Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Mareo Speedwagon
Goose On The Lake Festival :: 06.04.10-06.05.10 :: Settle Lake :: Allegre, KY
Most festivals are pleasant distractions from our normal life, opportunities to check out multiple bands, get a little
loaded, dance some and then depart with a commemorative t-shirt. But some fests are experiences that strike to the
core of us, reminding us what's good about human beings, especially creative ones that make the air vibrate with
song. Goose On The Lake offered two
days where kindness and happiness reigned and our better angels winged carefree and delighted.
Very quietly, this small gathering on a private farm in rural Kentucky has evolved into one of the coolest secrets in
the summer festival season. Built around an annual celebration of country rock pioneers Goose Creek Symphony, this is a place where real
musicians find audiences receptive and attentive to whatever is dished out because it's done with real heart, blister-
won skill and raw talent. And beyond the offerings onstage, Goose On The Lake had the chillest, wonderfully mature
group of freak flag waving free spirits you'd ever want to find. Taken together, the music, bucolic setting and primo
companionship carved out a little piece of heaven on earth.
"I have the same dream all the old hippies have. I'm just doing something about it," said Lloyd Settle, the
host to Goose On The Lake along with Donna Settle, two of most hospitable folks on the planet. Weeks of
land clearing and organizing go into making their farm ready for the 800 or so folks that roll in during the first
weekend in June.
This year marked the fest's 15th year, and Goose Creek Symphony's 40th anniversary as a band. Diehards who've
been rolling on the Creek since the early '70s mingled with youngsters who likely picked up on them from their
parents or perhaps one of the many shout outs from heavily influenced descendents like Yonder Mountain String
Band, Railroad Earth, String Cheese Incident, Uncle Tupelo, Great American Taxi and many, many others. Goose
Creek gives more codified critics' darlings Gram Parsons and The Byrds a run for their money in terms of originality,
vision and plain old execution. In their early days they opened for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Cheech & Chong and
other '70s luminaries, but despite denting the charts a few times, Goose Creek has remained largely a cult affair,
though a fierce, exceedingly dedicated cult that includes numerous top flight musicians like Sam Bush, Vince Herman
and Tim Carbone. There's a strong sense of family and instant fellowship at the Lake simply because of the band
that serves as its foundation. Super cool things tend to beget more super cool, copacetic things, and Goose Creek is
as copacetic and super cool as they come – survivors and innovators to this day, music makers driven first by the
music in their blood and everything else secondary behind it.
Music began on Friday afternoon with serious singer-songwriter find Benny Skyn. Standing solo with an electric guitar, a tough life
written large in his body, Skyn has the lilt of vintage John Prine and the punkish feel of early Billy Bragg. Within a
couple numbers it became obvious that he's one of the most quotable, memorable lyricist to come along in a spell,
dishing out doozies like, "All those intelligent things that you said won't get this trash out of my head," and telling
black edged tales of men who get mean when you won't take a sip of their liquor while thanking the Lord for the
hard times (and meaning it, too). Skyn is a songwriter's songwriter like Kristofferson or as he himself noted, "Singing
songs written by Jesus and Tom T. Hall. Did you ever hear a Tom T. Hall song? It might make you wanna write a
song, too." Listening to Skyn made me want to pick up a guitar and find a song to thank him for the purity and grit
of what he does.
Nashville's The 5 Tones threw down
a hard blues-rock gauntlet next, and the juxtaposition, like many this weekend, was sharp and exciting. There's not
a lot of acts on the bill but the quality of each cracks like a whip, drawing one's attention quickly and continually
rewarding it. Musicians are appreciated at Goose On The Lake, and that simple fact seemed to bring out the best in
each performer. The sweat plastered t-shirts and contorted faces of The 5 Tones spoke volumes about the trio's
dedication to get right down to the ground water in their genre, digging ferociously with tangy harp, slicing guitar
and a rhythm section that just didn't quit. The encore cover of the North Mississippi Allstars' "Po' Black Maddie" is
another clue to their sound, but these guys take it all the way out, separating themselves a good distance from the
many who toy around in these dark waters. Kindred contemporaries include Super 400 and Rose Hill Drive, and as
the next performer noted during their set, "They've got a Robin Trower Bridge of Sighs thing going on." All
good stuff and reasons to keep an ear bent towards The 5 Tones.
