At 6:00pm, as the sun was moving further away from the sky over Bottle Rock, as the heat of the day faded, and the weather changed to perfect, a favorite local San Francisco band took the main stage. Train, (http://savemesanfrancisco.com) with it’s charismatic lead singer, Pat Monahan, commanded the audience with a confident presence. They love what they do, and it shows! I first saw Train at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2012 (http://sxsw.com,) where they did a phenomenal job performing at the Central Presbyterian Church.
Tonight’s show was very different, on an outdoor stage in Napa, California’s wine country, as the sun was going down, and a crowd that was ten times larger. Any way you see them, though, they put on a good show. Singing many of their most recognizable hits – Soul Sister, Calling All Angels, Save Me, San Francisco, Meet Virginia, Drops of Jupiter – they easily got the crowd singing and swooning right along, right away. Monahan was all over the stage – and it was a big one – getting up-close and as personal as a singer can in a venue so huge. At one point, he pulled out his cell phone and took pictures of the crowd from the stage, and later in the show, he jumped into the audience and took selfies with people and their phones.
Pat Monahan is a crowd friendly performer, no doubt, and it was so very apparent just how much fun he was having. And, not only is he a singer, he is a musician, which he proved when he picked up the saxophone and played along with his band. Whatever your opinion is of the band Train, they have cut out a name for themselves in the music industry. Their songs are catchy, a bit poppy, with sometimes rather odd lyrics (“my heart is bound to beat, right out my untrimmed chest” or “just a shy guy looking for a two-ply Hefty bag to hold love.”) Where they come up with such odd, kind of nerdy, lyrics is beyond me, but it’s not my place to judge. They are good; they are successful; they have made a name for themselves in the world of music, and that’s admirable and honorable.
As the evening settled in, and the sun began to fade, Train’s show came to an end. The emotion exuding from the band was felt by, no doubt, everyone in the audience. Monahan’s appreciation to the crowd for their warm response, and the fact that he was overcome with gratitude that practically brought him to tears, was wonderful sight. Sometimes it seems to me like celebrities are untouchables, or on a higher plane that the rest of us mortals (or think they are!) So, to see them in such an obvious state of appreciation and indebtedness, is heartwarming. It shows that they are human, after all. These guys might not be the Rolling Stones, but they are Train, and train rocked Bottle Rock 2013!
***The time came to hoof it on over to Central Presbyterian Church to make sure I got a good seat for Train. I admit, I thought the venue was a bit strange for a rock band, but I had read the reviews for Fiona and they raved over the acoustics. So, it made sense to me, plus churches are old, and they were all about the choirs and singing, and most were probably built before there was decent, if any, amplification. So, I high-tailed my tail to church and got a very nice seat in a pew about six rows back from Jesus.
Having been so hell-bent (oops, I’m in church) on seeing Train, I never bothered to notice the rest of the schedule for this venue tonight. But, man oh man, did I have a delightful surprise. A band from Los Angeles – A Fine Frenzy (http://www.myspace.com/afinefrenzy) – had just begun to set up as I was getting myself situated. They were a cute bunch, three guys and two girls, and when they started playing and Alison Sudol started singing, I knew why we were in a church. This girl, blonde, sweet, and angelic, had the voice of an angel! The closest I’ve ever heard to a voice like hers, is when the Celtic Women sing. Wearing a red-orange dress, with a crisp, pristine voice, not only was it hard to take my eyes off Alison and her crew, but she almost put me into a trance. He voice was almost other-worldly, heavenly, ethereal, and she had the look to match. The music this band delivered was folksy and New Agey, but are considered an Alternative, Indie band. They delivered their sound with talent, moving between the keyboard, guitars, drums, while Alison kept the audience entranced as frontman. I was very impressed, and mesmerized by this band, and must say that a church was the perfect backdrop for their angelic sound.
**Choo-choo, make way for Train! (http://www.myspace.com/train) At midnight, out they came, charismatic and energetic as they are, and even had a little unofficial fan club group of groupies in one of the front pews, squealing, dancing, and making a small scene. They started off with a bang, singing “Soul Sister,” one of their biggest hits, which set the joyful tone for the rest of their show. Lead singer, Patrick Monahan is a charming frontman with a unique voice and couldn’t be more comfortable performing. He was right at home, entertaining the crowd as if he was singing in the shower. They sang a number of their recognizable hits – Save Me, San Francisco, Drops of Jupiter, Meet Virgina – as well as some new songs off their album that is due out on April 17. At one point, Patrick moved away from his microphone and sang “Calling All Angels” (…if I recall correctly…) a cappella, which couldn’t be more perfect in a church. His voice carried beautifully throughout the place and put a big smile on everyone’s face. This man and his band went the extra mile to put on a good show for their audience. While performing, “Save Me, San Francisco,” Patrick went into the audience and brought up and excited fan. He had her join him in the chorus, and showed his sense of humor when she flubbed the words more than once. He also made sure that one of her friends got a good picture of them without missing a beat while continuing to perform – a very cute touch! (Of course, the girls loved it!)
