June 12, 2006



What a scorching weekend, as a matter of weather and of events. After a relatively mild southern spring, we hit the wall with a high of 98 Saturday, of course accompanied by that loverly Georgia humidity.

As for events, I hit the Riverbend Festival on Friday night starting with my interview with the guys from Infradig. They're a great bunch of guys who deserve good things in their career, and with this week’s appearance at Bonnaroo they may be on their way. I hung for part of their set and then scooted down the street to catch mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush playing at another stage which happened to be across from the main event stage. The night’s headliner was Hank Williams, Jr., and the crowd was out in force waiting to see their Bocephus.

Trevor Higgins, music writer for the Times Free Press, must’ve been inside my head:

Stuck on Riverfront Parkway and going nowhere fast, I wanted to move toward the front of Covista [stage] for Sam Bush, and maybe to find some friends... The crowd on Riverfront Parkway wasn’t moving fast enough, so I decided to cut across through the collection of lawn chairs.

This was the equivalent of a lab rat volunteering to run the maze. The lawn chairs formed a labyrinth on the Chattanooga Green. Like a kayaker choosing his line through the river, I tried my best to zigzag through narrow openings in the lawn chair phalanx.

Portable seating at Riverbend is complex. There are two- and four-seater chairs that can form a foldable roadblock. Some sitters are willing to open a door by briefly leaning on two legs, but usually there is no place to lean.

Free spaces often are covered with blankets, which poses an ethical question: Can I step on the blanket as I pass through? If the owner is standing on the blanket, does that make it more or less acceptable if I, too, step on the blanket? Who is to blame if, in an attempt to step over the blanket, I lose my balance and fall in someone’s lap or funnel cake? Me, or the unyielding blanket owner? If a child is sitting on the blanket, should I kick him aside or step on him? There is but a split second to ponder these questions while navigating the maze. My only thoughts were to get out and get out quick. All the "excuse me’s" in the world don’t take away the pity of the seated crowd looking up at this confused, lost rat trying to find some cheese … and nachos.

The worst choke point was where this year’s committee decided to place porta-toilets across from concessions. One thing the two have in common is people waiting in line, so add to them a line of passersby and it quickly becomes something other than a thoroughfare.

Something funny was when I was navigating the rat maze and happened to skirt right through where my friends Tim and Cherie were sitting, and they had some empty chairs next to them so I plopped right down and said, “howdy!” I sat there and watched the end of Sam Bush’s set and then took my leave to go back where I came from to see Al DiMeola. This time I headed up the street for an alternate route back.

DiMeola’s crew was still setting up and having some problems that caused him to eschew his acoustic guitar, at least while I was there. His performance on the electric was of course par excellence. It was great to see him up close and watch that lightning-fast finger work. Our photographer was there to get Infradig and he stayed and got some nice shots of Al.

© 2006 Matt Ledger

At the Al show I bumped into a media colleague who I seem to bump into at shows a lot, and she said she was going down to catch The Waybacks at another stage. I have wanted to see them for some time so after a while I grab a schedule to double-check where they’re performing and my eyes catch that the Zen Tricksters, a top-notch Grateful Dead cover band that’s been around for more than twenty years, are playing at the same time. These conflicts between great talent are a common quandary with Riverbend, but I decide to skip The Waybacks for the Tricksters.

As it turns out they are performing in an alternate capacity as Kettle Joe’s Psychedelic Swamp Revue, a lineup that includes keyboardist Mookie Siegel from Phil Lesh and Friends AND... Donna Jean Godchaux. I didn’t realize this until I got there and stood about twenty feet from the former Grateful Dead chanteuse, now looking quite matronly in her long grey hair. They played a superb show:

Set 1
No Better Way, I Want to Tell You > Jam > From the Heart of Me, No One Said It'd Be Easy > River Deep Mountain High, Goin' to Florence, Last Ten Years > Jam > Eyes of the World
Set 2
American Beauty, Let Me Sing Your Blues Away, All Night Long Blues, Me and Kettle Joe, I'll Be with Thee, Terrapin Station Encore: Ripple

I was in heaven for Let Me Sing Your Blues Away, a sweeeet rendering of I'll Be with Thee and a thunderous Terrapin Station. What I guess is their signature tune, Me and Kettle Joe, is a spirited, bluesy rocker with a very cool and spacey jam inserted. I headed home after midnight with tired feet and a very satisfied soul.

More to come on my Saturday > Sunday visit to Georgia On The Groove...

Sounds like a great time! I wish we had music fests like that here. The closest is Madrid's LAME-ASS blues fest, which I would never be stupid enough to pay for.
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