Dave Gleason and The Golden Cadillacs nailed the California country
rock sound with an inviting personality and perfect ear for ancestors ripe for resurrection. They've got real affection
for Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Bob Dylan and "those strange but great Waylon Jennings records." Few have a
mastery of this genre like Gleason, who really groks country's full sweep from oldies like Webb Pierce and Lefty
Frizzell to modern greats like Dwight Yoakam and Rodney Crowell and everything in between. Suited up and looking
like the full pros they are, this band slathered raw rock 'n' roll all over twangy-ass country and the mixture is just
fuckin' delightful. Seriously, if you're having a bad time listening to these quality weepies and boot-scootin' jumpers
then you might want to drink more…or less…or something. Gleason sings with one of the most naturally appealing
voices to emerge in the past decade, and the tear in his beer seems genuine. He feels this music in a way most of
Nashville has forgotten, and one can feel the difference as his music washes over you.
Friday evening's Goose Creek Symphony set was a hopping hodgepodge of deep album cuts and rarely
played numbers, with most of the heavy hittin' fan favorites saved for Saturday night. Friday was for connoisseurs,
and as a 25-year hardcore listener seeing them play live for the very first time I was in hog heaven. That word
'heaven' keeps popping up simply because it hangs close to this gathering. Perhaps others' vision of paradise is
different than my own, but outside of the sweltering, hellishly humid southern heat, this is a pretty nice
approximation of what at least one corner of heaven looks like in my mind. And you couldn't ask for a much better
soundtrack than the Goose, who started off with a patient, phenomenal reading of "Going Down The Road Feeling
Bad," which like many songs other bands have popularized sounds utterly new in their hands.
"Think I'll let my hair grow long, think I'll grow a beard/ Think I'll go out and smoke some pot and start acting weird/
'Cause I've always been a leader/ I ain't ever been no backseater/ I'll do anything but cut off my peter/ 'cause I want
to be a rock 'n' roll star." Thus begins "Number One Gravy Band," one of many devastatingly enjoyable pieces trotted
out this night.
What's stunning is the band's leader and chief songwriter Charlie Gearheart - as big and amazing a
character as ever breathed life into this stupid, angry, rough world – is in his seventies and fellow original
member/co-founder Paul "Pearl" Stradlin is no spring chicken either. The rest of the band is a mix of ages,
some quite young, but all stellar players with clear dedication to knocking this music into the cosmos. Yet, Stradlin
and Gearheart pitched in as hard as anyone, and neither this set nor Saturday's were short affairs. They all seem
powered by this music, which similarly eases invigorating sap into the listener. Folks looked positively lit up across
the lawn as night fell, sunburnt flesh cooling as Goose Creek's energy moved along the grass and into our limbs.
Sure, strong corn liquor and pleasant smells in the air didn't hurt, but the key ingredient was the songs and their
sublime performances – subtlety is a huge factor in Goose Creek's appeal and longevity.
Gearheart declared near the end, "We'll end early enough for folks to get back to their tent and get some."
Afterwards, Lloyd announced, "If you think music can't free people then take another puff!"
Saturday, the smell of KP's Smokehouse
filtered into the far reaches of the farm, luring one in like a cartoon hound lifted off the ground by the smell of food.
Pulled pork sandwiches, rib eyes on a bun, bologna sandwiches and more fed the masses, and all served with a big
smile. One rarely failed to make a new friend or grow to adore the proprietors a little more each time they ponied up
to their table to slather on finger lickin' sauces on meat that made me glad to be an omnivore. And the warmth and
grinning sweetness of KP's extended to the merch folks, security staff and everyone else charged with keeping this
enterprise moving. Really, just about the kindest, nicest folks I've ever encountered at a fest anywhere; absolutely on
par with my West Coast fave, Las Tortugas.
by Dennis Cook|
Many people floated on the large, private lake during the afternoon, paddling around and sharing brews and laughter
on the water. Long before music started up again with two more fantastic sets by Benny Skyn and Dave Gleason and
his boys, laughter and gently splashing water provided a charming backdrop to relaxin' in the shade.
What drew a number of folks into the sunshine was the vintage acoustic snap of Mr. Frank Hudson, a
renowned guitar picker who played with the likes of Merle Travis and learned his craft from the same old soul that
taught Chet Atkins how to play. Mr. Hudson is pure class and was kind enough to let me sit at his heel earlier in the
day before his set while he explained some of the nuances and history of the southern guitar style he practices. And
he even offered me a pull from his small bottle of Old No. 7. Like I said, pure class. His set was like a great living
jukebox full of wonderful songs like "Sunday Morning Coming Down." It's a deceptively simple thing he does, but the
way he provides rhythm for his lead lines, in a sense accompanying himself and easing into songs with weathered
grace is a wonderful thing to behold. Add in his seasoned stage patter – "Can you hear me? If you can hear me I'm
playing too loud" – and Hudson proved a total crowd charmer and deservedly so.
