Devon Gilfillian rocks the midnight hour at The Cabin
When Father John Misty’s set ends at midnight, ambitious fans can still go just down the street and catch the last half hour of Devon Gilfillian at The Cabin. This 40-plus-minute sequence turns out to be quite a bonus as the alternative/indie Philadelphian soul man rocks a stellar version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to grab the attention of the late crowd (and he even re-recorded the entire album in 2020 as a project to raise funds around that year’s election to provide resources and education around the democratic process.)
He then delivers an endearing rant where he speaks about “this crazy ass world”, saying “We gotta come together… and once we do that, I think we can get there.” He adds that people shouldn’t watch Fox News and that he’d like to see Tucker Carlson get eaten by a shark. This leads into a heartfelt newer song titled “Love You Anyway” about trying to look past our differences.
An a cappella rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” soon follows, with Gilfillian coming out onto the club’s floor to sing it. Then he gets back up on stage, grabs his guitar, and leads the band through a smoking blues jam on a Led Zeppelin-style “I Should Have Quit You”, with a “Lemon Song” jam to boot. Suffice it to say that this portion of the set made quite an impression.
Celisse speaks out on “Shattering the Image”, then rocks out at the club
Singer-songwriter/lead guitarist Celisse impresses with a larger-than-life vibe in her labs, before wowing attendees at O.P. Rockwell with a blistering set from her power trio. Interviewed by music journalist Marissa R. Moss on the topic of redefining “the long-standing and stereotypical image of rock’s lead guitarists”, Celisse is amazed when she reveals that she only started playing guitar nine years ago. “What’s so incredible about the guitar is that there are a million ways to come at it,” she explains. “You have a way to say something that nobody else does.”
The topic of her role backing guitarist Trey Anastasio pops up since Celisse first came onto the radar of many music fans as a backing vocalist for Phish’s Halloween 2016 performance of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, then toured with Anastasio in the same role for his Ghosts of the Forest project in 2019. She says there’s an unwritten rule with Anastasio that “you just have to be available for the moment” and be willing to follow along and go where he wants to go. She adds that playing with keyboardist Jon Baptiste is similar. Celisse lights up when she speaks of blues pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, noting that Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Little Richard all spoke of growing up listening to her and black women like herself were always there. “I’m standing on her shoulders,” Celisse says. As to her music having a socially conscious edge, she says it wasn’t what she set out to do but that it just kind of happened. “Part of what opens the doors are people like me who are willing to bust the door down,” she says.
Celisse plays at O.P. Rockwell on Thursday evening, in between the sets from Jeremy Ivey and Warren Haynes. She goes full electric though, getting the room rocking on a song about “a bad boyfriend”. Her song “Lost” goes deeper, with an ambient psychedelic intro before building into a jam that features a powerful vocal solo of sorts. An incendiary cover of Bill Withers’ funk classic, “Use Me” provides one of the week’s peak moments, with a hot jam that has the whole room grooving. The funky grooves continue with “Under the Covers”, as it becomes clear that Celisse is ready to rock anytime, anywhere.
Warren Haynes, blues troubadour
Renowned rock ‘n’ roll bluesman Warren Haynes is another artist whose set at O. P. Rockwell on Thursday night is preceded by a revealing lab titled “Soulshine” earlier in the day, where he answers questions about his prolific career from broadcast journalist Anthony Mason. Haynes notes that he hadn’t been off the road since he was 15, until the pandemic when he wound up using the time to make two Government Mule records (the second of which will be out next year.) Playing with David Allan Coe led to meeting the Allman Brothers Band and jamming with Dickey Betts since they were friends of Coe’s. Betts soon invited Haynes to work on writing some songs for a solo album, which eventually led to Haynes joining the Allman Brothers Band.
