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Ben Kaufmann opened his eyes at 6:40 A.M. on April 20 to the sound of his son’s voice, calling him to come “play trains.” He got out of bed in his Northern California home and made breakfast for his family. Then, the two converged on the train set. After hitting the road hard in early 2015 with his group of jamgrass pioneers Yonder Mountain String Band, everything was finally in its right place.

“It was the same breakfast, the same place, the same little voice,” says Kaufmann. “But my appreciation of those things was completely different.”

Two weeks earlier, Kaufmann stood up from his hotel bed in Reno, Nev. and felt a bolt of pain rip through his gut. He dragged himself through the show that night, relying on adrenaline from the crowd to push him along, and then was off to Oakland and Los Angeles, swallowing the pain—as well as a few Advil—that was searing his kidney. The three days were crushing and as he stepped back onto the tour bus in Los Angeles, he knew that it was past time to find an emergency room.

Those days, and the hospital stay that followed, were already a bad memory as Kaufmann ate breakfast with his wife and son in late April. They were a bookend to one of the most dramatic years in the lives of both Kaufmann and Yonder Mountain String Band: In April 2014, Yonder’s mandolin player and co-founder Jeff Austin announced that he was leaving the band to launch a solo career, sending a divisive ripple through the band’s fanbase and the blue- grass world at large.

But often, clarity comes after pain. And, on this morning, Kaufmann saw that clearer than ever: “Almost a year ago, we made what was probably the most difficult decision of my life: to basically break up the original Yonder Mountain,” he recalls. “But musically, that was the best thing that’s ever happened to us.” Continue reading


Summer concerts present the musical quagmire of the year: as the biggest shows of the season come with an ever-growing price tag, how can you get your fill of sunshine and music without breaking the bank?

More and more every summer, the answer is showing up in small towns across Indiana in the form of free outdoor concert series. This season, there are no less than six free festivals and series within a few hours drive of Indianapolis, with acts ranging from local favorites to cover bands to nationally touring artists.

By paying for publicity, bookings, production and transportation, towns like Kokomo and Gas City take an immediate financial hit by booking multi-date concert series without charging for entry. But the return on investment flows back in other ways, according to Andy Wilson, whose Bohlsen Group helps hire talent for the Ferdinand Folk Festival and Rushville’s Riverside Park Amphitheater shows. Continue reading

SOJA’s Righteous Noise

Published November 14th, 2014 in Relix Magazine

The rush of noise swirling around the eight members of SOJA has never been louder. After more than a decade of steady climbing, the Virginia reggae crew released their guest-packed fifth album in August, then immediately flew off for a Hawaiian took a moment to catch their breath and launched a month-long tear through Europe. They’re in the middle of another year logging hundreds of shows and playing increasingly bigger venues to increasingly wider audiences. Their Facebook page has more than 3.5 million likes; they’ve sold nearly 300,000 records. By any measure, SOJA is one of the biggest reggae groups in the world.

The band’s dreadlocked American Rasta leader, Jacob Hemphill, sits in the eye of the storm, as calm and cool as ever. And he has a long-gone, German-American poet to thank.

Perched in his Virginia home, he begins to recite from memory: “‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on tour, good terms with all persons…’” he trails off. “That’s my favorite poem ever. It makes sense to me.” Continue reading

Amid of sea of activity backstage at London’s famed Brixton Academy, John Butler is calm. He’s enjoying the success of his first studio album in nearly four years, he’s gearing up for a sold-out show at a marquee venue and he’s focused. Well, almost.

“Let me close this window and tell my comrades to shut the fuck up,” he says with an audible grin before quieting his entourage. Then, he breaks into a laugh, amazed.

“Wow, they actually did. I thought they’d tell me to get fucked.”

In a few hours, he’ll play to a crowd of nearly 5,000 people. His trio, rounded out by bassist Byron Luiters and brand-new drummer Grant Gerathy, will dive into their percussive mix of roots, rock and reggae with Butler’s rat-a-tat singing topping each jam. Later, alone onstage, he’ll pick through the beautiful, 12-minute instrumental “Ocean.” He’ll even curse corrupt world leaders between songs.

“Power to us—power to the people,” he’ll say. “Because if we don’t protect it, you can surely bet that your leaders aren’t.” Then, he’ll slip into “How You Sleep at Night,” from his sixth album, Flesh & Blood, which was released in February and is an easy pick for his best-ever record.

“Do I dare to believe in something more?” he’ll sing. “‘Cause all I hear is lies dressed up in fantasies.”

But that rumbling, emotional purge of a performance is still hours away. For now, Butler is here, pushing as many thoughts through his lips as he can manage. When he speaks of his new album and his new band—or about the myriad environmental and social issues that he devotes much of his waking life to—he’s sharp and focused. Like the voice that comes through in his songs, his words are sincere and immediate.

“I’m going to play the Brixton Academy tonight,” says the 39-year-old. “My kids are on tour with me. It is all good. But I’m here. And I’m happy to be here. I’m not thinking about being anywhere else.” Continue reading

Thanks to that wild voice, expressive face and often-exposed belly, Tracy Morgan has been one of the most recognizable people on television for nearly 20 years.

The Brooklyn-born comic developed his absurd comedy on the stand-up circuit in the ’90s and brought his weirdo genius to “Saturday Night Live” with such classic characters as Brian Fellows (Safari Planet) and Dominican Lou. On “30 Rock,” he played an even more outrageous version of himself: Tracy Jordan, the diabetic, hard-partying celebrity with equal love for strippers and his wife.

Now, with “Bona Fide,” which aired April 20 on Comedy Central, and a national stand-up tour, Morgan is back to basics and better than ever. We spoke to him about his diabetes, his baby daughter, his future and, um, his favorite smell.

