CHRIS ROBINSON | 05.19 & 05.20 | BIG SUR

Listen to The Black Crowes on Rhapsody...

Words by: Dennis Cook :: Images by: Magnus Torén

Chris Robinson's Wooden Family
05.19.07 :: Fernwood Resort :: Big Sur, CA
05.20.07 :: Henry Miller Library :: Big Sur, CA

"Hello, beautiful day people," grinned an especially hirsute Chris Robinson, fresh from a shopping trip to Caftans 'R' Us. "It's different from the scary and foreboding night time people."

Chris Robinson's Wooden Family :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
On furlough from the Black Crowes, Robinson smiled warmly behind his sunglasses as he took his Wooden Family and a sunshine fine audience through hypnotic, electrified folk corridors. Robinson hadn't performed without his brother Rich since his Fall 2005 run with Phil Lesh, and the last New Earth Mud shows were July 2004. There's a different hue to his rainbow outside of his usual collaborators, something more burnished and breezy. One senses they're seeing him in his natural habitat. Shedding all rock star trappings, he divines a more direct route to his muse, where a few instruments and earnest voices weave and rise with winged grace.

The two performances in this Northern California woodland enclave were indeed night and day. Where Saturday evening found a fractious, booze addled wall against this gentle music, Sunday was as sweet and intimate a glimpse of a truly exceptional singer/songwriter as one could want.


Entance :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
Long before Robinson took the ramshackle stage at the Fernwood one sensed this wasn't going to be a smooth ride. Unlike his big city gigs where Crowes/Mud faithful line up early, this pseudo-roadhouse was heavy on locals looking for a party. It's a peculiar arrangement where a few dozen people can cram in front of the low stage and the rest peer over their heads or watch the big screen monitor in the back. Behind the performers looms a large wooden silhouette of what looks like a resplendent satyr playing panpipes. Filled to capacity, the room never stilled during opener Currituck County (aka Kevin Barker of Aden). Solo, Barker did his damndest to get his fine Bert Jansch-esque acoustic thang across but the chatter only amped up to drown him out. Only those within a few feet of him were attentive – a dynamic that sadly continued through Robinson's set.

Maybe it's just that delicacy is a dying virtue, maybe it's because Robinson fronts a big rock machine with radio hits or maybe some folks don't know when to shut up, but the test of wills with the Wooden Family hit within a single song. After easing into things with a relaxed "Eagles On The Highway," the trio of Robinson (vocals, acoustic guitar), NEM bassist George Reiff and mystery factor Jonathan Wilson (electric guitar, vocals) paused so Chris could suggest the talkers go outside so those who'd come for the music could enjoy it. His tone was brisk but not rude, and from the back someone yelled, "Shut up and play some music, you prick!" Sadly, this heckling yahoo wasn't alone.

Chris Robinson's Wooden Family :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
In response, they dove into an edgy version of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie," which inspired some to really punch the line, "One way or another, this darkness got to give!" Making no inroad with the noisy audience, a frustrated Robinson barked, "We can do this all night."

What the noisemakers missed was a pile of brand new Robinson compositions, juicy covers and heartfelt readings of earlier solo material. The trio brought a fresh touch to everything, the instrumentation and mood echoing the great drumless John Mayall bands of the early '70s. He debuted two originals ("Tomorrow Blues," "Clear Blue Skies") that sounded like a hypothetical collaboration between Fred Neil and Doug Sahm, and had a first time go at Gene Clark's "Here Without You" that even with the hubbub gave one chills. Mud faves "Silver Car" and "Someday Past The Sunset" raised a smile, and Robinson reconfirmed his status as a premiere Dylan interpreter with "Nothing Was Delivered" and "He Was A Friend Of Mine."

Chris Robinson's Wooden Family :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
Throughout, Wilson proved a serious revelation, a guitarist of abounding texture and space with a knack for avoiding anything approaching the predictable. Sans percussion save for suede boots on bare wood, Wilson's invention and Reiff's endlessly limber, luxurious bass managed to glow despite everything. Wilson sang lead on a circuitous tripper that eventually wove in a classic folk line used on Pentangle's "The Cuckoo" and Doc Watson's "Coo Coo Bird." Always fun to hear tradition updated. Wilson has a terrific pop-folk album, Frankie Ray, hitting stores in June. It's one of those song cycles that crawls inside your head and stays, shimmering like a hybrid of Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, The Grays), Van Morrison and Gordon Lightfoot. Aces!

They closed with hootenanny runs at Waylon Jennings's "Too Far Gone" and Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere," the Rolling Thunder Revue vibe made even stronger by the addition of Barker and Andy Cabic (Vetiver), who both sat in with Robinson on Sunday, too. Cabic and Barker also joined them earlier for a sweet reading of the Johnny Cash favorite "Long Black Veil." Robinson introduced the encore, saying, "We're sitting on logs! We just want to sit on some fuckin' logs and play some songs and make someone lose their mind." Amen, psychedelic minstrel.