Haynes speaks of learning “not to be in a hurry” from Phil Lesh and the Grateful Dead, whereas he says that the Allmans felt they had to make energy happen. He tells of how it was Allman Brothers’ drummer Jaimoe who suggested the name Government Mule for Haynes’ side project that eventually became his primary band. Haynes says they liked the image of people feeling like a slave to the government, “not so much about red or blue but more about working class versus upper class.” Queried about songwriting, he says that when he gets an idea, he makes himself write down or record a snippet of it. He adds that he’s found writing when you’re tired or almost asleep allows the creative side of the brain to open up.
Celisse’s fully electrified power trio is a tough act to follow in terms of the energy that was brought to the stage, but Warren Haynes has the stature to do so even as a one-man band. He tells the audience that since it’s Song Summit, he’s going to play his songs. “Tears on the Inside” and “Beautifully Broken” both show off Haynes’ bluesy troubadour side, while “Patchwork Quilt” pays homage to Jerry Garcia. Haynes offers a revealing anecdote about how he actually started writing the lyrics in 1991, when he was at a festival in Telluride and was inspired to jot down the lines “There’s a banjo moon in a tie-dyed sky, hippies dancing, babies cry”. It was only after Garcia passed on that Haynes later went back and retrieved the lines for the Garcia eulogy that appeared on Phil Lesh & Friends’ 2002 album There and Back Again.
“Old Friend” features Haynes emoting about hard times and hard rain, before cutting loose with some deep blues slide guitar to energize the set. He speaks again about how he likes to tap into the creative side of the brain when he’s tired and how he’d stay up late working on songs after Greg Allman had gone to bed, who would then work on the songs when he got up in the morning. Crowd pleasers “Melissa” and “Soulshine” close out the set with a bluesy flourish. Haynes reveals how the latter wound up on the Allman Brothers Band’s 1994 Back Where it All Begins album only after they seemed to have finished the album ahead of schedule, and producer Tom O’Dowd asked if anyone had another song. It was then that Greg Allman suggested Haynes’ “Soulshine”.
Lab: Spirituality and the Spotlight with Anders Osborne & Wyatt Pike
This second scheduled lab with singer/songwriter/guitarist Anders Osborne and young gun Wyatt Pike (of American Idol fame) was technically canceled. But the topic was clearly merged with the “Dopey Dave Live Podcast with Anders Osborne”, as podcaster Dave Manheim goes deep with Osborne and Pike for a revealing discussion of how they approach spirituality and the pressures of the spotlight. The New Orleans-based Osborne does most of the talking and it’s fascinating to hear him open up about the pitfalls of his career and how he rose above.
Osborne tells of how he used to get his spiritual and creative energy from drugs and alcohol until that stopped working. After he got sober, he says there was a time when he felt lost as a performer but that sobriety eventually helped him “clear more head space” and “more heart space.” He relates how there was still a period of feeling like had to fix himself, before eventually realizing there was nothing wrong with him. Speaking to the concept of fans wanting to get close to the musicians they admire, Osborne explains it as what happens when people connect with lyrics that help their life make sense, leading to “rockstar worship” that isn’t always healthy for the artist’s sense of spiritual balance.
Osborne says he started meditating around 1986-87, lost his practice during “the drug years” but has now kept up a daily practice for 12 years. He also speaks of how “an artist is there to break boundaries for new thoughts,” but that the audience isn’t always ready to go along since fans typically crave familiar songs and so “you lose your audience consistently,” and that’s part of the path of the working songwriter. He relates having a panic attack in France one time where his behavior became so strange that he was dropped from the Sony label, but that he felt relieved in the end. But now he prepares for when he knows he’s going to be out in public where people are going to want something from him. Pike relates, speaking of his own panic attack when the spotlight of American Idol was getting to be too much and realizing that he didn’t feel cut out for the show and that was okay.
Osborne goes on to speak of how not everyone can be as comfortable in the spotlight as Mick Jagger and deciding that it was okay that he didn’t feel like he was built for that. He also reveals a humble nature by saying that he finds more satisfaction in playing for sick kids at a hospital than he does playing for big crowds at Jazz Fest or Red Rocks.
