August 10, 2011
The Sounds of Pensacola: Summer Country Jam
Summer Country Jam is a new free concert series for Pensacola. It features up and coming country music artists that have been signed by a major record label but haven't made it big yet. Let's call them what they are, the B-listers who one day may be A-listers (or maybe not). It started July 14th and runs every Thursday until September 1st. There's an opening act at 6:00 or 6:30 with the headliner scheduled for 8:00. I don't know if this is going to be a regular concert series or if it's just happening this summer. So enjoy it while you can. Scheduled to play* are:
*In a change from how I normally handle the concert series, my plan is to come back and update this topic after any concert I attend.
But keep in mind, I am not a photographer and all I have is a very basic point and shoot compact. I wouldn't know an F-stop if it hit me on the head.
This series is different from the other regular concert series in Pensacola (Bands on the Beach, Sounds of Summer, Sunsets at Plaza de Luna and Evenings in Olde Seville Square) as Summer Country Jam is the only one put on by private business. (The other four are either government or non-profit events.) Given that it's put on by private businesses, not surprisingly, Summer Country Jam is the only concert series to be held in a private business, the restaurant that's one of the main sponsors: The Fish House. The Fish House (see map) is located in downtown Pensacola. The concerts happen on the Fish House's Deck Bar which overlooks Seville Harbor Marina on Pensacola Bay. The Fish House is not associated with the marina, but if you want to take a boat to The Fish House, you can contact the marina management or Lanier Sailing Academy for slip rental.
The Fish House's Deck Bar
These are free concerts, so there's no cover charge and no drink minimum, though, of course, The Fish House wants you to buy drinks --- and do they ever sell them. Do not go to this concert if you can't take really drunk obnoxious people crowding you and spilling drinks on you. Yes, technically the concerts are at a restaurant --- but the whole Deck is nothing but a bar. It's an evening at a bar. What do you think it's going to be like? There was a drunk woman who broke a wine glass and just left the pieces on the deck where another woman in sandals cut her foot on it. The drunk woman was old enough to know better by 25 years, but middle-aged drunks can be the worst. (Though talk about instant karma, minutes later the woman who broke the glass lost her iPhone and never did find it.) Although I've seen a handful of children at this, this is not a family event. Let me repeat that: Not a family event, Not a family event, NOT A FAMILY EVENT. Do you get my point? The people who brought kids came early and left early before the crowd had a good, solid drunk on them. If you absolutely have to see someone who's playing, leave the kids at home. If you want to take the kids to a concert on Thursday night take them to one of the other two free Thursday night concerts in downtown Pensacola.
I don't know what it is about Thursday nights and free concerts in Pensacola. But we have three different concerts happening on Thursdays all within walking distance from each other. At least the start times are staggered. Sunsets at Plaza de Luna at Plaza de Luna park is from 5:30 to 7:30. Evenings in Olde Seville Square, which was the original Thursday concert (it's in its 24th year) spreads across two adjoining parks: Seville Square and Fountain Park and goes from 7:00 to 9:00. Both Sunsets at Plaza de Luna and Evenings in Olde Seville Square are perfect concerts to take children to. Those are family events. Summer Country Jam at The Fish House is not.
Free Thursday Night Entertainment in Downtown Pensacola
(Image courtesy of Google Earth)
But if you're an adult and you enjoy country music and you don't mind drunk people (or you don't mind them too much), then definitely go to Summer Country Jam. Despite being located in the Deep South, Pensacola has a dearth of good country music soloists. Last year we had two locals, one male, one female (Crystal Miller, the American Idol contestant, who I mentioned in "The Sounds of Pensacola: Bands on the Beach"), who were very good but I think they both moved to Nashville. We do get the big names (the A-listers) playing at the Civic Center, but I stopped going to those concerts when the ticket prices reached the level of "That's ridiculous. I wouldn't pay that to see the second coming." So Summer Country Jam is your chance to hear some good country music singers for free.
Lucas Crutchfield, the house player, is the regular opening act.
I'm trying to cover two or three concerts on Thursdays so I only get to The Fish House in time to hear him play one or two songs.
But from what I've heard, he's good. Good enough I'd like to go back on a different night just to listen to his set.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Summer Country Jam didn't get off to a very auspicious start. It almost didn't get started at all. As evening fell, so did the rain, and the Deck is open air. The rain never got heavier than a drizzle and all the electrical equipment was wrapped in tarps, so I didn't know if the show was going on or not. (I'm old enough to remember the Diana Ross Central Park concert where she stood in the pouring rain and wind getting drenched before she was finally forced to give up by lightning.) The only announcement made early in the evening when the rain was just starting was that Chuck Wicks was willing to wait until 9:00 or 9:30 to see if the rain would stop. So I waited.