Chris Robinson's Wooden Family :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
The lawn at the wonderfully bohemian Henry Miller Memorial Library filled early with kids and tie-dye weekend warriors. Smiles and a palpable good spirit infused the day before a single note rang out. It's a rare thing to catch an artist like Robinson in a tiny outdoor venue like this but the Library has a long history of support from big names like Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson and Henry Rollins. Mayhap, like us, they're attracted by the faint odor of Miller's grand, poetic earthiness. I raised a glass as Currituck Co. came on, using Miller's favorite toast, "Always merry and bright."

On electric guitar this time but still flying solo, Barker showed off more of his cool picking, a West Coast relative to crusty, finger-twisting Brits like Jansch, Richard Thompson and John Renbourn flecked with the spacious cool of The Durutti Column. Barker's rambles are peppered with lines you'll want to share with others ("Take another stab to quiet the winds in your mind" or "You can't evade a vengeful god at judgment time" or more oddly, "Where is my best friend? Where are my feet?"). Highway winds and electrical storms danced from his fingers as he offered up one pleasing number after another.

Entance :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
Second opener Entrance was a shock to the system. A bit of a thing in the L.A. underground, Entrance gussies up Blue Cheer sludge raunch with a greater helping of politics and softheaded philosophizing. Once one adjusted to the volume and stage antics it was kinda charming. The trio, like many attendees, looked like a touring company for the musical Hair had rolled into town. A good deal darker and heavier than the Cheer, Entrance (both the main guy's name and the band's tag) evokes memories of Japan's High Rise and Boris, a compelling, sometimes silly barbarian crush that gets the job done.

The Wooden Family, clearly in much better spirits, kicked off with "Cut From The Shadows," a corker first played on last year's Brothers Of Feather tour. The opening verse is classic Robinson poetics:

Blue star woman
Snow country child
Wind chime whisper
Black cherry smile

Chris Robinson's Wooden Family
05.20 :: Big Sur
By the time they coasted into "Like A Tumbleweed In Eden" - a spiritual for non-church kids - the whole space resonated with an artful calm conjured by Reiff, Robinson and Wilson, who all continued to be ever so bloody tasty at every turn. "Acoustic instruments and you can hear them and everything," snickered Robinson.

The parents holding infants teared up and kissed the heads of their youngsters during an emotional take on Dylan's "Forever Young," just one of many emotionally unguarded moments. One felt invited into Robinson's creative mind as the shade crept over the cross-legged fans at his feet and the wind kissed the afternoon sun goodbye.

The new tunes are uniformly great, the work of a honky tonk bard comfortable in his skin. Here's a few snippets to tide you over until they hopefully surface on a new album Robinson is working on with Wilson, tentatively scheduled for Fall:

(From "Help Yourself)

Help yourself to my tender cup
Drink your plenty
If it's empty I will fill it up

(From "Clear Blue Sky")

If you find yourself
In a boxcar, baby
You got some rails to ride

(From "Tomorrow Blues")

I been on the road so long
My shoes have turned to sand
Lookin' for a good time girl
Who understands

Chris Robinson :: 05.20 :: Big Sur
Robinson also premiered a modern sea shanty called "Star Crossed Lonely Sailor" that'd make a great epilogue to Procol Harum's A Salty Dog. The standout cover on Sunday was Gene Clark's "Polly" (which also appears on the upcoming Brothers Of A Feather DVD/CD coming this Summer). The former Byrd always brings out the most wistful, aching parts of Robinson, which in turns inspires his companions to dig deep. Mud classic "Mother Of Stone" had a knotted Topanga Canyon blues feel befitting Robinson's recent SoCal residence, where he's been recording and producing others including the long awaited solo record from Jayhawks leader Gary Louris.

The festivities drew to a close with an absolutely perfect "Driving Wheel" that drew heavily from Tom Rush's self-titled 1970 album where Robinson first picked up the David Wiffen tune that's been memorably covered by the Cowboy Junkies and Roger McGuinn. A mixture of insecurity and freedom, "Driving Wheel" sent us on our way with these words ringing in our ears:

You can't say much in a phone call, babe
You know how it is
I have to tell you one sure thing
Oh, won't you listen to this
I want to tell you that I love you, babe
I want to tell you just how I feel

And that's just what Robinson and his Wooden Family had done. The tenderness and gentle truth of this combination makes me hope they have more than a few family reunions in the days ahead.

