Scott Murawski and A Milestone for Max Creek
Photo by Larry Hulst
Max Creek will commemorate its 40th anniversary with a three show run that opens tonight in Simsbury, Connecticut at the Old Well. From there the band heads to New York City for a Friday night performance at Sullivan Hall and then to Pawtucket, Rhode Island for a Saturday night gig at The Met. Looking ahead, on August 5-7 the group’s Camp Creek festival will return after a two year absence, moving from Mariaville, NY to Oxford, ME. In the following conversation Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski discusses the ongoing evolution of the band’s music (including its decision to eschew a setlist these days) as well as the history of Camp Creek. This interview took place a couple days after Murawski returned from the Wanee Festival, where he not only performed his regular role in Mike Gordon’s group but he also appeared with the Allman Brothers Band during “Mountain Jam.” The following conversation explores these experiences as well as his partnership with Bill Kreutzmann and Oteil Burbridge in BK3.
You just appeared with the Allman Brothers Band at Wanee. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about and what the experience was like?
It was pretty intense. Every time I go to see the Allman Brothers, Oteil will ask me to sit in, which is very nice of him. The first two times I sat in, I sat in on “You Don’t Love Me,” and got a couple of solos. But this time they had me sit in on the last song of the night, “Mountain Jam,” which was really kind of stretchy. I got to lead a little bit of it for a while. So that was pretty intense, pretty crazy. I remember being a teenager and looking at the Live At Filmore East album cover and looking at the picture of those guys on the back…and then being up there and turning around, seeing Jaimoe and Butch and looking over and seeing Gregg Allman give me the eyeball, it was kind of freakish. I had to not get caught up in the intensity of it.
In terms of being thrown into “Mountain Jam,” does the band give you a sense of where they want you to go or how it’s all going to come together?
It’s interesting. It’s kind of a freeform thing, especially at first. They just kind of jam around without really any sort of beat or whatever and then they kind of break into the beat and the melody. And Derek and Warren, they do the classic “Mountain Jam” head of the thing and then it’s basically solo time where Derek takes one and leads the jam for a while. There was a sax player [Kebi Williams] and they gave it to him for a while and then they gave it to me for a while. It’s basically one chord. It’s all in the key of E, so you can just go off and do whatever. So it was interesting. I tried to start mellow and build it up to some sort of intensity level that I’m used to.
You’d played the festival before, right?
Yes, in fact Max Creek played the first Wanee festival (2005). And then I played another Wanee too, with BK4 (2009).
In terms of Creek playing there the first year, what are your memories of that experience?
I remember Oteil’s band played before us. And I thought that was kind of bizarre because his band was ridiculously good. And it was the first time I’d met Oteil. We talked very briefly for a few minutes and I think that might have been the first time I met Warren and talked to him for a few minutes as well and got to hang out backstage and watch the Allman Brothers for a while. It was the first time I’d been backstage watching the Allmans, so that was pretty cool. It was the first Wanee, so it wasn’t as well attended as it is now. It was still pretty good but not as jam-packed as it is now. Now it’s massive down there.
Segueing to your own Camp Creek, how would you compare the spirit or vibe with Wanee?
I would say there are similarities. You know there’s definitely an Allman Brothers family vibe going on at that festival similar to the Max Creek vibe. One interesting aspect about that venue is there are two stages. There’s the main stage, which is huge and opens into a huge field and then there’s what they call the mushroom stage, which is like the secondary stage. But I prefer the secondary stage, having played on both. The secondary stage is on the other end of the field and then you go into the woods a little bit. It’s kind of a natural amphitheater in the woods on a natural slope that they’ve cleared out. They put seating in to some extent but they left the trees. And the trees have all that lichen hanging down, so it’s a very cool vibe. Comparing it to Camp Creek I would say the family vibe is similar as far as that goes. The Allman Brothers are very generous as far as letting people sit in and stuff, so there is a lot of mix it up type stuff between the musicians where everybody sits in with everybody else. Very cool.
When I think of Camp Creek, or even just Max Creek and your community of fans, the word that comes to mind is family. While I think that term is overused, I really think it applies here. Looking back, to your mind, how do you account for this?
I’m not sure, except that the philosophy of the band really is tolerance. Way back in the 70s when we first started out, we came up with this kind of mission statement before mission statements were really popular. We came up with the mission statement as Max Creek being this place where you can come create in any way shape or form that you want to and not be judged for it. And that extended to the audience too.
So that’s kind of been the philosophy the whole time and I think people feel that from us. It certainly is that way within the band, where whatever I want to do, whatever song I want to bring in, however I want to play a song on a particular given night, there’s pretty much no argument there. And that’s true for anybody else. Anybody brings anything in and everybody’s very open to creativity. And I think that vibe of acceptance and tolerance kind of extends to the audience, where obviously we get some pretty freakish people that come and see us play but they can come there and they’re pretty much accepted. And I think that’s what’s kind of established the whole family thing in the first place. Just come and create. You have a home here. If you want to be creative, there’s a home for you here.
I also think the Max Creek bulletin board on your homepage was an antecedent to a lot of things that happened on the web.
Yeah I agree with that. The nature of the bulletin board was that there were no categories and no threads, it was all just one message after another in order as they came through the door. People had talked about wanting to do threaded message boards and I fought tooth and nail against that because of the sense of community that the message board seemed to offer, more so than a threaded board where you can pick and choose the discussion. With the Creek board being one dimensional, you were just thrown in and that’s what you saw. And people were on there every day. They would go to work, log into the message board and say, “Good morning.” Even before Facebook and MySpace, there was some sort of social network that was going on there that established this community spirit.