The sixth annual River Roots Live festival was held in LeClaire Park in downtown Davenport over the weekend of August 20-21. Once again, I was called upon to be the stage manager/coordinator and did the announcements for the event. As I tell people, I must be doing something right because the promoters of the event - the Iowa Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce and The River Music Experience - keep asking me to come back. In all, I've been involved in five of the six River Roots Live festivals.
We began production meetings back in June headed up once again by Marcy Hyder from the Iowa Quad Cities Chamber and her fun and able right hand gal, Jessica Kohn. And once again, Kyle Carter headed up marketing efforts, and Tom Swanson and Kate Benson from The River Music Experience were the contacts with the bands we hired. We continued with these meetings throughout the summer on a regular basis, getting to the point just before the festival where Marcy sort of stopped in the middle of one meeting, looked at me and exclaimed, "Wow! I think we actually know what we're doing!"
Our budget had grown so we could get bands like The Marshall Tucker Band, Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. And given that the last two years of River Roots Live (see the 2008 entry here, and the 2009 entry here) were on the streets of downtown Davenport and free to the public, we had to make it free at LeClaire Park, as well. Once you open that door, it's going to be difficult to shut it.
In addition to the music, it's also the annual Rib Fest - the 13th year there's been a rib festival (and the 12th year I've been involved). We had six national rib vendors and a couple of local guys show up for the festival this year. Over the past couple years, the rib vendors were inundated with people once we opened the festival up free of charge. All the rib vendors ran out of food quite early a couple years ago. Most of them were back last year and brought even more food, but many were out of food by the time 10 p.m. came around on Saturday night.
This year, the rib vendors had large refrigerated trucks parked in the lots near the park, hoping that they wouldn't run out of ribs again this year. One of the long time rib vendors, Desperado's, was back this year. Their owner, Lee Rice, had suffered a stroke earlier this year and was confined to a wheel chair. Lee, who was well over 400 lbs when I first met him years ago, had dropped over 100 pounds before the 2009 River Roots Live/Rib Fest. He said he was looking to drop another 50 to 75 pounds. Well, he certainly had, but it was sad to see him in his wheel chair, able to only move the left side of his body.
By the way, check out the unique smoker in picture on the upper right. I've seen pictures of these pistol-shaped smokers, but had never seen one up close until the Texas Thunder cooking team brought this one out for display during River Roots Live. It's a true working smoker with a wood box off to one side and the barrel of the "gun" acting as the chimney. I'm not certain I'd want one, but it was pretty interesting to see.
Production work on River Roots Live began on the Wednesday night before the festival. Scott Rexroat's stellar production crew from Rexroat Sound and Elite Productions began to set up the two stages that we had literally side by side in front of the band shell at LeClaire Park. This worked tremendously well for me compared to the last couple of years where we had two stages about 75 yards apart. I had a lot of logistical problems working between the two stage areas and there was a lot of running back and forth between the areas. With the larger stage in front of the band shell and the smaller stage off to the side, the lay-out worked tremendously for us. We did get a little cramped back there from time to time, but we made it work.
This is what the stages looked like after the roofs were up and the lights were set. Scott Rexroat had over 150,000 watts of power for 72 bass speakers and about a dozen P.A. horns all controlled by six sound boards for both front of house and stage monitors. Between what Scott had and what he got from Joe Murphy at Murphy Sound in Iowa City, we had over 120,000 watts of light power combined for both stages. I'm telling you, this was certainly a big time production.
Of course, it wouldn't be River Roots Live if we didn't have some rain to contend with. I think five of the six events have been hampered by rain at some point - either during set up or during the show. We knew rain was going to be coming on Friday evening and we were fully anticipating having to either cancel or push back some starting times with the bands. We were able to get Lojo Russo, a local guitarist/singer, up on stage at 5:30, but it began to rain around 6:15. It continued to rain steadily for the next couple hours, hard enough that we had to shut the music down even though we have roofs over the stage and tents over the sound boards.
We ended up canceling three bands including Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons - a band from Wisconsin that features the son of a Baptist minister (Chisel) as their front man. I was looking forward to their show as I'd heard that Chisel got a lot of his stage presence from watching his preacher father give fire and brimstone services as he was growing up. Now his son is playing the devil's music...
