Issue August 20, 2008

Sight Unsound

Thursday-Friday, Aug. 21-22

Say what you will about the acts that play regularly at the State Fair. For years, the blues bands invited to the fair have been top-notch. Coming back for the fifth time is Lamont Gillispie & 100 Proof, a quintet that’ll be at the Budweiser True Music Entertainment Tent (West Lawn) Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m., and the fair’s Lawn Party at 8:15 p.m. Sunday (and if you need more, there’s an 8 p.m. Friday night gig at the Jeffersonville Moose Lodge). 

This is one busy band. Gillispie himself came out of Greasy Creek in Pike County with the urge to pick up harmonica almost 40 years ago, but unlike many in that neck of the woods, he was more into blues than bluegrass.

“When I grew up, bluegrass was all around the house … and that’s probably why I didn’t play it,” he says. “My pop would pour a drink and put on something by The Stanley Brothers. But my brother had blues records, and I’d listen to Howlin’ Wolf.”

Over the years, Gillispie has learned, taught and shared with a lot of fine players, from originals like Sam Myers (from Elmore James’ original combo) — “We wouldn’t talk so much about music but about the bootlegging they were doing, selling homemade whiskey between sets” — to Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band and George Thorogood.

Some of his bandmates go back more than a decade, but Gillispie says he’s particularly blessed to have along a baritone sax (played by Mark Bright), which complements the harp to bring out a full horn sound. Drummer Jamie “Dr. Boom” Riekens can’t wait to see this lineup get to the studio; he says Tim Krekel has passed along a couple of unrecorded songs for 100 Proof to put on disc. Meantime, Gillispie is happy to mix things up in as many different live settings as he can. “Our typical set has some originals … we try to put in new things. There’s so much out there … we might do a jazz tune as blues. Say, “Tobacco Road” — a lot of people associate that with Ray Charles, and his version wasn’t blues. But Buddy Guy and Junior Wells have also done (it).”

Friday, Aug. 22

Brooklyn folk-pop is taking over The Rud (422 W. Oak St., 636-1311). Accompanying Lucinda Black Bear at the 7:30 p.m. show is Kaiser Cartel. That moniker is assembled from the names of the couple who are the sole participants. Courtney Kaiser, who grew up in Indianapolis and spent a few years in John Mellencamp’s band, joined up personally and professionally with Benjamin Cartel about six years ago. The collaboration yielded the EP Double Standard and a full-length, March Forth.

These new tracks were produced by Matt Hales (better known as Aqualung). As Cartel explains, it was only 72 hours before the start of recording sessions that they made the intuitive selection to work with him: “We clicked on the phone and it felt very natural.” The results capture “what people feel is a very big sound,” she says, pointing out that many of the duo’s marquee moments (the choir of whistles on “Season Song,” soaring harmonies on “Oh No”) aren’t part of the modest overdubs on the disc.

To head out on tour, the duo went on a hiatus from their teaching gigs: He’s served in the public system, she at a Montessori school. Kaiser has set aside teaching for now: “It sucks all the energy out of the day, because you have to give it to the kids.” Though she misses being in the Mellencamp contingent (particularly, she says, some of his more adventurous work that hasn’t seen the light of day), it’s clear she doesn’t regret the move to NYC. Brooklyn’s artistic renaissance is icing on the cake, another borough in which “you can hear any band you want at any time of the day,” she says. Cartel is counting her first when he talks of the many musicians and avid listeners who migrate to the city “wanting to hear people who have new ideas.”

Indiana may have to settle for family visits, and the kids are just going to have to muddle through, but on Friday night we get to have these two to ourselves. Their sound blends singer-songwriter intimacy with unguarded turns that add bite and deepen feeling. Tunes like “Favorite Song” deserve heavy weekend rotation for couples (and hopeful singles) ready to graduate from the “Juno” soundtrack. 

Saturday, Aug. 23

Summer’s a little long in the tooth, so it’s a good time to put away the flashy new toys (and sounds) and sit back with something easy. Naturally, we’re talking about jug band music. It was likely born in Louisville — but nobody was writing that down at the time, because they were busy making their own instruments from whatever was handy. The Jug Band Jubilee (www.jugbandjubilee.org) is celebrating the catchy, homespun originals and those who’ve kept the flame burning to this day.

The fourth annual jubilee, Saturday at Brown-Forman Amphitheater in Waterfront Park, has free admission and nine hours of music. The lineup comes from all over the Midwest, plus the Jake Leg Stompers from Tennessee, and a return trip from Pokey LaFarge. Gates open at noon; bring a lawnchair but leave the cooler at home.

If you’re a hardcore fan, block off Friday night, too. The Frazier Museum (829 W. Main) is hosting an entire evening in celebration of jug bands. The Juggernaut Jug Band will play, along with The Cincinnati Dancing Pigs. There’ll also be a screening of “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost,” an award-winning documentary tracing the history of jug music that includes Louisville footage. The party’s at 7 p.m., and is $10.