Question: So “Bona Fide” has aired. Did anybody’s reaction make you feel especially great?

Answer: Yeah, man, everybody. A lot of people watched the special and called to congratulate me, to embrace me, and it really made me feel good. My daughter started really laughing when the special was on, when she heard my voice. It really touched me that my daughter — and she’s only 9 months old — had so much fun watching daddy. Continue reading

Real Estate: Atlas Origins

Published March 22nd, 2014 in Relix Magazine

Since their self-titled debut dropped in 2009, New Jersey band Real Estate have straddled a line between two worlds—one foot in the more buttoned-up, taste-making indie rock universe, and one planted firmly in the anything-goes territory where so many psychedelic and jambands plant their flags. The band’s third album, Atlas, isn’t going to push them either way, but it’ll certainly help them gain wider-still audiences in both camps. Recorded in Wilco’s Chicago studio and produced by Tom Schick, who’s worked with Ryan Adams, Sean Lennon and more, Atlas maintains the be-easy, daydream quality of Real Estate’s first two albums, but blows off some of the dust to reveal some truly gorgeous sounds, twinkling guitars, hushed acoustics, swaying melodies.

With two founding members playing in successful side projects (both Matthew Mondanile’s Ducktails and Alex Bleeker and The Freaks released albums last year) lead songwriter Martin Courtney newly married (and working on his own project…. more on that soon), new keyboard player Matt Kallman—formerly from Girls—and drummer Jackson Pollis rounding out the lineup, the Real Estate universe has never been more full of stars.

Relix spoke with Courtney and Bleeker about playing Wilco’s guitars, forgetting about ‘lo-fi’ and rocking out to Huey Lewis. Continue reading

Railroad Earth: Last of the Outlaws

Published February 7th, 2014 in Relix Magazine

In the center of Railroad Earth’s seventh album, Last of the Outlaws, the band unleashes a beast. The 21-minute, multi-part, string-band symphony “All That’s Dead May Live Again/Face with a Hole” may become Railroad Earth’s identifying recording—the moment where they laugh in the faces of the critics who’ve lazily dubbed them the “folk-pop-Celtic-bluegrass-roots-and-rock act from Jersey.” The piece finds this sextet beautifully, seamlessly weaving through distinct movements and melodies that cover the gamut of styles and emotions—like The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, but more focused. They’re bravely staring down a storm in the whipping third movement before a blissful, meditative, piano-led calm takes over in the fourth, and an uplifting chant marches through the fifth and sixth. Continue reading

Photo by Dylan Long

 

On March 16, 2013, songwriter and bandleader Jason Molina died in his home in Indianapolis at the age of 39 from complications related to alcoholism. For a select group of devoted fans and musicians, Molina’s death was a brutal blow: the abrupt end to one of the most beloved, best-kept secrets in rock’n’roll. Often compared to singer-songwriters like Ryan Adams, Will Oldham and Elliott Smith, Molina’s music, as a solo musician and with his bands/collectives Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., lived at the intersection of beauty and pain. Molina was also prolific, with nearly 20 albums to his name.

Now, after the 10th anniversary rerelease of Songs: Ohia’s gorgeous, rough-edged opus “The Magnolia Electric Co.,” and nearly a year after his death, his former bandmates have assembled for a short tour paying tribute to Molina in Durham and Asheville, North Carolina, Chicago and Indianapolis. They’ve dubbed the short tour “Songs: Molina – A Memorial Electric Co.” It’s a chance to hear the musician’s best work while paying respects to one of rock’s darkest, most enigmatic figures.

Former Magnolia Electric Co. guitarist Jason Evans Groth spoke to the Star to share his thoughts on Molina’s legacy, the tour and the man himself. Continue reading

Nothing says Indianapolis like a dozen dancing Chinese Michael Jacksons

 

How many people in China could tell you what a Pacer is? How many have heard of St. Elmo’s spicy shrimp cocktail? Whatever the number, it is set to increase by 30,000 by month’s end.

That’s how many people are estimated to attend “A Taste of Indianapolis,” a month-long exhibit in at the Hangzhou Public Library. Since 2008, Indianapolis has maintained a sister city relationship with Hangzhou (pronounced: Hung-jo), a city of more than 6 million people on the Yangtze River Delta in eastern China.

In recent years, the relationship has brought a Butler University study trip, a librarian exchange and a Perry Township School District educational partnership.

This time, city and cultural officials decided to give Hangzhou a picture of Hoosier pride. “A Taste of Indianapolis” features 134 photo boards, a 40-minute video and seven life-size cutouts and items donated by local sports organizations and cultural institutions. The exhibit received funding from 13 sponsors. Continue reading

It’s impossible not to be gripped by the weight of history when visiting Caesarea, a 2,000-year-old site of vast Roman ruins on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Today, upscale restaurants and artist boutiques sit between the ancient brick walls, but nowhere do historic and modern twist together more effectively than Caesarea’s, 4,000-seat, Old Roman Amphitheatre.

The venue was a huge jump for Regina Spektor, who played Tel Aviv’s mid-sized Barby in 2009, yet the show was sold out. Spektor’s husband Jack Dishel and his band Only Son opened the evening with some powerful, if not completely original, rock’n’roll. It was a drastic contrast to Spektor’s first song: “Ain’t No Cover,” a plaintive ballad of Spektor’s signature-staccato vocals and her fingers thumping on the microphone.

“I’m a little bit in shock to be [in Israel] again,” said Spektor, her eyes roaming around the huge amphitheater. “This is the oldest place we’ve ever played.” Continue reading


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