My husband, Tom, and I moved to Wilmington about seven years ago from Savannah, Ga., and when people ask us if we miss our former historic riverside home we say, “Of course, but Wilmington gets way more bands.”
It’s true: We try not to take for granted the sheer amount of talent we see in the Port City. Not only do we have a fantastic and thriving community of local musicians and songwriters, but dozens of quality rockers and rollers, bluegrass benders and traditionalists, blues and roots legends, and more continue to grace our local stages every year. One of our favorite venues each season is Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and last week we were there three times in four days … and it’s only April.
Drive-By Truckers, April 19
encore readers got a preview of April 19’s Drive-By Trucker’s show in “Mixing Emotional Cocktails,” featuring an interview with Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals). It was the Southern-rock band’s fourth visit to GLA since 2011, but ILM fans who have been here longer probably caught them at The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge in its heyday. Cooley, accompanied by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals), Brad Morgan (drums), Jay Gonzalez (keys, guitar, accordion) and Matt Patton (bass guitar), delivered on their unapologetic tunes targeting everything from the NRA to hypocritical Bible-thumpers.
A lot of DBT songs are simply true stories with rockin’ guitar riffs and blistering solos sewn in. Not-so-great Southern history, hypocritical ideology and politics are among top themes audiences sway and bob along to, especially from their latest album “American Band” (2016). With songs like Hood’s “What It Means” and Cooley’s “Ramon Casiano,” it’s hard to decide whether to happily jam to the beat or start the next American Revolution…
Cooley’s “Kinky Hypocrite” and “Surrender Under Protest” were others to appear off of “American Band” last week. DBT also filled the two dozen-song set list with favorites from 2001’s “Southern Rock Opera,” such as “Ronnie and Neil” and “Let There Be Rock.” “Declaration Day”’s “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” ended our night with DBT.
Hood was particularly energetic onstage in between breaks sipping whiskey. He and Cooley would often come to the edge of the stage for their dueling play, and Hood would solute the crowd with his guitar.
“American Band” is the first DBT album in many years to refrain from featuring cover art by Wes Freed, but he still did the concert poster for this leg of the 2017 “Dance Band of The Resistance” tour. It depicts the Statue of Liberty with long hair flowing, holding an electric guitar with one fist in the air, and “Yearning to Breathe Free” written across the bottom. Of course, one of their trademark skeletal blackbirds is flying through the scene as well. Freed certainly captured the essence of the latest songs and mood of the tour. We picked up a signed copy by the band to add to our collection.
Opening for DBT was Hiss Golden Messenger, who spoke with encore before opening Jason Isbell’s show at Cape Fear Stage on March 30. Durham-based frontman MC Taylor played from his latest record, “Heart Like a Levee” (released in October 2016). While “Heart Like a Levee” features artists from Taylor’s circle of musician friends, like Tift Merritt, Michael Lewis, Matt Douglas, and others, he’s also preparing to record a new album in a couple of months.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, April 21
This was the show I’d been looking forward to for a long time. We missed Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ last stopover in ILM a couple of years ago. Fortunately, we were blown away by this incredible ensemble at 2016’s Bonnaroo. Rateliff, who spoke with encore before their April 21 concert, lit up the stage out the gate with the familiar guitar intro to “I Need Never Get Old,” and the horns, keys and drums never skipped a beat. They were, as expected, fantastic. Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to mention a problem with the sound.
We almost always post up at the front of the stage at any show we attend. So, we belly up to the stage barrier before the opening band comes on. The Seratones rock band out Shreveport, Louisiana, took the stage and AJ Haynes (vocals, guitar) and Connor Davis (guitar) started into their riffs, along with Adam Davis on bass and Jesse Gabriel on drums. Haynes is thrashing her bouncy ‘fro in time with the fast-paced rhythms, revving up the crowd and we take in her energetic stage presence and personality before she grabs the mic and … Wait, what’s up with the sound?
