set up on the stage in the lounge area like it is for the Thursday night music events. Folks in the other dining area might have heard the music, but those close by got to watch Klein playing like he was possessed by Kokopelli, the iconic flute player of Southwest ancient rock art.
Fleming is a respected jazz musician from Bozeman. He is a founding member of the Jeni Fleming Trio and part of Pinky and the Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute act. At this performance, Fleming created loops that were improvised on the spot, using drum beats, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, and a small two octave keyboard. The slightly jazzy loops provided a base for both he and Klein to improvise over. Fleming would either play tenor sax or acoustic guitar while Klein played flute like few others can.
The music was at times hypnotic, at times mesmerizing, but always amazing. It was fully improvised on the spot. The duo had played together on only one other occasion. As Klein put it before the show, “We have no idea what we’re going to be doing. But we know exactly what we’re going to be doing.”
And they never appeared to be lost anywhere but deep inside the music.
While Fleming is certainly talented and created a wonderful underlay for their live playing, it was Klein who left the audience wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
The one break from the entrancing sounds came after two hours of continual music when they played a lengthy acoustic blues jam. It evoked the late-’60s version of Jethro Tull, which should come as no surprise, as Tull’s flute player, Ian Anderson, inspired Klein to learn the instrument.
Ben Klein moved his family to Bozeman from Seattle where he was a member of the instrumental trio Trillian Green. Cellist Christine Gunn still lives in Seattle, while percussionist Jarrod Kaplan lives in Eugene, Ore. Their days of West Coast tours are behind them, but they still try to reconvene each summer for select festival performances.
Fortunately for Billings, one of Trillian Green’s rare performances will be at the Renaissance Festival this July 26. Be prepared for a musical experience unlike any other, while Klein and Gunn interweave their instruments and Kaplan provides percussion that seems to emanate from his body as much as from his instruments. On a few songs, Klein might play his moon guitar, a converted dulcimer.
The all-instrumental trio draws on the world’s classical and ethnic musical traditions, making music that is uniquely Trillian Green.
To get a sense of what is in store, listen to sound clips from their CD “Metamorphoses,” as well as solo works and side projects by the individual band members at www.omnivine.com/trillian.html. Trillian Green CDs can be purchased there or through Amazon or CDBaby.
Those familiar with the “Green Smarts with the Green Man” public service announcements will already have heard Trillian Green’s “Cross-Eyed Crane Fly,” from their live-in-the-studio album, “Psycho Tantric Juju Jazz.”
Anyone who hears the music – and Ben Klein in particular – will agree with just about everyone I spoke with or overheard last Saturday morning: “That guy is absolutely amazing!”
The previous night, the atrium of the Yellowstone Art Museum was transformed into a micro Renaissance Faire as several of the entertainers from the Montana Renaissance Festival and Highland Games convened for an evening of music and more.
Earthshine, Johnny Walker, Wes Urbaniak, a bagpiper, and a troupe of belly dancers performed in a round robin of sorts for museum visitors. The regular Jam at the Yam became “Ren Jam 2013” for the night, providing a look back at the variety of entertainment offered at last June’s inaugural Ren Faire at ZooMontana and a glimpse into this July’s line up.
Friday night’s free event was open to the public, who were also treated to hors d’oeuvres from the museum’s Raven Café. Wine and beer were available for purchase. The performers each took turns at playing a few numbers before passing on to the next musician or dancer throughout the evening.
Two of the performers were both featured at last summer’s festival: Earthshine and Johnny Walker.
Solo guitarist Walker played original flamenco-jazz music to his own backing tracks. His mastery over the fretboard is as amazing to watch as it is to hear. Those who couldn’t get enough in one evening were able to purchase copies of his 20-track CD to take home.
Earthshine’s Kris Prinzing and her husband Scott (the writer of this article), performed selections from their three CDs on acoustic guitars, bass and mandolin. Dressed in their finest Renaissance garb, they definitely looked the part, even if their Ren-talk, as organizer Ken Haak calls it, was no match for his.
