Fayettevilleroots Festival Day # One

Read our review of day one of Fayetteville Roots Festival

USA Music Tour 2015 Day 8

Fayetteville Arkansas

Fayetteville is a college town, home to the University of Arkansas.  It is located in the northwest of the State, deep in the Ozark Mountains, and is Arkansas’s third-largest city with a population of around 80,000.

Even though our stay here will measure five nights, we are not going to get anywhere near a broad view of the environs.  Our house on West Lafayette St is about six blocks south of the town centre where almost all the festival activities are being held.  Yesterday I reported on our evening at the beautiful Garner Farm which is ten minutes east by car.  Aside from that short journey, our daily routine looks like being mid-to-late morning walk to the heart of downtown, be enveloped by fayettevilleroots festival’s many charms and music attractions and trudge back up the hill around midnight.

The town is beautifully manicured.  I don’t believe I’ve seen one piece of litter on the street.  The layout is easy and walking around doesn’t feel like you’re invading the space of automobiles, a factor common in many cities in the U.S. I’ve visited.  Near us there’s a lot of construction going on, apartments and car parks, a sign of perhaps an influx of residents in the heart of downtown, ensuring that new life is infused at the city’s heart.  I won’t be seeing a lot of the place, but from what I have observed so far, I’ve loved.  It is simply a delightful city.

The first day of the festival music at the main stage in the Town Centre runs officially from 3 to 11 pm.  There’s a two-hour radio show at the Public Library, featuring many of today’s artists, broadcasting from noon.  I walked down to Mountain St and turned west to the library.  It was only five short blocks by foot but halfway down, a car pulled over, the driver offering me a lift for the remainder of the journey (he has been ferrying the artists around).  Another example of the friendliness of the locals.

The KUAF radio station live broadcast was marvellous. I saw five performers play a couple of songs each, with a short interview in between, there were local sponsor ads for this public station, discussions about the celebrity cook-off tomorrow, a chat with the author Barbara Barnes Sims about her book The Next Elvis: Searching For Stardom At Sun Records and a demonstration how to make a Sarsaparilla Manhattan cocktail.

Below are pictures of the performers that morning.

JD McPherson – photo by Jim Jacob

Jon Nuefeld and Martha Scanlan – photo by Jim Jacob

The Steel Wheels – photo by Jim Jacob

Pokey LaFarge – photo by Jim Jacob

John Moreland – photo by Jim Jacob

I strode back up the street, as breakfast/brunch was long overdue.  A sausage sandwich with egg and a coffee were just the trick.  Trent Wagler, the lead singer of The Steel Wheels happened to walk past and we were fortunate to have a brief chat with this charming and talented man.

Jenny, Trent Wagler of The Steel Wheels and Yours Truly – photo by Jim Jacob

Time to start the main business of the day.

John Moreland is a big man, with few words and deep feelings.  His singing has a Bruce Springsteen/Nebraska depth and intensity.  Songs like “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Any More”, “Hang Me In The Tulsa County Star”, “You Don’t Care For Me Enough To Cry” (according to Moreland, a song deemed to be too sad for Dallas/Fort Worth morning television).  Gripping songwriting.  A standing ovation from the crowd.  Incredibly sadly I felt at the time, Moreland didn’t even look up to see the response as he walked off the stage, eyes downcast.

Martha Scanlan is a traditional singer-songwriter, her songs steeped in the earth and community.  Her new album The Shape Of Things Gone Missing, The Shape Of Things To Come has been receiving rave reviews and features guests Amy Helm and members of the bands Black Prairie and The Decemberists.  A previous release, with which I am familiar, is 2007’s The West Was Burning which features the great Levon Helm on drums.  Her approach on stage with Jon Nuefeld is that less is more, allow the lyrics do the talking, with a light touch guitar interplay, an inaudible rhythm and a heartfelt vocal delivery

Jon Neufeld and Martha Scanlan – photo by Jim Jacob

Another look at The Steel Wheels, the third in two days.  The band’s invigorating blend of folk, gospel and bluegrass roots did not disappoint.  Highlights of the set included a wonderful version of “Tell Me Again” (an unaccompanied gospel chant with all four members hunched over the single microphone), a new song “Find Your Mountain”, the spritely instrumental “Milo” (written for mandolinist Jay Lapp’s son), the soaring “Indian Trail” and the closing “Rain In The Valley”.  I picked up a copy of the band’s new album Leave Some Things Behind, a treat for my return home.

Jay Lapp of The Steel Wheels – photo by Jim Jacob

The Steel Wheels – photo by Jim Jacob

It was time to make the most of our 45 minute dinner break.  A serving of bbq pulled pork with a spicy peach sauce, Arkansas apple slaw (trying saying that ten times in a row!), potato salad and a dill pickle, with a glass of sauvignon blanc to wash it down.

Back inside the stage area.  With Pokey LaFarge, you get a lot for your money.  A six-piece band – lead guitar, bass, percussion, trumpet, clarinet/saxophone and banjo.  A conglomeration of early jazz, blues, swing, ballads and mexicana.  And Pokey’s urbane swagger – red jacket, black trousers, white shirt, black tie and red shoes, a well-presented band leader with a Cab Calloway sensibility.  Fun to see such a show.

Pokey LaFarge – photo by Jim Jacob

Chloe Feoranzo of Pokey LaFarge’s Band – photo by Jim Jacob

Another John Fullbright set, quite some differences with his show at Garner Park the previous evening.  From the get go, his lead mike wasn’t working so we had a nice rendition of “Sleepwalker” to kick off proceedings.  His voice is powerful but with many shades, he moved from guitar to keyboards to harmonica with ease, hell he even whistled.  A balanced group of songs – full band, him and bass, him solo.  Great storyteller to keep your interest.  Highlights of the set included a beautiful cover of “Crystal” for his recently departed friend songwriter Tom Skinner, a version of the emotional Dan Bern tune “After The Parade”, a manic “Fatman”, “Satan & St Paul”, a blasting “Gawd Above”, a fiery “All The Time In The World” with all the band members strutting their stuff and the closing “Moving”.

John Fullbright – photo by Jim Jacob

One more act to go, and it was a belter.  A storm, a rampage.  From Broken Arrow Oklahoma, JD McPherson with two albums now under his belt and the same band in tow for quite some time (Jimmy Sutton – bass, Jason Smay – drums, Ray Jacildo – keys and Doug Corcoran – saxophone, guitar, keys) put in a classic set of vintage and authentic rock n roll songs.  Incredibly, this was his first ever show in Arkansas, even though his home town is very close.  It was a terrific and  compelling set, which included a snarling “Firebird”, a respectful cover of Nick Lowe’s “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”, the scorching “You Must Have Met Little Caroline”, “Precious” with the tremolo set to the max, “Let The Good Times Roll, “North Side Gal” and a scorching finale “Wolf Teeth.

The Town Centre’s Main Stage – photo by Jim Jacob

JD McPherson (with Jimmy Sutton in the background) – photo by Jim Jacob

The end of a non-stop, impeccable day of A-grade roots music.

We made our way back up the hill past the vibrant Dickson St where numerous bars and eateries were open catering for a very large and young contingent.  Not for us tonight.  We had had our fill.


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Author: Rob Dickens

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