Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Conversation with Frank Fairfield

Saturday night (July 26), Spaceland had added Frank Fairfield to the Howlin' Rain/Crystal Antlers bill, and since he was the opening act I decided I couldn't miss the privilege of seeing this amazing guy for a second time.

I arrived at Spaceland way too early, which always feels a little awkward when only 5 people are there. Except that this time it gave me to opportunity to sit with Frank for a while and chat.

I was so curious about his influences and how long he'd been listening to this music. He said he's been a fan of early 20th century blues/folk since about the age of 17 when he was first introduced to it and has since amassed, what I understand is, a pretty huge collection of rare and authentic 78's. Much of the music comes from the Deep South and the Memphis area and was recorded by tiny local record labels. I couldn't help but compare it to the spirit that, today, has independent musicians seizing control of their product from the vast conglomerates, except that those old 78's were barely distributed, where today the internet gets the music to the people.
Frank reeled off names of musicians, some vaguely familiar, some not at all and I confessed my ignorance of much early music and told him he provides a gateway for me to learn more. Me and the whole audience. He also has a history of busking in the streets, singing for the people of the streets. His is a story of affirmation and overcoming obstacles.

He took the stage around 9:40 and the crowd had grown to a small, intimate gathering, and Frank Fairfield blew everyone's mind. People stop, midstep, mouths open, staring intently at this artist bowing away on his fiddle. And that voice, so full of passion and raw emotion.

Again he picked up his banjo for the second number and the blurring fingers, the incredible sound and the rhythm of his movements (his feet provide the only percussion) all became a transfixing experience. You begin to wonder what century you're in. Such intense concentration from a performer demands equal concentration from the audience...and he got it!

He sang some of the same songs as last Sunday at the Echoplex, and some different ones. I was especially pleased to hear a 'true-to-the-source' version of "Hesitation Blues", as that's always been one of my favorite songs by the great band Hot Tuna. But Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady do a rocking blues version that I love, but here I felt I was hearing the original version, once removed.

He ended with "Old Paint", an old western song, which was the song his bow strings broke during at he Echoplex, so I wasn't sure I'd heard the whole thing before, but it's a beaut! This was a stunning set by a gifted artist.

Frank also said he is recording a couple of songs for a 7" single, hopefully to be completed in time to be available for his Fall cross-country tour opening for the Fleet Foxes. I really enjoyed my talk with him and it made the evening even more memorable.

I stayed for Crystal Antlers set. They are a ferociously energetic garage/punk rock ensemble who pleased the large crowd assembled. Led by a roaring lead singer and including a hyper-kinetic percussionist on bongos and cymbals. I enjoyed their set and was bouncing right along.

This is a very hectic weekend for some reason, so I couldn't stay for Howlin' Rain, but I will catch up with them somewhere soon.


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