Sunday BeachLife Ranch a religious experience
by Garrick Rawlings
Last Wednesday, Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Blount received the “Duo/Group of Year” award at the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards show in Nashville at the Ryman. Sunday afternoon on the BeachLife Ranch’s Hither Stage, they showed why they were honored with their four-piece band The War and Treat. The R&B, gospel, soul, folk, country outfit from Nashville, to Albion, Michigan rocked the crowd. Highlights were their fan-favorite “Five More Minutes,” from their 2020 album, city of hearts, and a heavy mix of soul and R&B classics, including “Respect” and “My Girl.” Both have wide, incredibly powerful voices and their marital banter and shenanigans suggest a soulful version of Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Maddie & Tae
Next. on the Yonder stage was Maddie & Tae, another duo leading a four-piece band from Nashville to Dallas, Texas. These beautiful young ladies have been there for 10 years now and were celebrating Tae’s 27th birthday. Their big hit “Girl in a Country Song” was a response to the “bro-country” era that was peaking around 2014. Much more rock and pop than country in sound and more glam in appearance. The duo wore white pants and large heart-shaped sunglasses, along with chunky gold chains around their necks. The only country thing about this act was that the boys in the group wore tank tops and trucker caps and shouted “y’all” in every dialogue between songs, to the point of being distracted. Once again the booming bass sound mix came through, as it did on Friday, with bass and drums overwhelming the other instruments, though Maddie & Tae’s sweet vocal harmonies cut through the mix. Like many young people, they feel the need to play on backing tracks rather than organically.
Southern rock flame keepers, Drive-By Truckers, took over the Hither stage at 3 p.m. These boys from Georgia and Alabama are devoted disciples of legendary bands Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers, with a good deal of mountain country funk from Neil Young. and Crazy Horse. Their three main melodies and harmonizing guitar front were the highlight for me. The crowd was so ready to get in and dug the band in but he never went over the top when he so easily could have. Again, this set was marred by booming bass and drums, drowning out the guitars, and more so the vocals, dulling the audience’s energy. It sounded like a good set, I just couldn’t hear anything.
Green Kentucky bluegrass
I was looking forward to the band Greensky Bluegrass set on the Yonder stage: acoustic music, no drums, I thought my ears were going to take a break from the sound mixing engineers who love front-of subwoofing -house (FOH). No chance. This five-piece band consists of banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, dobro, and electric bass – all plugged into acoustic instruments except for the bass. Even without drums, the bass was so strong that once again it overwhelmed what should have been a smooth-sounding, well-blended instrumental mix with harmonizing vocals.
Typically, at music festivals, show organizers/promoters hire a staging and sound engineering company to set up the stages/lighting and run the sound. The biggest bands on a national tour can afford to bring their own engineers, who take care of the sound system set up, or patch their own mixers (lighting too). They know the number, the set list and how to solve the acoustic problems that exist in all places. The less fortunate acts, however, are at the mercy of the sound engineers provided by the rented equipment/sound engineering team. These engineers may have never heard the act before and may not have mixed certain instruments before, and may not be familiar with the musical genre and how it is supposed to sound.
Performers on stage cannot hear the FOH sound, so they have no idea what the audience is hearing. On stage, there is another sound engineer, in addition to the FOH engineer who handles the stage monitor mix and that is what the performers hear, which is a completely different mix from the FOH mix.
Here’s my theory on the preponderance of this all-too-familiar low-end audio atrocity. For many years old people were used to listening to very high pitched music by listening to AM radio on crappy speakers. Then, in the 70s, when the high fidelity stereo component industry exploded, the bass finally caught up with the treble. Later in the genres of hip-hop, DJ, heavy metal/thrash, etc., along with the development of low frequency subwoofer technology, those punchy, super bass were literally part of those art forms, part the sound of those music guys – like that boring teenager in his throbbing, throbbing little car next to you at a red light that rattles your bones!
The booming bass has become a chest-pounding macho thing where the bigger the boom, the better the sound. Engineers have all this powerful low-frequency capability, so they feel the need to prove it’s there, regardless of the type of act or instrumentation – at the expense of the audience and the act, unfortunately.
