(JUNE 19, 2010 -- MILLVILLE, NJ) -- I was asked to run a live blog from the Southern Shore Music Festival for Jersey Arts this year. This was the 4th year of this particular festival, which took over from the old Bridgeton Folk Festival that ran for 23 straight years until its last in 2006. The following is a somewhat edited version of my live coverage of the festival - some of which ran on the Jersey Arts Twitter page.
I arrived at the festival grounds around 11:30 and grabbed a spot in the shade near the stage. The area by the stage was just beginning to fill up when I arrived. Hoping to get some good photographs here today. It looks like it should be beautiful weather.
The festival contained several good food choices (everything from pizza and cheesesteaks to vegetarian fare) and your usual festival booths selling items like CDs, tie-dye t-shirts, and craft jewelry. Two kids in tie-dyes playing hacky sack... always the official sign that a festival has kicked off!
The Sin City Band from Delaware kicked off the festival around noon with covers of several well known songs. Their take on "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)" got a few women up and out of the chairs to dance and groove with the Cajun classic. The band sounds good and the crowd is starting to pick up. Sin City is playing an interesting set, I think every band member is getting a shot at lead vocals for a song.
I really dig Americana- based music festivals. The crowd is always so laid back and comes for the music first and foremost unlike some genres where the crowd largely comes for just one or two acts. Americana fans just enjoy the music.
After the set by the Sin City Band, I wandered a round a bit to talk to some of the festival attendees. One couple caught my eye thanks to a great little festival tent that is the perfect size for two.
The couple, Scott and Mary from Ewing, turned out to be the people responsible for the great Concerts at the Crossing series in Titusville. Scott said they were most interested in seeing Dala and Elizabeth Cook today. He actually booked Dala for a Concerts at the Crossing show last January and the show wound up being the fastest sellout they ever had in a series that had been around for over ten years! He said he enjoyed them so much he brought them to Grounds for Sculpture and booked them for another Concerts in the Crossing show next year. Scott also noted that Dala is some sort of good weather luck charm as every festival they play has sunny weather and even their show for him earlier in the year was on a sunny day in between lots of rainy and snowy days.
Although they looked so comfortable in their tent that I thought it had seen many festivals in the past, they said this was actually the first time they've used it. They did make sure to point out that they not only love music and book shows, but also have a daughter in the business too. Check out their singer-songwriter Natalie Acciani at http://www.natalieacciani.com to see her website.
After Sin City was Splintered Sunlight - a good job of scheduling as the band brought a sizable number of fans to the festival early in the show. There were dozens of people doing the "Dead dance" and letting the music and sunshine pour over them and fill their bodies as they sang along to every tune.
What separates Splintered Sunlight from your traditional cover band is their setlist. At a Splintered Sunlight show, you are more likely to encounter a rare or obscure track loved by Deadheads than the hits played on classic rock radio stations. This band plays for the die-hards and judging by the amount of people singing along to every song, the band was in the right place.
Splintered Sunlight brought out "Lil'" Jimmy Lawroski on guitar for their closing song. Jimmy, a teenager from Point Pleasant, was often seen beaming from his corner of the stage as he jammed alongside his guitar instructor.
I was already excited to see Dala before the festival, but after hearing Scott of Concerts at the Crossing rave about them I was even more excited - and they were everything he said they would be. Sometimes a quiet folk duo doesn't really come across well on the main stage, but that wasn't the case with Dala. The mixture of the two female voices bounced off and complemented each other and filled the festival grounds beautifully.
Embarking on their first tour of America, the Canadian duo from Toronto was completely at ease. They told jokes, shared tales from the road, and provided insights into the inspirations behind their songs.
They began their set with a song that will be part of their upcoming PBS Special, "Girls of the North Country". During the special, Dala was joined by The Good Lovelies and Oh Susanna to perform "songs inspired by the northern landscape" written by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, and others.
The rest of their set included "Alive" - my favorite tune of theirs that gets played often on the station I listen to on my commute to work (Iceberg 85); "Horses" - which was written for a special young fan who is unable to speak; "Levi blues" - about going on tour without their boyfriends; and "Life On Earth" - about their first true break up.
A fan asked if they were on Facebook and they said they were and would like to "friend you up". Playing off that idea, they dedicated a song to an overzealous fan who once friended them on Facebook.