Haak is special events coordinator at the YAM, and has brought his extensive experience with Renaissance festivals to the museum. What began as an idea for evening event last year soon grew into an all-day affair before combining with the Highland Games for a two-day festival last summer. This year’s faire will be even bigger, with an opening night concert on Friday, a Saturday filled with pipes and drums and other entertainment, and a Sunday of continued entertainment. Food, arts, and crafts will be available all weekend as well.
Other performers at Ren Jam included bagpiper Anne Allen, singer songwriter Wes Urbaniak and the Black Gypsy Belly Dance Troupe. All are set to be on hand at this year’s big event.
Allen is one of the few women pipers in Billings and was dressed in her Highland finery.
Urbaniak played his distinct original songs on a guitar of his own design and construction. The belly dancers and drummers were all dressed in colorful gypsy attire that flowed when they took turns dancing to their pulsating drumming.
For more information about the Montana Renaissance Festival, go to MontanaRenFest.com.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:29
When We Came as Romans recorded its 2008 debut EP, “Dreams,” the group approached the project with a do-or-die attitude.
“Dreams” was either going to get the band off of the ground, or the band was going to crash and burn and the group members would go to college and get on with their lives.
The EP did what it was supposed to, allowing We Came as Romans to tour nationally and paving the way to deals with management, a bigger booking agency and a deal with Equal Vision Records.
These days, that sort of uncertainty doesn’t surround We Came as Romans. The band is coming off of a successful first full-length CD, “To Plant a Seed,” and is established enough to headline the first tour the group is doing behind its recently released second CD, “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”
Does that mean the band members can exhale now, and no longer feel the pressure and urgency that started with “Dreams” and extended into “To Plant a Seed”?
Not really, according to guitarist Joshua Moore. Yes, the band, which formed in Troy, Mich., in 2005, is in a good place and its future looks bright. But there was still plenty at stake with “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”
“We had a really good start with ‘To Plant a Seed,’” he said in a recent phone interview. “But once you start, you have to sustain, and you have to be moving forward. I think we did a really good job of that just by setting goals, always having something to reach for. And once we attain that, to keep moving and have goals after that.”
The goals for the latest CD were different than they were for “To Plant a Seed” – and reflected the different stages in the life of the band, which also includes vocalist Dave Stephens, singer/keyboardist Kyle Pavone, guitarist Lou Cotton, bassist Andy Glass and drummer Eric Choi.
“‘To Plant a Seed,’ that whole CD was really about establishing ourselves,” Moore said. “It was our first full length, and we had to, I guess, really appeal to people. We hadn’t had too much touring under our belts or anything, and it was really going to be a lot of people’s first impressions of us, so we had to make a really good one. And with ‘Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be,’ we really focused more on establishing a sound that is our band, that if someone were to hear it and not be able to see what was playing on the iPod, they would hear it and say ‘Oh, that’s We Came as Romans. I know their sound.’”
“Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” carries forward many of the stylistic elements of the two earlier albums. Once again the group employs the tag team of gravelly screamed lyrics from Stephens and the smoothly sung vocals of Pavone. The band also brings its mix of mayhem and melody to songs like “Cast the First Stone,” “Mis//Understanding” and “Views That Never Cease, to Keep Me from Myself,” as the band rumbles between grinding lower register guitar parts and slightly lighter, more melodic sections.
On tracks like “Everything as Planned” and “The Way That We Have Been,” the band sweetens things with string-like parts – another musical element that carries over from “To Plant a Seed.”
What also defines We Came as Romans are the positive messages in its songs – something that’s fairly rare in the metalcore/aggressive rock genres. The title “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” relates very directly to the overall theme of the CD, according to Moore, who is the band’s primary songwriter.
“It’s about figuring out how to be happy with the life that you’ve chosen, trying to be the person that you want to be and figuring out how to be happy with that and how to retain that happiness, how to not be constantly be searching for a different thing that’s going to make you happy based on the day of the week,” Moore said.
That encouraging spirit is something the band tries to bring to its live performances, as the band works hard to involve its fans in the live show through its music, a strong visual presentation that uses backdrops and a light show and the energy and spirit the band members themselves bring to the stage.
“We’ve always tried to be a real inclusive band live, always trying to keep our fans moving as much as we are,” Moore said.