Anders Osborne’s set at O.P. Rockwell on Saturday night closes out the Park City Song Summit with a festive blast. He could well have featured some of his more introspective material like Warren Haynes did (such as songs from his underrated 2019 album Buddha and the Blues), but instead takes the opportunity to provide a Jazz Fest-style all-star fiesta featuring Ivan Neville on keyboards, Song Summit CEO Ben Anderson on bass, and young gun guitarist Daniel Donato for an extended sit-in. “Back on Dumaine” gets things going as an upbeat rocker about some of Osborne’s earlier career foibles, preceding high-energy romps on classics including “Fire on the Bayou”, “Fire on the Mountain”, “Iko Iko” and “Yes We Can”. Osborne is in high spirits here, but still with a word for the wise when he advises, “All you young kids, stay off the shit!” The set closes with a heartfelt ensemble rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, with Anderson suggesting that the song will be the last one played at Song Summit annually.
Still more highlights from the 2022 Park City Song Summit
Anders Osborne’s Song Summit finale was preceded by sensational sets from both Daniel Donato and Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel. Donato’s “Cosmic Country Experience” is a high-energy affair from the start, kicking off with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” before a smoking jam from his latest album. The 25-year-old Nashville native is clearly an old soul, singing with a wisdom beyond his years while rocking hot licks on lead guitar as he jams out with his band that blends blues rock, country twang, and psychedelia. His 2021 album Cosmic Country & Western Songs has quickly become a new favorite and it’s easy to see the kid has that special something.
Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel feels like an extra treat for all the Deadheads in attendance at the Song Summit, which are a fair number with the Grateful Dead’s incalculable influence on the modern music scene. Williams has been bringing his Grateful Gospel set to festivals around the country, and he pulls in Scott Law on lead guitar here (who served as Jerry Garcia chair #2 of sorts at Phil Lesh’s late great Terrapin Crossroads club.) Williams and Law make a great pairing and the set also features Jerry Garcia Band style backing singers, adding that cathartic gospel vibe to classics including “Here Comes Sunshine”, “Sisters and Brothers” and “Midnight Moonlight”. Then there are smashing jams on “St. Stephen” and “Feel Like a Stranger”, before an ever-fitting “Ripple” finale.
Another great evening set features old-school blues giants Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite at The Cabin on Friday night. The guitarist and harmonica player teamed up for the 100 Years of the Blues album in 2020 and it’s a treat to see the duo in action here. Bishop charms the audience on the album’s song “What the Hell?” singing “Look at the shape the nation’s in, somebody tell me what’s going wrong, I wanna know, can’t we get along, tell me what the hell is going on?” Musselwhite talks about playing with blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, who would have 12 drinks lined up and would indeed drink them all by the end of the night. The duo even have a song titled “Old School”, with Bishop charming the audience again on vocals such as “Don’t fool with no Facebook, no Twitters and tweets, call me on the phone if you wanna talk to me…” There’s a great vibe throughout the set as the duo jams out with one crowd-pleaser after, with a wide-age ranging audience eating up every minute.
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The Thursday and Friday labs both concluded with the incomparable Andrew Bird leading tapings of his “Live from the Great Room” video series, in which he performs and chats with other like-minded artists. The Thursday session features comedian (and drummer) Fred Armisen, which leads to some interesting banter about blurring the lines between music and comedy. The question is posed as to which came first between music or comedy, with Armisen suggesting that it had to be music because cavemen were in their caves beating stuff and then comedy occurred as a reaction. Armisen proves to be a solid drummer with a punk rock background and the duo’s set includes a superb rendition of “Atomized”, from Bird’s 2022 album Inside Problems.
The Friday session finds Andrew Bird teaming with singer/songwriter Adia Victoria and Jimbo Mathus from Squirrel Nut Zippers. Victoria’s “Magnolia Blues” is a gem and then she dazzles everyone by duetting with Bird on “Left Handed Kisses” from his 2016 album Are You Serious. Victoria is filling in for the original studio vocal from Fiona Apple here, leading her to note that Apple is her favorite artist, and saying “she’s why I do what I do”, which makes for a special moment.
