Summer officially kicked off last week with a drenching rainstorm, no surprise there. Under the high peaked hay barn roof of the Conway Muse, six local bands got together to make great music together and support a worthwhile cause.
What’s the worst that can happen when you schedule a huge summer kick off concert outdoors at the end of June? Rain of course, and rain it did on Saturday. Not just sprinkles, but a ground soaking, fern dripping, wild fire dousing rain. No matter, the eclectic converted barn venue we all love called the Conway Muse simply moved the event into their upstairs ballroom. The crowd that packed into the room for the Rick Epting Foundation fundraiser filled all available chairs, wall space, and even spilled down onto the stairway for an evening of great, diverse music.
Everett based band, The Tellers, opened the night. Lead singer Sarah Feinburg provides rich, sultry vocals above the solid guitar based sound courtesy of Brad Heyne on drums, Tyler Chism on lead guitar, and Issac Melum on bass.
Their moody, alt country sound reminded me a lot of Cowboy Junkies. I had a chance to talk with Sarah after their set. She mentioned singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell as being her main influence. As far as the rest of the band, she described them as being post punk. They have been together about five years, and when I asked her about how they approach song writing, Sarah had this to say.
When we first started working on things, I had a bunch of song ideas that I presented to the rest of the band. They weren’t too sure at first. Over time, we have developed a method where someone will toss out an idea, and the other members add parts till it is more or less complete.
Next up was local favorite The Hoe and the Harrow. After running through a couple of their signature NW folk\string creations, Karl Blau came up to sit in with them on guitar. They performed a tune called Airstream next which had a nice driving beat to it. Bouzouki player and front man James Harper humorously introduced the next song as a “dreary waltz”. Channing Waves who adds backing vocals, and plays a variety of instruments broke out what is one of the most unusual implements used around here, a musical saw. One of the tunes they performed is titled American Dream. James wrote it earlier this year, and it is pretty much a protest statement about the current political temperament. After their set I asked him if he had written any other protest songs
Yeah, but they’re pretty gritty.
Gritty enough that the band is still mulling over when to spring them on their audiences. I say, bring on the grit!
Third up was local alt rock\folk artist Karl Blau performing solo. Ever the ultra-mellow, laid back Samish Island guy, he has done so much to promote NW Washington music over the years, inspiring many young local musicians along the way. Karl has a great knack for taking obscure cover tunes and giving that a unique Blau touch. Tonight, he ran through Six White Horses, To Love Somebody, and Sensuous Woman to name a few. In keeping with his promotion of local music, he dusted off a couple Brian Elliot and the Pounding Serfs songs from several years back including one titled Slightly Salty. Karl’s wide spectrum, slightly mournful voice, and tasty guitar playing really held the audience.
The Sky Colony was up next. This local four-piece band delivers an interesting sound, part rangy alt country, and part serious melodic song writing. In keeping with the inclusive, “let’s jam together” feel of the night, they brought up several guest musicians. First up was Aaron Guest of Pole Cat on piano.
The ensemble ran through an upbeat number accentuated by nice vocal harmonies and very cool slide guitar. Local violinist Chandra Johnson also took the stage. She added some great violin licks over the loping rhythm of the next song. Lead singer Kyle Findley-Meier relaying an anecdote as a way to introduce their fourth offering.
I wrote this next song during a time when I was listening to a lot of (Gothic horror author) H.P. Lovecraft audio tape books. Man, did I have some weird dreams
Being a fan of Lovecraft also, the dark, moody texture of the song did remind me of the bizarre worlds that the author created. Chandra tossed in some wonderful Indian raga violin accents to fill out the sound.
As if six people on stage weren’t enough, Josh Clauson stepped up onto the stage to join the fun. Their first tune started out with a nice slow backbeat then quickly powered up. At this point in the show, Josh took over. He played several tunes from his Driftless CD. Just because more is better, Sarah from Tellers joined the throng. The audience was now treated to four-part vocal harmonies on a song called Slipstream. It had a nice driving rhythm and more slide guitar. Josh’s powerful voice added a lot to the well-crafted songs. From melodic, modern folk, he moved off into more of a stripped down, twangy vein. The last couple songs had great soulful vocals as well as elements of haunting ballads.
Seattle reggae rockers Yogoman Burning Band finished out the night by getting the die-hard crowd up on their feet. With a very solid rhythm section and two sax players, Yogoman pretty much wrapped up the evening of fine, interesting music with a dance party that probably could have gone on for hours.
Thanks to all who attended for their contribution to the Rick Epting Foundation, and thanks to the Muse and all the players for their continuing efforts to keep superb live music thriving in Skagit County.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music, art, food, and beer. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.