Add to that the fact that many young people’s hearing is destroyed, or perhaps just not developed, due to listening to compressed music on phones, computers and streaming sites. MP3s are so severely compressed that 90% or more of what was on the original recording is lost. This is why compressed music lacks depth and sounds tinny.
Since I’ve been delirious, another annoying sign of the willfully ignorant times is people releasing digitally recorded music on expensive vinyl. The whole point of vinyl-loving audiophiles is the warm embrace of the listening experience of a linear analog vinyl record. Pressing digitally encoded zeros and ones on vinyl to play them back in analog is hilarious.
Back to the show. Luckily, the remaining three acts blended together beautifully.
Luckas Nelson and the promise of the real
Fantastic sound Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real dug in with the funky “Sticks and Stones”, followed by one of his father’s hits, “Every Time He Drinks, He Thinks of Her”. When Lukas swapped his Telecaster for an acoustic guitar for his heartfelt lament “Just Outside of Austin,” he expressed a little more of his iconic father’s influence. Its acoustic soling included flourishes from Willie and Django Reinhardt. He told a great story about dating a woman named Georgia while touring in ‘daddy’s band’, having to perform the Ray Charles (and Willie) classic ‘Georgia on my Mind’ every night while she dumped him. He then regaled us with his excellent “Forget About Georgia”, a really cool response song he came up with in response to this torturous situation.
At 6 p.m., like a cool summer breeze blowing off the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s Wilco blew onto the shores of Redondo Beach. They strode onto the Youunder stage with legendary grace and confidence. and they’re a road-tested band, weaving straight into “Handshake Drugs” from their 2004 album A ghost is born. A few more songs in “Via Chicago” from the 99s summer teeth, evolved from the mellow studio version to a series of explosive sonic events woven into the sad, contemplative tune, sung with chilling sweetness by frontman Jeff Tweedy. Along with loud and jarring sonic electronic stabs, world-class drummer Glenn Kotche erupted in violent thunderous burns in complete contrast to the song’s dark melody and rhythm.
Not a word was said to the crowd until more than 35 minutes into this Midwestern workgroup set. When Tweedy finally took the time to address the crowd, it was to poke fun at the peanut butter flavored whiskey that was being sold at the show. He brought his can from the dressing room to give it to a spectator because he doesn’t drink. Then he rightly mocked the smoke machine.
They did a great version of “California Stars” from their Woody Guthrie collaboration lyrics with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue (’98) as the night began. Mr. Tweedy didn’t talk much, but when he did he was like a man after my heart. He eventually had to make fun of an overzealous security guard in front of the stage beating beach balls. “It’s one of our biggest fears, a beach ball landing on stage,” he said.
“Heavy Metal Drummer”, taken from the famous 2002 album Hotel Yankee Foxtrot loaded straight into a raucous cover of the Grateful Dead’s “US Blues,” which was a perfect ending to an all-too-short set.
Another Americana Music Association Award winner closed out the weekend on the Hither Stage; winner of Song of the Year for “Right On Time”, from her latest In these silent days album and thoughtful Joni Mitchell onstage at the Newport Folk Festival in July, Seattle’s Brandi Carlile. The show started with the dockwork twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth), performing a sort of twin electric guitar opening, leading into Carlile’s dramatic entrance. Former Edie Brickell, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan drummer Matt Chamberlain is the beating heart of this tight band, which also includes Milwaukee native-led string quartet Sistastrings Monique and Chauntee Ross, who also provided background and harmony vocals. They performed a series of his hits, including ‘Broken Horses’, ‘The Story’, ‘The Eye’ and ‘The Joke’. Midway through the show, she mixed in a haunting version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which cleverly morphed into Radiohead’s song “Creep.”
Carlile decided to drop out of the set list and asked permission to share a “sad lesbian ballad”, “Right on Time”, which she performed solo on the piano. To end the show, she sent the band off stage and sweetly performed that old chestnut “Over the Rainbow,” ending the success of the 2022 Beachlife Ranch festival.
Logistically it was a well run festival, all acts started and ended on time. Everyone was efficient and professional and also did a great job cleaning the grounds. This can kill the flow of a festival when there are long delays between acts. Here they have used the two main stage system very effectively. Hour-long sets all day long, with headliners having around 90 minutes with just enough time between sets for crowds to move from stage to stage without the shows overlapping. Emergency room