Thursday, July 19, 2018

[RECAP] Forecastle 2018: Fighting Fire With Fire


Another Forecastle Festival has come and gone -- and of the six I've attended, this might have been my favorite one. It only rained on us once --for only a few minutes -- and like every other Forecastle, I came away with my heart filled with enthusiasm for life. Not every festival has this effect on me, and that's okay. You take the bad with the good in life, and when you find what moves you, you keep going back. I hope to return every year until my legs fall off.

Here were the five best performances I saw.


Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs plays guitar like his life depends on it. And lets face it: it probably does. His band's late evening set on Saturday felt like a revelation, especially during the end of "Pain," when he guided his guitar to produce sounds that reached unknown satellites. It was furious but also calm, if that makes any sense at all. If you witnessed it, it probably does. The man doesn't have to force anything, because even if he knows where he is going, you can't quite tell. And that's what live music should be. Thank you, Adam.


Another prodigy on guitar, Courtney Barnett plays so effortlessly that you wonder who taught her the tools of the trade. I'm guessing no one did, because she does not care about structure or hitting the right note. There are no right notes in a Courtney Barnett set. There is only a sense of connecting with each person who has come to see her play. She smiled, she moved, she acted like she would rather be nowhere else. Amazing artist in her prime.


Yes, he gets a lot of shit for being aloof and/or a total asshole. But FJM looked very much in control, opening with "Nancy From Now On," "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)," and "Total Entertainment Forever." He sort of did his FJM dance, which is awkward as hell, and by the end of his set not only was his shirt drenched with sweat, but so was his ratted sport coat, which he never took off. Another highlight was "Date Night" from his latest wonderful album, God's Favorite Customer.  Vintage Misty.


It rained right before Isbell took the stage, but it didn't put a damper on his opening trio of songs: "24 Frames," "Hope the High Road," and "White Man's World." "Hope the High Road" was especially poignant, with the lyrics, "there can't be more of them than us...there can't be more." We're living in strange times, with so-called "fake news" and all of the other bullshit surrounding us. But Isbell is as real as they come, and if taking the high road really is the best line of travel, let's all follow this man.


Wow. The entire band entered from the center barricade and through the photo pit, high-fiving fans and photographers alike. They went right into "Everything Now," which led into "Here Comes The Nighttime," which led into -- you guessed it -- a fireball of a dance party which never really ended. Arcade Fire is the perfect band to close out a festival. We were all tired from three days of heat, but who knew that sometimes when you fight fire with fire, you win. We all won. Thank you. See you next year.

[PHOTOS] Phoenix at Brooklyn Steel


The summer of Phoenix is in full force as they recently concluded five nights at Brooklyn Steel. Please enjoy these photos by Amanda Koellner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[PHOTOS] Grizzly Bear + Spoon at Prospect Park in Brooklyn


Grizzly Bear and Spoon recently performed in Brooklyn at Prospect Park. Please enjoy thesephotos by Amanda Koellner.



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Neil Young | 10 Songs, 10 Stories


Neil Young makes his long-awaited return to St. Louis tomorrow night, playing a solo show at the Fox Theatre. The show is sold out. John Hammond will open the show.

Here are ten of my favorite Neil Young songs, accompanied by personal stories.

See you tomorrow.

Heart of Gold

Two distinct memories stick out about this song. The first being driving on the highway a few days after 9/11, listening to the radio, and the DJ saying something like "here's one to bring you some comfort." He was right -- something about hearing this song during a time when the world seemed different -- was different -- I immediately felt like a human being again, connected to other humans (and not monsters). I cranked it up so loud and rolled down the windows, and I can feel the air blowing through my hair as I type this. Maybe I felt comfort that, at that very moment, many others were listening with me. "I want to live...I want to give..."

The second memory is always listening to this song with my Dad on our many road trips across the Midwest. We would listen via cassette. When I came home from college for the first time, the cassette was still in his car and he had been listening while I was gone. But he had misheard the lyrics and started singing, "keep me searching for a pot of gold!" I was dying laughing. No, Dad. Heart of gold.