Around 9:30 the rain was still drizzling. (It rained for the next three days.) Someone came to the few people still at the Deck Bar and said the show would happen upstairs. Upstairs turned out to be one of the large private banquet rooms decorated with signed photographs of the Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration team based in Pensacola. So we trooped upstairs and crowded into the room. (I expect most of the people had taken refuge in the restaurant as there weren't that many people at the bar.)
I admired Chuck Wicks' dedication. There are plenty of singers who would not have insisted on finding a way to go on. It's what I like best about performers who are still on their way up...........they have an eagerness and enthusiasm to perform that people at the top of their game frequently lack. People riding the crest of the wave are often just grinding out shows for the money. They may still enjoy the performance, but they'll give what they're contracted to give and not one iota more. They'll perform their set and do a decent job at it and that's it. They leave that bus at the last moment and head back to it as quickly as they can. And if their set is canceled due to weather, then it's canceled and that's all there is to it. More bus time for them, and they still get paid for a night off. To them, that's a win-win.
But Chuck Wicks wanted to play. So they found a way.
Two miniature elevated platforms were set up and chairs placed on them. The guitarists had their acoustic guitars and the drummer used a wood box (I kid you not). It was all acoustical with not even a microphone in sight.
It was introduced as "The most intimate concert you'll ever go to."
I wouldn't exactly call it that; I've been to other performances with a greater sense of intimacy. But it certainly was the most unusual as we stood in that hot, packed room, crowded up against the platform straining to listen to the music.
When a friend asked me about the concert I found myself hemming and hawing. I don't think Chuck Wicks' voice is presented at its best without amplification. Voice projection: it's a quality some singers have and some don't. Chuck Wicks is definitely in the "don't" category. (Though he could be taught. Vocal coaches teach it.) Many years ago there was a girl who lived down the hallway from me who was studying opera. Opera singers have serious voice projection capabilities. Their music is from a time before microphones when they were expected to fill a theater all the way to the back rafters with just their voice while still being heard over an entire symphony orchestra. When that girl practiced, you could hear it, and what a lovely sound it was. But it's not just opera singers. Once I jumped out of my seat from a country singer who cut loose with a chorus of a song, no mic, just his voice. That guy also had serious voice projection. Without a microphone Chuck Wicks voice, though pleasant, just doesn't carry the same intensity as I'm sure it would with amplification.
It didn't help the situation that the audience consisted mostly of women........drunk women. Chuck kept calling for quiet, "library quiet" as he put it, but drunk women have a hard time shutting up. They're loud even when they think they're being quiet. So, even standing near the front, it was hard to hear Chuck for a lot of the songs, though occasionally the crowd would fall silent and you could hear him. At least I could at the front. What the people at the back heard, I don't know.
I have no idea if Chuck Wicks is one of those musicians who likes to bang his groupies. But Chuck Wicks had the cutest set of fans. With the exception of one man standing there with his wife, the front of the crowd was all female for rows back. Cute rows, for the most part: young and adorable. Though there was a handful of older women, myself included. One in particular was just embarrassing. She hung off the makeshift stage trying to flirt with the band, constantly trying to get their attention. "She was," as I said to the agreement of the young, cute girl standing next to me, "twenty years too old to be acting the way she was acting."
So Chuck Wicks sang and played for us for 45 minutes. Afterward, he did a meet & greet for anyone who stayed. I never go to those. But I suspect most of the other women did. They had been drooling over him the entire performance, telling him he was cute and that kind of thing. I'll admit I didn't see what the fuss was about. Sure, Chuck Wicks is very attractive in his professional photos and music videos, I'm not denying that. (Though I think he's gained some weight since then.) But in real life, if I passed him on the street, I wouldn't look twice. But I'm not a young woman with a crush; I just wanted to hear the music. When it comes to music, I'm too damned old to care if the singer's "cute" anymore. I care if they're good. (The worst local band in Pensacola has the cutest lead singer who wears tight clothes and shakes her boobs and booty --- I attribute their popularity to that as it's sure not the playing or the singing which is atrocious.) My preferred way of listening to live music is in a chair with my eyes shut so I can concentrate on the music. If you can't pass that test, I don't want to hear you no matter what you look like. Chuck Wicks would pass that test, though one day I'd like to hear him with proper electronic equipment.
Chuck Wicks Music Videos:
On the wall behind Chuck is a photograph of Fat Albert, the C-130 Hercules support aircraft for the Blue Angels.
To read more about the Blue Angels and Pensacola check out, "Red, White and Blues: The Pensacola Beach Airshow Featuring the Blue Angels."
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Matt Mason is this year's winner of CMT's Next Superstar, and I can see why. Not only is he a great singer, he's a terrific performer. High-energy. Enthusiastic. This is what you get when you get someone new. He actually came out before his set to pose for photos as well as doing a meet & greet afterward.
