The Treefort Music Festival in Boise, Idaho (March 20-23) recently announced more bands in its line-up, and I'm thinking a road trip is in order.
My highlights include stuff I've already seen and know to be rad live, like The Joy Formidable, who generally put on a great, high-energy rock set, Dan Deacon and his high-octane experimental dance and Sallie Ford's great retro tunes.
But there's tons more I haven't seen, like indie legends Built to Spill, Philly producer RJD2, Minneapolis synth-pop outfit Poliça, Seattle's beloved Chastity Belt and the rising star (with a killer name) Perfect Pussy.
And, lest we forget, longtime snotty, irreverent punks The Dwarves are on the bill too. I realize The Dwarves are silly and a lot of their imagery and lyrics are horribly offensive, but come on guys, THE DWARVES. I've seen them for an all-too short set a couple years ago at Fest, but it was some of the best 15 minutes of my life, so I'm totally going if only for that.
Check out more about Treefort—including passes, ticket info, and non-music stuff like a film festival and literary series—at treefortmusicfest.com.
Col. J.D. Wilkes is perhaps best known as the fire-breathing frontman for The Legendary Shack Shakers, a Southern gothic rock-and-roll band that has been chewing up venues with their outrageous live shows since the mid-'90's. Far from being any one-trick pony though, Wilkes has also forayed into the realm of artist, author and filmmaker. His documentary Seven Signs explores the mythology and music of the American South, and his book Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky chronicles the rich history of folk music gatherings across his home state.
With the Shack Shakers currently on hold, Wilkes has turned his attention to the Dirt Daubers, a group he started with his wife, Jessica, in 2009. While the band's previous two albums were stripped-down, acoustic affairs, their latest release, Wild Moon, marks the band's growth from an acoustic roots project to an amped-up quartet, soaked with blues and rockabilly. The Dirt Daubers perform at the Missoula Winery this Saturday, and we caught up with the Colonel to talk about his music, American folklore and the craziest thing he's seen from the stage.
What prompted the Dirt Daubers' evolution from an acoustic roots band to an amped up, electric lineup for Wild Moon?
JD Wilkes: Jessica was writing some awesome new tunes and it quickly became obvious that the band would require a broader sound. I also had a handful of tunes that matched the intensity, so we expanded our sonic range to accommodate. We still play some of the old tunes too, but thanks to our wider range we can play all that and more.
It feels like you have a near-historian approach to the music you perform with The Dirt Daubers. What is important to you about recording sounds most people associate with a bygone era?
Wilkes: Our new record actually sounds quite fresh. Lyrically, though, it might be somewhat obscure...I mean, I'm writing tunes about Amish people and crib death. However, Jessica's tunes are especially powerful and fresh and resonate with the folks that are coming out.
You've played harmonica alongside some legends, like Merle Haggard and Hank Williams III. Is there a single performer or session that stands out in your memory?
Wilkes: Getting to record at the Cash Cabin was pretty great. John Carter Cash was at the helm and I got to meet and play alongside Sam Bush and Bobby Bare. There were a bunch of ostriches running around outside. It was surreal.
You're also particularly known for being a charismatic frontman. Is there a certain energy or inspiration you try to channel on stage?
Wilkes: There's no particular thing I'm trying to channel or copy...just the spirit of the song as it's being performed in the moment. "Getting into character" pretty much happens the moment the first note is sounded. After doing this for almost twenty-five years, it's just like starting a car.
You've delved in to a broad spectrum of artistic expression, from comics to movies. Does any one art form resonate deepest with you?
Wilkes: I guess music does. Nowadays I'm devoting myself to learning banjo. But my New Years resolution is to draw more. Maybe do some animation. Hell I don't know.
Much of your art has a pronounced interest in the gothic side of American mythology. What is it about the darker side this country's folklore that interests you so much?
Wilkes: When you grow up in a boring, small town one way to stay entertained is to dig into the dramatic history of the area. Researching those myths and writing songs was a great way to keep from going insane. A different kind of insanity set in though...one I've been able to spin into a small career.
Is there much in the way of more modern, contemporary art that interests you?
