I only managed to make it to part of the annual 3-day Kate Wolf Memorial Festival on Wavy Gravy’s ranch in Laytonville, CA, but my time there was wonderful. The final Sunday contained twelve hours of high-caliber music (in extremely hot weather that the performers all remarked upon). Buddy Miller, back from triple-bypass surgery in February, provided much of the fireworks as he backed up Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and did his own set, an extended version of the foursome’s “3 Girls and Their Buddy” tour. He suggested several times that as a songwriter he was the kiss of death for anyone who wanted to keep their career afloat (Lee Ann Womack’s recording of his “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” he said, marked her commercial apex), but I think he should knock off the humble, self-deprecating bits — this is a guy who exudes soul with every vocal and understated, inspirational guitar playing at every turn, and actions speak louder etc. His afternoon set featured mostly originals written with his wife Julie, including ”Chalk,” “Don’t Tell Me” and ”Gasoline and Matches,” and he laid into a scorching version of “That’s How Strong My Love Is” as well. Griffin, Harris and Colvin were brought on for half the set, which doubled the crowd when word got around the festival grounds that something special was happening over on the big stage. Most moving of all was his rendition of Stephen Bruton’s “Heart of Hearts.” Buddy said Bruton was one of his first visitors while recovering in the hospital, and he performed the song with tears in his voice (Bruton died of throat cancer May 9th of this year). Truth is unfortunately sadder than fiction.
Richard Thompson’s solo set was solid, with a particularly moving version of “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” a rollicking “Johnny’s Far Away” that got the crowd singing, and several songs with his daughter Kamila, including a terrific version of “Wall of Death” that revealed well her vocal resemblance to mom Linda, and a nice “Persuasion,” which I last heard when Richard jumped on stage with his son Teddy at Largo in Los Angeles. (The Thompsons are getting to be real competition for the Wainwright clan!) I thought it was cute that Kamila called her dad “RT” on stage, and he called her “Kami.”
But back to Buddy Miller. Buddy is so good, Emmylou started out her full evening set duetting with him on “Return of the Grevious Angel.” How many contemporary singers can fill in for Gram Parsons? They also sang the Louvin’s “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and “Love Hurts” Yow! Emmylou brought on the other women from her tour in the waning moments of the festival, and performed Kate Wolf’s “Love Still Remains” live for the first time, but I was most blown away by their version of Sinead O’Connor’s “This is To Mother You,” a benediction to the several thousand people still present.
Other highlights included my first exposure to Poor Man’s Whiskey, doing a fine bluegrass-jam-just-plain-weird set that included a song (worthy of a warped Jim Kweskin Jug Band) called “P.M.S.” about monthly fighting in the lead singer’s house (it stands for “pretty much screwed” in the lyrics). The band’s latest album is called “Dark Side of the Moonshine” and includes one disc of a bluegrass version of the Pink Floyd album and one of originals. (I’ll be seeing them again at the High Sierra Festival this coming weekend, I hope.) I also dug the sets from 3-part-harmony experts Girlyman, which included a finishing “Son of a Preacher Man,” the always-reliable Mavis Staples (who brought on Charlie Musselwhite to help out) and a low-key but spectacular set from Rosalie Sorrels on the Revival Tent stage, playing what she called a “jazz set,” including the desperately moving tribute to her son “Hitchhiker In the Rain” and the playful songs she’s evolved based on Don Marquis’ “The Life and Times of Archy & Mehitabel.”
I underestimated how long it would take to drive back to Nevada City, and after a 4-hour drive, I fell into bed exhausted but happy, dreaming of attending the whole Kate Wolf thang next year.