JamBase | Big Sur
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[Published on: 5/29/07]

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Flat5 Tue 5/29/2007 09:33PM
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futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/29/2007 10:40PM
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Todds, (as in put a re- in front of it). Thats what this genere's audience has become, a bunch of todds. can't go to a show anymore without people (read: everyone's younger brothers and sisters who heard what a cool scene we have from their respective elders, but know nothing of the etiquette that goes along with our culture. full length essay to appear as an open letter to jamband newbies soon...) paying what? 30-45 dollars for a ticket, then making their way to 5th row center to talk and yelp and gab to their friends as if this were some high school fri-nite party. at the Grateful Dead ( or even Phish for that matter ), people came to listen, not to be seen by all their friends as some kind of high school popularity contest. why would you pay all that money for a ticket, crowd your way up in front of the soundboard, then yell idiotic crap to your friends all night???? the decline of the jamband culture is on it's way...too buzzed to continue, but look forward in these pages for said featurette on the decline of jamband culture as we know it

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 05:05AM
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jcskolman star Wed 5/30/2007 07:37AM
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TXfarmhouse Wed 5/30/2007 08:19AM
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durkadurka starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 09:09AM
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Great review Dennis.
I thought New Earth Mud was a great band and CR's voice sounded the best it had in years.I would actually rather see them now than the Crowes without Marc Ford.

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 09:29AM
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I agree. New Earth Mud is way better than Crowes without eddie and marc. and they toured with moe. and Particle that time. it was a blast.

treetops78 starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 09:44AM
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Wake up people! Music is an art form. It can not be labeled. There are no boundaries. All applicants are welcomed. Just because there is a "JAM" at the beginning of this URL does not mean it has to be grape or blueberry. And for arguments sake, listen to Wilco's new album and try and tell me that it does not "JAM"! I dare ya!

jcskolman Wed 5/30/2007 11:42AM
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Wake up yourself. First of all Wilco album which I have listened to is not jam. There I said it. When you wake up and come back to this planet everything is labled. Where it is Mozart or Prince. It fits into some category. This website was created to talk about the jamband scene not about classical or alternative or whatever other catagory you call it. I am saying it has strayed far beyond that. I am not saying I don't like other catagory's of music cause I do listen to a lot of other catagory's but I am saying this website and Relix has gone away from what made them start this out in the first place.

AdCo Wed 5/30/2007 12:15PM
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::sigh:: yet another absurd message board argument.

jcskolman: i, and i assume most people, come to this website to read about "good" music. there is so much shitty filth out there that people are listening to, sometimes its difficult to sift through the crap and find the quality.

jambase and relix report on music that they believe their audience will enjoy or should be exposed to, based on the so called "pure jambands" like the dead and phish. its all about being exposed to QUALITY music, to expand the scene.

dont get stuck in the jamband bubble. i know you listen to other music but honestly, if you want to talk about the jamband scene, go to phantasytour. no offense, but honestly you can go there and read about all the rabid bisco heads bitching about the scene and whatnot.

but dont complain about growth. change is good, and jambase and relix should be commended for exposing their readers to music that they might not appreciate because it does not fit perfectly into the jamband label.

further, a phriend of phil is a phriend of mine. you really cant claim that chris robinson doesnt belong on jambase. his shows with phil were phantastic

aazaleaa starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 12:29PM
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dennis, wonderful review as always. we were at the saturday show, and i wish i could trade in that rowdy crowd for the beautiful calm vibe that seemed to be at the sunday show....jonathan is one of the best to come around in a long while, here is to more mud and wooden families!

soulgrass starstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 01:04PM
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So what about bluegrass outfits such as The Del McCoury Band, the recent articles on Chris Thile, Uncle Earl, or the one about Bill Monroe a few months back? Should these not be covered? What defines "jamband" is in the eye of the writer I guess.

durkadurka Wed 5/30/2007 02:14PM
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"when CR came out with the last album, the one he played his "hit" on David Letterman show.
was HORRIBLE. he cant sing his way out of a box.
crowes is one thing, but his new group really stinks.
I had to turn off the TV. You can have him. no thanks."

Here's the clip you were talking about:

zzdowz Wed 5/30/2007 03:38PM
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Yeah, I think your a music snob like a lot of people on this site durkadurka. I thought the performance was great.

BrotherCal starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/30/2007 06:07PM
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Dennis, amazing job, as we've come to expect from your writing. I'm baffled though not surprised by those who would go to see Chris Robinson in an acoustic setting and not hang on every last note and lyric---that's honestly a shame. They missed an opportunity to hear one of the most soulful and pure songwriters and vocalists of our time in an intimate setting. It bums me out that people go to gigs like this at don't have any respect for the artist performing. Same as when people steal music. We need to support the real artists now more than ever. As for those slagging Jambase, sure we all have our opinions about what they should be covering, but they're ultimately trying to open people's ears up to new music. Check it out, if you don't dig, move along. But why sit here bitching and moaning. Why not direct some of that energy at spreading the good word about music you do love or fighting the real problems in our culture like Clear Channel, American Idol, MTV, etc. who peddle shit to the masses everyday.

