River Roots Live 2007

Ah, the Quad Cities. An absolute hotbed for music!

Eh, not really. For the most part this bustling "metropolis", straddling the Mississippi that I call home, tends to be nothing more than a generic tour stop for your big corporate music acts, such as Kenny Chesney, Linkin Park, and the American Idol kids. Or we get the hottest groups on the county fair circuit like Poison and Big & Rich with Cowboy Troy ("We're coming! And we're shit-tay!").

That's not to say good music doesn't come around from time to time (Wilco kicked off their latest U.S. tour in Davenport, which I regrettably missed), and it certainly doesn't mean there isn't people and groups that are trying to build a scene here.

First off Rock Island is home to the kickass site Daytrotter, with enough music to make the most ardent indie music freak swoon. Then there is the River Music Experience, which started out as more of a museum of sorts, but has evolved into a means to promote music education in our area as well as work to build a strong live music scene.

One of the products of RME's work has been the River Roots Live music festival. It's a two day fest with a wide array of bands. I went last year, and had a great time. This was the third year for it and unfortunately they apparently had a smaller budget to work with as the main acts weren't as big as the year before (Last year Susan Tedeschi and the Black Crowes were the closing acts each night). That's not to say the quality of music wasn't as good. Not at all. There was still some great music to be heard. So how was it? Allow me to break it down and offer some grades.

Weather: After being rained on for about a week straight, the weather cooperated quite well. Saturday was awesome. Sunny, not real hot. A good day to be outside drinking beer and watching live bands. Grade: A-

Venue: The fest is held in LeClaire Park in downtown Davenport. The park is right on the Mississippi River which makes a nice backdrop for the concert as well as a fitting scene since part of the festival's proceeds support Living Land and Waters. With all the rain, the river was extremely high, about 2 feet from pouring into the park for that matter, which allowed several boats to anchor alongside the park and enjoy the music. No sign of Buzanis' boat, the Orifice Perpetrator however.

They have two stages, in which the performances alternated with no overlapping, which was cool since you never had to worry about missing anything, and with little to no downtime between acts, the music was pretty much non-stop. Grade: A

Food and Beverage: The beer was pretty standard. Cans of Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. But they also had beer on tap from Bent River Brewery, a great local brewpub in Moline. I had quite a few cups of their pale ale which was excellent. They also had their Mississippi Blonde which is quite good as well as their Uncommon Stout.

Food was a vast improvement over last year. Last year local restaurant Centro was the sole vendor of food and it was all overpriced and pretty crappy. This year the festival was merged with another local event, the Ribfest. So we had the choice of five different BBQ vendors from around the country. They also had the standard fair food choices like funnel cake, corndogs and such. Grade: B+

Music:
And the most important part of the festival, the music. We didn't see all of the bands that performed but here's a quick rundown of the one's we did.

William Elliott Whitmore
- Local guy from Southeast Iowa. I've seen him a couple times before. Very cool sound. Just him with his banjo and guitar. Plays a lot of songs about death and dirt. I would highly recommend checking him out.

Andrew Landers Project - These guys were OK. I wasn't really getting into them. They sounded a little too Dave Matthews-ish for my liking. Not a bad band though.

Chicago Afrobeat Project
- Very cool band. A jazz-funk group that infuses West African drums and rhythm to create a unique sound. Reminded me a bit of Medeski, Martin and Wood with more of a dance beat.

Reel Big Fish - There's a name you may recognize. I'm not big into ska, so we didn't stay for their whole performance. Nonetheless they sounded good and were pretty entertaining to watch on stage.

Woodbox Gang
- I love these guys. This marked the fourth time I've seen them live. A great blend of country, folk, and punk. I can't recommend these guys enough. Expect a TMS Radio feature on them in the future.

Daphne Willis and Co. - Mark this down as the most pleasantly surprising performance of the festival for me. I had never heard of her, but quite enjoyed her set. Nice, light, airy tunes. Her voice kind of sounded like a cross between Norah Jones and Joss Stone.

J-san and the Analogue Sons - Group from New York that plays reggae infused dubrock, almost like Sublime without all the punkiness. Very chill music that you could easily toke one out to.

America - Yep, that America. Kids if you don't know who they are, ask your parents. They were the only group to not come out on time, pushing the rest of the bands back a half hour on the schedule. The crowd was considerably older for them, to no surprise. Their music is like catnip for middle-aged soccer moms and dads.