Since he's just gotten his big break ---- he only won Next Superstar last month, I can only hope Matt Mason isn't going to be overwhelmed and will keep his head straight. He's married and he's got religion, so those both ought to help keep him grounded. (I've heard of wearing your heart on your sleeve, but Matt Mason wears his religion on his arm; he had a cross tattooed on his left forearm.) It also should help that he only drank bottled water during his performance. That's a sensible decision to make: not giving into the "big party" lifestyle. Besides water's better for rehydrating anyway; alcohol actually dehydrates the body.
This was the concert where a few people brought children. But Matt kept his music and his language clean, except for one slip which he apologized for. (Yeah, Matt, you're not the first musician I've heard complain that the Nashville industry only cares about business and doesn't care about the music when it comes to the "music business.") It's always refreshing to hear a country singer that keeps things clean. I'm too young for some of those David Allan Coe songs, and I've been grown-up a long time.
In addition to country music cover songs (doing an impressive job on Johnny Cash standards), Matt Mason also played some of his original music. One of the songs was written in four hours when he was doing a homecoming show at a military base. I guess the title was "Smoke Your Ass" and it ought to be a hit; it has the elements country music fans love. A new single of his was "I Ran" (or maybe it was "I Run"), a lovely, romantic song. Out of the original songs he performed, I liked that one the best.
Luck was shining on me this night. Despite my camera not taking photos half the time I pressed the button, I still got a bunch of the best photos I've ever taken of a performance, far more than I included here. It also helped that Matt Mason is a good shoot. He provided a lot of good poses, though for a while I despaired of getting a shot with his eyes open.
Matt Mason performed for a straight two hours and closed the set with a rendition of "I've Been Everywhere" which just kept getting faster and faster. Fun. I suppose that's going to be his signature ending until he gets a big hit song of his own. I think that's just going to be a matter of time.
Matt Mason Music Video:
CMT's Next Superstar Finale "After Midnight"
When a friend asked me about what Matt Mason looked like, I said, "He has a nice smile. But he needs a shave."
Then I got out my camera and showed her some photos, and she agreed with me on both points.
This six year old is wearing a brace on his right calf. I had spoken with his grandmother.
He was born with multiple severe birth defects, mental and physical, and was never expected to be able to walk.
And he didn't walk.........he danced and danced and danced.
He was the most enthusiastic dancer at the show.
Matt brought him on stage and introduced him to the audience as proof of God's existence.
I find that kind of reasoning to be a fallacy.
Using it, the logical extension is that every baby that doesn't overcome birth defects and every baby that dies is proof that god doesn't exist.
The Christian trinity isn't about the giving of proof. It's about the asking of faith from its followers.
It's not a religion about proof. It's a religion about belief.
I wish its followers could grasp that concept instead of grasping for proof of the unprovable.
Though I did enjoy the gospel song Matt sang after setting him down.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Country music has a long tradition of turning out alcoholics: Keith Whitley, both Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones, etc; and, based on what I saw, Rhett Akins looks like he's going to be one of them if he isn't already. As they were setting up for Rhett Akins someone brought five bottles of Bud Light and placed them by his mic stand. I wondered why not a six pack, but Rhett had the sixth beer in his hand as he got up on stage. I counted nine beers he drank during that set. And those were just what I counted. I probably missed some as more beer kept being brought out on stage. (The band also drank, but it was two, maybe three beers, which is not excessive. Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks in two hours for a man.) I obviously don't know how much drinking, if any, Rhett had been doing before the show, but he made it clear he was going to keep drinking after the show as he stated they were going to come back out to the bar and keep partying. He made frequent comments during the show about being drunk, which the crowd just thought was funny and encouraged his drinking.
I don't know if Rhett Akins drinks like this every day or if it's just when he's playing. Even if it's just when he's playing, that means he's seriously binge drinking, what, two or three nights a week? That's a problem. This is not some college kid partying weekends during school in a stage of life the kid is going to grow out of. Rhett Akins is past 40. This is a middle-aged man. How many years has he been doing this? His entire music career? Since he was a teenager? (FYI: Alcohol dependency takes years to develop in adults. It can happen in months to a teenager. The teenage brain is particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse. Many an adult can trace the origins of their drinking problems to their teenage years.) If this man has people in his life that care about him and no one has pointed out to him that he's drinking excessively and might have a problem with alcohol, someone needs to. Now. Not that it will necessarily do any good. Addiction is very intractable. You can tell a drunk he's a drunk until you're blue in the face and he's not going to listen to you --- not unless he's ready to. But that doesn't mean you don't say it. If you care about the person, you say it.
And if anyone in Rhett Akins life does come across this and they've never thought about it, then try taking one of the quizzes on this page and answering the questions as if they are Rhett. Then go talk to him about it.