Wilkes: Jess and I both love mid-century modern design. But I don't personally care for much of what passes for culture and design nowadays. There is so much better music and art from the not-so-distant past (long before the distractions of television and Twinkies) that you can actually stay busy discovering new stuff for the rest of your life.
What do you think about the resurgence of acoustic or folk-oriented music in pop music?
Wilkes: Acoustic doesn't necessarily mean good. Timelessness, melody and a solid hook can be found in almost any style of music, acoustic or electric. However, there are some great old-time bands out there in the underground today. The Tillers and the Pine Hill Haints happen to be my favorites.
What do you see your role as in the American folklore that you document?
Wilkes: I occupy just a small niche in the music underground, so it's not like I'm reporting to the Smithsonian. But I live to serve the small circle of folks that are into my brand. If I can keep them entertained and intrigued, then at least I served some sort of a role during my time here on planet Earth.
You have earned the distinction of Colonel in your home state of Kentucky for being a notable figure. What does that mean to you and how important is it?
Wilkes: It's an incredible honor. Kentucky is my home and to get to promote its culture and music worldwide is a true labor of love.
Your band The Legendary Shack Shakers are notorious for some pretty wild shows. What's the craziest thing you've seen from the stage at one of your concerts?
Wilkes: Well there was that one time when some guy had a seizure during the Shack Shakers' performance of "Ghost Riders in the Sky". The ambulance arrived by the time we were wrapping up. The guy was gurneyed away to the strains of "Yippy Yi Yayyy!" But don't worry. He pulled through.
Other than that, just random fights, out-of-control mosh pits and some pretty hilarious white-boy dancing.
J.D. Wilkes, and his Dirt Daubers play the Missoula Winery Tue., Jan. 28, at 7 PM. 5646 W. Harrier. Doors at 7 PM, show at 8. $10/$8 in advance at Rockin Rudy's and ticketfly.com. All ages.
Among the bands of the last twenty years, as far as we can tell, there's just a few that really have kind of ruled the roost as much for us as Thrones have. So, we decided to go out to Oregon for their twentieth anniversary show about a week ago. It was a rager, Joe Thrones was notably moved by the turnout and attention folks paid to his deal. There was cake, there were dudes in black leather jackets, there was a poor selection of beer in arguably the country's beer capital. It was a rock show! Back about twenty years ago, a twenty-or-so year old Josh saw Thrones first ever show. I didn't know it at the time, but that's what was going on at the Madrona Hills Winery with Unwound and the Waydowns.
Thrones was unquestionably the evening's highlight, and cranked out a set of full-tilt, vocoder-laden whatever-it-is-he-does exactly. And I think that's probably the biggest part of the charm. Thrones isn't a doom band. It also isn't an experimental band. It's not a lot of things. It's too omnivorous for the metal purists and probably too riffy for the noise donks. But somehow, those dudes can see past their musical barriers and just feel the vibe. And it's just a real treat of a thing that Thrones does, I think.
Mostly, you can't help but be moved by what a savage the guy is on the bass, and with the sounds he makes. It's definitely a craft he's studied, perfected and mastered and I tell you what, there are few people I'd rather see on stage for about an hour. Here's to you, Thrones. That night was kind of special. Oh, and he covered Trees by Rush, which I'd never seen.
It's worth noting that both Daniel Menche and Survival Knife, who both also played, tore shit up in their own rights. Menche wove a big single quilt of noise-scape, complete with a contact-miked metal plank that he held up to his throat while singing, and laid down plenty of texture and build to command a pretty solidly rocking 25 minutes on the stage. Survival Knife, with Justin and Brandt from Unwound and the Kris Cunningham (who slayed Nudity's tubs) and Meg (who I don't know from other bands), were good too. Kind of a straight ahead punk and post hardcore vibe, compared with Unwound's more moody/feedbacky deal. I think for the music they're making, it would've been more intense for me had it been played faster.
More on Thrones: The guy's an excellent free spirit, and kind of an anomaly in 2014: label-less and booking agent-free, and with as far as we can count, just a couple vinyl releases (Wage War 7" and Sedan split 12") over the last ten or so years. He does Thrones on his own time, and exactly as he wants to, and with no pretense. Recently, he's been uploading great live sets up to his webstore, here. More folks should check it out.
