What Are You Thankful for in the St. Louis Music Community?

Categories: Farm Aid, Fiesta!

I am ripping this idea off wholesale from my pal Jason over at the Pitch: Since A to Z is off for the holiday weekend, this here blog's going to be a bit quieter. So chime in below: What are you most thankful for in the St. Louis music community?

But as Jason clarifies, the catch to this post? No self-promotion. You can be thankful for yourself all you want in the comfort of your own home, but for this post's purpose, chime in with other musicians, venues, people and stuff you're thankful for. Give some attention to the people you dig and appreciate, who might not always get the recognition or props they deserve.

Anything's game! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Watch Farm Aid Online -- But Act Fast!

Categories: Farm Aid
Photo: Todd Owyoung
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. See more photos from Farm Aid.
Through the rest of the week, you can watch Farm Aid for free  via its website, right here. (After that, it'll be available only if you're a member.) Watch along as you read through our comprehensive coverage! (Oh yes- - those photos here and above are by Todd Owyoung.)

Show Review + Setlist: John Mellencamp at Farm Aid, October 4

John Mellencamp and his crack band may have stolen the show at Farm Aid. The Seymour, Indiana, native opened his nine-song set with slower versions of "Pink Houses" and "Paper in Fire." The youthful intensity Mellencamp exuded when he called himself Johnny Cougar has smoldered into a slower-burning passion, as exemplified in the latter song during the chorus. Multiple members of his band lined up near the front of the stage like a marching-band squad, their voices swelling in a riotous call to arms.

That a communal spirit permeated Mellencamp's songs should be no surprise: Guitarist Mike Wanchic has been a Coug collaborator for thirty-plus years and guitarist Andy York is also a long-term band member. Their versatility was more impressive, however. Mellencamp's nicotine-stained voice cut through "If I Die Sudden," which had a shuffling, Texas honky-tonk feel, while "Troubled Land" sailed forward on a plush organ bed. And of course, Miriam Sturm's nimble violin dominated the chestnut "Check It Out," and she and accordionist/keyboardist Troye Kinnett played an instrumental mini-symphony before an awe-inspiring version of "Rain on the Scarecrow."

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Review + Setlists: Phosphorescent, Will Dailey, Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, Lukas Nelson, Jamey Johnson at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

The 24th annual Farm Aid started with the old-school gospel quartet harmonies of the Blackwood Brothers and enough warm sunshine to persuade all the family farms in Missouri -- the Show Me State has the second highest number of farms in the Union -- that their summer work is far from over. What Willie says, goes -- as much for the weather as for the capacity crowd of old-timers, outlaw-wannabes, fraternal DMB dudes, free-range hippies, redneck women, corporate weasels and children regaled in anti-factory farm merch. Now if Willie could just get rid of the ever-dominant, sub-homegrown concession stands at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater.

1:18 p.m.: The first "I Love You Willie!" of the day rang out as the president and founder of Farm Aid (which was started after a tip from Bob Dylan) introduced the day's second act, Phosphorescent. The mopespheric Americana band from Brooklyn, New York, recently released a tribute CD to Nelson that's a solid listen, even if you don't have any homegrown at hand. Dressed in the day's uniform -- plaid, flannel, black or grey -- and one long coat from Dennis "McCloud" Weaver's closet, the sextet was surprisingly lively, turning in three songs (that's all the openers would get) that sounded by turns like G-Rated Bonnie Prince Billy and outtakes from Wilco's Being There. The band ended with "Reasons to Quit," a Merle Haggard song sweetened by the first of Nelson's ritual guest appearances.

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Review + Setlist + Videos: Neil Young at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

John Mellencamp's introduction -- directed toward what still-sizable crowd remained after Dave Matthews had left the building -- reminded that Neil Young has been with Farm Aid since the start. He remains the cantankerous old crank the event needs. The death-by-progress of American agriculture is no joke. In a straw fedora, flannel shirt and red "Stop Factory Farms" tee, he looked ready for a desperate protest. "We need our farms back!" he shouted, and then launched into an initially lurching, then gliding "Sail Away."

(video link found via Thrasher's Wheat)

Backed by pedal steel and slide guitar legend Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham on delicate electric piano, along with wife Pegi on harmonies and a grizzled rhythm section of Rick Rosas and Karl Himmel, Young made the most of the largely acoustic eight-song set, relishing the tranquil twelve-string beauty of "Already One," and the folksy stomp of "Field of Opportunity" and "Homegrown." On the latter, he called out Willie, who strapped on Trigger for a duel with "Old Black," Neil's equally iconic Les Paul Special. Nelson gave the face-off his best, but never quite found the right openings in the ramshackle groove.

