Las Tortugas V | Review | Pics

Thursday Highlights

See the full gallery for Thursday here

Theme: Gypsy Circus

Lebo by Chad Smith
1. Lebo :: 2:15-3:30 am. :: Terrapin Big Top Stage
With a shortened introductory day, it wasn't hard to stay up for the first rousing late night set in what turned out to be Tortugas' finest night owl programming to date. As usual, Thursday felt like a Saturday here, and ALO's guitar shredder and a special rhythm section were the flaming cherry atop everything. Flowing loose 'n' heavy, Dan Lebowitz, playing a hollow-body electric instead of his usual axe, gave us a commanding showcase that reaffirmed his place amongst today's very best guitarists. Backed by ALO bandmate Dave Brogan (drums) and Tracorum's jaw-dropping rhythm section, Ian Herman (drums) and Mark Calderon (bass), Lebo stirred up his own Band of Gypsys roar, jamming with impunity and instigating some of the fiercest rhythm work heard all fest. Lebo's versatility as a singer also shown through, and the obvious camaraderie these guys displayed made for some of the least predictable, most immediate music I've heard from any of them.

2. Poor Man's Whiskey :: 9:15-10:30 pm :: Terrapin Big Top Stage
PMW pulled off a real neat trick: Playing the iconic, deeply held music of Old & In The Way - an obvious root source for their music – while authoritatively putting their own stamp on the material. For one thing, bassist Aspen holds his own against John Kahn's original bass work, and he's got a whole new sonic range to explore with drummer George Smeltz, bringing a whole new beat to things. As great as the musicians were in Old & In The Way, they weren't exactly forthcoming performers. By contrast, PMW boasts two natural born rock stars in multi-instrumentalist/singers Eli Jebidiah and Josh Brough, who have that thing that gets everyone in the room off. Ably goosed by guitar-mandolin whiz Jason Beard, the boys made the well-tread newly furrowed and showed once again that Poor Man's Whiskey is one of the premiere country-rock outfits today, a wild bunch that could have handily shared bills with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Goose Creek Symphony and Garcia and his picking pals.

Allie Kral by Chad Smith
3. Cornmeal :: 11:45 pm-1:00 am.:: Terrapin Big Top Stage
I like when Chicago's Cornmeal get weird and they certainly did on this inaugural eve. There's no doubting their hard strummin' might – bluegrass doesn't get more blue or grassy – but like a lot of quality acts lumped into the string band basket, Cornmeal have a LOT more variety in their Crayon box, and they didn't hesitate to color outside the lines at Tortugas. Especially impressive was their ability to move from incredibly melodic strains to downright psychedelic runs, each feeling a part of the other instead of bordered off segments. The many raised glasses and elevated bonhomie in the tent spoke to their pronounced ability to lift heels, and the whole lot of them is goddamn charming as hell. Extra gold stars for ever-compelling violinist Allie Kral, who seemed possessed in a lovely way at several junctures, and dead-on-it drummer JP Nowak. Also, I'm kind of in love with their easy flowing songwriting and the entire delivery and style of banjoist-singer Wavy Dave Burlingame after this set.

Ones To Watch

Jack Grace Band
Full of good time, bohemian energy of the sort Tom Waits left behind when he grabbed a bullhorn, Grace and his slinky compatriots are a bar band in the archetypal sense, specializing in Latin tinged, gold standard song craft instead of by-the-numbers boogie, but still perfect for tossing back a few. First band to play the Tuolumne Hall and one I came home anxious to explore further.

Dead Winter Carpenters
With members of Montana Slim, it's no surprise these cats 'n' kittens twang a bit, but they do so very winningly, and while their set on Thursday was appropriately uptempo, their recent self-titled debut shows a knack for slower, more meditative fare. They're still getting their feet fully under them but there's already some very appealing things happening in this band.

Continue reading for Friday highlights...

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