A Look Back on Rock the Farm Festival

The annual 11-hour marathon on the Jersey shore combines first rate tribute music with a great cause

Today would have been the 7th annual Rock the Farm festival, a great music tribute event conducted each year in the New Jersey shore town of Seaside Heights. But in light of the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers made the responsible decision to cancel, hoping they can bring back the 11-hour music marathon in 2021.

I think the idea behind Rock the Farm is ingenious: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process! It’s almost like a mini Live Aid, except of course The Beatles or The Doors could have never have shared a bill with the Eagles, Guns N’ Roses or Tom Petty.

Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK at Rock the Farm 2019

The event is organized by Jersey non-profit community organization CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which offers post-rehab support programs to individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. Rock the Farm serves as their main annual fundraiser.

I realize that unless you are from Jersey and/or have been to the festival, this is a bit of an inside baseball post. But as more frequent visitors of the blog may recall, I dig seeing tribute bands, especially when they are of the high caliber Rock the Farm has attracted over the years. This year would have been my fourth time in a row to attend. Instead, I’m taking a look back at highlights from the past two years.

Let’s kick things off with a Guns N’ Roses tribute band from Dallas called Guns 4 Roses. While I haven’t found any information on when they were formed, their website lists gigs going back to 2009. Here’s their rendition of Sweet Child O’ Mine captured at Rock the Farm 2018.

TUSK are an outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, mirroring the Rumours  lineup. This band from New Jersey, which tours nationally, features Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Here’s Dreams and You Make Loving Fun, from Rock the Farm 2018.

Another highlight at Rock the Farm 2018 were Free Fallin’, a Tom Petty tribute from Minneapolis, founded in 2007. Their members are Tom Brademeyer  (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Craig Volke  (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals), Russ Lund  (as Ron Blair, bass) and Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums). Here they are with Refugee, one of my favorite Petty tunes.

The headliner at Rock the Farm 2018 were Live/Wire, a kickass AC/DC tribute from New York. Founded in 2000, the band includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). Based on their current schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to be the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). Despite some apparent technical issues with the bagpipe, it’s a pretty cool rendition.

One Fine Tapestry are a tribute to Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different shows. At Rock the Farm 2019, they were backed by a full band. Here’s their rendition of King’s Sweet Seasons.

Decade is an act revolving around great Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway, who is also from New Jersey and performs with different line-ups of talented backing musicians. Frequent members include guitarist Gordon Bunker Strout, pedal steel player Joseph Napolitano, bassists Ken Ramos and John Dickson and keyboarder Steve Cunniff. Sometimes, Hathaway’s band also features a female backing vocalist as was the case at Rock the Farm 2019 with Pam McCoy. Here’s Cinnamon Girl.

Always fun to watch are Rolling Stones tribute The Glimmer Twins from Philly. Named after the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound fantastic: Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ). Check ’em out with Can You Hear Me Knocking.

The final band I’d like to highlight in this look back were the headliner last year: Simply Queen. This Canadian to Queen, which has been around for 15 years, features Rick Rock (as Freddie Mercury), Bob Wegner (as Brian May), Phil Charrette (as Roger Taylor) and Mitch Taylor (as John Deacon). While Simply Queen mostly perform in Canada, they venture out to the U.S. fairly frequently. Here’s a nice rocker called It’s Late.

Sources: YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This week’s Best of What’s New installment brings another nice mix of great new music. From country to blues to soul to singer-songwriter style, it’s all there. Or how about a Boston-based band with a very unique sound they describe as Americana funk? Or a neo soul collaboration’s beautiful cover of a well-known Tracy Chapman tune? I hope I’ve sufficiently whetted your appetite to read on!

Ray Wylie Hubbard/Bad Trick (featuring Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh & Chris Robinson)

While Ray Wylie Hubbard has been active for more than 50 years, I don’t believe I had heard of him before, but I simply couldn’t skip a tune featuring Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh among the guests! Hubbard’s online bio states he is the secret handshake amongst those who know, which to me suggests he may not exactly be a household name. Hubbard was born in Soper, OK on November 13, 1946. Beginning in 1965, during semester breaks from his studies at the University of North Texas, he spent the summers in Red River, N.M., where he started playing music in a folk trio called Three Faces West. During that time period, he wrote a tune with the lovely title Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother, which was first recorded by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973. It helped Hubbard sign with Warner Bros. Records and release his debut Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Cowboy Twinkies in 1976. Seventeen additional country, folk and blues-oriented albums have since appeared. This includes Co-Starring, which came out on July 10 and features the above tune, which was co-written by Hubbard and his wife Judy. Hubbard told Apple Music he had met Ringo about five or six years ago. When Ringo learned about Hubbard’s new album, not only did he offer to play drums on Bad Trick but also ask his brother-in-law Joe Walsh and Don Was to join on guitar and bass, respectively. The fourth guest is Black Crowes co-founder and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. Check out the fun video!