Let me say this. I enjoy a few of America's songs. Who doesn't like Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway, or Sister Golden Hair? Unfortunately this set left little be desired for me. The one guy's voice sounded great, virtually unchanged after decades of performing. The other guy, not so much. Needless to say it made some of their harmonies a little rough. Instrumentally they still sounded good though.

Aside from laughing for 90 minutes at all the yuppie suburbanites from Bettendorf rocking out to their beloved soft rock, my wife and I also came up with "America: The Drinking Game". Note, you don't have to see them live to play, simply put in their Greatest Hits CD and begin (You'll find this disc in your parents collection, next to their copy of Phil Collins, "No Jacket Required"). The game is simple. Commence drinking any time the group breaks into a set of "Doo-doo-doo", "La La La", or "Oooohhh", and do not stop until they've completed them. I suspect you'll have alcohol poisoning by your 4th song. We also had a little too much fun shouting "Go 'Merka!" in our best redneck voice in between songs.

The Headhunters with Leo Noncetelli - These guys were cooler than the entire Quad Cities population put together. Reading about them is like a history lesson on jazz and early funk music. The Headhunters were Herbie Hancock's band through the 70's. Joining them on stage was guitarist Leo Noncetelli, a member of early funk music pioneers the Meters. Their set was awesome. Great jazz and funk music and they knew how to get the crowd into it. One of the songs I recognized was in the movie Jackie Brown, so that's gotta count for something.

We didn't stay for Saturday night's closer, Tea Leaf Green although I'm sure they were probably pretty good. Overall a solid lineup of bands that entertained us for various reasons. Grade: B

The Crowd:
Despite having lesser-known acts this year, the crowd seemed larger. Plus, there's no better people-watching then at an outdoor music fest. A strange mix of hippies, families, and just plain weirdos. Grade: B-

Here are some of the characters we saw.

Hippies - This is going to be a given. You pair together more than two bands for an outdoor concert and they emerge from the rock they live under, armed with their patchouli oil, their tie-dyes, their peasant skirts, and their hula hoops. They can be easily spotted as they're usually the only ones at the front of the crowd dancing in typical hippie fashion. More amazing are the hippies with kids. Very rarely do you see a three-year old that acts more mature and responsible than their parents. God damn hippies!

Douchebags - "I came here for only two reasons. Drink some beer, and act like a douche. Looks like we're almost out of beer." Generally walking around in small packs, typically shirtless, and are sporting two Bud Lights using the classic "fair grip". Rarely do they stop to actually watch any band perform. They're usually too busy being drunken asses and douching the place up.

Old People - The venerable sore thumbs of the music fest. Since this is the big event in the city this weekend, that's what they're going to do. Nothing better than seeing a couple of elderly people sitting in lawn chairs watching a jam band perform as they have a glazed-over look on their face. They likely refer to America's songs as "that blasted rock and roll music you kids like so much!"

Parrotheads - Let it be known that Jimmy Buffett did not perform here, nor did anyone like him perform. Hell not even a Jimmy Buffett cover could be heard. Yet there were two obvious Parrotheads, with their tropical tank tops, barefoot, criminally tan, wearing straw hats and leis. This couple was also piss drunk on both days, and just stumbled aimlessly through the crowd the entire time. I wanted to ask them to say 'hi' to Buzanis for me.

Gyrating Middle Age Guy - The guys in their 40's or 50's that seem to be really digging the music. So much so that they're constantly kicking their one good leg around to the beat. That or they're just jostling around enough so no one notices that their Cialis just kicked in. "It's really not me. It's the pleats."

Midgets! - I kid you not I counted 4 different dwarfs in the crowd while I was there. That seems like an abnormally high ratio.

Morbidly Obese People - As American as apple pie, the merger of the Ribfest brought them in throngs. Nothing like watching a plastic folding chair on the verge of collapsing under the sheer weight of a Louie Anderson clone devouring a whole slab of ribs.

Mullets - Some finely groomed manes were on display. There seemed to be a large number of women with their "life partners" walking around, many sporting some serious femullets.

Homeless Dude - Walking around with a dirty scraggly beard, a backpack, talking to himself, wearing a beat up old Phat Farm t-shirt that looked like it had not been washed since Tupac allegedly died. I watched as he successfully managed to scrounge about 8 cigarettes and two beers off of concert-goers. Well done crazy homeless man. Well done indeed.

Well that about does it. Props to you if you actually read through this 'entirely too long' post. We'll see what the festival brings next year.

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