Magnolia Festival means festival season is almost over and that fall has arrived.The weekend is filled with so much great music, that it is near impossible to hear every band and see every sight. This review is merely one man’s account of the musical happenings of Magfest.Jacksonville, FL based Canary In The Coalmine opened the sacred Amphitheater stage for the weekend. Leaders Jessica Pounds and Sandy Wicker trade off instruments in between songs and share vocal duties on simply crafted Americana backdrops, to tell stories of love witnessed and lands traveled.The Mosier Brothers dedicated all of their tunes for the day to Fred Till; whom Jeff Mosier referred to as “…one of the great listeners and tapers”. A unique blend of originals like “Nothing Like 100 Miles” and huge explorative jams took the evening’s music up a notch.Anders Osborne’s three piece band possesses a sound bigger than it seemingly ought to have. Osborne’s guitar emulates eternally heavy riffs with Tony Iommi-esque tonal ferocity. In-between childlike bouts of improvisational joy, Osborne shares songs of unconditional loving self awareness, evident as he sings “As I lost my way / The church bells would still ring.”Mickey Hart’s new band is a powerhouse featuring the likes of “Bass Mountain” aka Dave Schools (of Widespread Panic) and the masterful vocals of Crystal Monee Hall. Amid spacey originals were Grateful Dead chestnuts “The Other One”, which reached heavy metal heights, and a raucous “Samson & Delilah” on which Crystal Monee Hall masters what Bob Weir has always attempted to obtain – pulpit-pounding church-praising vocal deliverance.
On Uncle Charles’ Porch Stage, Brown Bag Special Performed a set of mostly Grateful Dead covers heavily bolstered by guest vocalist Rachel Murray, who took lead on a charging rendition of “Mr. Charlie”. Under the shade of the Amphitheater’s trees, Alabama’s Kristy Lee sang songs of love gone wrong with a smirk of amusement – a wise disposition treating the heart’s trials of life as moments of growth instead of destruction. With a sideways green cap on her crown, Kristy Lee’s sound and style is a reflection of her source; not the result of appearances pursued. She gives Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” proper treatment, while the lovely Katie Herron binds the trio together with powerful, delicate, artistic and dynamic drumming.While Cope performed on the Porch Stage, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine’s Brett Bass sat in on Dobro with the Corbitt Brothers, as they blew up the main stage with absurd harmonica shredding (and feverish tambourine playing from the ‘other brother’). The harp blowing was more than fast notes. Brother Corbitt has an impressive melodic command of his instrument, as amid shredding he could work in a perfect “Low Rider” tease.Del McCoury Band is an American treasure. Del, who got his start playing guitar for Bill Monroe in 1963, has been playing with his Sons since the 8O’s. Ronnie McCoury is probably the best traditional mandolin player alive. After opening with “Dry My Tears & Move On”, they worked through great tunes like “Nashville Cats”, “Pike County Breakdown”, and the first bluegrass instrumental ever recorded: (written by Bill Monroe with Earl Scruggs on Banjo) “Bluegrass Breakdown”. Del took requests from the crowd. His lead vocal prowess and perfectly timed licks to transition solos are the glue of this top-shelf offering of traditional bluegrass.Emmylou Harris‘ set was highlighted by a solo number dedicated to a recently departed friend on “Darling Kate”, a sit in from Matt Grondin, and an a cappella rendition of “Calling My Children Home”. Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Each song going an extra lap around the solar system was the contrast to tightly compacted, hardly 3 minute long bluegrass songs earlier in the day. “Tulsa Yesterday” perhaps taking a lap around the galaxy with far out explorative jamming, and landing it into a great outing of “They Love Each Other”. Neal Casal is fierce on the guitar, and Chris Robinson’s voice sounds better than ever. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall kept stealing the show every chance he got – emitting vintage sounds and tones that one may never hear from any other band.Friday night’s jam session was how a jam session ought to be (as far as pickin‘ is concerned), as a conglomerate of musicians performed bluegrass standards . All of the McCourys, sans Del, stuck around and were joined by Banjo players Mike Coker and Jeff Mosier, Cello master Rushad Eggleston, and Brett Bass on guitar who took lead vocals for “John Henry”.Saltwater Grass’ last set as a band started the day at high noon. A great blend of southern rock and jazz, complete with impressive keyboard playing from Richard Sherrington, who also doubles on Trombone in the horn section.Colonel Bruce Hampton boasted Paul Barrere on guitar the whole set and lap steel phenom AJ Wunder wielded a Cigar Box.Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett delivered a real treat with an acoustic set from the Little Feat arsenal and a few covers. After performing the title track, Paul Barrere commented that “Sailin Shoes” was his favorite album because it’s when he joined the band, “Lowell George came over, handed me the album, and said ‘if you can learn all these tunes you can join the band’.” After Tennessee Williams’ “Gold Tooth Blues”, a tribute to Levon Helm was made with “The Weight” and “Long Black Veil” which moved a few in the audience to tears.JJ Grey & Mofro performed their classics and even a brand new song, with a chorus of “I don’t know who I am / When I’m somebody else”. JJ Grey’s vocals shone while he was guitar-less during “Brighter Days”- played the old school way with keyboards carrying the rhythmic melody of the song. Jimmy Herring Band contained some of the tightest playing and musicianship of the weekend. Jeff Sipe crushed the drums the whole set with ease. Jimmy Herring’s guitar seared through complex changes and musical structures with the weekend’s best display of soloing. The set included phenomenal instrumental versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as well as The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” and the George Harrison masterpiece, “Within You Without You”.Bonnie Raitt, the festival’s headliner, is a living redefinition of womanhood. Strong, powerful, sweet, and in charge – a contrast to the typical societal roles of women when she started out her musical career. She danced around stage, took command of a world class band, and churned out timeless hits like “Something To Talk About”.The jam Saturday night was less of a jam session and more of a 2nd set from the New Orleans Suspects – who played earlier in the day – enhanced by the living legends of Little Feat Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett. Touching on New Orleans staples like “Big Chief” and Little Feat classics “Dixie Chicken”, “Spanish Moon”, and the unquestionable highlight of the set: closing number “Skin it Back” which brought the musical gumbo on stage to an absolute boil; sending the Magfest faithful warmed up into the cool early morning.
Sunday’s church isn’t complete without the soul-stirring offerings of The Lee Boys, who moved the amphitheater to new heights. Jim Lauderdale’s great songwriting really can get the mind appreciating and loving finer, often overlooked, things of life. Tornado Rider’s antics and musical master prowess brought immense joy to the younger attendees and smirks to the faces of all in attendance. Also, as is tradition, Donna The Buffalo closed out the festival with their unique blend of rock/folk/country/zydeco music.
Magnolia Fest has taken another huge step in the right direction under new ownership. Special thanks to Judy Van Zant and Tim Hall for making this years Magfest arguably the best one ever.
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For more info please visit: http://www.magnoliafest.com
Words by Scott T Horowitz
Scott also threw down some words on video:
Everything Else by Phil Sunkel