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Other labs included “Between the Dark and Light” with renowned rock photographer Jay Blakesberg, easily one of the Song Summit’s most well-attended sessions. Blakesberg’s rise from typical bong-smoking teenage Deadhead to becoming a go-to photographer for both the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stone magazine is one of the Song Summit’s most endearing tales. He presents slides from throughout his career, starting with the outlaw tale of how he psychedelized his county in New Jersey by selling LSD that was sent from a cohort in California in order to sponsor his time on Dead tour. This preceded getting busted in 1980 and being very lucky to serve only eight months since the bust occurred before the Reagan era’s draconian drug sentencing laws.
Blakesberg tells of how he was saved by photography when he moved to the Bay Area and manifested opportunities like just walking onstage at the Dead’s video shoot for “Throwing Stones” to take pictures, after simply declaring that he was “Jay from Relix magazine.” He speaks of getting a call from Rolling Stone in 1987 but being stuck in a “catch-22” since they hadn’t used him before, then getting a big break to shoot a U2 show. He went on to make a living shooting all the rising bands of the alternative rock revolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Blakesberg’s strangest tale might be from 2015 when he was tasked to get “The Shot” from the Dead’s Fare Thee Well stadium shows. One might think it would have been easy to arrange a shot of the entire band turning around to wave at the end of the last show since he had been photographing them for decades, but even then he had to jump through hoops and plead with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir separately about getting the picture.
Blakesberg deems his decades of photographing Deadheads as “visual anthropology”. He goes on to conclude that “Probably like all you guys, I was saved by rock ‘n’ roll”, explaining that he “was really fucking scared” he’d have to get a real job and that this was a big part of what drove him. It’s a pithy reference to the Velvet Underground’s classic song “Rock and Roll”, which has become an anthem for successive generations of music fans who consider rock music to be not just a passion, but a source of spiritual sustenance bordering on religion.
A lab titled “Have You Been to Electric Lady(Land)” features Anthony Mason interviewing Lee Foster about his incredible journey from being a broke studio intern to becoming the co-owner and general manager of the famed Electric Lady Studios in New York City. Founded by Jimi Hendrix not long before his untimely departure from the Earth, the studio was falling out of favor and into disrepair until Foster spearheaded a mission to save it.
Foster tells of how he started connecting with artists like The Strokes, Interpol, and Ryan Adams, inviting them to record at the studio for free since there was so much open time. This led to an impromptu call from Adams who said “Let’s do it,” except that he was actually there at the studio ready to go while Foster was at home. Foster had to scramble to get down there and this was when Adams started recording his classic 2007 album Easy Tiger. Foster went on to speak highly of Lady Gaga for going out of her way to draw paparazzi to the front of the studio for pictures to help promote it. He also related some endearing personal tales of interactions with Keith Richards, which were particularly fulfilling for him since the Stones are his favorite band.
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A “Keepers of the Flame” lab finds Anthony Mason interviewing concert promoters Peter Shapiro and Jay Sweet on their endeavors, with Sweet crediting singer/songwriter Brandi Carlisle for pulling together the much-praised Joni Mitchell jam at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Shapiro talks about putting together the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well stadium shows in 2015, noting that more than 700,000 people attempted to purchase tickets in the sale for the three shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which was more than any show ever.
The outcry over the lack of supply was so vast that he convinced the band to add two more shows in the Bay Area to alleviate the historic demand. It was there at the first show in Santa Clara on a sunny day where a rainbow appeared in such synchronistic fashion toward the end of the first set that Shapiro was widely suspected of manufacturing it. He says he was standing with Jerry Garcia’s daughter Trixie at the time and asked her if the rainbow was her dad’s doing. “Yes,” Trixie Garcia responded.
And with that life-affirming anecdote, we’ll bring our voluminous Park City Song Summit coverage to a close. It’s been one of the more unique and enlightening events to appear on the music scene in some time, so we can’t wait to see what artists they bring in next year.