B L U E  H I G H W A Y S  2 0 0 1

reviews by Maurice Dielemans, Norbert Knape, Markus Rill, and Alex Tobin

From the Kindamusik.net/Twang Homepage at http://www.kindamuzik.net/twang
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Utrecht (NL) was the place to be on 10 March for afficionados of alt.country and Americana. The second edition of BLUE HIGHWAYS promised a bucketload of goodies, with appearances by BUDDY MILLER BAND, JIMMIE DALE GILMORE, DAVE ALVIN & THE GUILTY MEN, MARY GAUTHIER, ROBBIE FULKS, SLAID CLEAVES, LARRY JOHN MCNALLY, THE HOLLISTERS, HAZELDINE, THE CASH BROTHERS, KRISTI ROSE & PULP COUNTRY, CHRIS GAFFNEY & THE GUILTY MEN, DAVID OLNEY, JON DEE GRAHAM, TWO DOLLAR PISTOLS, and BILL MALLONEE & VIGILANTES OF LOVE. Phew... But did it deliver? Did it ever! Not only was the food much better than your standard festival dreck. Not only was it a pleasure to be in the company of true music fans (no blabbing at the bar here!). Not only were the acoustics and the atmosphere great. But the performances... Woo-wee. Read on...

T H E  N I G H T B E F O R E . . .
Prior to the Blue Highways festival there was a warm-up gig with three of the very best country bands of the Netherlands: Utrecht natives the Yearlings, Texas Renegade, and - of course - the Hillbilly Boogiemen, who celebrated their 10th anniversary! The whole event took place in local bar 'Stairway to Heaven', named after a song by Led Zeppelin, and that's why they have to play this song at least four times every night. It all started with a very boring soundcheck by the Yearlings. Now, it took some time before they were satisfied with the sound, but once they started their Uncle Tupelo- and Jayhawks-influenced country twang, it became clear that the Yearlings are the most promising Dutch band in what is known as alternative country. They even brought Rene van Barneveld to play the pedal steel, who is well-known for his work as guitar player with the band Urban Dance Squad. 

Up next were Texas Renegade. They played a very nice mix of rockabilly songs and Dale Watson covers. Even though Dale Watson didn't make it to the festival, Texas Renegade surely were an extremely nice substitute, but they also have plenty of songs of their own to keep them from being just  another retro act. It was very crowded and hot, but that didn't stop the people from dancing to the music of Texas Renegade. The Hillbilly Boogiemen started very late, but they showed once again that they easily measure up to all of the great honky-tonk and bluegrass musicians of the United States. They have even played with many great artists such as Bill Monroe and Dale Watson.
It's hard to believe that the guys are just from Mijdrecht, a small place somewhere in the lowlands. It has to be said, the Hillbilly Boogieman are Holland's best export product since the tulips and weed. [MD]
T H E  C A S H  B R O T H E R S
It's never exactly the most pleasant of tasks opening a major festival to a bunch of groggy, "I've-been-on-the-road-driving-for-hours", die-hard Americana fans. Hardly any genre has this amount of purists, anxiously ready and chomping at the bit to witness a grandstanding and quality festival such as Blue Highways 2001 undoubtedly was. Our sympathies can only go out to the Cash Brothers, who had the less-than-desirable task of trying to warm the cockles of the heart of a six-foot cowboy called Hank. OK, this might be pure speculation and/or caricaturistic exaggeration, but Andrew and Peter Cash pulled it off with aplomb. Plagued by initial sound problems and a three-piece Dutch backing band (They had merely rehearsed the night before.), the brothers Cash (no relation to  Johnny) boldly tried, through their charming mix of country-tinged rock and a few select one-liners, to win the crowd over. No cups of beer flew, and the charmingly friendly Dutch audience embraced the Byrds-like melodies of the Cashes with (half)open arms. Yes, the sound could have been better. Yes, the band could've acted more as a unit, had it been their regular posse of musicians. Full credit,  however, to a good attempt at getting those boot-covered toes tapping. We'll be hearing more from them. Watch this space. [AT] 
C H R I S  G A F F E Y & t h e  G U I L T Y  M E N
The small room upstairs lingers fondly in the memory of Blue Highways visitors last year as a bastion of homey, intimate gigs. The temperature was a little higher up here, but that wasn't only down to the layout of Vredenburg. Chris Gaffney, backed with Dave Alvin's Guilty Men was cooking up a storm. This was Border Music, pure and unadulterated, played by one of the hottest, heaving units of musicians all day. Including seasoned pros such as Rick Shea and Bobby Lloyd Hicks, the Guilty Men set out their agenda early on, playing a spicy and zesty gumbo of shit-hot country, blues, and soul. Especially noteworthy were Joe Terry's virtuoso keyboard parts, including some nice warm Hammond playing. Shea and Hicks took time to front a tune of their own ('Wanted Man' and 'Ooh La La', respectively), and there was even time for a guest cameo by some guy called Dave Alvin (something like that...). This band was out to boogie, and boogie they did. Chris Gaffney himself was in no slouch of a mood at 4.30 pm on a Saturday afternoon, and when he did pick up that magnificent accordion of his, it quickly became clear that this would be a tough act to follow. [AT] 
K R I S T I  R O S E  &  P U L P  C O U N T R Y
Frank Zappa has said: Jazz is not dead, it only smells funny. Maybe we can compare jazz to country music? You have academic people in both genres, trying to avoid any crossing of musical borders. For them, Kristi Rose must be the devil without disguise. She belted out her tunes, may they be twang, rockabilly or flamenco. Flamenco? She announced her song 'Johnny Guitar' (from the Nick Ray movie of the same name) to be the flamenco tune everybody had been waiting for. And in the middle of the tune, when you were getting comfortable within this surprising song (remember: We're talking about an Americana festival!), she walked on the wild side and landed in Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit'. And that won my day and made me remember what a great singer Grace Slick has been, and that was only because Kristi Rose did it so well. For me, it was the highlight of her show, bringing all of her talents to clear exposure. What would follow? When she was rocking really hard, she sent the band offstage, only to leave her husband Fats Kaplin and his violin to help her through a beautiful, haunting mountain ballad: 'The Wind and the Rain'. So this short rundown might suggest that her show was eclectic - No, it wasn't. Eclecticism is putting styles together that don't fit, that don't blend into something new. She calls her music "pulp country". Call it whatever you want: It's Kristi Rose music. And that is not to shorten the importance of her band's contribution: a killer band with distorted guitars and thundering rhythms, led by multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin. I have to end with a confession: I didn't like her announcements, coming along like a cheap Las Vegas imitation. But that's peanuts: She could have read the telephone book in between. Kristi Rose rocked. [NK] 


H A Z E L D I N E 
Hazeldine's leading ladies Shawn Barton and Tonya Lamm presented an acoustic preview of their forthcoming album 'Double Back'. Although their harmony singing was breathtakingly beautiful and between-song banter charming, the set which featured only one song familiar to the audience (their mini-hit 'Apothecary') kind of dragged on. Some of the new songs sounded promising, but since they were all dead-slow, and Tonya and Shawn's guitar playing unremarkable, Hazeldine fell short of the expectations of their avid fans. [MR] 

O.K., this was Markus' review, not mine. Here's another one by Mike Plumbley, written in 1997. Nice story! You all have to read it! That's why I'm so curious about the upcoming CD. The "Double Back" ROCK version !!! Hans

J O N  D E E  G R A H A M
Unarguably, Jon Dee and his band delivered the most energetic set of the day. The affable Graham seemed genuinely thrilled that people actually knew his material, and his performance was every bit as exciting as his two albums' best tracks. Backed by the
wonderfully dynamic drummer Rafael Gayol, guitar ace Mike Hardwicke, and bassist Marc Andes, the Texan won over the audience with his compelling rock'n'roll, passionate guitar playing, and gravelly voice. [MR] 
J I M M I E  D A L E  G I L M O R E
Along with Kristi Rose's show this was my fave. Quite the opposite to the dynamic show girl, Gilmore just sang his songs. In his rich, nasal tenor he served us a dish of tunes from his latest recording 'One Endless Night' plus some of his long back catalogue. He started out with one of his own compositions, 'Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown'. Similar to Emmylou Harris, Gilmore is not famous through his songwriting but beacuse of his distinctive way of interpreting his friends' tunes. He knows this, and so he gave credit to Townes van Zandt and Butch Hancock after singing their songs. Which is not the way it should be said: He makes 'No Lonesome Tune' and 'If You Were a Bluebird' his songs, gives them his Gilmore twist of his own polyglot sound, deeply based in southwestern roots. At one point he asked for Buddy Miller to join him on stage. Buddy didn't show up. and maybe it wasn't bad, because the trio that gave the musical background to Jimmie Dale's singing was so together that any addition might have been an interruption. There were no long improvisations, not too much talk, just the three musicians, some carefully selected songs, and this strange voice. Along with Gilmore on guitar, it was Rob Gjersoe on guitar and Brad Fordham on bass. Both showed not only great skills but the right feeling. Rob Gjersoe has played on Gilmore's latest record, and Fordham was best when he played the upright bass. The singer seemed to enjoy the show, feeling that it was a day where a whole bunch of great musicians gave us a deep insight into Americana. Jimmie Dale Gilmore's songs and singing stood in the first row and were the finest example. [NK] 
M A R Y  G A U T H I E R
Credibility? That seems to be the main question with Mary Gauthier. I must confess that I was a bit infected with Kristi Rose's voice when MG started, so my first reaction was that her "live voice" wasn't as expressive as it is on her 1999 recording 'Drag Queens and Limousines' - But that was proven wrong. Her strength is her storytelling, and that strength is quite unique. Labelling can be quite damaging for any new emerging artists, but it helps to call her music "country noir". The stories about Louisiana demimonde fit quite well into MG's biography, and the way she sang them in Utrecht were the best she can do. The band limited itself to just accompanying and delivering only little support to the songs about a woman on death row, running away from home, fathers who yell, and mamas who cry. So in my view Mary Gauthier was at her best when she stood alone with her guitar and her songs.

Throughout the whole show I had the feeling of a nervous kid that fears she can't bring this to an end, that has so much to say and fears not be heard. But people loved her from the start, and that was before she said she was proud to be on a Dutch label. Relying on the audience's reaction, she seemed to feel safe in the course of her concert, talked a lot, explaining why these songs were so important to her. She always is compared to men - John Prine or Kris Kristofferson. You could get the feeling of a female Steve Earle, and maybe this is her greatest threat: Her credibility might be larger than her talent for entertainment. Right now there's no need to fear: She has the great songs, and if the band gets more of a specific character, she will certainly be around for quite a while. [NK] 

D A V I D  O L N E Y
Many of the critics have being raving about Mary Gauthier's latest and surely excellent release 'Drag Queens and Limousines'. You can't blame the critics for that, but they did give David Olney a hard time to play at a time when Mary Gauthier was playing on the main stage. But anyhow, I had to see David play, because I knew that he used to be a good friend of Townes van Zandt, and you could easily say that a friend of Townes is a friend of mine. So I was thinking that he might play some songs from Townes, and he surely did, but although I am not that familiar with his own work, he certainly didn't disappoint me or anyone else in the audience. As David Olney slowly walked upon the stage with just an acoustic guitar and that serious expression upon his face, it was obvious that he was going to impress all of us and that these 60 minutes were going to be as memorable as nothing else that we have seen. Now everyone who was there that rainy night knows that he was right about that all. From the very first tunes David Olney held my attention. David is not only a good singer and songwriter, but he casts his words like a spell into the audience, and he sings with such a clear voice that it nails you right down to the ground. There is no way back. He did some songs that were inspired by the Bible, but before that he told us that we didn't have to leave, because these songs contain enough sex and violence. And again, he was right about that. Of course, nobody wanted to leave. With each line he sings, his voice gets more fragile, sometimes funny, but often his storytelling songs are some of the most gut-wrenching, heart-hitting songs ever written. He played us a tune about the killing of Jesse James and one about the murder of a whore in Hollywood. Besides the voice of David Olney, all you could hear was somebody stepping on an empty plastic beer cup and the rain falling. So if you ever get a chance in this lifetime or another to see David Olney play live, you should not miss him. He is that great. And than he started singing "When the wind don't blow in Amarillo/And the moon along the Gunnison don't rise"... Yes, what a damn good way it is to end the show with a classic Townes van Zandt song, 'Snowing on Raton'. [MD] 
B U D D Y  M I L L E R  B A N D
About halfway into the set, Buddy Miller gave it away: "This would've been the first almost-professional transition," he quipped when Joy Lynn White, the hastily-added backing singer, stopped a song after its first couple of lines. Buddy Miller's show suffered from the absence of his wife Julie who'd had to cancel the trip to Holland due to illness. As hard as Joy Lynn White tried, she couldn't replace
her. Thus, Buddy failed to really come to life. Sure, the hour-long set was packed with gems from his three album releases, the band's rhythm section was tight and refreshingly versatile, but everyone seemed to try too hard to recreate the songs' album versions rather than add something new. Hard to explain how top-notch musicianship and wonderful songs can fail to excite. [MR] 
B I L L  M A L L O N E E &  V I G I L A N T E S  O F  L O V E
I was busy navigating my way through the crowded dungeons of Vredenburg, but I made my way back just in time for Buddy Miller. The last I saw him play was at the Crossing Border festival in Pardiso when he played with Emmylou Harris. Unfortunately, Buddy Miller sounds much better on CD than he did tonight. Even though I would like to give him a second chance after two or three songs, I still decided to leave for Bill Mallonee and his band. So I made my way up to the smaller stage. Well, if there was any justice in the world of music, you wouldn't have heard of any Dave Matthews or Hooties and their Blowfishes, and Bill Mallonee would have been big in America. Live, Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love certainly make interesting music to listen to. Mallonee, wearing a torn U2 T-shirt, brings his roots-rock with a lot of infectious enthusiasm. The highlights of their show were definitely the Bob Dylan cover version of 'My Back Pages' and the haircut of drummer Kevin Heuer. Simple, but a lot of fun. When I returned to the main stage, Buddy Miller was still doing his thing, but he couldn't change my mind. I was feeling really sorry for all of these people that missed a great band like Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love. Of course, this all the more ironic, given that Buddy produced Bill's last album.
L A R R Y  J O H N  M C N A L L Y
After a brief announcement, Larry John McNally appeared on the small stage. McNally is known primarily as a critically-acclaimed songwriter for artists such as Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Rod Stewart, Chaka Khan, and many others. As a recording artist, he is still largely unknown. Tonight he captured a feeling of an intimate and overwhelming live show. With his first song he had already begun to win the small crowd over, but unfortunately Robbie Fulks and Dave Alvin were waiting downstairs. While McNally continued with demonstrating his distinct style of singing and guitar picking, I quickly ran downstairs for Robbie. Although I haven't seen all of Larry John McNally, it surely was enough to know that this was a very good show indeed, which made me look for more of Larry John McNally as a solo artist. [MD] 
R O B B I E  F U L K S
Is Robbie Fulks going to be the new saviour from Nashville? I'm not sure about that, but he is already a hero to me. Tonight he came to the Netherlands for the very first time. I hope he liked it, because I would love to see him back very soon. It was clear that he was having a good time on stage. Unfortunately, he did a very short gig, but it was all it took to prove that Robbie Fulks is the very best. Although he didn't play for very long, it was surely a turbulent and dynamic show with Robbie Fulks jumping and screaming around the big stage. This time he didn't dress up like Shania Twain to play us 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman', but he did wear a flashy red shirt that made him probably look kind of weird to the people who were waiting to see Dave Alvin and his Guilty Men. After launching a solo performance with a crazed acoustic upbeat song it was time for Robbie Fulks to introduce his band to the audience. So it didn't take very long before Fulks got the crowd rocking with his own definition of alternative country, ole bluegrass, cowpunk, and western swing. He was finished before he'd begun, but later on he returned with Dave Alvin, Buddy Miller, and Chris Gaffney for The Grande Finale. Awesome! [MD] 
D A V E  A L V I N  &  T H E  G U I L T Y  M E N
In the afternoon, Dave and his first-rate band the Guilty Men, had backed long-time Alvin-collaborator Chris Gaffney. Together, they'd provided a truly fine opening set. Somewhere between five and ten pm, Dave and co. must've either lost concentration or had too good a time. Either way, after a seemingly endless effort by Robbie Fulks to pass himself off as alt.country's Carrot Top (a stand-up comic just about as lame as Fulks), Dave sauntered on stage, remarked "this looks like just another bar to me," and played as if he didn't care. Every band is entitled to a bad night, and the Guilty Men took their off-night in Utrecht. Dave himself stepped on his
guitar cord in the intro to 'King Of California'; later he very un-Grammy-winner-like screwed up the tempo in 'What Did the Deep Sea Say' and just generally turned in a lackluster performance with a band that sounded unrehearsed. Dave's material is unparalleled, and the show had its moments, but all in all the Guilty Men just didn't sound deserving of the headlining spot. [MR] 
T W O  D O L L A R  P I S T O L S
When John Howie starts singing with his rich baritone, in a style reminiscent of Merle Haggard and George Jones, it's for sure that he knows what heartfelt country music is all about. Howie is joined by Scott McCall on guitar, Neil Spaulding on bass, and Mark Weaver behind drums. Two Dollar Pistols pay a tribute to the tradition of country with a handful of carefully chosen covers from the likes of such outlaws as Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. This is what I call real country music with an artistic identity of its own, which is more than satisfying. They were playing with such emotional intensity that a string broke before the end of the show. Thankfully, Tonya Lamm and Shawn Barton from Hazeldine showed up with another guitar for John Howie, so they continued with some more of their honest honky-tonk, ending up with everyone singing along to 'Heartaches and Hangovers', another classic country tune that was requested by someone in the audience. Even though they had some technical difficulties during this show, there is no doubt that this was an enjoyable gig. [MD] 
S L A I D  C L E A V E S
It's so terribly hard to win over an audience that has been listening to good music from some of the best performers in American music all day when you're an up-and-coming folkie. Slaid Cleaves managed to do just that, and he didn't need pyrotechnics, an electric guitar, or even a drummer. The Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter relied on the strength of his material and the purity of his art. It all seemed so casual how this raggedy-looking, unassuming, neighbourly guy with a husky voice performed his melodic, thoughtful tunes. In fact, though, it's anything but easy to stay true to making real music. Slaid writes sad, literate songs with just a hint of optimism, picks the right covers, and takes risks. In Utrecht, he yodeled on a Don Walser number, and he incorporated a trumpet into the most down-home country tunes one can imagine. Still, he's intelligent enough to know that the audience wants to be entertained, too. So he stepped back and watched Ivan Brown climb on top of his upright bass or let Oliver Steck invite audience members up on stage. Slaid Cleaves genuinely enjoys making music and being real and, surprisingly enough, the audience gets it. You could've heard a pin drop when Slaid told the sound man to shut off the PA so he could end the festival with an unamplified, moving version of Del McCoury's 'I Feel the Blues Moving In'. [MR] 
T H E  H O L L I S T E R S
By the time the Hollisters appeared on the main stage, most people were still having a good time with Slaid Cleaves in the other room. Nine hours of Americana ended with the relatively unknown Hollisters. It would have been so much easier for them if they played a few hours earlier. This is the kind of band that you would expect to see in dirty honky-tonks with some drunk guys yellin' and throwing beer bottles at them. Still, the Hollisters - whose most obvious vocal influence is Johnny Cash - provided a very good show for a small crowd. It was really late, and most people were tired or just too drunk, but the Hollisters didn't mind and gave it all. [MD] 
Copyright 2001 Alex Tobin (Kindamuzik)
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