Saturday, October 4, 2008

Just Like Going Home: The Reclaim Festival

By marty
For The Felice Brothers, the rustic environ of the Reclaim Music Festival was the perfect antidote to the parade of fast food joints and strip shopping centers found on the road.  

The festival site, down a gravel road to a reclaimed strip mine outside Rutland, Ohio, reminded the brothers from upstate New York of their rural upbringing.  Even before the show, the band commented on how the hilltop festival was already a favorite. 

From the stage, drummer and vocalist Simone Felice (there are three actual brothers in the group) announced to the crowd that the band was happy to be amongst fellow “hill folk.”  This familiarity lead to a wonderfully-enthusiastic, raucous set at the day-long music festival.

Actually, it was a big, sloppy, wet kiss.  A performance full of loose-fitting harmonies and playful exuberance.  At times, it was magical.

The band mixed in front-porch Americana stompers with murder ballads and other somber tales of tragedy.  Lead singer and guitarist Ian Felice’s achy phrasing elevates the band’s folk revivalist songs well above the typical fare.  Highlights include Ian Felice’s take on “Ruby Mae”  and the crowd-pleasing, foot-stomping “Frankie’s Gun,” which is about a drug deal gone bad.  Ian’s superior songwriting skills and stage presence bodes well for the future of the group. 

The third brother, accordion-playing James, appears to be the center of the band’s swirling sound and stage antics. This was particularly evident with James’ solo take at the beginning of the spooky “Goddamn You, Jim”  and the raucus “Whiskey in my Whiskey,” both of which are from the group’s latest self-titled album. The brothers are joined by Farley (yes, just Farley), the washboard and fiddle player, and a mysterious bassist named Christmas.

Most observers like to compare the brothers to Bob Dylan and The Band during their Woodstock, N.Y. years, or an American version of The Pogues.  Such comparisons, although flattering, paints the band too far into a corner.  They are much more.  In addition to these influences, the group incorporates aspects of bluegrass, zydeco and mountain music into their songs.  It is true American music.

At a venue reminiscent of their upbringing, The Felice Brothers made everyone feel at home. 

Download: Goddamn You, Jim by The Felice Brothers (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


Opening up for The Felice Brothers was the pride of the burgeoning Athens, Ohio music scene - Southeast Engine.  The locally-based quintet forged a powerful mix of underground rock and American roofs music during its one-hour set. 

Reminiscent of a latter-day Wilco, Southeast Engine rocked through a solid performance of songs filled with angst, self-doubt and redemption.  Lead singer Adam Remnant comes off as a potent mix of a Jeff Tweedy disciple and a countrified Beck backed by a retro 80s political rock band.   

Having just recorded their third album in a drafty, abandoned 1800s high school auditorium,  the band relied heavily on these new songs from the upcoming From The Forest To The Sea on Misra Records.  The new record is set for release in early 2009.   

Download: Ezekiel Saw The Wheel by Southeast Engine (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


At all good festivals, there is at least one surprise.  For the Reclaim, Pokey LaFarge takes the cake.  First of all, Pokey has one of the great names out there. Also, ragtime guitarist LaFarge plays a mean kazoo and likes to wear a snappy bow tie.  But those are only incidentals to the true Pokey, who plays rambling jug band music with a manic preacher’s bellow.  One couldn’t help but smile. 

Originally from Louisville (the birthplace of jug band music) and now based out of St. Louis, LaFarge opened his enjoyable set with the bluesy “Mr. Nobody” from his recently-released Beat Move & Shake album. 

LaFarge mixed in an occasional country heartbreak song with the ragtime and jug music during the set.   At one point, LaFarge slyly said was going to sing another song about a sad girl, but he said he would “leave that to the Avett Brothers.”  A funny comment to be sure about the sometime-too-serious band which has become the face of the folk-punk, grunge-grass music scene.
But be sure, Pokey is the real deal.  A traveling musician playing new songs in an old style.  And doing it very well.

Download: Mr. Nobody by Pokey LaFarge (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


It is always refreshing to see an established musician grow and push his limits. Woody Pines headlined last year’s Reclaim Festival with his pleasing brand of lo-fi Americana roots music.  Sort of a cross between an early Tom Waits, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and a playful Dylan.  

This year, Woody brought along clarinetist and sax player Ted Harris, who provided a definite jazz tint to the set.   That was immediately reflected in the selection of “Candy Man” and the classic “Minnie the Moocher” to start the performance.  

Under his steady hand, Pines lead his band through a solid and pleasing show. However, the highlight was Pines trading licks on his National guitar with Harris’ clarinet.  Pines and his band used the show to expand traditional roots music to include its southern cousin, jazz.  

Download: Candy Man by Woody Pines (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


Having the unenviable task of following The Felice Brothers, Wheels on Fire delivered with a hard-rocking set that kept the Reclaim crowd on its feet.  The current hot band on the Athens scene - hell, they even have a pizza named after them - performed their brand of college rock for an appreciative audience. 

Displaying the passion of their youth, Wheels on Fire sounded like an angry, early Elvis Costello backed by Texas blues or an occasional Bo Diddley beat.  How could one not enjoy that?


Actually, J.D. Hutchison deserves his own post.  This 67-year-old country/bluegrass/folk singer/guitarist is the godfather of the Athens music scene.  He is the professor - the one the rest point to as the alpha dog.  
Hutchison, a classic songwriter whose songs have been recorded by dozens of musicians, is an accomplished entertainer.  One enjoyable example was a story about the scorn of a former lady friend, who happened to be a Quaker.  “Quakers are not supposed to hate,”  Hutchison intoned to the laughter of the crowd.
After playing some songs from his extensive collection along with covers from artists like George Jones, Hutchison ended his set with a moving a cappella tune that ended with the chorus of “Ready on the left, Ready on the right, Ready on the firing line.”  

Although the word legend is usually overused,  Hutchison meets all of the requirements and exceeds the expectations that accompany it. 


The last-minute replacement for A.A. Bondy, Chris Biester started the festival with his unique brand of country folk.  Currently a popular singer in the Athens bar scene, Biester was a founding member of the gloriously-named country rock ensemble Appalachian Death Ride.  

Download: St. Anthony by Appalachian Death Ride (mp3)(iTunes)

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