Suddenly, it seems, the Bend Roots Revival is one of the biggest and best parties in Bend.
If you were paying attention, you could see this coming. In my post-Roots Feedback column last year, I wrote: “I think this thing is on a fast track to becoming one of Bend’s coolest cultural events. The atmosphere was electric on Friday night, especially once the sun went down. And that was on the first night of the festival — people were just getting warmed up.”
Well, take that feeling and multiply it by, say, three or five, and you have a sense for what the first night of the 2009 Bend Roots Revival was like.
In its fourth year, the festival took yet another big step toward permanent prominence last night. The venues were set up more thoughtfully. The bands sounded great. Organizers seemed better, um, organized. And people were out in droves.
How many? No idea. But it seemed like a lot to me.
The outdoor stage at Parrilla Grill wasn’t packed, but there were scores of people there to see The Mostest and their all-star friends. Inside Parrilla, it was tough to move without brushing up against someone.
But over at the Victorian Cafe, the area in front of the main stage that was cordoned off by caution tape — generally speaking, from 14th Street back to the fence, and from the northern edge of the parking lot to the southern edge of the building — was jammed with revelers from when I arrived at about 8 p.m. through at least 10 p.m., when I left.
It was quite the scene. Old people, young people, children. Chat groups, true music listeners and uninhibited dancers. Drinks flowed freely; sometimes too freely, as fest founder Mark Ransom repeatedly reminded people not to take their libations from venue to venue. Organizers responded quickly to that potential problem and seemed to put a stop to it early on. There was at least one guy stationed outside Parrilla stopping people before they entered the crosswalk with a cup.
I started out watching Ransom’s group, The Mostest, do a sunset set at Parrilla. The band was in full jam mode, riffing for minutes at a time and giving guitarist Tim Schroeder, keyboardist Brad Jones and hand-drum percussionist Shireen Amini plenty of space to add color to the sound. Occasionally, Ransom would step to the mic and toss off a couple of lines, but mostly, he was content to jam, jam, jam.
He also called up guests to play, including his cousin Eric Ransom and El Dante guitarist Gabe Johnson. At least I think Johnson joined in. Ransom was calling the guy’s name when I headed inside to catch a few minutes of local bluegrassers Old Wave. The quartet was stationed against Parrilla’s north-facing window, with onlookers horseshoed around the restaurant’s bar.
Old Wave did a few numbers — not sure if they were originals or covers, but I did recognize Johnny Cash’s “Big River” — and were joined for at least one by local musician Russ Pennavaria on some sort of wooden flute. Instead of telling you which songs were great, I’ll just say that David Higginbotham’s mandolin picking was spot on, and the group’s vocal harmonies sounded mighty fine.
I tried to count which was more numerous in Parrilla: instrument strings or cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It made my head hurt, so I took off across the street, where Bend-based troubadour Leif James and his band The Struggle were getting started.
In front of the biggest crowd of the night, James did what he does best: deliver rootsy, bluesy Americana music imbued with the passion of a man who went through some stuff before he settled in Central Oregon. James’ finest assets have always been (1) his songwriting skills, and (2) his voice, a raspy, old-soul thing that naturally elevates any tune it sings. You can add keyboardist Georges Bouhey to that list. I thought his artful playing brought a lot to the songs.
James played some of his own stuff, but it was a cover of Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” and the traditional “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” that really got the crowd moving. As I backed my way toward the exit, I could see people moving chairs and tables out of the way, expanding the dance space big chunks at a time. Boogie Imperialism!
OK, that’s enough for now. I’m going back for more today and will be back with another report tonight or tomorrow. If you’d like to join in the fun, here’s the schedule.
(Photos by Ben)