Black Pumas/Fast Car

Based on sampling a few tunes, Black Puma sound like a really cool, relatively new band. According to Apple Music, it’s a collaboration between producer and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Quesada and singer-songwriter Eric Burton, who fuse cinematic neo-soul, light psychedelia, and a touch of urban grit. No matter how you characterize their music, it simply sounds great. Quesada and Burton joined forces in 2018 and released their eponymous debut album in June 2019. Their latest single Fast Car is a cover of the Tracy Chapman tune that appeared on her eponymous debut record in April 1988. I’ve loved that tune from the very first time I heard it when it came out. Things around Chapman seem to have been quiet for a long time. Perhaps this great remake will help bring her back on the radar screens of folks who dig but have forgotten about her.

Twisted Pine/Don’t Come Over Tonight

Don’t Come Over Tonight is a track from Right Now, the forthcoming sophomore album by Twisted Pine, a Boston-based band with a unique sound that’s hard to describe. Here’s how a short bio from their web site puts it: Praised by NPR for their “upbeat, poppy vibe; energetic, driving rhythms; and virtuosic solos,” Twisted Pine will release their sophomore full-length Right Now on August 14, 2020 (Signature Sounds). Exploring a sound they call Americana funk, Twisted Pine takes traditional music in exhilarating directions. Bassist Chris Sartori writes, “This album is easier to feel than describe. We’re rooted in bluegrass, continually inspired by explorers like Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Sierra Hull. Right Now takes this heritage into a new dimension. Our bluegrass is jazzy, our indie folk is poppy, our grooves are funky.” Twisted Pine [Kathleen Parks, fiddle; Dan Bui, mandolin; Chris Sartori, bass; Anh Phung, flute] grooves with fearless improvisation and intricate arrangements. The band has been around since 2013. Their eponymous debut album appeared in July 2017, followed by the EP Dreams in January 2019. Don’t Come Over Tonight was written by Parks. It’s quite unusual, yet pretty cool, in my opinion. These guys are virtuoso musicians and great vocalists. Check it out!

Ruston Kelly/Rubber

Ruston Kelly is a 31-year-old singer-songwriter who was born in Georgetown, S.C. and grew up in Wyoming, Ohio. He got into music at a young age and, according to Wikipedia, had a full album in high school with songs like “Bluebird” and “I’m Leavin’”. After signing a publishing deal with BMG Nashville in 2013, he co-wrote the song Nashville Without You Tim McGraw recorded for his studio album Two Lanes of Freedom, which appeared in February that year. In 2017, Kelly released his debut EP Halloween. His first full-length album Dying Star came out the following year. Released on June 10, Rubber is a track from Kelly’s forthcoming sophomore album Shape & Destroy scheduled for August 28. In October 2017, he married singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, who as reported by Rolling Stone also performs on the album. Apparently, they since filed for divorce.

Mick Hayes/Autumn Romance

Mick Hayes is another great sounding artist with relatively little publicly available information, even though the blues guitarist and vocalist has a website and a Facebook page – I just don’t get it! At least his website links to various reviews of his most recent album My Claim to Fame, which was recorded at the legendary FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala., appeared on May 29 and includes the above tune. According to American Blues Scene, Hayes’ love affair with Muscle Shoals began when he was a young man growing up in upstate New York, where he would browse record shops with wall to wall music from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Duane Allman to Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke.  Rock and Blues Muse notes Hayes and his band have spent the last decade playing up to 200 festival and club gigs a year and have opened for Duke Robillard, Samantha Fish, and Delbert McClinton. AllMusic also lists a 2016 album, Segue, by Mick Hayes Band. The cool thing about My Claim to Fame is that not only did Hayes record it at FAME but, as American Blues Scene pointed out, he also worked with studio musicians who recorded with artists like Ray Charles, Etta James and B.B. King. Oh, and Hayes co-produced the record with John Gifford III, who assisted with engineering Gregg Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood – sounds like the stars truly aligned for Hayes!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ray Wylie Hubbard website; Twisted Pines website; Rolling Stone; American Blues Scene; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube

The Venues: Beacon Theatre

In July 2017, I introduced The Venues, a category featuring famous concert halls, such as The Apollo Theatre and well known TV music programs like The Ed Sullivan Show. For some reason, the category fell off the bandwagon after the third post in November that year – not quite sure why. In any case, I felt the time was right for another installment. One of the venues that came to my mind immediately is the Beacon Theatre in New York City, in part because the beautiful historic theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is associated with two of my favorite bands: The Allman Brothers Band and Steely Dan, which both had frequent annual residencies there. The Dan still does! But first things first – a bit of history.

The Beacon Theatre opened as the Warner’s Beacon Theatre on December 24, 1929. It was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager as a venue for silent films. But when the original owners financially collapsed, Warner Theatres acquired the theater to be a first-run showcase for Warner Bros. films on the Upper West Side. By that time, the movie genre of silent films had already become obsolete. The Beacon, which subsequently was operated by Brandt Theaters, remained a movie theater over next few decades. It would take until 1974, when Steven Singer became the first owner who turned the Beacon into a venue for live music.

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Fortunately, an effort in 1987 to convert the theater into a night club was blocked in court, given its historic and protected architecture. In 1982, it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Through the ’80s and ’90s, the Beacon Theatre continued to fill a spot in the midsize category venue in New York between the larger Radio City Music Hall and various smaller clubs and ballrooms. In 2006, sports and entertainment holding company The Madison Square Garden Company started operating the Beacon. In November that same year, the theater began a 20-year lease by Cablevision, which also leases Radio City Music Hall and owns Madison Square Garden.

Between the second half of 2008 and early 2009, the theater underwent a complete renovation. As reported by The New York Times, the work involved about 1,000 workers, lasted seven months and cost $16 million. The result can be seen in the above photo and is certainly stunning. I was fortunate to experience the mighty venue myself when I saw Steely Dan there in October 2018.

In addition to pop and rock concerts, the Beacon Theatre has hosted political debates, gospel choirs, comedians and many dramatic productions. The 2008 Martin Scorsese picture Shine a Light, which captured The Rolling Stones live in concert, was filmed there. In January 2016, Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday with a show at the Beacon. She also played the venue in May this year as part of her now completed 2018/2019 Fare Thee Well Tour. Time for some music that was performed at the Beacon.

Let’s kick things off with the Grateful Dead, who performed two shows at the theater on June 14 and 15, 1976. Apparently, the following footage of Not Fade Away was captured during a soundcheck there, not one of the actual concerts but, hey, close enough! Plus, it’s a fun clip to watch. Not Fade Away was written by Charles Hardin, a.k.a. Buddy Holly. His producer Norman Petty received a co-credit. The tune was first released as a single in October 1957. It was also included on Holly’s debut album The “Chirping” Crickets, released in November of the same year.

Next up: The Black Crowes and Remedy. Co-written by lead vocalist Chris Robinson and his brother and rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson, the tune appeared on the band’s sophomore album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion from May 1992. The footage is from late August 1992 when The Black Crowes played a series of four shows at the Beacon.

James Taylor is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. One tune I dig in particular is Fire And Rain.  He recorded it for his second studio album Sweet Baby James, which was released in February 1970. The song also came out separately as a single and became Taylor’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This clip was captured during a show on May 30, 1998.

Here are The Rolling Stones with Jumpin’ Jack Flash from the aforementioned Martin Scorsese concert film. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was released as a single in May 1968. The film includes footage from two shows the Stones played at the Beacon. This performance is from their second night there on November 1, 2006.

Starting from 1998, The Allman Brothers Band played spring residencies at the Beacon for 19 years in a row except for 2010 when the theater wasn’t available. This performance of Dreams is from their March 2013 series of gigs. The Gregg Allman song first appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album from November 1969.

