The folks at 4 Peaks Presents did what they do best. They threw a party under the watchful eye of the Cascade mountains, invited their closest friends, and brought together some of the best (and soon to be best) roots-based jambands. Unfortunately, their greatest task was a behind the scenes battle with Deschutes County. But, it takes more than outdated county codes, permits and good-ole-boy commissioners to stop a Jamboree!
The grandiose nature of Bend, Oregon provided the perfect backdrop to the intimate setting of the Rockin’ A Ranch. Having a Jamboree on the ranch allowed music lovers to separate the good (music) from the bad (everything else) of a festival. A grassy field took the place of a blacktop parking lot; permanent, wood rail fences replaced temporary, plastic ones; and instead of the normal lines of the masses, there were just friends milling about.
The beautiful day began with a couple of sets from some local bands. The Mostest kicked off the festival with a solid set of covers and originals by lead guitar/vocalist/prolific songwriter Mark Ransom. Showing why they are one of the most popular Americana bands in Central Oregon, the Mostest tore threw songs from their latest live release, Masala Mostest. Watching them on the stage, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that their perm-a-grins told the story of the day, from the musicians point of view.
Wild Rye took the stage next with their Scottish-based Americana tunes. Their blend of two fiddles, a cello and guitar provided a nice change to the typical jamband-based lineup that dominates most festivals. The skilled musicians quickly won the crowd over with standards such as Josefin’s Waltz, Wind that Shakes the Barley and Sleep Sound in the Morning. While mostly instrumental, Kate Wells’ hypnotic voice during their original tunes seem to enchant the crowd. The fact that their set was so well received restores may faith in the crowd’s ability to appreciate a wide array of quality music.
Another bright spot of the day was Jay Seals. Since the (so-called) break-up of Blue Turtle Seduction, Bend has been wondering when Jay would roll back through town. I know many fans are excited about BTS reuniting for the Las Tortugas festival over Halloween in Yosemite. Jay is also working with his new band, Jay Seals and the Hydrodynamics. I always appreciate the more stripped down acoustic versions of songs I have listened to many times. The intimacy of the songs combined with the ability to hear all of the lyrics allowed the listener to connect with the artist. Obviously, it can’t ever take the place of what Jay does with a full band, working the crowd into a bouncing frenzy, but it is nice to hear the softer side of rock n roll once in a while.
One of my favorite things about festivals is getting the chance to discover new bands to add to my itunes. Seattle-based band, Handful of Luvin filled that role nicely. Living up to their moniker of “fiddle driven roots rock,” Handful of Luvin impressed me from start to finish. Andrew Joslyn’s fiddle playing immediately drew me in to their Americana set. I could easily recognize his accomplished classical upbringing, all the while being happy he decided to pursue the more loose styles of gypsy and rock fiddle. Andrew’s ten minute fiddle solo in the middle of their set impressed even the most skeptic of concertgoers. Handful of Luvin easily switched from folk-rock to reggae to world rhythms, all with an underlying Classical and Celtic themes. I really can’t say enough about these guys. The David John’s lyrics were well written and sung, the rhythm section of Mike Knight (drums) and Pat Files (bass) was solid, and of course, Andrew’s fiddle-playing was top notch.
The highlight of the 2010 Jamboree though was Poor Man’s Whiskey, which by the way permeated the air as the band took the stage. PMW is another one of those bands that Bend is in love with, and I believe the reverse is true as well. They bring their “High-octane Hootenanny” to Central Oregon a couple times a year, and always to 4 Peaks Music Festivals. It’s exciting to see how much PMW has stepped up their game to become one of the most entertaining jambands on the west coast. While they haven’t shed their bluegrass roots completely, they are moving towards a full-blown Rock n Roll show. Following in the early Grateful Dead tradition of an opening acoustic set, PMW likes to draw the crowd in with a couple of unplugged tunes, usually played amongst the audience. PMW has polished their live shows playing such festivals as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (CA), Byron Bay Blues and Roots Music Festival (Australia), High Sierra (CA), Telluride Bluegrass Festival (CO), and Las Tortugas Dance of the Dead (CA).
Poor Man’s Whiskey is more than just the sum of their parts. They are a very hard-working group of musicians focused on becoming a bigger and better band. They constantly try to up the ante on their musicianship all the while trying to give the best show they can. They deftly moved through originals and covers and back again, ensuring the crowd stayed engaged and attentive to their show. Josh Brough’s (vocals, banjo, organ) lyrics show the maturity of those who came before him, a la Townes Van Zandt. Jason Beard (mandolin, guitars) must be happy he is in a band that allows him emulate both the Allman Brothers and Allison Kraus & Union Station. The steady back end of Aspen (bass, vocals) and George Smeltz (drums, suitcase, vocals) proved they have no problem with country swing, Americana or southern rock. Standing front and center, Eli Jebidiah (guitar, mandolin, theremin, vocals) and his “sun-painted” Taylor made sure PMW stayed with its crowd-pleasing task.
As of late, Poor Man’s Whiskey has honed their craft through covering some of their favorite albums. Their Darkside of the Moonshine performances, complete with laser light show, have been captivating audiences for the last couple of years. More recently, PMW performed Old and in the Way with special guests Michael Kang (SCI) and Peter Rowan (Old and in the Way). Tunes from both remakes appeared throughout the night, as well as an Allman Brothers jam and some Tom Petty. The range of covers and originals highlighted PMW’s true music ability.
While Deschutes County made sure no loud music occurred after 10 pm., 4 Peaks made sure the music didn’t stop. When the stage lights turned off, the campfires were lit. Members of Poor Man’s Whiskey, Handful of Luvin, and Wild Rye were more than happy to keep the music going as the campers got treated to unplugged, acoustic songs and sing-a-longs well into the night. This was perhaps the best part of the Jamboree, and 4 Peaks in general. Despite a concerted effort by the 4 Peaks crew to keep it small this year, the 2010 4 Peaks Jamboree will go down as one of the best in Central Oregon.