It was all over way too soon! Since these shows are short showcases, and/or condensed concerts, they go by fast! You get a good taste for the band, but nothing near a complete concert. This works at South By because you can never really OD on music since it is over at the height of the excitement. You’d think this would be frustrating, but there’s no time for frustration in a town where there is more music and bands to possibly see them all. If you like music, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop.
To sum up my first experience at South By Southwest, I would say it was fantastically wonderful time! Austin is buzzing with so much creativity, abundant talent, bursting with music, and overflowing with people during this festival. It’s a music lover’s Disneyland!! If music rocks your world, like it does mine, it would be impossible to have a bad time at SXSW. But, go with an open mind. Don’t expect to be able to see or experience everything. Be prepared, do your homework in advance, and have a plan. There’s no time to waste in Austin, because there are so many places to be, see, and do. My little saying of “So much music, so little time!” couldn’t be truer than at South By Southwest! It was a little challenging at times chasing down my entertainment of choice, but it was sure fun trying!
***After the last panel, I was itching to get over to 6th Street, to find a pot o’ gold and leprechauns – or some corned beer and green beer! Being that it was a Saturday, to add to party fever mode, the crowd out on the street was ridiculous! The action started early so I paced myself. Strolling by the ‘Chuggin’ Monkey,’ I was pulled in by the man at the door (who ended up being the dad of one of the kids in the band) and ended up really happy about that. ‘The Neckties’ (all of about 14-15 years old) hooked me instantly! They had a 1970s rock style to them, the lead singer reminding me of a young Mick Jagger/Steven Tyler/Robert Plant; and the guitarist having a Jimmy Page/Joe Perry/Keith Richards style to his playing. This was not at all what I expected out of a band of kids! With all the Death/Heavy Metal, Rap and Hip-Hop influences for youngsters these days, hearing and seeing this talented bunch perform a sound that spawned from my era, was music to my ears! In the middle of one particular song, there was a power outage, but they didn’t miss a beat. They pushed through it calmly and the singer continued on without his mic. It was very impressive! I am a new fan of these boys, plan on following them (quickly ‘Liked’ them on Facebook,) and hope to see them again, cuz I’m betting they’ll be well known some day! Watch out SXSW….the Neckties (https://www.facebook.com/TheNeckties) will no doubt be back to make a BIG name for themselves!
Over at ‘Friends Bar’ was a local classic rock band, the’ Rachel Crawford Band,’ which was the perfect band to enjoy a St. Paddy’s Day green beer to. Rachel is a very cool, soulful singer with all the right moves. For a few songs, she invited Japanese musician, Motoi Konno, to join the band on stage, which was a kick. Music transcends everything and unites everyone!
In search of an Irish bar (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all!) I found ‘BD Riley’s’ with stick-to-your-ribs food and a healthy dose of Irish music. After getting my fill of corned beef, cabbage, and mashed potatoes-YUM!-I needed to get back to my SXSW experience, since after all, it was the last night of the festival….and, I had my evening schedule planned. Rumor had it that Stubb’s BBQ (http://stubbsaustin.com/about-stubbs) was the place to be tonight. I summed this up by talking to others and doing my research over the past few days. Many names stood out, and two were playing back to back at Stubb’s tonight – Michael Kiwanuka, Justin Townes Earle – before the piece de resistance (for me, at least) TRAIN, who would be playing at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th. But, no one seemed to know about it. Like I said, everything is kept under the radar, plus there are so many bands to see and places to go, that people are spread out everywhere! And, you’d need to clone yourself to get to even 1/10th of the performances!
I arrived everywhere early on this night, so as not to have a repeat performance of my Fiona Apple night. Stubb’s has an excellent outdoor area with a big stage, outdoor bars, and a good ol’ down home concert experience – real music and pure talent. Both bands were thoroughly entertaining, yet completely different from each other. Michael Kiwanuka has a bit of a rootsy, country sound, with a lot of soul. (http://michaelkiwanuka.com) Influenced by Otis Redding and Sly Stone, he was also very inspired by the movie about the Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ farewell concert and through it all, came up with his own sound and style.
Justin Townes Earle and his band (http://www.justintownesearle.com) have more of an Americana, bluegrass, Buddy Holly blend (if that’s even possible) and Justin has the look to match. He resembles the most straight-laced nerd you have ever bullied, but according to his bio, was quite the bad boy when he was younger. (He’s all of 30 years old now) and has already been a pretty serious drug addict, arrested for battery, public drunkenness, resisting arrest, and gone through rehab. Once he kicked drugs, he began focussing intensely on his music, and in September 2009, he received an Americana Music Award for ‘Emerging Artist of the Year.’ He’s come a long way in a short time!
Well, I’m going to hang out here for awhile before trekking over to the church to see ‘Train.’ Stay tuned…