Memories: My First Rock Boat Moments

Last night, I found myself at Target in the “travel size” aisle, which can only mean one thing: THE ROCK BOAT IS NEAR!!  With just about 75 days to go until TRB14, I am in two states of mind:  1)  Sheer panic that I haven’t gotten back on that work out train that I promised myself that I would this year so I will love myself in pictures and 2) Utterly excited for what is always the best week of my year.

I went on my first Rock Boat in 2003 with a group of 10 friends that have these days scattered due to marriage, kids, and life.  Anyway, I had no idea then that The Rock Boat and the community that surrounds it would ten years later be the source of my favorite memories, turn me on to ridiculously good music, introduce me to people all around the world who have become my best friends, and ignite a passion for “discovering” and helping to promote unknown bands.

There’s a lot I remember about my first Rock Boat, but there are two vivid music memories that today I would call “Rock Boat Moments.”  The kind of moment that is so awesome that everything else around you goes quiet.  When you catch yourself holding your breath because you literally forgot to breathe.  So because it’s almost Christmas and you can never have enough nostalgia (and for Miranda, who I am trying to convince to come on her first Boat)… My first Rock Boat moments.

1)  Meeting Cary Pierce from Jackopierce.
Backstory: It was 1993.  I was a freshmen in college and being exposed to all kinds of new stuff after living a relatively sheltered first 18 years. I bought the very first AWARE compilation from the campus bookstore, and Jackopierce’s “Vineyard” was track 3. My obsession with the song was instantaneous – the hopeless romantic in me pictured falling in love with a boy during a summer romance and having him chase me until I agreed to stay on the Vineyard for the year with him (ironically, the first boy I met at WC, who ended up becoming a very good friend, had a summer house on The Vineyard).

Ten years later, I find myself on The Rock Boat, where Cary Pierce, one half of Jackopierce, is playing. I’d seen Jackopierce a few times, but never in a million years did I think I would ever MEET them.  I’d met an amazing couple at The Rock Boat pre-party the night before, and we went to see Alex Woodard play within a few hours of getting on the Boat.  While we were sitting at the show waiting for it to start, Cary walked right in front of

me.  I mean five feet from me.  I gasped as he walked by, and Gina looked at me and said, ‘What?”  I said, “That was Cary Pierce!”  She asked who he was, and I gave her the short version of what I just said above.  So she goes, “Well, you have to meet him then!”  and leapt out of the booth to chase him down.  The next thing I knew, Cary freaking Pierce was standing in front of me.  “Hi, I’m Cary,” he says.  And me, ever brilliant…. “I know.”  Anyway, he was a complete sweetheart and asked if I wanted to take a picture.  I just nodded.  And here it is…

Me and Cary Pierce, The Rock Boat, 2003.

Me with Cary Pierce, The Rock Boat, 2003.

I love this picture for so many reasons.  First of all, it was probably my very first “personal” Rock Boat moment. Secondly, Cary is just the most adorable thing ever.  Thirdly, I look like a 5 year-old on Christmas morning. Could I be cheesing any harder? Look at the way I’m holding my hands together!  And finally…I was SOOO skinny, and I LOVED those pants.

2) The Edwin sings in the casino at 3 AM moment. No, really.  It was 3 AM.  This will make sense to some of you.
Backstory:  The summer after my sophomore year in college, Rob made me a tape of a band he said was going to be huge.  They were called Hootie and the Blowfish.  By the third week of my junior year, I’m pretty sure the girls on the hall were considering evicting me from the dorm because I played “Let Her Cry” approximately 50 times a day.  I set about learning everything about them… which led to Edwin. And a new obsession was born. After I moved to North Carolina in 1998, it became pretty easy to see Edwin regularly, and he rocketed into my Top 10 musicians of all time.

So, two days in on the Boat, I’d met a fella (we’re still friends today!), and we’d spent the better part of the evening sitting in the back at a few shows … and we ended up in one of the dining rooms eating pizza at 2:30 in the morning (Emerson Hart sat two tables over from us…I lost my shit) before we parted ways.  As I tipsily walked my way back toward my cabin, I was coming down a hall when I heard a very familiar voice singing… It was 3 AM, and I came around the corner and ran smack into Edwin McCain playing with another musician (Francisco Vidal, for all my TRB folks reading this) in the casino bar.  There might have been 20 people watching him.  I stood there, transfixed, watching this performer whose songs I knew inside out, sing to me and a handful of other people like we were the only people in all the world.  He was clearly having a blast, and while he has probably had many more nights like it in his time, it is a moment that I will never forget, and one that will always live in my best memories.  Edwin’s back on The Rock Boat this year… can’t wait!

