Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Evolution of a Song...

A good friend of ours and one of the drivers of our charity team "The Love Bus," Stacy Jones, mentioned to me that she liked the "behind the scenes conversation" of what songs we were going to play with L Shaped Lot at Floyd Fest.  That gave me the idea of writing about how we came about playing the great Phish song "Rift."

First of all, Phish is one of those bands that live music fans typically either really love or really hate.   Musicians can approach it a little differently because the music those four guys make is on such a higher plane compared to what's out there these days.  The pure compositions can make even be-bop jazz, which is also a complicated style of music, seem simple.   One has to look to the likes of Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, and the composers of orchestral music to find compositions of similar complexity.  And even then you still are hard pressed to find anyone who flows deftly between genres of music while maintaining such a high level of creative output.  It is from these aspects of their music that BDL draws a lot of inspiration.  Joey has never even seen a live Phish show but has dug into Trey Anastasio's playing on a deep level.  On the other hand both Scotty and I have seen a lot of shows.

I can remember the genesis of the idea pretty clearly.  Joey was learning a couple different Trey solos, and one of them was "Rift."   I got my banjo and said, "You know, the intro and the piano solo of that song are perfect for the banjo."  I started playing it, and we laughed about how cool it would be to learn the whole song and perform it.  At that point it was nothing more than one of those, "Wouldn't it be cool if...." ideas.  (We have a lot of those.)  Throughout the weeks he kept learning more and more of the guitar solo (it's a very long guitar solo), and we figured out what chords were being played underneath; the two of us would play a little bit of it during soundcheck through the late spring and early summer months.

Around the middle of the summer, Ashley came up to us and said, "We should really figure out something special to play at the Big What Festival in late August."  As a lot of you know, this is a very small festival compared to the likes of Floyd Fest and some others that we play through the year.  But the difference is this festival is hosted and attended by all the people that we consider family.  Big Something was the host band, and we've developed a very deep friendship with these guys.  The land owner, Jeremy Bell, is one of our favorite people in the whole world.  And it's held at a place called Possum Holler!  It's the perfect storm of awesomeness.   And Wook was right, we needed something special.

So a few weeks before the festival, we met at our super secret Shelby shed space and started working on the song.  First of all, it's just a hard song to play.  One of the driving forces behind us learning it is knowing that if we could pull this off, it would blow some peoples minds.  There are very few bands that would even attempt it, much less be successful, and we loved this challenge. 

Let me give you an idea of what this song consists of.  If you play every note from one "C" to the next octave "C" you'll play 12 tones in all.   A majority of the songs we're exposed to will have chords based off only 3 of those tones, such as a typical blues song.  Most pop songs you hear will have up to 5 chords from the 12 tones.   But not this song: oh no, Rift has a chord based on every single tone, 12 different chords in all types of different combinations, which is almost unheard of. 

We discovered that Scotty can actually sing the second part while playing this incredibly hard poly-rhythm drum part.  It blew our minds, really.  We spent a few days working on the song, and started wishing each other "good luck" each time we started playing it (a habit that we're still in, actually).  It started coming together and we realized that we might actually pull this off.  After a little break, we met for one last rehearsal before going to the festival.  We knew we had it at that point.  As we were packing up from that last rehearsal, I can remember a moment when Joey was walking around in a dazed fashion looking at the ground and talking to himself, saying "I can't believe it...I can't believe it."  I asked if he was ok, and he just looked at me an said, "I can't believe I'm in a band that can play Rift."  I knew exactly what he meant!

So there we are, at the Big What Festival and we finally get to the point that we've been looking forward to for quite a while.  We get Jeremy Bell onstage to recognize him for all the work he's put into the fest and say, "This song is for you."  (He's a huge Phish-head too.)  And we played it...all of it.  I think we were just as surprised in the moment that we were doing it as the audience who had no idea.  It was quite an experience.

You can listen to the whole show here.  

We also just played the Camp Barefoot Festival near Bartow, WV and saw the most amazing light show that we've ever witnessed.  The festival actually had to get permission from the FAA (yes, that FAA) before they could allow it.  The light show basically consisted of the strongest lasers that we've ever seen.  I'll add some pix from our good friend Andy Cox.  You should "like" his page and you'll see amazing photos from the best festivals in the Southeast.   He's also the photographer that got the picture of us at Floyd Fest by the big "LOVE" sign that you see in our last album.

The owner of this festival, Scott McClain, is a huge BDL supporter and is one of those people that got behind us early, inviting us to his festival twice, hired us to play his sister's wedding, and most recently invited us to stay Sunday night and play the staff after-party.  Our festival sets were fun, but there's nothing like playing a party for a big group of people who just worked their butts off putting on a  festival of this size.  They were so appreciative, and we were happy to do it.

And so here are some pictures of lasers so strong that they are regulated by the FAA.  

Before I sign off, I do want to say congratulations to Joey, who got married in Costa Rica just a few weeks ago. Congrats, Beth and Joey!! We love you guys.

--Brian (with lots of help from Jenny Viars) and BDL

If you'd like to help us out with street team email us at

See ya down the road. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fun, Family, and Friends at the Fantastic Floyd Fest

Mainstage of Floyd Fest
(I will probably add more pictures and videos, as well as a link to the recordings to our sets when they come in)
Here is a link to our 4th set of the festival at the Pink Floyd Stage.  This one has Andrew Hendryx from Yarn sitting in with us and ripping the electric mandolin.