The Marshall Tucker Band was the headliner on Friday night. Like many of the old time bands we've had in the past, there was only one original member of the band still around - lead singer Doug Gray (seated in the lower right corner of the picture on the left). Three of the original members of the band, including the two Caldwell brothers - Toy and Tommy - are dead. The other members - drummer Paul Riddle and flutist Jerry Eubanks - retired from the road a number of years ago.
The Marshall Tucker Band continues to play today anchored by guitarists Stuart Swanlund and Rick Willis. Georgian Marcus James Henderson takes over the reed instrument parts of the band and spells Gray on some songs where the 67-year-old can't quite hit some of those notes like he used to nearly 40 years ago.
Because these classic rock bands usually only have one or two of the original members in the band, their bread and butter is their live shows. They usually don't do albums any longer and they have to be damn good in concert or people aren't going to come and see them. Marshall Tucker has a rabid following as witnessed by the nearly 3,000 people who stuck around in the rain to wait for their show later that evening.
I don't usually have much interaction with members of the band, but I did spend about 10 minutes before their show with the members of the band, joking back and forth with them and their road manager, David Warren. Doug Gray and David were telling me about a time out in Colorado a few years ago when the promoter had the band play in the middle of a driving rain with lightning dancing all over the place. "There had to be 2,000 people on this hillside, all holdin' umbrellas, with all this lightning." David told me.
"Crazy people," Doug said. "But that's our fans. The funny thing about it was that it was really lightnin' out when we were playin' 'Fire on the Mountain'." (The song features the line "Lightning in the air...")
I wished Doug Gray to have a good show and he gave me sort of a half-hug and a hand shake. My t-shirt was wet from being out in the rain earlier and he told me, "Now, I don't mean to sound like an old grandfather, but, Son, you've got to change outta that wet shirt!" I told him I was going to do that just as soon as I got off the stage.
Nice guys and they did a pretty good job on stage. I can't say it was a stellar show from what I saw and heard (remember, I don't get to see many shows in my capacity of stage manager), but they did do a good job.
Our Friday night was closed out by Backyard Tire Fire, a Bloomington, IL-based band that plays American roots-style rock. These guys played at River Roots Live in 2009 and were stepped on - literally - by Joe Bonamassa who began to play his set while the band was playing their last song on the small stage. It was one of the most unprofessional things I've ever witnessed in my years of working these events. And the Backyard Tire Fire guys sorely remembered the slight. They all laughed when I promised the guys this year that they could start playing during Marshall Tucker's encore.
Saturday awoke to gray skies and cool temperatures. Our first band wasn't scheduled to start until noon and Creedence Clearwater Revisited wasn't due in until about 10:30 a.m. for their set up and sound check. Compared to other early morning load-ins we've had in the past, this was a piece of cake. I was actually able to sleep in and got to the stage area around 8:30 in the morning.
The road crew from Creedence got in and immediately began bitching about this and that. We had a problem with the bass guitar amplifier and it was evident that it wasn't going to work for the performance. That didn't make them happy. We had six stage hands on deck to help them with set up and they didn't think that was enough. One of the guys on the Creedence crew suffered a small cut, more of an abrasion, on his arm and demanded to see the Emergency Medical Technician on site. And he came back with this bandage that covered about a third of his forearm - sort of overkill for the small scrape that he had.
But after awhile, the Creedence crew began to settle in, they warmed up to us and things began to get a lot better with them. The band had played in western Nebraska the night before and it was a 650 mile, 10 hour drive overnight for the band and crew. So it was understandable that the crew was a little cranky at first while the band was back in a hotel room sleeping and resting up for the show later in the evening.
The sun came out just before noon making everything hot and sticky as the first bands began to play. We had a pretty spacious backstage area with some RV trailers that were used for dressing rooms or "chill stations" for the bands. We had a great catering service put on by Mike and Mary Monfort again, with help from Neil Vigars who did a lot of the procuring of food and drinks for the back stage area and to put in the band's trailers as part of their contract riders. That's one of the problems I have with River Roots Live being paired with the Rib Fest - I hardly ever get a chance to take the time to go try some ribs. But the Monfort's always do a good job of providing some great food to the bands and production crew.
We had a pretty good sized crowd for the afternoon, partly because of the draw of the ribs and the fact that it was free admission. We knew we were going to have a huge crowd that evening and everyone from the cops to the beer guys to the rib vendors were gearing up for the night. But in the meantime, the music continued and it featured an eclectic mix of American-roots-based music, modern bluegrass, hip-hop/reggae, and spacey hippies era rock. The band pictured on the right is a local Quad City band -Bumper Crop - fronted by Craig Smith, whose wife, DaMel, cuts my hair at Salon Luce in downtown Davenport. (A little plug for Craig and DaMel who own the shop.)