There really is nothing like The Rock Boat.  Sixthman, the company that started The Boat almost 14 years ago, has created an experience that is truly unmatched. I go on this trip, and just know that these types of moments are going to happen…not just once, or twice, but over and over again. Because it’s happened year after year for me. Writing out these memories that live in my head only makes me all the more excited about heading back out on the high seas with great music and great friends … and more Rock Boat moments.

More Rock Boat:  What the heck is The Rock Boat? | Okay, so what bands are playing this year? | Damn, I need to book a cabin.

Communing with the Spirits: Quiet Hounds Swans and Embers

I have struggled for the last four days about how to write an unbiased “review” of Quiet Hounds latest event, Swans and Embers, held outdoors on perfect Indian summer night on the lawn of an architectural landmark in Atlanta. After reading a few other reviews, I decided I didn’t want to be unbiased because it comes off sounding like arrogant, pompous BS.

So here’s the truth:  I love this band and everything that they are doing. And now that we have that out of the way…

As I’ve come to expect from these artists, the smallest details were covered from the time you set foot on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center, an unusual venue for a show, to be sure, but not at all out of the ordinary for this band. Pathways marked with metal-worked Hounds aflame. Programs for the evening handed out upon entrance. Hand printed posters of the event available. Even a signature drink for the evening (a Drunken Hound!). But it all paled in comparison to the location.

Swan House after dark before the crowd arrived.

Swan House after dark before the crowd arrived.

Swans and Embers was held at The Swan House, a neo-classical architectural home built in 1928 for the Edward Inman family. It is an impressive structure, but even more impressive are the grounds. Walled off from the city by beautiful gardens, winding paths, and huge trees, one can almost imagine what it was like to stand here before the drone of planes overhead, and the constant hum of an electrified city.

As 8:30 neared, the audience gathered around the front of the Swan House, and the Hounds stealthily dispersed themselves among the crowd. An actor (David Rogers) mounted the stairs, and perched himself on the landing, casually draping himself over the railing and taking on the airs of a Southern gentleman, charming the crowd with witty banter. He was a Guardian of the home, the ghost of Edward Inman we were to believe, there to welcome us. As he spoke, the Hounds called out questions from the audience.” Are you an Angel?” the hound nearest me standing probed the spirit.

Soon, a second figure entered the scene, placing herself much lower on the stairs. Bedecked in a peach gown reminiscent of Gone With the Wind, singer Meghan Arias, who has come to be known as a sister Hound, played the role of a confused spirit of the past, not sure of her location. Listed in the program as “The Phoenix,” the character was lost in time, recalling a fiery past.  The Guardian referenced The Phoenix being from 1864, the year when Atlanta was set ablaze by Union General William Sherman in the Civil War and much of the city destroyed (A second interpretation could have been taken, as well: those who studied up on The Swan House would know that the Inman family had the house built in 1928 after their original house burned down in 1924). “1864,” of course, is also the title of an instrumental piece Quiet Hounds performs (which leads perfectly into their reverential ode to Andersonville, “Beacon Sun”… Although released at different times, the two songs were clearly meant to be listened to in succession).

As The Phoenix continued to ask where – and when – exactly she was, The Guardian answered her, “You are where you’ve always been,” a hat tip to Atlanta – and by extension, Swan House – its resilience, and its sense of Southern tradition, no doubt.  The Phoenix sang a bit of an aria, and although Meghan was not wearing a mic, her voice rang out as the shushed crowd watched this dramatic opening unfold.


Act 1, City in Ashes

By now, the Hounds had mounted the stairs, and answered in rousing chorus as they prepared to take the “stage” for the first act, City in Ashes. With a regalia of snare fir for a military outfit, the fellas jumped into the first of four songs, “If the World,” followed by the Southern Charm bonus track “It’s Alright,” and then two additional newer songs, “Weathervane” and “Like Animals.”

As they wrapped up the first act, horns called the crowd to attention, beckoning us and the band to turn and head down the stone stairways to the second lawn level and the cascading fountains. Once there, the band faced the house (which, in turn, turned the crowd to face the house) and played a short musical interlude. Called “Time Gone” in the program, it felt like an homage to the building and its art, a sort of acknowledgement and thanks to the spirits of the past for the evening’s intrusion into their space.