I look at my date, “I can’t hear her!” He shakes his head in agreement and I happen to catch the eye of the blonde woman standing next to him, who also picked up on the fact that—despite being just feet away from Haynes—we can’t hear what she’s singing. Nothing ever improved where we were, but it’s my understanding folks in the stands could hear everything much better—a point I confirmed for myself while making a quick beer run before the Seratones wrapped up.
The music was fine—fantastic, even. It definitely got us excited to hear what this sassy, rockin’ songstress had to offer. Alas, we had to wait until we got home to download some tunes for ourselves—which we absolutely would have done anyway, but a bit of live-music magic was lost because of this sound issue. Unfortunately, it was lost and never found before Rateliff and company took the stage.
The one time I could hear Rateliff singing clearly was when the band retired for his solo performance of “I’d Be Waiting.” Personally, not getting clear vocals didn’t seem as big of an issue during the main act because … well … we knew pretty much all the songs. We could get lost in the sheer talent of the Night Sweats, who are incredible and infectiously dynamic. I think keyboardist Mark Shusterman could keep a crowd on its feet if left only with his wispy long curls and a tambourine!
I’d be particularly bummed if this experience were my first time seeing Rateliff live—especially at a venue where there isn’t a bad seat in the house. I am in no way saying this was a “bad” show. And in no way am I trying to poo-poo on the sound guys—they work hard and I have no clue as to what goes into this kind of entertainment. Nevertheless, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re just feet away from an incredible performer and you can’t hear them sing. I hope we see (and hear) the Seratones and Rateliff return to Wilmington sooner rather than later.
Dark Star Orchestra, April 22
What’s fantastic about April’s opening month at GLA has been diversity of shows. While they started with rock icon Bruce Hornsby and his Noisemakers on April 14, just in these last three shows we’ve gotten Southern rock, soulful rock ‘n’ roll, and most recently, classic Grateful Dead tunes from cover band Dark Star Orchestra on April 22.
Made up of a small army in rotation, Rob Barraco (keyboards, vocals), Rob Eaton (rhythm guitar, vocals), Dino English (drums), Rob Koritz (drums), Lisa Mackey (vocals), Jeff Mattson (lead guitar), and Skip Vangelas (bass, vocals) typically resurrect full shows of The Grateful Dead. Originally played at California’s Berkeley Community Theatre in 1986, Saturday’s sets were exactly 31 years old to the date.
Seeing DSO is a real treat for most Deadheads, but full disclosure: I like listening to The Dead on a nice day while sitting outside drinking beer—so, the scene is undoubtedly right at Greenfield Lake—but they’re not in my regular rotation. Tom, who’s also encore’s contributing photographer, is a truer fan of The Dead. He knows every song and talks about them and their origins in a far more informed way. (One thing I can say is the sound was spot on compared to the night before.)
DSO started off with “Box Of Rain,” a beautiful version of Dylan’s “Visions Of Johanna,” and “Mama Tried.” These are what first gave away a rough time frame of the show to some listeners, with “Visions of Johanna” only getting played in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The same can pretty much be said for “Little Red Rooster,” which soon followed.
As I scanned the sea of tie-dyed tees, I noticed it was probably the most diverse in age out of last week’s shows. And I think this reflects upon a big part of what makes Dark Star Orchestra so damn popular: They’re not only good at bringing nostalgia to long-time fans but for these 20-somethings—who weren’t even a sparkle in their parents’ eyes in 1986—it’s as close to time travel as they’re gonna get.
“Big River,” “Bird Song” and “Deal” helped wrap up the first set. Tom and our friend, Tim, who’s also a superior Deadhead, proceeded to speculate what was to come—just as they did prior to the first set. DSO returned with “China Cat Sunflower,” “I Know You Rider” and “Looks Like Rain.” The band zoned in for “Terrapin Station” as the crowd cheered and danced on.
Originally penned by Robert Hunter, Dark Star Orchestra ended with “Brokedown Palace” as their encore; appropriately sending everyone on their way with “Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell, listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.”