"Just because we're friends on Facebook doesn't mean we know you," they sang. "Well, that's all we have right now.". While the pair unfriended that fan, they said they would love to friend the festival crowd. "Just know your limits," they said with a smile before closing out their set with "Lennon and McCartney" and leaving with many new fans.
Elizabeth Cook offered up some fun country tunes usually with humorous lyrics like, "sometimes, it takes balls to be a woman." She recalled being nominated for a Songwriter Award for that song.
"Girls like me don't get nominated for these awards. They usually go to big, burly men who drink bourbon and read War and Peace!"
Her cute, Southern accent made every story sweet and interesting. Sadly, she also pointed out something most of us already knew - the image of New Jersey for most of the people in this country was formed by what they've heard on television. In her case, it was the jokes told about New Jersey by David Letterman.
"I don't understand what people are talking about because every time I'm in New Jersey I think it's just lovely."
One highlight was when she thought it was time for a hoedown and grabbed her dancing shoes while her guitarist played her some dancing music. After her set she met some of the fans and signed CDs before heading up to Freehold for her second show of the day.
The Lee Boys brought some seriously spiritual rock and funk to the stage. Far closer to Hendrix than traditional Gospel music, they provided songs with The Word in a highly captivating way.
Gene Shay introduced him by saying, "there is a book on Sacred Steel music being passed around today. I asked someone of the Lee Boys were in the book. The man said, 'The Lee Boys wrote the book!'"
The most eclectic set of the day came from Trout Fishing in America who mixed some fan favorites with those from their album for kids and a few tunes from their next record, which the duo had just recorded. The set included light-hearted songs, deep and poignant songs, and humorous tunes as well. It's interesting to see an artist that writes in so many different directions.
There were songs about dinosaurs, polkas about nursery rhymes, and moments where the two began singing at light speed - sometimes even singing two different songs at the same time!
One of the new songs, which will be on their next record was called "Home". The record is a return to songs of a more adult nature and promises to be very good.
"I don't know where my home is, but I'll know when I find it."
Another song was inspired by a trip to a diner when one of them was just one week away from qualifying for a senior discount. He said he debated going for it, but worried the waitress would card him... After thinking about it, he then worried more that she wouldn't. The song was about acting your age while it gets harder and harder to do so.
They closed out with a lullaby created to help you fall asleep and then a cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" into "Tequila” into a few other tunes and back again.
The duo's blend of electric guitar and bass was a nice contrast to the rest of the bands and you can't beat seeing Deadheads dancing away to songs about dinosaurs...
With no offense to The Sin City Band, the heart of the festival was the set of bookends between Splintered Sunlight in the beginning and Little Feat - the headliner - at the end. An awful lot of people who were grooving to Splintered Sunlight early on were back in force for Little Feat at the end, dancing and singing along again. And for every person who may have left throughout the day there were two Little Feat fans who came to replace them. The result was a packed festival for the legendary band.
I wasn't able to stay for the entire set (had to get home to take care of my dog) but I was able to see an hour and a half and the band gave the impression they were ready to keep the party going all night long. They came out of the gate with popular songs like "Hate To Lose Your Lovin'" and "Candyman" as rows of people in tie-dye shirts danced alongside the stage.
"We're going to have a little sing-along now. For all of the mothers who brought their kids... I'm sorry! This is a song about a trucker with a substance problem. I'm proud to say that after all these years we finally got into High Times magazine... They have... Uh, some good pictures in there!"
The band they launched into "Willin'" with the crowd echoing the chorus, "And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine / and you show me a sign / I'll be willin', to be movin'"
That song led into another sing-along to the song, "Don't Bogart That Joint" which Little Feat calls the 'Jamaican National Anthem! "You haven't lived until you've spent a week with Little Feat in Jamaica," said the lead singer.
Little Feat's music was a great way to cap off the festival. This was my first time to the Cumberland County fairgrounds and I was as impressed with the facility as I was with the festival. Bob Rose put together a stellar lineup of artists and the crowd stayed for the entire show. Many people told me how thankful they were for the good weather this year after the lousy weather they had last time. Even though the festival is quite a way from Monmouth County (and I'm still scratching my head about where the Shore in the festival's name is) I know I'll definitely be back as this was one of the better festivals I've been to lately.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.