Bragg Jam: Michael Glabicki, Drive-By Truckers, Moonshine Still, Macon, GA- 7/31
The Macon, Georgia music scene makes many references to a rich history, but a bountiful horizon is, well, off in the distance so to speak. For every Little Richard, James Brown, and numerous incarnations of what ultimately became the Allman Brothers Band- a group that seems to be caught up in perpetual evolution, there aren't that many folks that felt the need, or better yet, were suited to fill the torch bearer's bill. I mean if the best that you've got is Moonshine Still, then get back to the drawing board. I don't mean to sound harsh, but I guess I'm still bitter that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame sits in Macon, and not my hometown of Athens. Our musical reputation measures up, and we're about 70 miles out of the way of Atlanta too.
That aforementioned murky horizon appears to be getting easier to roll on towards as hard working bands like Moonshine Still begin to carve a solid reputation in the deep South and abroad and passionate locals get behind events like this years Bragg Jam. I had the good fortune of participating in this ambitious pub-crawl of sorts, and in a stroke of unexpected good fortune I didn't have to do much crawling at all. Initially, I had intended to arrive in Macon solo and broke with a tent and some trail mix. Instead good friends from Atlanta decided to cut short a trip to the beach by a few days to become part of the Bragg Jam calamity. I later learned that it was Michael Glabicki's (Rusted Root) set that was the deciding factor and not just the company of yours truly- and that was good news, because it meant that the day would be about the music (unlike this review thus far).
The other bit of important good news was that the tent remained folded and my vacationing pals sprang for a super deluxe (for Macon) suite at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The Crowne was a co-sponsor of the event and reserved the hotel's ballroom (called Preservation Hall- but miles and kilometers from it's famed New Orleans namesake) for the likes of Mississippi's Shady Deal, a Widespread knock-off that are distancing themselves from Panic with every show they play- according to a knowledgeable fan I befriended in the neon lit mirrored confines of the hotel bar. Also on the bill in the ballroom that evening a band called Speakeasy, and my boys in, you guessed it Moonshine Still. Mmmm…pub-crawl. And I get to take an elevator to 316 when it's all said and done stumbling. The itinerary set and stomachs empty we headed out.
First stop CJ's a rubber stamped sports bar off the route that Chuck, the owner boasted was home to 13 TV's of various big ass sizes. Chuck is a former golf pro that always wanted to mix sports and music, a natural relationship in some respects- if you're talking about Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" or other arena crowd pleasers. However, Dale Jr's autographed hood on the wall in a venue where I'm about to see Michael Glabicki sing my Rusted Root favorites seemed a bit out of place. Not to worry kids, Glabicki was set to play on the outdoor stage in the roped off parking lot, in the shadow of the Exxon sign ($1.71/gallon) a stones throw from Interstate 75. There were beautiful beer girls slinging Terrapin and Mr. Glabicki dressed in black armed with a rack of gorgeous guitars and Root songs old and new. It was a late afternoon and the Macon crowd appeared to be of the late arriving variety, and a bit bashful. Not for lack of shade the crowd (which may have been outnumbered by the staff early on) preferred to hang back and chat- one pair of couples going so far, or low, as to unfold a towel and shoot the breeze while showing off vacation pictures. I admit it, I peaked, and I couldn't recognize one familiar landmark. It was either a place so remote and obscure that I was completely baffled, or a well-kept secret paradise- or a lame destination indeed. Not sure.
Glabicki didn't mind, and though a bit reserved, a mood influenced by situation and circumstance no doubt, he still delivered. It was as full a sound as I can remember hearing from just a man and a guitar. His kaleidoscopic strumming of the guitar and sometimes soaring sometimes brooding- and often exotic animal vocal tendencies made for a wonderful afternoon. "Food and Creative Love" was approaching the chorus when the crowd began to swell, and by the time he finished "Voodoo" complete with sounds I at first thought were coming from the treetops of the woods behind the stage, the beer girls could no longer sit on their hands and instead had to rely on their assets. "Rain" was wonderful in the sunlight and the new material he promised would be on the next Rusted Root record seemed consistently of a darker collar, with the exception of "Animals Love Touch" a song that was just downright peculiar. "Welcome to my party" he declares before telling a fascinating story of, essentially, a human being's animal instincts- we just love to be handled. As for the somber tone of the new material, maybe it was just me, or the solo acoustic dynamic, I can't be sure. Who knows what the Root do with these songs as a group. When you throw in guitars, female vocals, squeezebox, organs, tablas, and the kitchen sink, in that upbeat swap meet orchestra the results are always righteous.
After enjoying a gin and tonic in the sun, after all it was an outdoor summer show in the south and I might as well safeguard against malaria, the crew headed back to the hotel for room service cheeseburgers and a dose of the Speakeasy, before the main attraction.
