Sunday, May 11, 2003

Local acts outshone big names on Jammin' stage


Concert review

Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Saturday's bizarre mix of biblical-proportion storms and sudden clearing was a one-two punch for the 2003 Pepsi Jammin' On Main.

By the time the downtown music fest kicked off it's high school band challenge re-match at 4 p.m., the sky was blue and sunny. But the forecasts of hail and tornadoes helped keep the crowd below 10,000, resulting in a two-day total around 20,000, down from last year's 50,000.

But maybe it was the acts that kept people away. Last year boasted John Mayer, the Roots and O.A.R., Saturday's biggest name was Dennis DeYoung, former lead singer of Styx.

He closed the biggest stage with a Vegas-style show that made Neil Diamond sound like Kurt Cobain. His voice is the same strong tenor it was in the late '70s, but his delivery has gotten even smarmier than in his heyday. The result was DeYoung and the restless, as much of his audience deserted him long before his encore, "Come Sail Away."

If that was the night's low point, the high point preceded him on the same stage -- hometown heroes the psychodots. It was a quintessential Cincinnati experience, hearing Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser rocking such 'dots faves as "Moaner" and "Mattress," as spotlights played on the skyline.

That is what Jammin' on Main is all about.

There were other fine performances, notably moe.'s closing set at the Kroger Stage. The four-man jam band remains true to the spirit of the daddy of them all, the Grateful Dead. Unlike Phish, moe. never plays with a glib, over-intellectual distance. Instead, the group, which includes Norwood transplant Chuck Garvey, did a set that mixed calypso and bluegrass flavors with various forms of rock, playing with a keen sense of adventure and dynamics.

Vivian Green was another welcome addition to the fest, her commanding stage presence and smooth, yet organic, neo-R&B bringing another flavor to an already diverse night.

She was part of three very different singer-songwriters on the Skyline Stage, sandwiched between Jason Mraz and closer Edwin McCain. Mraz's appeal mirrors John Mayer's, though his loose-limbed mix of folk, rock and even rap, is very different.

McCain's finale set was anticlimactic, as he took the stage backed only by a reed player.

The all-female band Antigone Rising preceded Mraz with a star-making show marred only by bad sound. That stage's main electric cable had been drenched by the afternoon's storms and was malfunctioning. Nonetheless, the band's strong four-part harmonies, intense performance and fine songs drew a huge, responsive crowd. Look for them to become a new local favorite.

Local group Taylor Farley & Blue Rock was another discovery for a lot of people. The group models itself on the old Earl Scruggs Revue, mixing Farley's banjo with a rock rhythm section and electric guitarist Micah Hoosier. Along with more traditional fare, such as "Nashville Skyline Rag," the set included Farley's showpiece "Wipeout," on which he beats the banjo like a bongo, and a surprisingly fine bluegrass arrangement of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Local rock band the Mudpies followed and reversed the favor, rocking Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Along with Blue Rock, the roots elements of the night included the one-band folk revival of Jake Speed & the Freddies, as well as the bluegrass-tinged jam band Blue Merle.

The day began with the high school battle of the bands at 4 p.m., as the finalists from the Bogart's competition met on Main. This event flipped the Bogart's winners, as Bluepoint took first place, and the Death Jazz All Stars?! took second.




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