My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part III

The concerts that moved me

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The third installment of my year-in-review feature looks back on the many great concerts this year I had the fortune to see in 2017. It was a nice mix of major and semi-professional acts, including various excellent tribute bands. Following are highlights from my favorite shows.

U2, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., June 30

After I had listened to U2 for more than 30 years, I finally saw the Irish rock band during their Joshua Tree Tour 2017. In a nutshell, seeing them perform what I think is their best album live in its entirety, along with many other great songs, was simply epic!  You can read more about the show here. In addition, following is a clip of Red Hill Mining Town.

John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, July 7

This was the second time I saw John Mellencamp after close to 20 years. Since the gig was part of a tour supporting his most recent album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which features Carlene Carter, I wasn’t sure what to expect: R.O.C.K. or more of the stripped down Americana Mellencamp has gradually embraced since 1986’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It was definitely the former! While his voice has changed quite a bit since the days of Jack And Diane, Pink Houses, Small Town and Paper In Fire, he still delivered many of his ’80s with great dynamic. More about this great show, which also featured Emmylou Harris as a guest, is here. And for instant gratification, you can watch this nice clip of Pink Houses. Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go beautifully together!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’, F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

If I would have to name one show as the highlight, I guess it would have to be this concert. Seeing blues dynamos Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ bring the good time to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley and doing it with such joy was simply priceless. Also remarkable was opening act Jontavious Willis, a 21-year-old country blues artist from Greenville, Ga., who with just an acoustic guitar blew the roof off the place. I previously reviewed the show here. Following is a clip of the Sleepy John Estes tune Diving Duck Blues. The chemistry between Mahal and Mo’ is just amazing.

Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

It’s hard to believe it took me more than 30 years after I had first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band Deep Purple live. Together with Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and high-energy blues rocker Edgar Winter, it made for three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some additional hearing loss! You can read more about my experience here. And here is a clip of one of Deep Purple’s signature tunes,  Highway Star.

Outstanding Tribute Bands

I’ve also seen a number of excellent tribute bands this year. Full-time professional acts included RAIN and Get The Led Out, tributes to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, respectively. My review of the shows are here and here. Following is a clip of RAIN performing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

And here is Get The Led Out killing it with Rock And Roll.

Two other outstanding tribute bands I like to highlight are Decade and The Royal Scam, tributes to Neil Young and Steely Dan, respectively. In fact, I was so much impressed with these bands that I saw them more than once – Decade three times and The Royal Scam twice. Here is my review of a Decade gig in late October. To get an idea, check out this clip of Ohio.

One of The Royal Scam’s concerts I visited was a great gig at an intimate jazz club in October. I posted about it here. The following clip of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number was captured at an outdoor performance during the summer, the first time I saw these guys.

Cool music festivals

Last but not least I’d like to acknowledge three great music festivals I attended. It started with a British Invasion spectacle in Atlantic City in June, which featured The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next, tributes to The Rolling Stones and The Who, respectively, as well as Britain’s Finest, another tribute band to The Beatles. I posted about the event here. A nice promo clip of Who’s Next is below.

In September, I visited two additional festivals, which are conducted annually. First up was the Rock The Farm Festival in Seaside Heights, N.J., also cleverly called Faux-Chella, the concert that never was. In addition to the above mentioned The Glimmer Twins and Decade, the festival featured tributes to Carole King, Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, The Beatles (yet another tribute band!), The Doors, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. Here is my review of the 10-hour rock marathon. And following is a nice highlights reel of the Pink Floyd tribute, which is called Echoes.

Finally, there was Colts Neck Rockfest. The two-day event presented close to 30 bands from New Jersey. Unlike Rock The Farm, this festival focused less on tribute acts. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers. My post about the great event is here. Following is a clip of Moroccan Sheepherders performing Feeling Stronger Every Day by Chicago.

The last and final installment of this year-in-feature will reflect on some of the great artists who passed in 2017.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Another Weekend Brings Another Great Rock Festival to New Jersey

Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 featured close to 30 bands from the Garden State

To folks who know me and regular readers of the blog, it’s not a big revelation that I greatly enjoy going to music concerts. I’ve certainly been maximizing the live experience so far this year, especially with outdoor events over the summer, ranging from famous to not so famous artists. I must have seen more than 30 acts, and overall the quality has been pretty impressive. Most importantly, I had a great time, which is what music should be all about. And guess what? I’m still hungry for more!

The latest in a long series of outdoor events I visited happened yesterday: The Colts Neck Rockfest in Colts Neck, N.J. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of this annual music festival, even though the venue is fairly close to my house, and this was the 10th year they put it on. I found out about it through a Facebook post from Decade, a terrific Neil Young tribute band I first saw last weekend at Rock The Farm, announcing they would play Colts Neck Rockfest.

Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 Lineup

Unlike Rock The Farm, about which I previously posted here, the Colts Neck Rockfest focused less on tribute acts. Of the 28 bands that performed there Friday night and Saturday, only two fall into that category: Decade and Snow Dog, a tribute to Rush. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers.

Similar to Rock The Farm, there were relatively few people in the beginning. I suppose Saturday during the day, when many folks do their shopping and run other errands, is a tough proposition. When I got to Colts Neck in the early afternoon, there were perhaps 20 people (not counting the musicians). One guy I spotted right away was John Hathaway, the “Neil Young” from Decade.

Usually, I’m a bit reluctant to approach performers, figuring they may not necessarily like it, especially prior to a gig. But Decade’s performance wasn’t slated until much later in the afternoon, so I figured ‘what the heck.’ John turned out to be very nice guy. We ended up chatting for 15 minutes about his passion for Young, how long he has been doing this, his guitar, etc. I also exchanged a few words with the band’s great lead guitarist Joey Herr and learned his cool-looling Gibson SG is from ’71. It was a pleasant experience.