Old Man

I bought Harvest with my parents' money at Best Buy, and much of my alone time growing up was spent listening to this album -- and this song -- while reading books by Stephen King. I have this strange memory of listening to "Old Man" on repeat while I read King's Four Past Midnight. And every time I see a copy of that book, I think of this song.

Ambulance Blues

I worked a summer job at the Illinois Department of Corrections, and a lot of my time was spent with a guy named Ron Gray. He loved this song. We would close his office door and blast it while we talked about the lyrics. Like, he would often stop the song and say, "DAMN! YES! Hook and ladder dreams!!! Oh Mother Goose!!!! You're all just PISSING IN THE WIND!!! You don't know it, but you are!!" It was an educational summer.

Razor Love

I think of my cousin Amanda whenever I hear this song. I think it has something to do with listening to the Silver and Gold album for the first time while driving to Springfield from St. Louis in a torrential downpour. Do you ever remember times like this? Something about mellow music while the rain is pounding on your windshield. Magic.


Growing up without the Internet was not frustrating when you were living through it. In many ways, we can all benefit from the imagination that the unknown can bring. Today, there is no unknown; the mystery has been removed. I can read about Pocahontas and Marlon Brando whenever I choose. Back when I first heard this song, I had no idea what the "Aurora Borealis" was. And because I never really did pay attention in history class, I had to rely on my imagination to decipher who Pocahontas was or might have been. "They killed us in our teepees, and they cut our women down..." I guess I relied on this song, too. I prefer the Unplugged version to this day.


I always think of my brother when this song comes on. In fact, we often text back lyrics to this song (and "Pocahontas," too). I think we both heard it first listening to the Live Rust album, and the first lines, "Lookout mama, there's a white boat coming up the river," had our immediate attention. Also, I wrote a short story once inspired by the line, "I think you better call John 'cause it don't look like they're here to deliver the mail." Something about the words in this song. The imagery. The panic.

 The tragedy.

Walk With Me

This song got me through so many tough times. So, so powerful. I love how urgent and honest it is. To me, it's a desperate plea to the world -- that I can't do it alone, and neither can you. We need each other. Walk with me. Shine me a light. The essence of life. The patience of unconditional love. It made me feel like everything was going to be okay.

Walk On

Sooner or later, it all gets real. I believe in karma, and I'm much, much better at letting things go because of songs like this. With so many things being temporary in life, be careful of what you choose to dwell on. Walk on, walk on.

Cortez the Killer

My favorite song ever. It will always be.

Last year at Farm Aid I got to photograph Neil's set with Promise of the Real, and here's what I wrote about that experience (and this song):

The PR staff at Farm Aid is ridiculously good at what they do. But even they did not know if Neil Young would be performing solo, or with Promise of the Real. There wasn't even a guarantee that we would be able to photograph his set. I traveled all the way to Pittsburgh for the possibility. Soundboard at best, I thought. One song? Yeah, something like that.
But it was so much better than that.
We were told we'd be split into 2 groups, each getting 2 songs, and maybe a third. I was picked to go in the second group. I'm excited, waiting...Neil comes out with Promise of the Real and begins "Fuckin Up." It's raw, it's powerful, it's what only Neil Young can do. He could have come out with an acoustic guitar and done the bare minimum. Instead, he's giving everything. He's moving. He's feeling it. He's almost 72.
The next song is my favorite song of all time: "Cortez the Killer." I loved it the first time I heard it at 13, especially that mysterious second verse.
But I had a "problem"...I was still waiting to enter the photo pit. Not looking good for me. To photograph Neil playing my favorite song ever.
But this photo exists because a security guard walked up to our PR leader and said "Look, this is a 15 min song..I know his songs....we gotta get them out." And since "Fuckin Up" was a 15 min version as well, I was in business.
I'm walking into the pit. There's 20,000 people behind me.
And Neil Young is *just about* to begin the second verse of Cortez. My favorite verse.
Here's the moment when he backed off from the microphone after singing "and I know she's living there / and she loves me to this day / I still can't remember when / or how I lost my way..."
It's something I never could have imagined at age 13.
It happened at age 38.

