Monday, September 03, 2007




This little festival keeps getting better and better, and I've been to every one. Sunday was even better than Saturday (for one thing there wasn't any significant rain.)

I got to the Eaves Ranch a little late Sunday. Richard Johnson had already started his set.
I'd heard his name through the years, but until yesterday, I didn't even realize that he is a bona fide grungy one-man blues band, in the John Schooley/Scott H. Biram/Bob Logg school.

The man from Memphis plays drums using foot pedals (sometimes bashing the cymbals with his hand, and plays slide guitar as well as a homemade stringed instrument fashioned from two broom handles, a cigar box and a radiator clamp.

Johnston specializes in the Hill Country blues of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill, though he confessed to loving the hillbilly blues of Hank Williams -- and I'd swear I could hear a little Roger Miller in him too. Johnston was just a whole lot of fun.

After Johnston's set a friend asked me if I'd ever heard of the cowboy poet Jerry Faires. I told him I've known Jerry for more than 25 years, but I never knew him to be a "cowboy poet."

Well, Hell! Seeing Jerry's solo performance in the Eaves Ranch hotel made me realize that Jerry has talents I never knew he had. He sang some songs but in between he recited original poems, amusing tales of aged old honky tonkers, cowboys trying to figure out health-food fads, etc.

Jerry says he doesn't call what he does "cowboy poetry," but it's close to that art form in spirit at least. He's funny, poignant and always entertaining. And, oh yeah, I still love his songs.

FLATLAND ROCK The Flatlanders was the act that excited me the most in this year's Thirsty Ear lineup. I've seen them play a couple of times at South by Southwest in Austin, but both times they've played in Santa Fe as a group in recent years I've been out of town.

I knew they'd be great -- how could Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock not be great? But on Sunday The Flatlanders were incredible. These guys rocked! (Sorry I didn't catch the name of the lead guitarist. Lots of people were commenting on how much he added to the group.) Their version of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner Blues" was breathtaking, the three singers swapping verses. But their take on "Dallas" Sunday has to be the best version of that tune ever performed in human history. (Jimmie Dale wrote it, Ely's version is the best known, but the first time I heard this song was at a Butch show at Club West in the early '80s.)

Somehow Corey Harris' set just didn't click with me Sunday. Maybe it was because his set was mainly Caribbean-style music instead of the blues that made us love him in the first place. Or maybe it was because The Flatlanders set was so high-energy.

For me it probably was the former. I'm not a blues Nazi or anything and I sure don't mind artists experimenting with new sounds. I like Corey's music and have several of his albums. It's cool how he finds common ground between Mississippi blues and other African based music, such as reggae.

But somehow Sunday he just didn't seem to have the fire.

Michael Doucet and his merry band of Cajuns was a fitting way to close the festival.

Two years ago BeauSoleil played Thirsty Ear just days after Hurricane Katrina. (Doucet told the audience that it was actually Hurricane Rita, which came after Katrina in 2005 that damaged their homes in Southewestern Louisiana).

So this year's set understandably wasn't quite as urgent as the last time they were here. But it still was a blast.

And so was the Thirsty Ear Festival. On a technical note I want to personally thank Koster and crew for putting in some lights in the parking area. That really helped. And I want to publically thank Koster's mom for helping me with a heavy ice chest Saturday morning.

Now if they only bring back a BBQ vendor next year, (and find a way for it not to rain!) it'll be perfect.

Probably due to exhaustion yesterday I forgot to mention the fine bouzouki set by Chipper Thompson and Roger Landis in the hotel Saturday. I'm a huge Chipper fan. I hope to see his full band on stage next year. That was one of the surprise highlights of last year's festival.

Finally, here's little music review I found written on a port-a-potty wall. Who needs a blog when you got restroom walls?


UPDATE: (Tuesday afternoon) My old neighbor Jimmy Lee Hanaford wrote to inform me that The Flatlanders' excellent guitarist is one Robbie Gjersoe who also has played with Robbie Fulks. Thanks, Jimmy!

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