By the way, I'd be very remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things. First, many of the pictures in this entry are courtesy of Tony McKinney who works for Rexroat Sound. Tony takes a lot of great photos from his vantage point either on stage or out at the front of house sound board. So I have to thank Tony for letting me use some of the pictures.
Secondly, I have to acknowledge that I had help this year in the form of my lovely wife, Cindy, who was my assistant behind the stage. Last year, Cindy said to me, "What do you do after the show is over on Saturday night so that you don't get home until 3 a.m.? I suppose you just sit and drink and carry on with everyone."
Well, there is some of that, but I am pretty busy getting stuff put away, cleaning stuff up, helping with this or that. Last year, she stuck around after Joe Bonamassa played on Saturday night and helped me with my duties. She said, "I really had no idea of all the stuff you do at these shows!" So, she volunteered to help out behind the stage this year and she did a great job. At times, she would be sitting around, feeling guilty that she wasn't doing something at that moment. But as I explained to her many times, "Don't worry. You'll get busy. We just need you to be ready when we need you."
Later in the afternoon, Cindy came up to me and said, "Hey, WQAD wants to interview you over by the backstage entrance." I went over there and WQAD's Brian Boesen, whom I'd met before on a couple of occasions (including the night before when he was hanging out in the VIP area of the festival with Cindy and our friends Greg and Jenny Hipskind), was wanting to put me on camera.
Well, I looked like hell - sweaty, hair all askew - and I protested about being put on camera. He said, "Oh, come on. We'll just do a head and shoulders shot."
If you want to see the segment that Brian did on River Roots Live, including my little part of the interview he did with me, click here.
The crowd began to fill in quite rapidly on Saturday evening in anticipation of both Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. We had some last minute requests above and beyond the standard tour riders that we have to fulfill for national acts like those two bands. Kate Benson, who is the events coordinator at the River Music Experience, did a great job with many of these requests including running out to get mouthwash so Grace Potter's road crew could clean the face of the microphones. (I never heard of that before, but it certainly made sense - especially at a festival.) Here's Kate in an all too familiar pose with the phone pressed to her face as she cheerfully ran down some inane request from one of the bands.
One of the true highlights of River Roots Live is discovering bands that I'm not familiar with and this year that band was Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights, a Dallas-based band that played good ol' straight-forward rock and roll. I had a chance to catch a bit of their set and I was standing with a couple guys from Rexroat Sound at the monitor board on the small stage who were just amazed at how well these guys played. And they did do a great job. It was the perfect lead-in to Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Here's a couple pictures of the crowd just before Creedence played that evening. In the picture in the upper left, you see the back of Eric Kranz of Rexroat Sound, affectionately known to his friends as "Chikken", getting things ready for Creedence to take the stage. The picture on the upper right is one that Tony McKinney took just after the show began. Police estimated there were between 20,000 to 25,000 people at the park that evening. It was just absolutely packed - the most people I'd ever seen at LeClaire Park.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited has only two of the four original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival - drummer Doug Clifford and bass player Stu Cook. John Fogerty, who wrote most of the great Creedence songs, has his own solo career and wants nothing to do with the reincarnation of the band. Fogerty's brother, Tom, died 20 years ago when he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion for a back ailment. The original CCR may be the first main stream roots rock act to make it big. I still have trouble believing they were from the San Francisco Bay Area and not from the Mississippi Delta.
The other members of Creedence Clearwater Revisited feature lead singer John Tristao, whose vocals are very similar to John Fogerty's. Before his work with Creedence, Tristao was with a Bay Area band by the name of People!, who had a hit back in the mid-60's called "I Love You". We've seen Creedence Clearwater Revisited at Summerfest in Milwaukee in the past and his Fogerty-like vocals were the key to making the band sound like, well, like Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Guitarist Tal Morris and guitarist/keyboard player Steve Gunnermake up the rest of the CCR band. Morris has worked with the likes of Huey Lewis and the News, Ronnie Montrose, and the Sons of Champlin. Morris replaced original Creedence Clearwater Revisited guitarist Elliott Easton - formerly of The Cars- a few years ago. Steve Gunner is sort of the "everyman" for Creedence playing not only guitar and keyboards, but doing some background singing, playing percussion and a little harmonica.