How Can I Tell If I Have a Drinking Problem?
Rhett Akins is a gifted songwriter, a good performer and a brilliant guitarist --- even drunk at the end of the night his playing was still sharp. He gave the best encore I've seen this year, and I'm a woman who can appreciate a genuine encore. He said he wanted to rock harder than anyone else who was going to be playing at Summer Country Jam so he kept playing.
Just because Rhett Akins is high functioning, doesn't mean there isn't a problem. There are functional addicts. Look at Kiefer Sutherland and his problems with alcohol ---- problems which landed him in jail, though he is high functioning enough that he arranged to serve his time when it wouldn't affect the production of "24." Or look at Charlie Sheen through his run on "Two and a Half Men;" he never missed a show. Dick van Dyke was another high functioning alcoholic. But even a functioning alcoholic can become non-functioning. A spectacular example of that, legendary even by Hollywood standards, is Jan-Michael Vincent who from 1984 to 1986 during the course of shooting the TV show "Airwolf" slipped from being functioning, a man who his co-star Ernest Borgnine described as being able to look at a page of script once and have it memorized, to being someone who had to be held up on set and required take after take to get a single line out.
And if you want a more recent example, look at Amy Winehouse. She was high functioning. She won multiple Grammys in the midst of her addiction. That's high functioning. But it didn't last. She literally drank herself to death.
As I said, country music has a long tradition of turning out alcoholics. If Rhett Akins is one, whether he's going to go down the path of Keith Whitley and Hank Williams, Sr. and be destroyed by it or follow the path of George Jones and Johnny Cash and overcome the problem, only time will tell.
Rhett Akins Music Videos:
Rhett Akins with Band
This was the first country music set I've ever seen where no one played an acoustic guitar.
Normally, if the lead singer plays any instrument, and male singers usually do, it's an acoustic guitar.
But Rhett Akins only played electric guitars.
Rhett Akins' drummer and bassist.
This was the bassist's last weekend playing with the band.
The audience wasn't the only one snapping photos. Even the band got into it.
The introduction for Tyler Reeve called him "outlaw country." But I appreciated the fact he started his set almost on time, the closest to on time as anyone so far. And I appreciated that he came out for a meet & greet before the show. Tyler Reeve is almost a local boy, hailing from nearby Mobile, Alabama, the next sizable town west of here.
I noticed for someone who's outlaw country that Tyler Reeve kept it clean to begin with saying 'heck' instead of 'hell' and using a rimshot to stand in for certain words. But four beers and a shot of whiskey later, he changed the lyrics of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" from 'son of a gun' to 'son of a bitch.' I don't know; I've never seen Charlie Daniels perform his signature song, that's probably what he sings live, and it was changed to 'son of a gun' for the radio. What was more surprising to me was seeing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" performed without a fiddle. I've seen a number of bands attempt this song and playing it must be a fiddler's equivalent of climbing Everest because usually they fail at it. (The only fiddler I've ever seen who could actually play it was Tracy Lawrence's.) So I'd rather hear it without a fiddle than hear it with another badly played fiddle ---- not that Tyler Reeve's band had a fiddle, though it had everything from a harmonica to a pedal steel guitar.
As you'd expect from an outlaw country singer there were a lot of songs about drinking.........I mean a lot of songs about drinking and drinking and even more drinking. When Tyler sang "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound," he brought a bottle of Jim Bean on stage and took a shot. (During the show, a couple of people from the audience jumped up on stage and helped themselves to the bottle.) Not surprisingly, his title track off his first album was about drinking, "Whiskey Down." He's got a new CD coming out in the next few weeks, and it's titled "One More Shot." Somehow I don't think that's about taking another chance, more like taking another drink. Plus there were songs about jail and ex-girlfriends. If the latter are true and not poetic license, this is not a man who remains friends with his exes. But that's all part of the image of outlaw country.
Tyler Reeve Music Video:
I noticed that Matt Mason and Rhett Akins both had jeans with holes in them, but even Rhett's weren't as bad as this.
When my jeans look like this I retire them to yardwork only.
I don't want to go back to the days of men decked out in rhinestones.
But is it too much to ask that a performer not wear jeans that look like they came out of the wrong end of 15 rounds with my weed whacker?
I don't want to see someone's jeans and be wondering if that's their pocket liner or their underwear. (It's underwear; you can tell by the red guitar.)
Call me old fashioned; the only time I want to see a guy's underwear is if I'm about to take it off of him.
Go to The Sounds of Pensacola: Summer Country Jam Part Two
For more about the Pensacola music scene, look in the Archive for "The Sounds of Pensacola" series including:
"Summer Salute IV" (country music featuring Craig Morgan)
"Bands on the Beach"
"Sunsets at Plaza de Luna"
"Sounds of Summer"