dedhed6111 Wed 5/30/2007 06:25PM
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i think this is a beautifully written article. Regarding the comments, I have no idea why someone would object to Chris Robinson as "jamband"-related material. Chris and The Black Crowes pioneered the "jam scene" back in the late 80's early 90's when the dead were slowly fading out. Maybe you kids don't actually remember H.O.R.D.E. but there's far more history between Chris Robinson and the Grateful Dead (the whole reason for this shit) than 90 percent of the bands reported about on any site. Respect is due

thedoobster Wed 5/30/2007 11:59PM
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Nice article Snappy. Bummer about the audience... I will admit that I've been "that guy" before, but will never be again.

Remember to let people know when they're out of line at a show... if they're belligerent, maybe find a way to remove them entirely, but if someone is just being ignorant, let 'em know to quiet down.

Any way, sounds like Sunday was much more pleasant, hope the tape(s) comes out good!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} star Thu 5/31/2007 04:34AM
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bertolet starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/31/2007 08:22AM
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Terrific article, thanks. Chris is a good soul and a heartful musician. I look forward to hearing this music.

Derekmk Thu 5/31/2007 01:08PM
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If you guys wanna nitpick the term "jam" comes from a time and place when it was referred to as a good song. "Nice jam, maaan." It simply was in reference to rocking out, hitting you where it counts. Jambase has turned me on to tons of great music. I can't believe people honestly complain about this. A website dedicated to the same circle of bands would be boring and the articles would be repetitive.

AdCo Thu 5/31/2007 01:52PM
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bertolet you ignorant slut


grunzy Thu 5/31/2007 05:31PM
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Chris with local Grateful Dead Tribute Band..CUBENSIS
(Chris comes on around 1/2 way in to the show)
Copy URL in to your browser. Note: The player does not work in the AOL browser, so open in Internet Explorer or anything else but AOL.

Ickis' Dad starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/5/2007 06:28AM
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Ickis' Dad

I thihnk it is ridiculous to complain about Jambase and Relix covering bands you don't like. It completely goes against the foundation of being "open-minded". Does anyone really want to narrow our scene? I have been a long time Deadhead and we used to always say that it wasn't that they were the best at what they did; they were the only ones doing what they did. Well today the scene is so diverse and genre/transcended/fused/etc... that in many ways it is better today; even with the big guy gone (miss you Jerry). There are many bands in the scene that aren't my cup of tea (MMJ, Kings of Leon) but who am I to say that they don't belong? Actually, the ones that don't belong are the very one's trying to kick other's out.

It is a shame about the arogant fans being buzz-kills; but they have always been coming to our parties... and they always will.... RIP Bonnaro0!!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} star Tue 6/5/2007 12:08PM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

This is a new era now of music tastes. Relix Magazine used to say "music for the mind" now its "the magazine for music" It makes sense that bonnaroo, and other festivals start paying attention to artists that do not play JAM MUSIC. This is a new decade and a new time for music and artists. Like or dis-like who-ever you want, just remember that now sites like JAMBASE and RELIX MAG are ALL INCLUSIVE. get used to it. peace. this is in response to stinkaroos insight. peace..

Bridget starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/6/2007 02:17PM
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I was fortunate enough to attend the Henry Miller Library show and it was amazing. I am so glad Magnus took the photos so i could remember the music drifting up the Trees.
The mutli colored butterflies. The children. The sounds.
Forever Young has never meant so much as it did that afternoon. Like a Tumbleweed in Eden, too.
I hope the show is avail to listen to again somewhere!
Cheers Jambase. Now, I will not forget this event.

Ickis' Dad starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/7/2007 07:51AM
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Ickis' Dad

I almost fully agree with you milesgone. I do think that today's scene is much more diverse and label free regarding genres but I don't think it is all inclusive. Far from it actually. I think our scene is more about the artists approach to their music rather than the genre they play. I doubt very seriously that Relix or Jambase would use much ink on 50cent or Pink because they are corporate whores. They will put anything out if it is something that sells whereas the artists in our scene tend to put out what is in their souls regardless of what some Pepsi executive thinks. It's all about being real and not playing for the fans rather playing for yourself and hoping that someone else will dig it too.

Bonaroo is dead. Show me one thing left that is grass-roots about that festy. I'm sure it's still fun and there is going to be some sic shows but really, can anyone who went to the first four tell me that the last two haven't been much different... and errrrr organized...

Leave All Good alone FRAT BOYS!!! Or Else!! heheehehee

Totem Music Presents Wed 7/25/2007 09:54AM
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Totem Music Presents

I was at both shows they both rocked and great times at the after party, Big Sur is by far the best place and(((folkYeah!))) Rules so stick that in your pipes and smoke your brains out support live music alays :)