On April 1 and 2, 2016, Bonnie Raitt played the Beacon Theatre as part of her extended Dig In Deep Tour, named after her most recent studio album from February 2016. I caught her during that tour in August 2016, which thus far was the first only time. Her gig at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark remains one of the best shows I’ve seen. Co-written by Gordon Kennedy  and Wayne KirkpatrickGypsy In Me is one of the tracks from Dig In Deep. Not only is Raitt a superb guitarist and great vocalist, but she also is as genuine as it can get. There is no BS with this lady. What you get is what you see!

From The Allman Brothers Band it wasn’t a big leap to former member Derek Trucks, his wife Susan Tedeschi and the group they formed in 2010: Tedeschi Trucks Band. My knowledge of their music is fairly limited, and I definitely want to explore them more closely. Here’s their take of Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, another great tune written by Gregg Allman. It first appeared on the Allmans’ third studio album Eat A Peach from February 1972, long before Trucks joined them in 1999. The song was also released separately as a single in April that year. This clip was captured on October 11, 2017 during what looks like a six-date residency the band did at the Beacon that year.

The last and most recent clip I’d like to feature is footage of Steely Dan from their 2018 U.S. tour, which ended with a seven-date residency at the Beacon. Of course, I couldn’t leave out the Dan! This performance of Pretzel Logic was from their final gig on October 30. Co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Pretzel Logic is the title track of Steely Dan’s third studio album that appeared in February 1974.

Until last year when I saw them twice, which included the Beacon for an October 20 show dedicated to my favorite album Aja, I had never seen Steely Dan. Both concerts were fantastic. Fagen and co are currently touring again, which will bring them back to the Beacon in October. While the thought of returning to this beautiful venue is tempting, I can’t justify it to myself, given I saw them twice last year and other shows I’ve been to or still consider for this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Fleetwood Mac/Black Magic Woman

The above clip was captured in Tulsa, Okla. during the opening show of Fleetwood Mac’s 50-plus-date North American tour – the first featuring the band’s new lineup with Mike Campbell and Neil Finn and without Lindsey Buckingham. According to setlist.fm, Fleetwood Mac had not played Black Magic Woman since 1987. The tune goes back all the way to the band’s blues origins. Written by British blues rock artist Peter Green, Black Magic Woman was Fleetwood Mac’s third single released in March 1968. Only a couple of years later, it became a signature song and major hit for Santana.

I realize posting this footage may trigger some comments, or maybe not, but one thing is for sure – ever since Fleetwood Mac announced Buckingham’s exit and their new lineup, there has been a good deal of debate whether the band can be same without him. In my opinion, the answer is a clear ‘no,’ but I also feel this doesn’t mean they can’t go on. Plus, it’s worth remembering that this wasn’t Buckingham’s first departure.

To be clear, I think Lindsey Buckingham is a terrific artist who wrote or co-wrote many Fleetwood Mac tunes I dig, such as Monday Morning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) The Chain (Rumours, 1977), Tusk (Tusk, 1979) and Big Love (Tango In The Night, 1987). His distinct vocals blended well with Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. And let’s not forget he’s a really talented guitarist with a signature sound. Fleetwood Mac simply cannot be the same band without him – and that’s okay!

I will say the circumstances of Buckingham’s departure look unfortunate. Supposedly, there were artistic disagreements between him and the band about the tour, which was then in the planning stages. Sure, at the time there were five members in Fleetwood Mac, and when it’s four against one, at some point you have to figure out how to move forward as a band. But the speed with which that decision was made is remarkable, especially when it comes to a longtime member like Buckingham, who had been with Fleetwood Mac for a total of 38 years, if my math is correct. He already departed once before in 1987 and returned in 1992.

I think it’s intriguing that Fleetwood Mac have revamped their set list, which now combines older material and deeper cuts like Black Magic Woman, Tell Me All The Things You Do (Kiln House, 1970), Hypnotized (Mystery To Me, 1973) and Monday Morning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) with usual suspects, such as The Chain (Rumours, 1977), Dreams (Rumours), Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) and Little Lies (Tango In The Night, 1987). I also feel the inclusion of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over Over and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ is okay and doesn’t make Fleetwood Mac a cover band.

Having said all of the above, I saw Fleetwood Mac (Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks) once in 2013, just months prior to the announcement of Christine McVie’s return. It was a solid show, and I think that does it for me with seeing this band live for time being, especially given high ticket prices and other artists I’d like to see.

Sources: Setlist.fm, Wikipedia, YouTube