The Speakeasy was right at home in the hotel's ballroom. They had all the appeal of a wedding band or the entertainment procured by a second tier sorority at a third rate college. Because the cheeseburgers were delivered with little sense of urgency we were off to a late start and thus had little time to change our mind about the Speakeasy sound. We were off, burgers in tow, on a brisk walk to 550 Blues an unashamed dive bar in the shadows of the overpass complete with broken popcorn machine in the rear and Pabst Blue Ribbon in cold bottles behind the bar. The Cigar Store Indians were wrapping up their set of bluesy rock with a rock-a-billy undercurrent. I liked what I heard from the Atlanta southern circuit veterans, and I hope they make it to Athens more often, but we were here for the Drive-By Truckers. It was the first time in a long while, since the Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day wowed critics and rednecks alike that I can remember the Truckers playing in such an intimate hole in the wall.
This evening was a thankful departure from the sanitized auditoriums (Augusta), too-swank nightclubs (Asheville), and big ole hippy fest stages (Langerado) I'd seen the DBT blast from already this year. I was ready for a fire code violation in a room without air conditioning amongst friends that dip and rarely shower. When a third of my crew decided that she'd prefer the friendly confines of room 316 over the heated hot box that was 550 (this was no place for a lady) I was left holding four beers in two hands. This prompted a fellow Drive-By aficionado to remark, "I like your style man." I didn't want to tell the story behind the beers so I said, "Thanks" and took a full tilt swig. My quasi-professional photographer ensured that our legal counsel got back to the hotel without harassment from the ticketless Bohemians hanging in the hallways and lobby of the Crowne. Without our attorney one would think that we'd be less inclined to act the fool. Not so fast my friends. The Truckers took the stage after appearing from thin air in the thick crowd. Believe it or not, like it or not the Bragg Jam schedule had another band slated to follow the Truckers. Poor Hank Vegas, he never stood a chance.
The DBT roared into a ninety-minute festival style set, and noticeably absent was the LOTS of new material the event guide had promised. No worries- instead we were treated to a healthy mix of the stuff we can expect on Dirty South including personal favorites "Putting People on the Moon" where Patterson Hood barks at the world of corporate horseshit and capped grin political posturing, and Cooley's ode to stock car racing, "Daddy's Cup" where you get the feeling Mr. Cooley a.k.a. the Stroker Ace, might could drive and wreck a few Hemi Cudas if he weren't casually stroking cheap guitars in low ceiling bars. Jason Isbell seems less and less in awe- wearing a little less of the baby faced wide wonder these days. He's gotten a haircut and some new shoes, but he can still spin Southern rock off axis all night. He's no longer the 'new guy' as Hood used to affectionately introduce him to the crowd as…he's a new breed cut from an old cast. He sauntered into the audience from a stage that was less than a half foot higher and soloed something firefly front porch wonderful during the rousing "Let There Be Rock" finale, in which Hood blew the intro, "Dropped acid Blue Oyster Cult concert, 14 years old and I thought them spiders were a, d'oh!" They took it from the top and proceeded to blow the roof of the narrow shotgun room. The 550 has a brick wall with a glossy lacquer and I swear I saw more than one beer bottle bounce, and a few others break against that wall as the Truckers quickly ducked outside to the parked van. Oddly enough, back at the hotel just a few moments later I ran into Mr. and Mrs. (bassist Shonna) Isbell and despite being a responsible journalist that, in hindsight had a stack of intelligent questions to ask and accolades to toss, proceeded to act like a tongue-tied fan. The best I could think of, "They used to call Jason the new guy Shonna, and I think they might get to calling you the thermometer…cuz at these awful hot shows you get so rosy and flushed." With the thermometer remark laying the foundation for a legacy I'll never outrun, I was off to catch the rest of Bragg Jam's native sons Moonshine Still.
Chandeliers on the ceiling and Scott Baston and the boys swallowed in a purple glow and disco ball swirl. This was a junior high dance and a Moonshine Show was threatening to break out. I danced in a happy oblivion as the crowd thinned because the groove was eluding the guys on stage just as the vibe eluded the revelers. David Shore tried his best to melt faces, never phoning it home- but never quite as dialed in as I'd experienced in the past. It became more fun for the Bragg Jam patrons to see and be seen in the hotel bar, or room hop between bands and parties, than continue the charade in the ballroom. I watched the set and forgot the cover I recognized and originals I have become familiar with through the years- as the story and specifics (and note taking) became less important. Just dance a bit more- there's a quick elevator ride home, and a bartender ready with a cocktail for the road- and in the morning a forgiving swimming pool can be used in lieu of shower to reinvigorate the soul and cleanse the lingering funk.