Act 3, Reconstruction

Act 3, Reconstruction

Then, the band turned in lock step and began walking down the sloping terrace to the lower lawn. Fans paraded with them, symbolically moving from past to present day. As the band took their places on a dimly lit stage, the crowd settled in, and Swan House glowed in the background. Then the music took the attention and the band launched into Act 3, dubbed “Reconstruction,” with the high-energy “Night Parade” and followed it up with “Southern Charm.” Then they debuted my favorite new song of the night, the spirited “Good Bones.” The momentum continued to build as The Hounds rolled off several upbeat crowd favorites, and another new song, “Young Clover.”

[ASIDE: I could spend a lot of time talking about the music itself, but if you’ve read this far into this rambling review, you’re in tune with (or interested enough in) what the band is doing and don’t need me to give you a primer.]

Act 4, We Burn, We Rise

Act 4, We Burn, We Rise

All too soon, it was Act 4, “We Burn, We Rise,” and the four songs that remained set a more somber tone, beginning with “Beacon Sun.” The highlight of the evening for me was “Danger Love,” by far my favorite QH song, a bold profession of committing without losing oneself that comes complete with one of the best multi-drum solos you’ll ever hear…I like to refer to it as the heartbeat (two small Instagram-sized snippets below for your enjoyment). Then, the fellas rolled off the last new song of the evening, “Wild Light.”

It was a gorgeous evening. Even though it was about to end, I could not wipe the smile off my face.

Whether or not it was intentional (knowing these guys, most of it was), there were messages to be heard beyond the music. You can’t overlook that the band selected a venue nearly 100 years old, linking themselves to a time when art was respected and deeply valued… playing incredibly poetic and powerful songs against a backdrop of an artistic masterpiece and commanding their audience to recognize this beautiful past. An English major to my core, I also saw deep symbolic meaning in the swan itself, found in stone all over the property. Long a powerful, graceful creature in mythology, swans represent a number of things: eternal love, holy light, and of course, the idea of a glorious final “swan song” and its aching beauty.

These five gentlemen, their like-minded artisan cohorts, and the music they make have come to represent many of these very things to me. They are a rarity in today’s overcrowded, oversaturated, careless rush-to-be first, emulate everyone else music industry. They don’t want or (more importantly) need people to know their names or faces. They’ve bucked every convention for the sake of making great music. And it is truly incredible music, stunningly beautiful, hopeful, and graceful.  They want to call attention to the past, particularly the Southern past, to remind us from whence we come. But more than that, they have slowly and quietly built a community of fans that truly value art. And that is the real power of the Quiet Hounds. They are a beacon of what once was and, I hope, what is to come, in music.

As the night closed out with “Hemlock,” a song I described two years ago when I was first introduced to the band as the soundtrack to someone running through the woods toward an abandoned castle, I looked up to see the night sky ringed by tall trees..and there I was looking toward a well-preserved but abandoned mansion, if not a castle, awash in a lighted Hound insignia.  It was a glorious swan song that brought everything full circle for me. I looked around at the crowd of 500+, individual souls who chose to adventure to a historic site nestled in the heart of Atlanta to spend a night among friends, strangers and Hounds. They were as enamored with the music as I was, and it struck me that we were all linked together in this moment, by the music, the setting, and the magic. An audience among which many know the artists but choose to keep their identities shrouded… a feat in an internet world where nothing is sacred.

We were a community sharing in the secret greatness of the Quiet Hounds.

It was perfection.

Earworm of the Week: Grace Potter, “Big White Gate”

Confession:  An old high school boyfriend had to bribe me to see Grace Potter.  If you know me now, this should make you laugh, because I may be Grace’s biggest fan… so indulge me for a minute while I tell the story.

It was 2007 and I was headed home to New Jersey for what seemed like the umpteenth time that year – and the trip happened to coincide with WXPN’s Xponential Music Festival, where my beloved Will Hoge was playing.  I had recently reconnected with my high school boyfriend Pete over a shared love of music.  He was also heading to XPN and had some passes to get into the autograph signing/artist area. He said, “Hey,  I’ve got these passes, you can go see Will…but you have to stay to see the headliner Grace Potter.”

Now, let me explain.  I am not the biggest fan of female singers.  I wish I could explain why, but I guess I just prefer male voices.  But for Will Hoge, I would endure just about anything, so I agreed to stay.