Comedian Chris Fairbanks—who grew up in Missoula and comes back often to tell weird, funny, off-the-cuff stories on stage—will be on Conan tomorrow night along with Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky. The tag on Conan's Team Coco site says: "We're going to take a stand and declare that Chris Fairbanks is the best stand-up/artist/skateboarder that we've ever had on the show. Better luck next time, Dame Judi Dench!"
Last time we wrote about Fairbanks he was sharing the bill with Reggie Watts (who grew up in Great Falls) at the Badlander and he'll be at the Wilma with Tig Notaro next month during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Fairbanks has been back here in Missoula a couple of times recently, almost always wearing his wonderful—perhaps, signature—wool "grandma" sweater that he got at the Antique Mall. Maybe he'll wear it on Conan, too.
In the meantime, here's a photo of him looking like a greased up '80s rock star.
"Conan" with Chris Fairbanks shows Thu., Jan. 23, at 11/10 central on TBS.
I really have not read 50 Shades of Gray, I promise you. Not in its entirety, anyway. But I still wasn't about to turn down a chance to see Spank! The 50 Shades Parody, a touring production that stopped at the Wilma on Thursday night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the evening ended up being raunchy and hilarious.
When I arrived at the Wilma and got in line for popcorn and a drink, it was clear that the crowd—mostly women, yes—was ready to have a good time. "The line is shorter upstairs," someone said, but her thrifty friend yelled, "They only serve one glass upstairs! I need a whole bottle!" (Also, pro tip: it's a better deal to buy a whole bottle at the Wilma, though try not to spill, 'cause they pour the whole thing into plastic cups.)
The setup for Spank! is simple: middle-aged Janet, "a wife, mom and kickass senior accounts manager!" is enjoying a boozy weekend alone at home while her husband and kids are away. She busts out the Chardonnay and gets to writing a dirty story for one of her favorite fanfiction sites, conjuring up our virginal heroine Natasha and her mysterious, muscled dominator, Hugh. A series of songs, dances and skits tell the story of how Hugh seduces Natasha and introduces her to bondage. There's plenty of winking references to everything from Batman to Twilight to Love Actually. With three actors and minimal props, the production has a casual, vaudeville feel that makes it all the more fun when the actors break the fourth wall and venture out into the audience. One woman in the audience suggested some surprisingly obscene things to do with a squash, which was awesome.
The show sticks to a lighthearted tone, with plenty of references to crops and ball gags but not many scenes at all resembling real BDSM—or any actual nudity—making it accessible to a wide range of age groups (and maturity levels). Probably the best part of Spank! is how self-referential it is. Janet says to her fictional creation Natasha at one point, "You don't wanna end up like me... married, with children." For Janet, imagining a relationship that's impossibly sexy and intriguing and romantic is an escape from her humdrum life, the way reading 50 Shades or seeing the Spank! musical is for a lot of real-life women.
Okay, I'd be lying if I said the other best part of Spank! wasn't Hugh's strip-tease scene. The audience's shrieks were deafening. Overall, the show made for a great, energy-releasing ladies' (and gent's) night out.
Last week's feature story, Under the Halo, looked at the life and death of artist Seamus Todd through the eyes of his father, prominent Missoula artist Jim Todd, as well as other family and friends. Mostly it's told through Seamus' art, which was satirical and often provocative. But it was also told through the undated journal entries Seamus kept while serving time at Lompoc Prison for possession of marijuana while (legally) selling guns.
For many years, Lompoc was famously a country club prison. It’s the place where Watergate offenders like H.R. Haldeman and Herbert Kalmbach served their time. In 1990, that changed and it became a high-security prison and has been criticized for the way it treated prisoners. Similar criticisms can be found in Seamus' journal. The Todd family shared some of those journal entries with the Indy. About the journals, Jim wrote: "Our permission to allow publication of his prison notes is not an effort to whitewash his reputation. He was guilty ... nonetheless, we were shocked at the treatment he received in the Lompoc federal prison system, which arguably caused needless damage to his already precarious health..."
I have to sleep in a ball to avoid crippling back pain that lasts about 2-3 hours before I wake up. I can’t wait to see what the accumulative damage done to my back and knee is from this federally funded shit box.
