Throughout the night on Friday, the Bend Roots Revival — now coming to you from Pakit Liquidators on Bend’s east side — had the look of a festival still working some things out.
Hastily made performance schedules were copied from The Bulletin, blown up huge and duct-taped in various places. Artists convened stage-side powwows to try to figure out how to overcome power-supply issues. Soundmen fiddled with lights mid-set in an attempt to illuminate a stage that was otherwise so dark you couldn’t see who was playing.
The big stuff — clearing out Pakit’s considerable mess — got done ahead of time. So did most of the little stuff. But … y’know … things come up. Especially in a place like this.
And with weather like this.
Whatever. They made it.
Still, someone has to be ready to plug in and play first. In the case of Roots ’13, that was Problem Stick on the BIGS Stage and Gotama at Casey’s Corner.
Gotama was arguably the heaviest band on this year’s bill, combining black metal shrieks with lumbering, sludgy stoner-rock riffs. The trio wandered through a collection of bottom-heavy originals, stopping occasionally to timidly engage with a good-sized and enthusiastic crowd that seemed to have more than its fair share of “ahh, youth” smiles.
Bassist Ben Largent wore a homemade Gotama shirt with an alien’s face on it. I need one of those shirts.
Across the way — past the prayer flags, take a right at the shelves of scrap metal — members of Bend-based quartet Problem Stick were skinning their guitars alive. Now, I have heard lots of recorded Problem Stick; I like their sort of “pop-rock song sent through a rusty blender” thing. But I had never seen the band live, so I was unaware that they like to play those songs, then stretch them out like noisy rubber bands until shards of feedback and other fun stuff start poking through.
Problem Stick frontman Wayne Newcome and I
have had a longstanding joke that I was the band’s biggest fan that had never seen ‘em live. We can put that to rest now, I hope. I loved Problem Stick before, and I love ‘em even more now.
Time for a significant reduction in volume. I zeroed in on modern protest singer Bill Valenti on the Junkyard Stage, but rather than follow the most direct route there, I took the long cut past the Shakedown Stage just long enough to hear Westside Village Magnet School’s Roots Rock Band play White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Kids playing, kids dancing. What’s not to like?
By the time I got over to Junkyard — tucked into Pakit’s southeast corner, framed by a very cool scrap-metal wall — Valenti was elbows deep in his clever tales set to song. I walked into one about the iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie (which incorporated some of “This Land Is Your Land”), which Valenti followed by “Putin On A Show,” a jaunty tune about Russian leader Vladimir Putin that was so topical it included references to Syria and “jailing girly bands,” which I assume is a nod to Pussy Riot. Next was a funny number that imagined Mount Bachelor putting the moves on the Three Sisters.
Valenti performed solo, just his acoustic guitar and his heavy-grit voice. He had a good-sized crowd of folks tuned in, most sitting in a stylistic assortment of chairs and nodding along with grins on their faces. Valenti’s a fine entertainer, and you don’t see what he does too often anymore. It’s both thoughtful and funny, and that’s refreshing.
Before Valenti wrapped up, I took off to catch Portland-based guitar wizard Brooks Robertson in the Bend Circus Center, a building to the immediate east of Pakit. After a quick pit stop at the BIGS Stage for some of The JZ Band’s reliable roots, rock ‘n’ reggae in the quickly chilling dusk, I walked into the Circus Center and was instantly aware of why the place was hosting mostly acoustic acts all weekend. It was dead silent except for the plucked plumage of Robertson’s guitar unfolding into the dimly lit room.
Robertson did originals, a couple of Tommy Emmanuel tunes and at least one by his late mentor Buster B. Jones, stopping between each to quietly talking about his next selection. At one point he joked about doing a song with his “whole band” — bass, rhythm guitar and lead guitar — and then proceeded to showcase his considerable technique by doing all three at once in the song “Back Porch Boogie.” Check it out.
The dude can play.
By this time, it was getting mighty cold outside and the Bend Circus Center seemed like a good place to hang for the night. Alas, Robertson’s was its final performance for the evening, and anyway, I wanted to check out young local bluegrass trio Grit and Grizzle, who I hadn’t seen since a street-corner set last summer. They were scheduled for the Shakedown Stage, which was fitted with minimal lighting, and the skies were officially dark by this time, making it nearly impossible to make out their faces. But the dark can’t stop the crisp plink-plunk of a well-played banjo, as Tyler Canfield proves in this video.
As you can see, about 3:30 of that four-minute clip is basically black. Near the end, Grit and Grizzle’s mentor, Moon Mountain Rambler Joe Schulte, brings out a red light so we can see at least a bit of the band. Two last quick notes: Tim Lindgren ably holds down the low end here, and Gabriel Juarez’s voice is electric and magnetic. This is a good band.
My night was winding down, and Roots founder Mark Ransom was gearing up for a big Mostest party on the BIGS Stage to wrap the evening’s outdoor action. On my way there, I swung by the Junkyard Stage for one song of The Prairie Rockets, who sounded perfectly harmonically hinged, as always.
The official Roots schedule touted The Mostest’s set as featuring the Bend Guitarmy, which I later learned consisted of guest shredders Gabe Johnson (of ElektraPod), Hobbs Magaret (of Hobbs the Band) and Ransom’s cousin Eric, who lives in Ohio. Maybe another person or two, I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, all that six-stringed power made for my favorite Mostest experience out of the half-dozen or so times I’ve seen ‘em. The malleable jam band can cover lots of ground, from folksy to groovy to global to rock-ish, but on this night, they were just big and muscular, as if they were amping up the sound to match the celebratory mood surrounding Roots’ return.
“People keep asking me, ‘Why’d you spend all summer cleaning that place out?” Ransom said from the stage a song or two into the set. “This is why!” The crowd went wild.
The Revival continued indoors and into the night with Moon Mountain Ramblers, Flying Kites and Eleven Eyes, but without me. Word on the street is the crowd got bigger and the party got better, and that’s always good news.