Saturday, May 10, 2003

Jammin' is laid-back street fest

Concert review

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was a low-key opening night Friday for one of the most diverse lineups in Pepsi Jammin' On Main's 10-year history.

With a lineup that ranged from the western swing of the Sidecars to Joan Jett's pop-punk rock to Ben Folds' solo piano pop to Gomez's update of the '60s British Invasion, Jammin' drew a crowd of around 10,000. They were old and young, black and white, hippie, yuppie and goth.

It would have been the tenth annual Jammin', if the 2001 fest hadn't been canceled after the April riots.

Friday's show went off without incident. As the kickoff of the downtown festival season, it was expected to draw protests from the boycott movement. But though the boycotters contacted the artists appearing at the fest (no one canceled) there were no picket lines outside the gates.

Inside it was a laid-back street fest, as Jammers wandered between stages. Gomez was the buzz band of the night, the British rockers drawing a crowd that filled Central Parkway between Sycamore and Main. They had their diehard fans singing along to such favorites as "Get Myself Arrested." Much of the crowd seemed unfamiliar with the band, whose sound recalled such great Brit-rock outfits as the Who, the Kinks and even Pink Floyd and the Yardbirds. Even so, the band deservedly earned a huge response.

Much of the rest of the night was satisfyingly predictable. John Prine sang the favorites - "Angel From Montgomery," "Blow Up Your TV," "Souvenirs."

So did Joan Jett, who closed the main stage at Court and Walnut. Dressed in a black vinyl tank top and black leather pants and sporting close-cropped blond hair, Jett took advantage of the fest's later hours and had the crowd shaking their fists and shouting the chorus to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" as the clock struck 12:30 a.m.

Bluesman Bernard Allison put on a high-energy show to close the stage in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse, spinning out biting lead guitar as sharp-edged as the fangs on the twin rattlesnakes adorning his black hat.

Ben Folds was less compelling, playing a solo set behind a grand piano that had his loyalists packed in front of the stage, while the rest of his audience sprawled apathetically along the green strip on Central Parkway.

On the local front, Reggie Calloway's old-school R&B band turned Main Street into a dance party. Bluekarma preceded Jett's closing set and, with guitarist Jacob Esterline lighting the fuse, the band's high-powered hard rock made for the breakout set of the night.

The broadness of the local scene was well displayed in the Sidecars' opening set of classic, small-group western swing a la Milton Brown's Brownies, as well as Salsa Caliente's picante brand of Latin dance music.

But the sound wasn't as good as years past, with more bleed-through between stages. The Sidecars were occasionally drowned out by the Light Wires, just as Folds' ivory tickling was almost overpowered by Jett's set.

It all starts again today, kicking off at 3 p.m. with the Bands Dew Battle high school band competition and going on to sets by local favorites the psychodots and Jake Speed as well as national acts moe., Ween, Vivian Green, Jason Mraz, Edwin McCain and classic rocker Dennis DeYoung. Admission is $13 at the gate.

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