Saw the "Doctor" last week. What a joke, double talk, ignoring what the Orthopedist recommended, creating his own unique plan that’s only purpose is to prolong suffering until I’m released and out of their hair.
Still am waiting for a response on my medical issues. Cellmate wasn’t told when his child was born, even though he made an official request to "liars club" prior to her birth.......Another week gone by. Medically I’ve been given lower bunk status and restricted work duty, still no information about my medicine until my MRI results come back. Strange. First I was told that once I took my first MRI my medicine would change with Doc. visit on Nov. 8th. Sat another month, now told once the results come back I’ll receive my meds. I also was told on the 30th I did have an MRI on my back. This also never occurred.
Just gave a 75 count bottle of 800 mg Ibuprofen in for a refill, got back a 15 count of 400 mg Ibupofen. Medical service is excellent , ..... Been waiting 2 months to get two cavities filled and another tooth pulled, not sure what the delay is. If you can’t afford tooth paste they give you an envelope with some ajax looking tooth powder. It's not very effective.
I saw the dentist again, got another tooth pulled, left a piece in which I guess will either come out on its own or not. Hopefully it doesn’t get infected or the piece of the tooth next to the one that got pulled that got chipped in the process doesn’t start a new infection.
Well went to the dentist again "the bone piece will work its way back through the gum and the cavities aren’t bad enough to be pulled." So that’s dental treatment 101. If you can’t yank it fuck it. you're ok.
Meanwhile 8 months to go by no back MRI, my back is worse than ever. I now received no pain med, have been waiting 4 weeks to get a piece of a tooth that was left in my gum after the rest of the tooth was pulled, now trying to work its way through the side of my jaw. Supposed to get a cavity filled.
I still await my change in medicine or my MRI of my back. I’m sure this will be delayed as long as possible. We’ll see how long the response takes to my BP-11 request and what the excuse will be on that one.
Got a response on my BP-10 which indicated that everything except proper meds would now be allowed / an ortho said my knee is trashed and I need a brace and analgesics. I’m supposed to finally get an MRI on my fused back at some point. At that point I guess I can take the legal option of contacting the medical board or my attorneys.
Also even though the orthopedic physician is supposed to give insight on things which the staff (med) has no clue about , the staff still can deny implementing his recommendations which I think means my back MRI will be put off as long as possible. Its hard to deny the truth ( as with my knee) but they will. And in knowing this even though the initial response indicated chronic pain just from X-rays, an MRI will verify this even more and might show that I’ve ruptured the disc between L-5,S-1, and L-2, L-4 so this will be put off till the last possible moment. I’ve seen people with broken arms reset and given Tylenol 3 for two days. Men with colon cancer receive nothing until they are transferred to a medical prison where they die a week later.
Orange you glad it's almost time for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival again?
(Okay, so, I'm no comedienne.)
The Big Sky Film Festival this year offers a comic theme, along with a whole boatload of other films. On first glance, there are a ton of interesting picks, but I'll just name a few. The retrospective on Robert Weide, who produced "Curb Your Enthusiasm," includes the pilot episode, which was originally meant to be a stand-alone mockumentary.
Freeload, made by Missoula filmmakers over the course of a few years, offers a look at hobo train-hopping life, with music by Missoula's Bryan Ramirez from his bands Ex-Cocaine, Poor School and others.
A few oldies but goodies: The 1991 Dancin' Outlaw profiles a clog dancer in the Appalachian Mountains whose father also danced. It was described in the London Independent as "John Waters meets Tennessee Williams."
Also, the 1986 Heavy Metal Parking Lot that takes place in the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert.
(In the meantime, BSDFF is offering all kinds of films at the Top Hat leading up to the festival, including Conan O'Brien Can't Stop screening Jan. 20.)
Along with films this year, comedians Tig Notaro and Chris Fairbanks do their funny business at the Wilma on Feb. 19 as part of the event. Fairbanks is a beloved funny dude from Missoula who lives in LA and returns here often to tell weird and hilarious stories on stage. Notaro is a brilliant woman who does understatement beautifully. Check out this Conan clip of her if you've never seen it.
