By: Derek Jung
As festival season approaches, I always look to free up my schedule of potential festival conflicts by seeing artists in advance. G. Love & Special Sauce is playing Bunbury Music Festival in June, which both Joseph and I are attending. Usually, major festivals have radius clauses for bands that are scheduled to play, meaning they cannot play another show within a determined number of miles and within a certain span of time around the festival. Because of this, I was surprised to see G. Love on the bill of a birthday party scheduled at Madison Live!, which is located right across the river from where Bunbury will be happening in a mere month and a half. The show was advertised as "Kurt's First Annual Birthday Bash" rather than G. Love & Special Sauce, and it was not listed on G. Love's website, which may have been a clever loophole if there was a radius clause in their contract, but I certainly wasn't complaining either way. The way I saw it, I was seeing them in a much more intimate venue, seeing a much longer set than I would see at Bunbury, and if I didn't like them, I could easily skip their set in June. I had nothing to lose.
The trio of G. Love (lead singer, guitarist, harmonica), Jeff Clemens (drums), and Jim Prescott (upright bass), have been at it for most of the past two decades. Their self-titled debut, released in 1994, is to this day their most popular album. Their newest album, Love Saves The Day, was released last year on Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. I'll admit to being completely unfamiliar with the vast majority of their discography outside of their self-titled, so I went into their set mostly blind. For some artists it can lead to a show filled with sonic surprises, and for others you'll regret not "getting it". For me, my first G. Love experience was somewhere in the middle.
Considering this was a glorified birthday party, I was curious as to how many of the attendees were actually fans of G. Love. The band has an almost cult-like following in many areas, especially here in the Midwest. For the most part, I'd say Kurt's friends either already liked G. Love or became fans during their two set, nearly three hour performance. Or maybe they were all drunk, high, or both - who's to judge?
There's a comfort level that comes with playing your hits over the years like G. Love & Special Sauce has, and there's a fine line to walk between comfort and staleness. For the few songs that I was familiar with from the self-titled album, I think they nailed the sweet spot with an additional dose of charm and suavity. Jim Prescott is a downright monster on the upright bass and I think he'd be spinning that sucker around if he had just a little more room on the small Madison Live! stage. G. Love's smooth lyrical delivery and gritty harmonica playing were a nice juxtaposition, and the bluesier songs on the set were a welcome change of pace to the rest of the set and something that I did not expect at all. I wish they had played more in that style, but what they did play was great. All in all, it was a very enjoyable set.
Now comes the tough decision of whether or not I'll check out their set at Bunbury. Oh festival season...
Happy birthday Kurt! Can't wait to see who you bring for The 2nd Annual Kurt's Birthday Bash.
Check out a full set video of G. Love at the 2015 Pleasantville Music Festival.
By: Derek Jung
The husband and wife duo of Shovels & Rope have been a part of my life since before their debut album, O' Be Joyful was released in 2012. I was working at my family's RV dealership at the time and the couple spent the better part of two days in the store buying their touring RV. Since then, I've had the pleasure of seeing them three times, and each time the two have been just as kind, appreciative, and polite on stage as they are in person. Seeing their popularity rise through the years has been gratifying for me personally, because it feels good to see such good people find success.
Personalities aside, their debut album was one of my favorites of 2012, mixing folk, americana, country, and bluegrass together with some great harmonies. Their sophomore album, Swimmin' Time, kept the same formula, but didn't have the same magic as their debut, which was fine in my book because it added some solid, upbeat songs to their live repertoire. Last year, they released a collaborative album, entitled Busted Jukebox, Volume 1, artists like Shaky Graves, Lucius, and J Roddy Walston and the Business, but none of those songs were performed live on this particular night.
Madison Theater was sold out, but with a lowered capacity because a number of chairs were set out on the middle level. Even so, the band was pleasantly surprised to see a rock concert atmosphere, and they mentioned this on multiple occasions. Apparently their tour had been, up to that point, in quiet listening rooms, nothing like the audience that night. It had been nearly five months since the band had been on the road; Cary Ann and Michael had just welcomed their first child together in September of last year, and you could tell there was a little bit of performing rust that needed to be shaken off to, as they say, "turn it up to 11". After a few songs, they fell right into their normal rhythm, switching instruments every few songs and rotating in a small keyboard to supplement their beat-to-hell drum kit. They also performed two new songs, "San Andres Fault Line Blues" and a song with a small accordion, which unfortunately was not very audible in the mix. I'll be listening intently for the former once studio versions of these songs are released.
The chemistry and sensuality of the couple hasn't dulled a bit since I last saw them live. The two shared a mic on a few occasions, sweat dripping from Michael's brow onto Cary Ann - yuck! - and they seemingly had an sixth sense in knowing what the other was doing on stage, a testament to their collective talents and also how long they've been performing with each other. For a band that, at first glance, looks like they belong in a dive bar in the South Carolina back country, their enthusiasm has captured the hearts of so many across the country, and they show no signs of stopping any time soon. Shovels & Rope are not to be missed.
Check out a video below of the couple performing on PBS Bluegrass Underground
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: