bristol rhythm & roots 2010 preview

bristol rhythm & roots: hoots and hellmouth

The boys in Holy Ghost Tent Revival turned me on to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion two springs ago, when I was hanging out in the studio with them. “It’s great,” they said. “You should go.” A couple of months later, Josh Daniel from the New Familiars told me the same thing. Last August, Ian Thomas, who’s not in this year’s line-up much to my dismay, told me to stay at exit 278. Or something like that, I can’t remember now. So shep. and I considered the reasonable ticket price — $40 for a weekend pass, cheaper if you buy before the end of July, which we never manage — and the reasonable lodging prices ($130 split a couple of ways, for two nights, if you are willing to call a million places), and we took Azula the Little Red Toyota Of Doom up to the Tennessee/Virginia border last September for something other than a car race. (Who knew they had anything in Bristol besides car races? Not me! They also have a rookie league baseball team.)

It’s not the most high-profile nor the most famous roots music festival in the States; but I don’t think it really needs to be. I think the devotion, of the people who know about Bristol, to the festival is what makes it great. The devotion of the musicians, too — last year I saw plenty of performers standing at stage’s edge, watching other bands perform. (The most surreal moment: turning my head during Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s Friday night mainstage set to see Jason Isbell — who followed them, and who did not draw half as well as they did — standing on the side of the stage, watching them raptly. Talk about trippy.) The whole weekend is run with a military precision, food is plentifully available (so is beer), everyone understands that the Tennessee/Florida game must be watched on Saturday afternoon, and the port-a-potties were as tolerably decent as going to the bathroom in a small portable box ever is. In short: this year’s Reunion is one of the things I’ve been most looking forward to since last year’s finished, and behind the jump, I’m going to give you some of the musical reasons why.

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holy ghost tent revival @ the blind tiger

holy ghost tent revival @ the blind tiger
holy ghost tent revival @ the blind tiger, originally uploaded by minervacat.

baby i don’t know, i don’t think anybody can
’cause that which keeps us moving is that which we can’t understand

i wake in the morning and i step outside

I’m listening to my 4&5 star songs playlist on my iPod lately, on shuffle — and this afternoon on the way home, it threw up a slice of my teenage years. 4 Non-Blondes’ “What’s Going On” followed by Dog’s Eye View’s “Everything Falls Apart”. (It followed those with Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova doing “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, which is decidedly not my teenage years.)

Since I didn’t have anything else I’d intended to post today, those two songs sent me home looking for a photo of Holy Ghost Tent Revival to post. Which doesn’t make much sense, really, unless you know that they used to cover it. Surprisingly well, actually — Stephen doesn’t quite have the vocal power that the lead singer from 4 Non-Blondes did, but they did it in their own bluegrass-ska-Beatles-thrashcore style, and I always enjoyed it.

Haven’t heard it live in well over a year, but I think of that cover fondly whenever I hear the original. Which I still love, all these years later, for what it’s worth.

on over-thinking, staying grounded, and robert mapplethorpe

I am one of those people whose mind generally moves faster than she can keep up with it. I am constantly thinking, constantly cooking up ideas and projects and making lists of things to do and see and eat and listen to and achieve and so on into infinity and insomnia because I simply can’t turn my brain off. On any given day, I probably only voice about 5% of the things I think about. I’ve always lived partially (and at times, primarily) in a drifty little world inside my head and my books and my journals; partially it’s being an intense introvert, and partially it’s that I’m weird and spend a lot of time thinking at great length about things most people never think about for five minutes.

But that over-thinking, it’s one of the reasons that photography is something that, these days, keeps me deeply focused and grounded. When I wrote, I was constantly, mentally, six paragraphs ahead of what I was actually writing; when I shoot, though, all I can do is be there, in the moment, with the shot I’m trying to get immediate to the circumstance. I can’t over-think photography without fucking it up. I have to be there, right there, in that single second, and I have to be committed to it 100%, but I can’t push past that 100%, either. Photography requires perfect concentration but nothing extra from me — it’s meditative. Be here taking this photo now.

Taking photos keeps me from flying off into the ether, in some ways.

I am reading Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It has been pretty much compelling and fascinating from the very first page, particularly for me as a photographer; I am not always engaged by all the subject material of Mapplethorpe’s photos but very few people could deny that he was tremendously talented at what he did, and what Smith’s book gave me was that it took him a long time — years — to come to a point where he was actively making his own images. For many years, he drew and painted but when he worked with photos, he worked with other people’s images in a collage style.

He came to photography late (he didn’t acquire his signature Hasselblad until his 30s), and he still did everything he managed in his lifetime; he’s an icon of American photography (of polarizing American photography). I find it moving, and I find it inspiring. Do I like his images? Not always. Do I find a huge amount of inspiration in the story of how he came to make them? I really, really do.