Creedence (pictured at right during their show at River Roots Live) showed up around 8 p.m. for their 9:00 p.m. show. Their road manager, Wayne Nagel, is a music industry veteran, probably best known as one of the co-founders of the Austin Rehearsal Complex - a.k.a. - the ARC - in Austin, TX. The ARC was known as the hub of Austin music in the 90's with a large number of area musicians using the space to rehearse and record. Nagel was also the manager of the famous Continental Club in Austin for a number of years. The number of bands and artists that have made their way up through the ranks of the Austin music scene and who have played the Continental Club since 1957 is mind-boggling.
Wayne was a very nice guy in a down-home Texas sort of way. He was a somewhat imposing figure with a barrel chest, but had a quick smile and was very easy to work with. He was overly grateful for the requests he put forth and was very appreciative of our efforts in making sure everything came off without a hitch. I've always said the national acts are usually the easiest to work with, even if they can be a little demanding. There's a lot of give and take when it comes to working festivals, and bands like CCR and The Marshall Tucker Band understand that.
Unfortunately, the management for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals didn't quite understand that (as did the management with Joe Bonamassa the previous couple of years). Grace Potter's tour manager, Ben Erickson, was a nice enough guy, but a little high-strung and overly demanding at times. Ben heads the Elysian Artist Group, a management firm that handles both business and tours for the likes of Grace Potter and Martin Sexton.
One of the last minute requests we got from Ben was a police security detail in and around the backstage area for Grace Potter. Grace Potter is a rapidly rising star in the music world and she's not bad to look at either. With her long hair and long legs, it's little wonder that she probably gets hassled by fans on a regular basis. However, Ben told me that one of the biggest problems she has is with other musicians hassling her - especially at festivals like River Roots Live. So, we had to coordinate with the Davenport Police Department in getting one of their uniform cops to accompany Grace at all times and stand guard outside her trailer before and after the show. Mark Hanssen, lovingly known as "Lumpy" to his fellow cops, drew the short straw to take on this task. Mark told me, "I have no idea who Grace Potter is, but by Monday, I may be one of her biggest fans."
Another strange request from Ben Erickson was that no one was to be on or near the stage area during Grace Potter's show. We had three stairwells up to the stage and he wanted security posted at each one. Well, we couldn't do that and I told him that we just didn't have the manpower. I just decided to clear the backstage area of all non-essential personnel including some of the bands who had played earlier in the day. That was one of the more unpleasant parts of my job as the stage manager.
As Creedence was winding down on stage, it was evident that they were running over their time allotment. And, quite frankly, that was fine with me. Nearly every song that CCR played was one that you'd hear on the radio at almost any time on any day. It was an amazing run of songs they had with the original band.
Wayne Nagel, Ben Erickson and I huddled before Creedence ended their show. Wayne explained the way they did their encores - come off stage, go back on for two songs, come off again, go back on for two final songs. We wanted Grace Potter to start almost as soon as Creedence made their way off stage. Ben knew this would cut into their 10:30 p.m. starting time by about 10 to 15 minutes. Ben was told that they had to be off stage by midnight per noise restrictions for the City of Davenport. (I found out later we had a variance for the noise abatement.) I told him that if Grace went 10 minutes past midnight, I'm sure the cops wouldn't roust them from the stage. Mark Hanssen was standing right next to me and I looked at him and he sort of shook his head "no" when I wanted confirmation to that. Still it didn't set well with Ben.
As we went to the smaller stage with Grace and the band, Ben was having a mini fit on the stage. "We're the f***ing headliners here! We shouldn't have to get pushed around by a bunch of has-been musicians!"
I turned on my heels and went right up to his face. I said, "Hang a second, son. CREEDENCE is the headliner tonight! Look at the crowd that came out to see them! Do you think this crowd is for Grace? 3/4's of the people here have never heard of Grace Potter! Your job is to hold the crowd and to make new fans!" And with that, I jumped off the stage and went to the backstage area.
Later on, after Grace began her set, Ben came up to me and apologized. He said, "Sorry I snapped at you earlier. You're right. Creedence is the headliner and we're just the clean up act." Glad he saw it that way. And I'm glad that I didn't have to tell him that Creedence got about 3 and a half times more money than Grace did. But every cent we paid to Creedence was worth it. They did one helluva job.