Like at Rock The Farm, the sets yesterday were very tight, so Decade once again didn’t have the time to switch to acoustic. But I learned they will do a much longer gig including an acoustic set at the end of October at The Stone Pony, a well-known music club in Asbury Park. That’s where artists like Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny started out. In fact, Southside Johnny and his Asbury Jukes played The Stone Pony in July. The city continues to be a stronghold in the local Jersey music scene.

Following I’d like to highlight four of the bands I saw yesterday, which I enjoyed in particular.

Sam Sims Band

The Sam Sims Band combines original music written by singer-songwriter Sam Sims with covers. I think their Facebook page nicely characterizes their style as “acoustic-based folk-rock with melodic guitar, soulful ukulele and authentic vocal lyrics.” According to the band’s website, Sims has been writing original songs since we was 14. The now 37-year-old, who plays ukele, guitar, dobro and harmonica, has released four studio albums and one single since 2009. Born in Huntsville, Ala., Sims currently resides in New Jersey. Other members of the band include Kyle Ward (guitar, backing vocals), Dimitris Kulaga (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Aaron Manzo (bass, backing vocals).

The Sam Sims Band

To me the band’s set included two highlights: An incredible acoustic version of Dire Straits’ Sultans Of Swing, during which 21-year-old Ward absolutely killed it; and an original song, Positive Vibration. Apparently, Sims released this beautiful tune earlier this year as a single. Here’s a clip of the studio version.

Colossal Street Jam

Colossal Street Jam is a rock and blues band from Asbury Park, playing original music that reminds me a bit of The Black Crowes. According to Beato’s Blog, they initially started in the early ’90s and released two albums before they split in 1994. The band reunited in late 2013 and released its third album Living Free in October 2016. The current lineup of Colossal Street Jam consists of Gene Potts (vocals), Sal Marra (guitar, electric piano, vocals), Tony Flora (bass), Dave Halpern (drums, percussion) and Eric Safka (keyboards).

Colossal Street Jam

Since I didn’t know their music and they didn’t do much in terms of making announcements, I can only point to two songs they played yesterday. Both are from the Living Free album: Won’t Last This Way and Be Good To Yourself, a tune recorded by Scottish rock singer-songwriter Frankie Miller. Here’s a clip of Won’t Last This Way.

Xol Azul

Xol Azul is a Latin rock band that also hails from Asbury Park and was formed in 2002. They released an album of Spanish rock music in 2008 called Sale Et Xol. They also play covers in English and Spanish from other Latin artists like Santana and Mexican rock band Maná, as well as other bands. To this day, Xol Azul performs in its original lineup, which includes Gidalthi Guillen (bass, vocals), Gil Cruz (guitar), Fabian Rojas (keyboads) and Javier Medel (percussion).

Xol Azul

Yesterday’s set was a mix of English and Spanish tunes. Since I sadly know next to nothing about Spanish rock, predictably, the only songs I recognized were the English covers. Among others, those included Santana’s Evil Ways and Smooth, as well as Miss You by The Rolling Stones. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Evil Ways, one of my favorite early Santana tunes.

Moroccan Sheepherders

Moroccan Sheepherders is a very unique band, not only because of their peculiar name. They play classic rock jams and their own music. According to their Facebook page and website, the band’s origins date back to 1996, when Steve Warendorf (guitar) and Scott Burton (bass) met and shortly thereafter started making music with Craig Smith (drums) and Kyle Spendiff (percussion). The band’s website lists the following additional members: Herbi Freeman (vocals, percussion), Alan Manzo (vocals), Kendall Scott (keyboards), Adam Glenn (keyboards), Pat Murphy (vocals), Laura Johnson (vocals), Darren Johnson (vocals), Mike Sakowski (drums), Aaron Manzo (Bass) and Christopher Allen (saxophone). Apart from all of the aforementioned members, yesterday’s lineup included three additional horn players, making this act a true army of musicians.

Moroccan Shepherders

The band has released two albums with original music, Everybody Needs To Be Herd (2002) and Waves (2007). They describe this material as a mix of genres “ranging from tribal ambient trance to hard-core, blue-eyed blues-rock” – sounds pretty heavy to me. Last night was all about classic rock covers, which the band delivered with an incredible energy. Especially vocalist Laura Johnson was a standout to me. Some tunes of their great set included Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who), Feelin’ Stronger Every Day (Chicago), The Wanton Song (Led Zeppelin), So Lonely (The Police), Sympathy For The Devil (The Rolling Stones) and L.A. Woman (The Doors). Here’s a nice clip of Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, which was captured at Colts Neck Rockfest 2015. 

In addition to being Moroccan Sheepherders’ guitarist, Warendorf is also the founder of Colts Neck Rockfest. “I had the idea to have a little free concert with a few musical acts at Bucks Mill Park in Colts Neck,” he told Community Magazine during a recent interview. “It was basically a backyard barbecue held at the park with about 30 people in attendance. It’s interesting to note that this was the Moroccan Sheepherders’ very first NJ cover music gig, as we were an original act from 1996 until then.” The annual event that started out in 2008 with only a handful of bands has grown into an impressive festival. Assuming there will be a Colts Neck Rockfest 2018, I could definitely see myself go back there next year.

Sources: Sam Sims Facebook page and website, Colossal Street Jam Facebook page and website, Beato’s Blog, Xol Azul Facebook page and website, Moroccan Sheepherders Facebook page and website, Community Magazine, YouTube