And here is the link to our first set of the festival.  It was the VIP party on Wed night and we debuted 3 new songs that we're proud of.  And we have Alex from L Shape Lot playing "Circle" with us.  Check it out!

We were really looking forward to this FloydFest.  They graciously gave us four killer sets, the most we've ever had there, and we had just finished "wood-shedding" in Shelby for several days, working on new songs to debut at the festival.   Other than that we didn't know what to expect.  Every festival is different and going in with a "plan" is useless because the in-the-moment spontaneity is always better than any plan you can come up with.  We would never have guessed that we would come into the festival knowing the guys from L Shape Lot as acquaintances and leave knowing them as brothers....but that's exactly what happened, and it shaped our entire festival experience.

Eric Miller, the lead singer, sent me a text the week before asking me if I would sit in with them on Wednesday night.  Their set was right after ours for the VIP pre-party, and it would be easy to jam a little.  I said "sure," and we exchanged a few ideas about songs and tempos and various music nerd concepts.   Joey had also talked to their guitar player Alex Lanier about sitting in with us.  Joey told me he should play "Circle Around the Sun" with us and join in on the trading-licks part.  Joey added, "Don't worry, this guy rips it."  Joey doesn't lie about things like that, so I knew he'd be fine. 

We got going on the Pink Floyd Garden Stage and had one of the best crowds we've ever seen there.  This is the stage that propelled us to win their "Under the Radar" contest two years before.   (L Shape Lot won it last year.)

Playing the Pink Floyd Garden Stage this year.  
Before I continue, allow me to do a little backtracking. Two years ago we were invited to come up and compete in this contest that consists of about 20-30 unsigned bands.  Our best time slot was at this stage on Saturday night around 10pm, but an hour before that the power shut down completely, causing the entire operation to come to a screeching halt.  We thought this was a terrible thing at first, since we might miss out on our set.  But what happened instead was our set was pushed back to exactly the time that Railroad Earth was finished on the main stage, and this area, the beer garden, filled up with several thousand people; and we played one of the best shows we had ever played at that point.  A month later, we found out that the fans voted us as the best band in the "UTR" series.   We had people come up to us for a full year and say that hearing us play Pink Floyd's "The Wall" on that stage was a highlight for them.

So here we are, playing the same stage to a great crowd again.  Alex came up on "Circle" and just crushed it.  He's going to kill me for saying this but...we've all imagined what it would be like if Tony Rice had decided to play electric guitar instead of acoustic, and watching Alex play you get a little glimpse of that.  Bluegrass guitar picking is one of the most disciplined routes of music you can take.  Alex has that discipline and technique and he just burns up and down that telecaster neck with it.  It's really amazing to both hear and watch.   So there we are with Alex and Joey just going at it, and I'm thinking about how grateful I am to be using 3 picks and not just one.

Alex playing "Circle Around the Sun"
Joey and I got up and played several songs with them including "Freeborn Man," Walls of Time," and a punk tune that I'd never heard before called, "Take the Skinheads Bowling."  It was more fun than anyone expected; we now had new musical brethren, and we were determined to jam as much as possible together.

Here's a video that our friend Scott took.  Unfortunately we can't get the audio and video to sync up.  But it shows how much fun we had together.  This is during their main stage slot on Friday.

L Shape will also be playing at the Garage in Winston Salem this Friday night!  Details here.  

This picture is after our last set together at the VIP Stage.  Friends for life.
Overall the fest was great, and everyone absolutely loved the "new guys" in the band.  We made a lot of new friends and talked to a lot of old friends.

Right before our main stage set

One thing that I always notice is that the lower and mid-level bands can actually put on a much better show than the big-time headliners that everyone comes to see.  I personally thought that our friends Yarn played a much more engaging and rocking set on the main stage than several of the famous headliners.  And I think most of us would say the same about Galactic's set on the Hill Holler Stage on Thur night as well.  Obviously this is all subjective, but I recommend to not get too caught up in only seeing the famous people and give some new bands a chance.  You'll probably be blown away more than you think.  The headliner that I enjoyed the most was Bruce Hornsby.  He surrounds himself by such amazing musicians that his show is just amazing to watch.

What a great pic by our good friend Milo Farineau!

Here are some pictures from the Festival:

Main Stage!

The thing we heard the most through the festival is "Wow, the new guys rock!"

Scotty doing his thing, and looking fantastic.

Roger Gupta got this shot right before our first set on Wednesday

Ashley and I have been listening to Leftover Salmon for a long time, and we agreed that this was the best they've sounded in years.  Their banjo picker, Andy Thorn, is an old friend of mine from Boone NC.  He's an amazing musician and a perfect fit for them.  He has spent time playing in the NC band Big Fat Gap (I love that name) as well as a couple of years with our good friends Larry Keel and Natural Bridge.

We want to thank everyone that came to all our sets and talked us up at the festival.  We'll be playing near your hometown soon, so keep a lookout for us.  Thanks!

Oh, and don't miss L Shape Lot at the Garage in Winston this friday night!

Brian and BDL

Actually this isn't from the festival.  I just liked it.