“If they see us just kind of slacking, just kind of playing through the songs or whatever, I mean, that’s going to be a bummer for everyone,” he said.
“Fans, they want to see what your band sounds like. They want to see what we’re going to do with the songs. They already know what it sounds like. They’ve heard it on the CD many times, probably a lot of times, actually. And so they want to see what that’s going to feel like live. They don’t just want to hear whatever you’re going to play.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:27
At this time last summer, everything seemed to be on track for Lamb of God. The band had released its latest album, “Resolution,” in December 2011, and the album had been greeted with favorable reviews, with some calling it the best album of the group’s two-decade career.
The band had spent the first part of 2012 touring outside of the United States and had a tour set in the States for the fall with Dethklok.
Then Lamb of God’s world got turned upside down. Arriving in the Czech Republic for three shows at the end of June, the band members were blindsided as they arrived at the airport.
“I came off of the plane to, there was a guy on the skyway who was checking passports, checking identifications and as you were. Most people were going to the left, they were sending us off to the right,” Lamb of God bassist Campbell recalled in a phone interview. “I walked up to the top of the skyway, to the side they were telling me to go to, and was asked for my passport and I asked who was asking and I was shown a badge for homicide, and I realized I was more or less surrounded by SWAT dudes with ski masks on and automatic weapons.”
The police were looking for singer Randy Blythe, ready to charge him with manslaughter stemming from an incident at a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague in which a fan of the band died.
Blythe, who faced up to five years in prison, was arrested and put in jail, where he stayed for nearly 40 days before he was released on bail on Aug. 2.
By then, Lamb of God had been forced to cancel its tour with Dethklock, but the band salvaged the fall by scheduling a headlining tour for later in the season.
But given the circumstances and the fact that Blythe’s trial was looming in February, it made this first tour of the states behind “Resolution” a very different proposition than any other tour Lamb of God had done.
“On our side of the stage it felt very different because we had mixed kind of emotions about what was going on,” Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler said in a separate phone interview. “Although people coming to the show were seeing Randy up on stage every night under the impression that Randy was free and here we are on tour, we knew what we were still coming to face in February and it was far from over. In fact, it was possibly just beginning in many ways. So we didn’t know if it was our last tour (as a band).”
The worry that Lamb of God was going to lose its singer wasn’t farfetched. In the Czech Republic, the person on trial must prove his innocence, rather than the prosecutor needing to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.And Adler, who testified at Blythe’s trial, said the band thought its singer faced a daunting task at trial.
“From the back seat and the meetings with lawyers and everybody as it was going on, we were all very skeptical that he would be totally exonerated,” Adler said. “We assumed there would be some sort of conclusion with a penalty of some kind.”
So it was a considerable surprise and relief when Blythe was found innocent of all charges by a panel of Czech judges at the beginning of March, allowing him to return to Lamb of God and for the band to book a second run of U.S. concerts in support of “Resolution.” The tour runs from May 16-June 20.
The Blythe saga stemmed from a May 24, 2010, concert at Club Abaton in Prague at which prosecutors in the Czech Republic asserted that Blythe had pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off of the stage. Nosek at some point fell, hitting his head on the floor. Later that evening, Nosek became violently ill, was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. Sadly, he slipped into a coma and died from his injury.
The show had been plagued by lapses in security, as fans had been able to get on stage during Lamb of God’s show. But Blythe denied ever pushing Nosek, and there was conflicting testimony from concert-goers about whether they saw Blythe push Nosek, and exactly when and how Nosek fell to the floor.
So the judges cleared Blythe, and now Lamb of God is back on a tour of theaters and large clubs this spring.
Adler said Lamb of God’s live set on the current tour will probably include four or five songs from “Resolution,” but the band won’t neglect its five other albums, devoting about two-thirds of its show to fan favorites from its back catalog.
“If you went out and got the new album (“Resolution”) and you don’t like it, you’re not going to have to suffer through the whole thing,” Adler said. “But if you went out and got it and loved it, you’re going to get a fair amount of it. Hopefully we balance it out pretty well and everybody goes home happy.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 May 2013 19:17