The release party for Bryce Andrews' Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West is tonight at the Top Hat at 6 PM. Check out Kate Whittle's review of this fantastic new memoir before you go:
Many people who grow up rural might hate to admit it, but sometimes it takes a city slicker to appreciate what’s great about wild land and open spaces. Montana often attracts energetic, starry-eyed men and women, eager to hike, fish and hunt. The ones who can’t assimilate stick out like sore thumbs, destined to eventually head for home. But many, lucky enough to have found the place they were meant to be, wear into their boots and earn their tan lines until you’d never know they originated in a metropolitan suburb. It’s these people who can teach us a lot.
Author Bryce Andrews is one of these adventurers who found a better fit in the West, and learned to love it for things that even native Montanans might not appreciate. He grew up in Seattle, but summer trips as a kid to a Billings-area ranch are what shaped his imagination. As he writes in his memoir, Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, after college Andrews felt pulled toward the “big, dry, lovely country” of Montana. He’s become a 21st century kind of cowboy, one who’s studied environmental science and conservation, understands the importance of riparian habitats, and he can ride an ATV, rope a heifer, fix a fence and knock back a few beers at the saloon afterward. He can read landscapes like some of us read a street map; he prefers the habitat of open spaces and jagged peaks.
Most of Badluck Way details Andrews’ experiences in the early 2000s as a 23-year-old working on the vast Sun Ranch south of Ennis. He describes a hard, beautiful world, delineated by miles of barbwire fence and ancient geography.
“Some people are dumb enough to pronounce this high country empty,” Andrews writes. “They pull off the highway at the Madison Bend, belly up to the bar at the Griz, watch the baseball game for a while, and then ask without the barest hint of irony: How can you live out here? Nothing happens and there isn’t anything to do.”
But for Andrews, there’s everything to do. He finds drama in solo backpacking trips, joy in hard work and fascination in the interaction of human and nature. Badluck Way is also a story about a search for an identity, one that readers can identify with even if their own adventures were not quite so gritty. It’s about labor, and finding one’s purpose in it. Ranch work remains about as hands-on, grungy and miserable as it would have been 100 years ago; continual pain and violence that are part of the job. And yet, Andrews says, after one particularly satisfying day, he realized, “I was living at the center of my heart’s geography.”
His story reaches its crescendo when a pack of wolves start to prey on the cattle he’s bound to protect. “... I was seething with anger. The wolves had gone too far. They had stolen too much from us,” he writes, and so he exhausts himself chasing after the wolf. But after he comes face to face with one and kills it, he has to deal with his guilt. “As we stumbled along, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I had taken something that floated through the forest like a spirit, and reduced it to dead weight and a fecal smell.”
I came to this book with a fair amount of wolf fatigue, tired of reading the endless back-and-forth in the news.
But Andrews offers a fresh and complex perspective, one that recognizes the importance of natural rhythms, a rancher’s need to protect his or her livelihood and the ongoing, frustrating conflict of putting out slow-moving prey on open rangeland and hoping that wolves will seek elsewhere for their supper.
Andrews can’t come to any easy conclusion, and neither can the reader. There are other unsettling questions to take from Badluck Way, ones that I hadn’t anticipated finding. Andrews and the other ranch hands’ lives are devoted to the cattle, but the cattle aren’t even a real source of revenue anymore. The ranch struggles to make ends meet using a combination of agriculture and tourism, with a posh lodge on a portion of the property and guided hunts for elk. Development continually looms as a possibility. Subdivisions are already platted out when Andrews arrives. It might help keep the ranch and its fundamental purpose afloat, he admits, but at a cost. “Yard lights would fleck the night like cancers on a brain scan,” he writes. “Domestics would come and go, and in winter the home owners would slide into ditches and need rescuing. Eventually one of them would call to complain about cattle shitting on his driveway, eating his plantings or ruining his view of the mountains.”
In the afterword, Andrews says he moves on to other projects and ranches, but it’s the Sun that captures his memory. “I am still haunted by the grassy sweep of the Madison Valley, the herds of elk that move like clouds across it, and the wolves running creek bottoms in the morning half light.” After finishing Badluck Way, the reader will likely feel the same.