I recently read a book that’s been on my list for a while. It’s called Three Dog Nightmare and it’s about singer Chuck Negron’s descent into hellish drug addiction. It’s also interesting because – and I’m not making this up – his penis split because he was having so much sex.
Anyway, one of the revelations in the book is that in the early 70s he started seeing a woman – another junkie – who was carrying Berry Oakley’s baby. Oakley was, of course, the bassist for the Allman Brothers who was killed in a motorcycle accident. Curious as to what his son was up to, I did a little research and found out that he would be attending this Roots Rock Revival in the Catskills for the week of August 1st.
Once I discovered that the Revival was a jamming camp based around the music of the Allmans and the Dead (and somewhat, The Band), I decided to go. How was it? Overall, enjoyable but for me, somewhat of a mixed bag. If you want to see who was there, go to this site.
By and large, it was either ex-members of the ABB or sons and daughters of the ABB and the Band. (But curiously, none of Gregg’s kin.) This whole thing was started by Allmans drummer Butch Trucks back in 2013. It’s now run by his son Vaylor, ABB/Dead and Company bassist Oteil Burbridge and guitarist Luther Dickinson.
Melody Trucks – Vaylor’s sister – was there too. I sat with both of them at lunch one day. I asked Melody if her cousin Derek might come someday. I got an earful on that one. Sounds like she’s invited him but he’s effectively moved on.
Firstly, the whole thing was held in a really nice facility out in the woods called the Full Moon Resort. They have a number of music camps and weddings out there.
In the picture above, my room is in that building in the center, and just to the right is the Barn which is one of the facilities where we would jam. Overall there were about 5 places to jam not including the main pavilion where the pros played.
And the jamming went on all day long often till 2 or 3 in the morning. (I expected pot to waft everywhere but I never caught a whiff of it.)
A typical itinerary for a given day might be: (all meals included and the food was top-notch):
- Mindfulness (They had a “wellness” tent. Went there a couple of times, once to get a massage).
- Groove session (hosted by pros. They invited people up to jam with them. I passed).
- Vocal lesson hosted by Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter. A real sweetie she is. It turned out that whoever showed up became part of the choir for a final night singalong.
- Master classes. A 19-year-old whiz kid guitarist named Taz Niederauer hosted one as did jazz keyboardist John Medeski.
- Pros play – this would be from 8:30 – 10 (post-dinner) wherein the pros would play tunes, usually, strangely, entirely Allman Brother songs. ‘Strangely’ because it was billed as Allmans/Dead week. They made no attempt to play any Dead song at all.
- Jamming – 10:15 till 2 or 3 in the morning. Effectively there was jamming all day and all night.
People brought acoustics and jammed that way too. I brought one but never broke it out. Here’s a random minute of acoustic joy I picked up on.
Alas, unlike the last camp I went to, there was no official videographer. So unless another attendee happens to have a video of me playing and posts it on our Facebook page, I don’t have any videos of me.
Here’s the pro band with Oteil on bass. I spoke to him briefly a few times. Cool dude, brought his family with him. Nobody there was unapproachable in the least. He’s also a hell of a drummer. I asked him why bass instead of drums. He said there were so many great drummers in DC he opted for the bass. “The bass chose me,” he said. Here he’s on bass:
I spent a fair amount of time talking to people either at jams or in the main pavilion area where we had meals. Older crowd, of course, I’d say 40 and up. It was a mixed bag of playing abilities from the (mostly) younger dudes who seem to spend their life playing to the older crowd who (like myself) are mostly weekend warriors.
I mentioned earlier that Amy Helm hosted the vocal lesson training. I tell you we spent three hours over three days honing and fine tuning three songs – “You’ve Got a Friend,” (nice sentiment but not my favorite song of all time), “Blue Sky,” and the Dead’s “Brokedown Palace.” The Dead tune is a good one with a nice gospel feel. Here’s a brief video of Amy going through the paces:
Now if there was so much great stuff, why am I not raving, why do I have mixed feelings? Well, mostly because with a few exceptions, I did not think I played well or got the tone I wanted. A few people (surprisingly) complimented me on my playing and tone. But I was happy with neither.
As one fellow geezer said to me, “I spend most of my time playing in the basement.” So do I. And it’s REALLY HARD to make the transition from that to playing on stage with a strange amp and a bunch of people watching. You can’t get the sound you want and for fear of fucking up, you become cautious and formulaic in your playing. At least I did. I think I had maybe one night where I felt I played decently. The rest was crap. So, disillusioning and disappointing. I haven’t touched my guitar since I came back.
I wasn’t entirely alone in feeling this way. It took me an hour to get up on stage the first night as I had to screw up my courage. I spoke to quite a few guys who never got up on stage all week. They were just too intimidated. My feeling was, hey I came here to jam, might as well do it.
I think the guys that really shine are the young dudes who just get up there and crank. These guys have that perfect laid-back “whatever, dude,” musician personality. Mine is more like a life insurance salesman. I thought those guys totally nailed it. They just knew how to jam.
I’ll leave you with one more video. Arguably, the week’s biggest star was a guy named Taz Niederauer who starred on Broadway in School of Rock the Musical. Before he was 15 years old he had played guitar with Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, and Buddy Guy. He played with the German rock band Scorpions.
He’s 19 years old. See, this is the problem with music. Too many fucking gifted virtuosos. Here’s Taz in a session where he invited people to come up and play. This was on Thursday and I was feeling kinda burnt out. Had I been the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix I’m not sure I would have gotten up. But the guitarist on the left was a guy who I had jammed with and who had the balls to get up.
The other thing for me is that I’m an introvert. So by Thursday, I’d about had it with hanging around with people in the pavilion and just needed to be somewhere else.
Will I ever go to another camp? Don’t know. I’ve been to two and while to some extent I enjoyed them, I came away feeling disappointed. The only way I would do it again is if I can play in a band on a regular basis and work out all the kinks there. Minus that, it’s damn near impossible to get your sound. And since the odds of me joining a band are pretty much zero, I doubt it.
I should note here that I was surprised by the (relative) dearth of female musicians. The last camp I went to had plenty and there are some great female guitarists these days, especially in the blues world. Some of us speculated that maybe women aren’t really into playing jam stuff. There was a woman there with a ukelele (!) and I was never really sure why or what her expectation was.
BTW, a word of caution – if you ever meet someone who is the son or daughter of a celebrity, do yourself a favor and don’t ask them what that’s like. They’re tired of the question and will say “that was just my dad going to work” or some such thing. And they’ll be annoyed with you even if that wasn’t the question you asked. Trust me on this one.
I’m in here somewhere. As one guy said, So much for social distancing.