[Aside #1:  Clearly, now I think that Will and Grace should make little rock n’ roll song babies together… not actual children, you understand, but music… a duet with the two of them could possibly cause me to have a heart attack. I once made a mix CD for someone who didn’t know either of them called “Will & Grace.”  I’m clever.  I know.]

And when Grace and her little band of Nocturnals took the stage, it took one song for me to get it, and probably three songs for me to fall in love. Soul.  Energy.  Sass.  And my God, her freaking voice. She had it all. I refused to acknowledge it to Pete since I’d been so obstinate about it, but a few weeks later when her breakout album This is Somewhere was released, I immediately bought it and became Grace’s biggest advocate.  I told EVERYONE about her.  I’m lucky, I caught on at just the right time, as she and the Nocturnals were on their way up.  I got to see her at small venues with 50 people there [Aside #2: Some of the best concert photos I’ve ever taken have been of Grace.  I suck as a photographer, but these are good.] …now, of course, she sells out 1000+ attendance venues.  I’ve probably said this a million times since that night, but I’ll say it once more.  I have never wanted to be someone else in my whole life, but I would love to trade shoes with Grace for just one day (and damn, her shoes…how does she rock those 5-inch heels on stage for hours?).

Tonight, I will attend my ninth GPN show.  I will sing along.  I will dance.  I will envy her shoes.  And I will love every single minute of it.

[Aside #3:  Rumor has it Grace has been covering Bruce on this tour. You should all know that if she does cover him tonight, I will go completely apeshit.]

So, in honor of the show, this week’s Earworm is the first Grace song that I ever loved, “Big White Gate.”  It’s still my favorite.  I think it’s because it’s about loving music.  I kind of know how that feels.  Watch this video.  Listen to her introduction.

Finally, here’s my long overdue thank you to that old, high school boyfriend:  Thanks, Pete Calabrese.  You gave me the gift of Grace.  You will never know how much that means.

More Grace Potter:  Web | Facebook | Twitter

Sofar Sounds and The Rouge

Earlier this week, fellow music lover and Twitter junkie Mike told me about Sofar Sounds after attending an event this weekend in Atlanta.  Taking house concerts to a new level, this concept is so freaking cool.  Get music lovers to sign up / host house concerts of up and coming bands in their city.  Make it invite only.  Keep it secret who is playing until the guests arrive.

I want in.

I immediately go to their website to check it out…and it’s started up in about 2 dozen cities around the world, but of course, nothing in Charlotte.  I love my Queen City, but when it comes to music, it can be so behind the times. *insert dramatic sigh*  And shit fire, I live in an apartment and can’t even offer to host something.  *more dramatic sighing*

I’m not kidding you, later the same day, my insane band crush The Rouge posted a video of them playing a Sofar Sounds show in Nashville.  SERIOUSLY?  Now I want to be part of this inner Sofar Sounds circle even more…

Check out The Rouge performing “Medication”… and “Handcuffs” …  then tell me you don’t want to be at this party, too?

More The Rouge:  Web | Facebook | Twitter

Air Dubai Comes East…TO CHARLOTTE!

Denver’s smokin’ little hip-hop fusion act, Air Dubai, announced last week that they’d be joining the Journeys Noise Tour with Mariana’s Trench.  And yesterday, they announced that they’re going to be on the Charlotte date at The Fillmore on June 5!

I’ve described them before as the musical offspring of Jamiroquai and Bell Biv Devoe – everything you loved about late 90s hip-hop, fused with a horn section and atmospheric synthesizer.  Then drop in some straight up rock n’ roll guitar, and crazy, hooky melodies here and there…and there you’ve got Air Dubai.  They are totally unique, and I’ve become a big fan of their style over the last two years or so.

Shortly after recording an EP with Dwight Baker in Austin (who also has worked with my beloved Alpha Rev and Saints of Valory boys, and is currently in a project called The Wind and the Wave with Patricia Lynn, formerly of The Soldier Thread), the six-piece signed to Hopeless Records, adding some depth to the label’s roster with their hip-hop flair.

Check out the fellas rockin’ their song “Warning” (featuring the incomparable Patricia Lynn) in the video below…I dare ya to listen to it just once.


Should be a killer show.  Pre-sale tickets are already available (Citi Card); general public goes on sale on Friday.  $15.  Pick ’em up here.

More Air Dubai:  Web | Facebook | Twitter | Buy the Warning Extended Single on iTunes