I don’t shoot like other people. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again, I will say it over and over until I stop being smacked like a naughty child for not doing it like other people do it. I hold my camera funny, I have gaping holes in my technical knowledge that I make up for with sheer tooth-grinding persistence and often bruises in weird places, and I see everything at a slightly tilted angle. I find photography grounding in a way that nothing else has ever kept me tethered to the world before this. I came to it late. I do it for reasons that are often hard for other people to comprehend.

But so did Robert Mapplethorpe, this book taught me, and I’m in good company there. I’m in supreme company. So.

holy ghost tent revival @ local 506, may 2010

holy ghost tent revival @ local 506

Never, ever a bad show from these guys, and sometimes a tremendous one, like last night. A few more shots behind the jump, and the rest of the set is here.

I’ve been frustrated with my shooting lately — the last month or so — and am finding that I’m harder on myself than I used to be, but I felt really good about last night. In large part because I’ve shot Holy Ghost so much that I know them like the backs of my own hands; I’m comfortable with them, which lets me push boundaries, I guess. My own, the standards of what makes a good photo. I’m not sure. I’m just thinking out loud, I guess.

Either way: I will never get tired of shooting these guys, and that’s a good thing.

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holy ghost tent revival @ the pour house

You guys are probably one of the only cities that understands what that’s like. ‘Cause you — the city of DC, from what I’ve read, in certain books, you nurture your own bands, you go see your own bands. If they’re local, you go see them. And that’s what you should do, and a lot of cities don’t do that. They wait for other bands from other cities to come around, which is good, but you should nurture your own, and I feel like that’s a sentiment that we have and a sentiment that you have and a few other cities have. But you don’t find it everywhere, and I’ve been everywhere, man. — Brian Fallon, playing the Black Cat in Washington, DC, 01.16.10

At this point, I’m pretty sure that if you don’t know how I feel about Holy Ghost Tent Revival, you haven’t been paying attention; there’s little else I can write about them except to say that they’re not just one of my favorite local bands, they’re one of my favorite bands period, and I miss them terribly when they’re gone. They’re our own.

They were fantastic, as always, last night, and their new stuff is tremendous, but, boys, I’m just going to say this in public: some of that facial hair you guys are rocking right now is just terrifying. I’m almost certain that when I told Stephen that, he said, “I know, isn’t it awful? It’s like a muskrat on my face!” but I’m not positive, because I was laughing too hard.

And The Moneynotes outran the snow on their way down I-81 from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and they were also fantastic. Sadly for their bassist, none of the photos I took of him shaking his ass at me turned out.

Holy Ghost stay on the road most of the time these days, so y’all should go see them, and tell them I sent you and that I miss them and I love them and they should come home.

the new familiars @ local 506

the new familiars @ local 506, originally uploaded by minervacat.

At the end of the summer, when I was asking people to pick out photos for me to talk about, my Kat picked this one. It has sat in my “to post” folder every since, waiting for me to figure out what to say about it, which is stupid because it’s one of my favorite photos that I took in 2009.

But I had a terrible time quantifying why I loved it so much.

I can tell you concrete facts about this photo; I can tell you that the photo title on Flickr says the New Familiars but it’s actually a Holy Ghost Tent Revival set list, caught on camera between sets. I can tell you that the set list is damp and destroyed because Patrick knocked a bottle of water into Eric’s pedal board and then stomped all over his own setlist while he was playing. I can tell you that the 506 was barely half-full that night, in contrast to other nights since that we’ve seen Holy Ghost nearly sell the place out. I can tell you that the next night shep. and I drove to Norfolk, VA, 400 miles round trip to see those two bands play together again, on a tiny stage in a venue that ended up being a fairly upscale Italian restaurant.

It was two months before an 18 hour trip to Chattanooga for nothing more than driving for the sake of driving, and six boys from Greensboro, a trip that changed my life in so many ways I can’t even talk about them. These days if we drove to Norfolk for those boys, we’d barge into their corner booth when we got there, make them shove over and share their food and their beer and their laughter. But that night we chatted with them briefly and accepted early, tenative hugs and thanks-for-coming, and then we left them to their dinner.

I look at this photo, and it’s a harbinger of so many things to come, tiny moments in 2009 that would keep me going in that year of awful. Standing on a misty late night street in Chattanooga, asking a simple question and being told yes; sitting on the floor of Trekky House in Carrboro under Christmas lights; leaning against stages in Greensboro and Bristol and Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

This photo means a lot to me. It isn’t technically perfect, and most people would never see in it what I see; most people wouldn’t stop to take it. But that’s why I shoot, for the hidden moments behind the image. This photo holds some of my secrets from 2009, broken hearts and triumphs, and even if no one else knows they’re hidden in it, I do, and I know what they are. And that’s why I love this photo.