Archive for War

40 Years Out: Celebration of Life, Louisiana

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , on June 1, 2011 by 30daysout

Photo from the Celebration of Life in June 1971 (found on the internet)

The Woodstock festival in 1969 signaled a new era in the marketing of rock culture to the youth masses. Of course, before the first note of music was played Woodstock was actually a slick, professionally planned event – they had lots of publicity and even the foresight to hire a movie crew –  but it turned into something else once the fences came down. So after Woodstock every time somebody put a couple of bands together they called it a “festival” and any time four or more acts played together outdoors it was billed as the next Woodstock.

That was how they sold the Celebration of Life, an epic outdoor rock festival to be held in central Louisiana, in the middle of June 1971. Oh man, the lineup looked even sweeter than Woodstock: the Allman Brothers Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Canned Heat, Richie Havens, the Beach Boys, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Johnny Winter and many more over eight or nine days in a Southern paradise right at the summer solstice.

What it turned out to be, though, was a stinking mess. Many of the advertised acts didn’t show or refused to play, kids had to camp out for days before organizers even opened the gates and let anyone in, and once they did conditions were horrid at best and dangerous at worst. I know, because I was there. Unfortunately.

In June 1971 I turned 16 years old and I got my Texas drivers’ license. There was this one dude in our neighborhood who was older and he knew another dude who worked at the local newspaper Port Arthur News – they said they had some “press passes” to the Celebration of Life but no ride to Louisiana. Being young, stupid and in possession of a car, I volunteered to drive; they said they’d book a hotel so we would have some place to stay and they would pick up my food if I paid for gas. So I show up to pick up my two friends and magically there’s a fourth, some dude named Tommy.

This festival was in a place called McCrea, Louisiana, along the Atchafalaya River north of what is known as Cajun Country. Wow, I remember thinking, days along this lazy slow-moving river and nights in an air-conditioned hotel … it still sounded cool to me, even as we encountered the first traffic jam heading to the festival site. As we got closer I could see people everywhere – camped atop the big levees that ran along the river, shirtless dudes laying in the grass and smoking pot. A grim Louisiana state policeman pointed us in the direction of a huge, muddy field that was the parking lot. Kids were hanging out of minivans, sleeping in open car trunks and atop car hoods. We pulled up behind a naked dude taking a piss right out in the open.

Now this was Friday afternoon; the festival was supposed to have been going on for five days before and people there told us there was some kind of “hassle” with lawyers and promoters which kept the gates closed but music was supposed to start once it got dark. We made our way to the ticket booths, and my newspaper man walked up confidently to will call. He came slinking back shortly; “Our passes aren’t there, man.” So let’s go check in to the hotel, eh? Uh, man, we can’t leave … we’re here for the MUSIC. At which point I realized I’d been had. No tickets, no hotel … and no music. Just a long drive back to Texas.

We got back to the car just as the sun started to set, then this bearded hippie approached us. “When it gets dark, man, I’ll help you get in,” he said. This was beginning to sound like a bad idea. So a few minutes later we were following this dumbass through the swamp and we came upon a huge fence. Some shirtless redneck with no teeth was guarding the fence, or rather a large hole in the fence. The press entrance, I suppose.

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More Cowbell! Less Cowbell!

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2011 by 30daysout

"Don't blow this for us, Gene!"

It started for the youngsters in 2000, when “Saturday Night Live” first telecast the sketch pictured above.  It was called “Behind the Music: Blue Öyster Cult,” but later became (in) famous simply as the “Cowbell Sketch.”  Yeah, the Cult had a cowbell in its song “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” but you know that was about the only true-to-life thing in this short, delightful bit of fantasy.

We saw Blue Öyster Cult play live last summer, and during the intro to “Reaper,” singer Eric Bloom (who Will Ferrell’s character seems patterned upon) did a sort of “air cowbell” but even though his hands were empty, we heard a cowbell!  Turns out some clown in the audience had one.  Of course.

Anyway, we come back from a long and distracting work week with his lame bit of nonsense, featuring some of the greatest cowbell rock songs of all time.  Please excuse any rust, I haven’t written a blog post in a while.  So – I’m sure you can check the internets for a comprehensive list of rock songs featuring the cowbell, and I invite you do to so if that’s what blows yer skirt up.  I just want to talk a little bit about the cowbell its own bad self, and explore the reasons why it may have found its way into rock songs.  Well, it’s cheaper than a drummer and doesn’t require much coordination (or rhythm, if that guy in the Blue Öyster Cult crowd is any indication).

Well, that was a shallow well … what about cowbells as noisemakers during sporting events?  The only place where they could have some effect would be in the confines of a gymnasium, during a basketball game.  I do know at the University of Texas (and many other schools in the NCAA) bans noisemakers like cowbells, whistles and air horns.  And maybe thunder sticks too, if that’s what also blows up yer skirt.  Certainly vuvuzelas, those are annoying in any context.  Oh man, I’m dyin’ here.

Let’s just listen to some music with cowbells (not the usual suspects, except for maybe one or two) and I’ll tack on the date the song first appeared.  Perhaps one day we can talk about sleigh bells in rock music – maybe Brian Wilson can guest on “SNL” and they can create a whole new skit!

MP3: “Grazing In The Grass” by Hugh Masekela (1968)

MP3: “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers (1966) (Long version, with more and “psychedelicized” cowbell!)

MP3: “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey” by the Beatles (1968)

MP3: “Low Rider” by War (1975)

MP3: “Evil Ways” by Santana (1969, live at Woodstock)

MP3: “Stone Free” by Jimi Hendrix (1966, mono version)

MP3: “Killing In The Name Of” by Rage Against The Machine (1992)

MP3: “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns n’ Roses (1987)

And the all-time greatest rock song featuring cowbell: “Honky Tonk Women,” by the Rolling Stones.  This video is from the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour from 1994 or so … and how awesome is Keith Richards playing that famous riff one-handed?  It’s that open-G tuning he keeps his guitar in; read his book.


Review: “Yes We Can,” Maria Muldaur

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2008 by 30daysout

“Give Peace a Chance,” “Bring ‘Em Home,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” and the list goes on and on.  None of them brought an end to war or violence, but they did make the artists a pretty penny.  What is the point of these records?  Do the artists really think they are going to make a difference?  Some probably do … just ask Maria Muldaur.

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