Paul Burch & The WPA Ball
Club were another surprise winner following Hudson, bringing in oodles of swing into country, folk and jazz
inflected songs that touched on both American and English traditional music and then snatched it by the arm into
modernity. Accordion, fiddle and Burch's guitar danced continually, creating a much fuller sound than one might
expect from a trio. With an inviting voice and a big songbook full of quality material, Burch and the WPA evoked the
past in a way that makes it new.
They were followed by a short set from Nashville's Heath Haynes & The Hi-Dollars, who took us back to '50s
ground zero rock with real aplomb. A blur of happy energy, they came on with an 88-key, unruly guitar assault
anchored by a rhythm section so tight it wouldn't leak a drop. Bar band staples like "That's All Right, Mama" and "Six
Days On The Road" bucked with life when they played 'em, and then they transformed into the backing band for
Saturday's other headliner, Wanda
"Keep listening and eventually we'll play one you like," the vintage rock queen declared, and they pretty much walked
the line throughout their enjoyable, oldies rich set. Jackson arrived in the 1950s with one of the most distinctive
voices to ever hit rock 'n' roll, and she's largely maintained it, though it sometimes took a bit to warm up or cracked
occasionally. So be it; she's rock royalty and still offered up good times decked out in the most fringe I've ever seen
on one shirt and a simply classic wig. When she let out a still-girlish squeal on monsters like "Fujiyama Mama" and
"Riot In Cell Block No. 9" it raised your pulse a bit and reminded one how essential sex is to rock, which oddly didn't
jar against the welcome gospel pieces and Jesus-saved-me rap also included in her set.
The main attraction for most, based solely on the sheer numbers on the lawn and their hooting enthusiasm, was
Goose Creek's fest closing set. Without exaggeration, this performance ranked with the best I've seen by
any band, every bit the equal to the transcendent experiences I've had with the Grateful Dead, Radiohead, The Black
Crowes and other giants. What Goose Creek share with this bunch is the same undeniable originality, sheer talent
and resounding conviction. One can play music to entertain and shake a coin out of folks' pockets, but for some it's
a calling and a privilege to get up on stages and make music. A strong sense of ritual infused this show, with sage
burning and a low, percussion driven 'ohm' building into the first song proper, a stunning reading of "These Hills"
from 2002's I Don't Know album followed by their theme song, "Welcome To Goose Creek." In just two
numbers one was struck by a sound forged over a lifetime, a music born from craggy, private places but delivered in
a way that makes people dance away their troubles and rejoice in the now.
The sensation of being present at a real happening only intensified as the set continued. "It looks like a good night
out there. Might as well be," quipped Gearheart, a master of verbal sleight of hand peppered with wisdom you can
use. And all six guys up there with him exuded the same heartfelt dedication to creating something good and useful
and sweet for folks. By set's end I was certain that Goose Creek Symphony ranks amongst the best outfits rock has
ever given us. They've got the chops, diversity and songbook to rival the mighty Grateful Dead, plus their harmonies
are way better and they're a whole lot less self-important about what they do (especially these days). 'Down to earth'
is a common expression but this bunch really is earthy and blue collar as a tattered, beloved pair of Levi's. But
they're also pretty goddamn brainy and culturally savvy, and there are sections that nail some of the same magic one
finds in The Beatles or Pink Floyd - two obvious influences that Goose Creek weaves into their own music
masterfully, as in the Wish You Were Here like rendition of "I Don't Know" this night. The Goose can also get
funky as fuck, and the low end generally swerves and pops with an unpredictable but right on time cadence. And
somehow the fiddle fits into all of it. That's a neat trick.
Watching the sweaty, dazed young faces along the rail it was clear this isn't some nostalgia kick. This music has the
power to directly connect to real music people, the sort open to the kind of blackly humorous, intricately woven yet
rowdily delivered music that Goose Creek Symphony lays down. There were plenty of gray hairs like myself - freakin'
as well as our bodies allow - but the younger fans reveal the huge potential for this music to light up myriad lives.
It's right in front of us, waiting to lift your heels and twist your brain. And thankfully so is Goose On The Lake. Here's
to Year 16 in 2011 and many more for Goose Creek themselves.
See many more pics from this wonderful festival here.
JamBase | Kentucky
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