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Show Review + Setlist: Willie Nelson at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

As he took the stage for the festival-closing set, Willie Nelson was introduced over the loudspeaker as the "President of Farm Aid." Sure enough, he is the president of the board of directors. But if Farm Aid (either the concert or the non-profit) were run like a Willie Nelson concert, we wouldn't be celebrating the show's 24th anniversary. The wheels would have come off long ago.

A Willie Nelson show is loose, shambling and, at times, barely coherent. Luckily, it's also a tour of American music guided by one of its finest practitioners, a first-class songwriter and country music's first iconoclast.

Kicking off with "Whiskey River," Nelson and his band shuffled through nearly 20 songs that touched on folk, blues, jazz, rock and gospel, often in the same song. With his trusty, decrepit guitar Trigger strapped around his neck, Willie sets his own tempo and key signature, sometimes strumming erratically and sometimes tearing off a tear-jerking guitar solo.

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Show Review + Setlist: Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

This has been noted before, but Dave Matthews fans are a funny bunch. Funny, but dedicated. Upon arriving at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater parking lot, I traipsed by several tail-gaters blaring DMB tunes and drinking beer a good six hours before Dave's set. Did they realize that his set would be all acoustic and contain only traces of the frenetic, jam-heavy vibes that made him a concert mega-star? Would they care?

For Farm Aid 2009, Matthews paired with longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds for a seven-song set of spare but forceful renditions of old and new numbers. Matthews, clad in jeans and blue Oxford shirt, sounded a little hoarse and froggy at times but shared his rambling, dry sense of humor with the crowd.

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Review + Setlist: Wilco at Farm Aid, October 4, 2009

Fellow RFT writer Christian Schaeffer made a salient observation about Wilco during its Farm Aid set: Seeing the band in a festival setting is an entirely different experience than seeing it in a club. Compared to the band's three-night Pageant stand last year, this was certainly the case. Those shows had no shortage of raucous moments, but yesterday's set was loose and raw - more like the tightest jam session you'll ever see than a well-orchestrated gig.

Now, this isn't to say that the six-song set was a mess. It was quite the opposite, in fact, starting with a stunning version of "Bull Black Nova," from this year's Wilco (The Album). Mixing Television's ringing chord repetition with Tweedy's gruff-soul man vocals - and a crashing, unison chorus which underscored the band's tightness -- the song kept building and building in intensity and volume as it progressed, culminating in a hurricane of noise: Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt and guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone pounding out shrieking riffs and masterminding effects. The look on Tweedy's face during this section was bulldog-ferocious and intense - making him seem like the kind of man you'd be scared to meet if you saw him in a dark alley.

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Show Review + Setlist: Jason Mraz at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

It's not a stretch to call Jason Mraz the hottest act at Farm Aid 2009. He may not have the legacy of Willie or the hipster cachet of Wilco, but Mraz's star is still on the rise and seems to show no sign of dimming.

Mraz's continued climb to the top, however, is accompanied by a healthy dose of maturity. His songs are always upbeat, but there's a communal consciousness and a holistic spirituality just beneath the good-time vibes. Mraz made his intentions known with his first song, a slightly downtempo version of his hit, "The Remedy." His vocals carried a more soulful payload than the radio version, and the tension crescendoed with the appearance of a horn trio, which gave the song a Latin tinge to go along with the reggae-light upstrokes.

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Show Review + Setlist: Ernie Isley & the Jam Band at Farm Aid, Sunday, October 4

Ernie Isley's appearance at Farm Aid was a coup on two fronts: Not only was he the only current St. Louis resident to take the stage, he was the only African-American to headline a set. Indeed, Isley was the only marquee name at the festival that can't be shoe-horned in the broad country-folk-roots category: He's a first-class rock & roll guitarist from a family known for soul, funk and smooth R&B.

These days Ernie is the last man standing from the legendary Isley Brothers (lead singer Ronald is nearing the end of the three-year prison term for tax evasion), and the Farm Aid set provided the biggest stage for Ernie's musical reinvention from sideman to lead singer. Backed by the three-member Jam Band (comprised of local musicians), he opened with "Rising from the Ashes" from his 1990 solo record High Wire, displaying the creamy and urgent guitar tone that helped define the Isley sound. Even with a short set -- early performers' set lengths seemed to average about 15 minutes -- Ernie brought out his bag of tricks, playing the guitar behind his back and plucking the strings with his teeth to the delight of the small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the first few rows.

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