Mar 122018
led zeppelin tribute concert

Last Wednesday night, City Winery and Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf staged his 14th “Music Of” charity tribute show at Manhattan’s venerable Carnegie Hall. After similar tributes to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to R.E.M., this time the honoree was Led Zeppelin. Dorf’s formula involves bringing in a killer house band and complementing them with a mix of moderately-to-well known artists who are typically passionate about the honoree. The sold out show survived a nor’easter and it doesn’t get much better than sitting on the plush seats of the acoustically perfect hall listening to twenty great renditions from the Mighty Zep catalog.

Most of the performances have found their way to YouTube (in varying sound quality). Here’s a look at some of the highlights: Continue reading »

Jan 252017
leonard cohen tribute

Last night, Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg held an epic Leonard Cohen tribute show, bringing together Cohen’s peers and younger admirers for a 22-song blowout of tribute covers. From a killer instrumental opener of “Hallelujah” by Delicate Steve – a smart move, getting that out of the way up front with a left-field guitar version that doesn’t attempt to compete with Jeff Buckley – the sold-out crowd sang along to Cohen many profound lyrics, and a few of his profound ones too (Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group led a rousing holler through Cohen’s dumbest song, “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On”).

Many of performers had personal Cohen stories to share. “I met Leonard Cohen at a BBC session in 1967 – but I can’t remember anything about it,” Richard Thompson quipped, while Josh Ritter told a yarn about chasing Cohen down an alley backstage only to run headfirst into a truck and miss his once chance. Richard’s son Teddy Thompson recalled Cohen once asking him what he was working on. When he replied that he was making a country album, Cohen said cryptically, “I went country myself, once…” Thompson then covered one of Cohen’s most country songs, “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” Continue reading »

Aug 302016

A few months back, Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium hosted two star-studded tribute concerts to Bob Dylan to celebrate his 75th birthday. Kesha performing “I Shall Be Released” was the big news-maker as her first high-profile performance during her ongoing legal battle, but many other members of country and Americana royalty also took the stage for an amazing couple nights. The full thing was webcast, but it hasn’t been archived anywhere, so if you missed that you were stuck with grainy YouTube videos – until now. We’ve got every song to stream below (except Kesha, which wasn’t webcast, presumably for legal reasons). For the first time since that night, you can hear pristine recordings of Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Kurt Vile, Emmylou Harris, Butch Walker, Wynonna Judd, Boz Scaggs, Langhorne Slim, John Paul Williams of the Civil Wars, Ann Wilson of Heart, and more covering their favorite Dylan songs, many for the first time ever. Continue reading »

Aug 152016

Preparing for this past weekend’s “Day of the Dead” concert – the all-star band rendition of The National-lead Grateful Dead tribute album of the same name at Bon Iver’s Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin – I interviewed a handful of involved artists and kept asking a question that no one knew exactly what to do with. My question: “Given the legacy of the Dead as a live band, what is going to be different about playing these covers live, as opposed to recording them for a tribute album?”

After a thoughtful silence that may have been tinged with a little bit of puzzlement, everyone said something about it being a terrific opportunity to harness the additional energy of having a live crowd.

“No [it’s not going to be harder],” Megafaun’s Phil Cook told me, “mostly because people are just stoked as shit to hear a Dead cover. Whenever people in the audience recognize it, they just lose their shit. They’re so happy that you’re doing it. It’s a completely welcome enterprise.” Continue reading »

Aug 082016

Last July, I drove three hours to meet my brother in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for the inaugural Eaux Claires festival. Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner, and Michael Brown — the festival’s co-creators — were explicit about their desire to challenge the festival format, one typically designed to gather bands like vendors hawking wares at a marketplace in such a way that explicitly and implicitly pits them against one another, reinforcing genre differences and emphasizing the consumption of music more than its creation and enjoyment.

To those ends, Eaux Claires creators and designers set out to dissolve some of the barriers that typically separate the people who make art from the people who witness it. Festival goers were encouraged to engage with art installations, to experience performance in three interactive and innovative domes, and to journal about their experiences in field guides that were distributed upon admission. Likewise, performers were encouraged to jettison the sorts of festival behaviors expected of rock stars, to collaborate, to take risks, and to be fans of each other. Given my pet theory that covers are such a specific musical pleasure precisely because they become sonic artifacts that merge the roles of making and enjoying art, I expected the creators’ interest in similar mergers to create a fertile ground for covers and collaborations that changed songs in some of the same way covers do.

Continue reading »

Jul 022012

One of the hottest bands in the bluegrass and jamband scene, Greensky Bluegrass never seem to stop touring. As evidenced by their three appearances at last week’s  Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the band is working hard in support of their latest release, Handguns. Continue reading »