Thank you.

The Painter

Finally, I think of my cousin Peri whenever I hear this song. A song of hope, of dreams. You can't follow them all, but you get to choose your path, and you must live with your decision. "It's a long road ahead..." Peace and love forever.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

LouFest Reveals Its Best Lineup Yet

LouFest is back for its ninth year in Forest Park, and the lineup, revealed today, is their best one yet.

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer and living legend Robert Plant, who will perform with the Sensational Space Shifters, will headline the two-day festival in St. Louis on September 8th and 9th. Tickets will be available here.

Plant's booking proved to be an unreal opportunity for LouFest organizers, one they could not pass up.

"It's a once in a life time opportunity to book Robert Plant," says LouFest and Listen Live Entertainment partner Rich Toma. "We had the chance to bring a generational talent to Forest Park, and we got it done."

Plant, who released Carry Fire last year, will likely play a set of solo material and plenty of Led Zeppelin songs. "Going to California," "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," "Whole Lotta Love," "What Is and What Should Never Be," "The Lemon Song," and "Four Sticks" are a few Zeppelin songs that have made it into recent set lists.

While his superstar name carries the weight as the clear headliner of the festival, the lineup is not top-heavy like many other festivals in the United States. This year's card is incredibly deep, including powerhouse bands like Modest Mouse and The Head and the Heart. Those two, notably, were booked because of feedback given by LouFest fans, who were asked last year who they would like to see in 2018. And LouFest organizers listened.

"That's why we send out the survey after each LouFest," Toma said. "We want to hear what bands people want to see. Your voice really makes a difference every year."

Another huge booking is Kacey Musgraves, who earlier this year made her debut performance on Saturday Night Live. Her latest album, Golden Hour, has been lauded by music critics, and it features songs like "Space Cowboy," "Slow Burn," "High Horse," and "Butterflies." Oh, and Elton John is a huge fan. Musgraves is currently on tour with Harry Styles, and last headlined a show in St. Louis at The Pageant in 2015.

Here are a few other artists we're really excited to see at this year's LouFest:

Gary Clark Jr

One of the best guitarists I've ever seen live, Austin's Clark Jr is often described as a blues musician, but he also leans toward rock, soul, and funk. A must-see set.

Margo Price

A rising singer and songwriter out of Nashville, Price recently sold-out the Ready Room in St. Louis, and released the critically lauded All American Made last year. Her set at Farm Aid last year was one of my favorites.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

While gaining worldwide notoriety as Neil Young's "other" band not named Crazy Horse, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real released a beautiful self-titled album last year, and will no doubt shine during their LouFest set. They are one of my favorite live acts going right now.

And more...

Michael McDonald

Moon Taxi

Brothers Osborne



Anderson East

Mt. Joy

Larkin Poe

Durand Jones & the Indications

Liz Cooper & the Stampede

Savannah Conley

Keyon Harrold

And, of course, bands/artists like Grace Basement, River Kittens, Anita Jackson, Scrub & Ace Ha, and The Knuckles fill out the lineup with local talent, which has always been an integral part of each LouFest. Year after year, we've seen St. Louis artists like Tef Poe, John Henry, Sleepy Kitty, Beth Bombara, and Illphonics measure up against some of the most popular national touring acts. This year will be no different.

Finally, I think it's important to point out, with all the festival failure and turnover that happens across the U.S., that even if this isn't your dream lineup, it's wise to take a deep breath and appreciate the hard work that LouFest organizers have put in over the years. St. Louis is lucky that LouFest is still here, and in my opinion, this year's lineup shows that they care about their fans. They listened to feedback from their fans, and maybe most important of all, their lineup does not look like every other festival lineup.

I realize we all have different tastes, and that there are thousands of deserving talents who are long overdue to get their shot on a bigger stage, but I've been to some of the biggest festivals in the world, and bigger does not always mean better. Appreciate what we have in LouFest, because as fast as the festival circuit changes, it could be gone in a split J.R. Smith second.

For more information on LouFest, please visit their website.