One of the problems with being the stage manager and announcer for the event is that most people think that I'm in charge of the whole event. We have a television crew from Impact Video that provides the Jumbotron screen and does television production for the event. A lot of times in the past, they've shown me on the Jumbotron when I do my little bit of announcing. Over the past couple of years, I've had a wireless microphone and would stand off to the side of the stage out of sight of both the cameras and most of the people. But I still get recognized from time to time.
One of those times occured during Grace Potter's set. Grace Potter's Hammond B-3 organ was set up to the far side of stage right and we didn't have any handheld cameras set up for that stage. We just had one camera situated on top of the scaffolding above the front of house sound board. The only problem was that right in between Grace and the camera was one of the decorative lamp posts that are in the LeClaire park bandshell area. So the cameraman couldn't get any shots of Grace Potter for the Jumbotron.
This infuriated a number of people who were back toward the middle part of the park. I went out to the front of house during Grace's set (I always like to go out to the sound board because, quite frankly, that's the best sounding place for any concert) to hang for a bit. One very inebriated 30's-something lady came up to me and began to complain. "Hey, this is a bunch of shit! We can't see Grace Potter. What the f***'s wrong with the cameraman? I can do a better job than he can!"
I said, "See that lamp post between here and the stage? Well, it's right in the way of the camera and where Grace is standing."
She drunkenly said, "Well, that's a bunch of shit, man!"
I got closer to her face and calmly said, "Hey! How much did you pay to get in here?" She backed off very quickly after that.
Later on, Grace came out from behind the organ and stood at center stage for a good portion of the rest of the night allowing the camera to follow her around.
As I said earlier, I tried to keep all non-essential people from the back stage area while Grace was playing. We had a few people from the Iowa Quad Cities Chamber come back, including Executive VP Tom Flaherty, Marcy's boss. I had to explain to him that we couldn't have anyone close to the stage area and he helped make sure that happened. However, one guy was right up behind the stage taking pictures with his Iphone. And he wasn't wearing any backstage credentials. I went up to him and sort of pulled him away from the stage area. I said, "Who are you!?"
He said, "I'm the lead guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revisited!"
I looked at him in the face and saw that it was, indeed, Tal Morris. I said, "Oh, man. I'm sorry. Grace Potter's manager said that he didn't want anyone hanging close to the stage area and I didn't see any credentials on you."
He sort of laughed and pointed at their tour bus. "My credentials are on the bus! I've never heard of these guys and I wanted to get pictures so I can say I played on the same bill with them when they get really big!"
Well, Grace went about 20 minutes over the midnight curfew. I was a little unhappy about that because she was really milking the crowd that was left - about 3,000 strong by the time the night was over - and stringing out her songs. I stood over on the now bare main stage with Tom Flaherty and his girlfriend waiting for Grace to get over. Now, she was good, but I thought she was also a little egotistical when it came to the end of her show.
As we were standing there, Tom came over to me and shook my hand. He said, "Thanks for not screwing up."
I looked at him funny and said, "You thought we would screw up?"
He said, "No, I'm serious. Thanks for not screwing up. This means a lot to me and the Chamber."
After getting Grace off the stage and loaded up to get back to the hotel, Cindy and I began cleaning up the trailers and backstage area. One of the fringe benefits of cleaning the trailers after the headliners have been in them is scavenging the remains of their food that is part of their contract riders. Creedence had a sandwich tray along with cheeses, wines, beer and some other munchie food. Grace Potter's trailer had a similar spread. Of course, they never come close to finishing any of the food provided. Creedence had asked for ribs from one of the rib vendors and we got some for them to take on their bus.
Looking back, it was a pretty stressful River Roots Live for me. But it was also one of the most rewarding of all I've been involved. I had a lot of great help in the back stage area and I can't go without acknowledging the great help I had from Tom Swanson and his wife, Katie, along with Tim (Red) Roberts who were the defacto stage-hands and jack-of-all trades all weekend long. And I have to also acknowledge the help from CC Backline in Peoria - Chad Cook and his partner, Kris (aka "Squid") - who provided a number of backline instruments, amplifiers and speaker bottoms for a number of the bands. Everyone worked so well together that it really took a lot of pressure off of me.
After we finished up, I sent Cindy home and helped out with a few more chores. The RRL production staff met up behind the stage area around 3 a.m. for a few beers, to tell some stories and share some laughs. We keep telling each other that this would be the last time we do River Roots Live, but I have a funny feeling that I'll be getting a call from Marcy sometime in March or April of next year making sure I had that weekend open.