By: Derek Jung
Acclaimed progressive folk singer-songwriter Ryley Walker returned to Cincinnati for the first time since his much talked about performance at Midpoint Music Festival in 2015 at Woodward Theater. Performing for a crowd of about 35 people, the trio wasted no time slipping into some long, heavy jams. Those jams would be the focus of the set, and the ebb and flow of each song relied heavily on the mood set by the intro jam. In that way, the night was spent covering the highlights from their latest release, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. I was very impressed to hear how their songs have evolved in a live setting to fill every nook and cranny of the audible spectrum. Songs like "The Halfwit In Me" were transformed by the jam into a wall of sound using guitar triplets from Walker and the second guitarist. The jazz-styled drumming led the way and I found myself mesmerized by his fluidity of playing. The chorus of "Roundabout" popped much more so than on the album version, and it highlighted the quiet/loud dynamics of the song structure. I was happy to hear that Ryley's dry humor translates well from his lyrics to his live personality as well. The band cracked a few jokes in between songs, and Ryley boasted his love for the giant Bearcat Pizzas from Adriatico's.
I was a little disappointed that their set was only around 45 minutes long, but with a smaller crowd on a Monday night, I don't blame them for keeping it short and sweet. Hopefully we will hear some new material from Ryley this year.
Check out a live performance of "The Halfwit In Me" from the World Cafe below.
By: Derek Jung
When you're the number one top selling country artist of all time, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. So when Garth Brooks announced that he was retiring from recording and touring in 2001 to focus on his family, no one could do anything about it. Even so, he continued to sell millions of albums and fans were eager to hear any news of his return to music. In 2009 he teased fans with a residency in Las Vagas to test the waters of returning to full time touring, and in the Fall of 2014 he began his official comeback tour. Fast forward another two plus years and Brooks and his longtime backing band made their triumphant return to Cincinnati. Saturday night was the opening night of a five night, two weekend slot at US Bank Arena, and the band sounded in mid-tour mode. Probably because they were.
The hype machine for Garth Brooks is pretty legendary in terms of drumming up excitement, support, and (of course) ticket sales. His comeback tour was already on track to surpass the record for highest grossing tour of all time (currently held by U2) when the shows were announced in Cincinnati. Local news outlets had a field day, and the coverage only grew in intensity as shows started selling out. New dates were added and the number of shows in town quickly grew to five, the same number of nights that he played nearly two decades ago. That level of artist loyalty is incredible, but the band definitely made it sound like Cincinnati's five nights were special, something certainly outside the norm, and communicated in such a way to make Cincinnati fans feel like they were more dedicated than other cities. A cursory glance at their tour schedule, however, proves quite the opposite. Most tour stops include anywhere between four and seven shows, and some cities doubled showtimes on the same day. Even Columbus, Ohio has six shows of their own. This kind of fan ego stroking by the band rubs me the wrong way, but boy oh boy did the Cincinnati crowd eat it up.
The format of the show was a bit odd. There were two unannounced openers that performed three or four songs. After each finished, an advertisement for their new album was projected and announced for the crowd. These were very safe, stereotypical pop country artists, and for someone familiar with the music industry, it felt very much like a pitch from the industry to hype up a few new artists on the label. Hard pass on that one, folks.
Garth and his band came on stage to one of the loudest roars from a crowd that I have ever heard. I had to put in earplugs, not because the band was too loud, but because the crowd was overpowering. Garth ate up that energy and ripped into a greatest hits type setlist, with only a few songs from his new album, Gunslinger. The crowd knew every word to nearly every song, and many times Garth would chuckle to himself or comment "wow" when seemingly the entire arena belted the songs in unison word for word. It was truly a sight to behold, but I expect Brooks' amazement was more showmanship than real, because I'm sure every city sounds exactly like we did. Unless he thought Cincinnati was going to be terrible. Which, to be fair, we sometimes are.
The band was a perfect example of what to do with an open stage. I really enjoyed how band members moved all around the stage. Every angle got a great view at some point, and they mixed it up just enough to keep things entertaining. My seat was towards the backside of the stage, and I felt like they were great seats. I got to sit down close, and had a fantastic perspective of the band performing to the larger portion of the audience on the front side of the stage. They were also a good example of how crowd hyping can be too much for a band. Every single member spent time in between songs pointing at people in the crowd, yelling, and fist pumping or gesturing to make more noise. The drummer would even come out of his little ball and wave a towel around. Yes, I get that energy is important, but it felt more like cheerleaders at a sports game than professional musicians at a show. And when it's done nearly every song, it gets old and worn out quickly. To be fair I feel the same way when bands have hypemen, but having it come from actual band members just felt excessive.
Some would argue that all of my complaints here are very nitpicky, and they most certainly are. But I would counter that Garth Brooks is one of the biggest artists of the last half century and should be held to a higher standard than most performers of lesser stature and reputation. All of these complaints aside, the show was phenomenal, the energy and passion exceeded my expectations and I would definitely see him again if the opportunity arose. Garth is still the king of pop country and there's no one even close.
By: Derek Jung
The National guitarist Bryce Dessner once again put together a diverse and eclectic lineup for the 11th installment of his MusicNOW Festival, which takes place every year in various locations around downtown Cincinnati. This year, the festival kicked off with a performance by legendary rhythm guitarist and founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. Dessner and the rest of The National are fresh off the release of their massive 10 LP collaborative box set of Grateful Dead covers (which, if you haven't listened to it yet, it is stunning), so it wasn't surprising that Dessner tapped Weir to perform. Weir himself released Blue Mountains last fall, which was his first album of all original material in nearly 30 years.
Weir came out alone on stage to begin the first of two sets, diving straight into the aforementioned Blue Mountains accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar. Weir's voice, strained with age, echoed wonderfully off the enormous Aronoff Center facade. Before long, Weir was joined by "The Campfire Band", or Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf of The National as well as Jon Shaw from Shakey Graves and Josh Kaufman, who co-produced Blue Mountains. Vocalist Lisa Hannigan also contributed her beautiful voice to a few songs, including "Lay My Lily Down" during the first set and "Peggy-O" during the second. The setlist was pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of solo material from Blue Mountains and classic Grateful Dead songs. The jams were adventurous, but for the most part did not stray away from a defined structure, with Weir physically signaling to the group when he wanted to transition. Some of those transitions were a bit clunky, but I'll attribute this more to not having years and years of experience with each other.
The crowd was a pleasant mix of older Dead Head stoners, and young people. It was amusing watching the terrified looks slowly grow on the Aronoff Center ushers' faces as the unmistakable aroma of marijuana grew heavier as the show went on. I think it's safe to say that more weed was smoked that night than has even been smoked in the theater before. But it was mood spoiler during the second set when ushers got strict with any suspected puff of smoke or cell phone light. You'd think the Aronoff Center would have anticipated the crowd would be lighting up.
All in all, another great act put on by MusicNOW. The show was well attended for a Thursday night, and I was happy to see a crowd so engaged and enthusiastic. We owe Dessner quite a bit for bringing such great collaborative music to Cincinnati, and we need to be sure that it continues well into the future.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: