Tag Archives: Ken Templeton

Ben Cosgrove and Friends

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blue, Portland, Maine

My friend Ben Cosgrove is an insanely talented pianist and a mighty fine accordion player, too. I met him back in 2014 when he produced our friend Max Garcia Conover’s Ellery album. Ben tours non-stop, crisscrossing the United States and playing really any venue that will have him. I follow Ben on Instagram, and he’ll post a beautiful picture from St. Louis one night and from Wyoming the next. His determination to play for people is really commendable. His music is inspired by the landscape he experiences in his travel, which is plentiful. I heard him play on 98.9 WCLZ last summer, and if you like context like I do, check out my friendKen Templeton’s interview with Ben ahead of his 2017 release, Salt.

Happy 30th, Ben Cosgrove!

Ben turned 30 last week, and he asked the kind folks at Blue if they’d open their doors on a Tuesday (it’s usually their day off) so he could play a birthday show. It was such a treat to spend the evening listening to Ben and his talented friends play for us. I showed up while Hannah Daman (she was a highlight of my 2017concerts) was on stage. Griffin Sherry and Max Davis, both from the Ghost of Paul Revere, played a couple of songs with Ben, as did Max Garcia Conover. To close the night, Ben and his friends covered Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands.”Ben played with the Ghost of Paul Reverelast summer when they opened for Guster at Thompson’s Point, and he is about to head out on tour with them for the next month or so.

If you’re sad you missed this fun night, Ben, Max Garcia Conover, Griffin Sherry, and Max Davis play tonight at Blue at 6pm.




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Mipso with Ten String Symphony

Friday, April 21, 2017

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was my fourth Mipso show. I love them and will see them whenever they come to Portland. I even kind of planned my April vacation trip to Charleston, South Carolina around making it back for this show. It all started with an email I got a couple of years ago from Mipso fiddle player/vocalist Libby Rodenbough inviting me to come check out their Maine debut at One Longfellow Square. Dan Mills (Barry’s nephew, for my Bowdoin College community readers) opened that show, so I readily accepted the invitation. North Carolina’s bluegrassy folk band Mipso stole my heart. I was hooked.

Mipso came back to OLS in February and November of 2016, and I was at both shows. I thought the addition of a drummer at the November show was an issue because I couldn’t hear their vocals, but their drummer returned for this show and the balance was totally fine. It’s a relief, because one of the things I like best about them is how crystal clear their lyrics are.

Mipso is Jacob Sharp on mandolin, Wood Robinson on upright bass, Joseph Terrell on lead vocal and guitar, Libby Rodenbough on fiddle, and Yan Westerlund on drums. Their 2017 release, Coming Down the Mountain, is excellent. I particularly like the title song and “Water Runs Red” (which they closed their set with). I was very happy to hear “4 Train,” “Marianne”, and “Louise” live. Mipso is a fantastic blend of musicianship and showmanship. Their live show is engaging and it’s a real pleasure to spend an evening in their company. Until next time!


PS–My dear friend Ken Templeton saw Mipso the following night at The Sinclair and shared his thoughts at Red Line Roots.

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Max Garcia Conover

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blue, Portland, Maine

*Max’s ellery release show is tomorrow night at Mayo Street Arts at 7:30pm. We are all so excited for this moment for Max. The album is beautiful. He, Sophie, and their dog Arlo are about to embark on a many month long national tour in their little RV, so this is your last chance to see Max locally for some time. See y’all tomorrow!? Regular whatbreesees contributor Ken Templeton saw Max last week at Blue. I decided I couldn’t muster the strength to stay up that late so far from home on a school night! Thanks for sharing, Ken!*

I moved to Massachusetts in July. It’s been wonderful–the people here have been incredibly welcoming and outgoing in a way that has surprised me (I grew up in New Jersey–‘nuff said). Musically, it’s been incredible. I got to see Sturgill Simpson the other night and have my eye on Shovels & Rope and Charlie Parr in the next couple of weeks. One thing I am bummed about though is missing some of my friend Max Garcia Conover’s gigs as he embarks on his national tour in support of his truly stunning album ellery. But I happened to be in Portland last week and caught his show with Matt Wheeler at Blue.

Max trades songs with other songwriters at Blue once a month. This is fun because you almost always get a very different sensibility from each songwriter, and this night was no different. Matt’s songs are mostly narrative in nature, with strong nods to literature and history. One song, “Lexington” describes a young man longing both to join the revolution against Britain and to see his love; another song “River (A Dark Chase)” is based on a chapter in Les Miserables. I walked in as Matt was covering Josh Ritter’s tune Idaho,” and there are many similarities between Matt’s songwriting and Ritter’s approach. You can imagine these lyrics (from Matt’s song “Gold”) on a Josh Ritter album: “Sometimes bitter roots / Give rise to sweeter fruits / And all your sticks and stones, they turn to gold.” Matt and Josh use similarly playful rhyme schemes and opposition of emotions. Matt’s guitar playing is rhythmic and crisp, both while strumming and finger-picking, and he engages the audience nicely by asking for sing-alongs with songs like Indigo.” He ended the show with a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max’s songs during the set were mostly from ellery. The crowd at Blue was so attentive–they were really there to listen to music. Everyone was leaning forward when Max sat down at a table with his wife Sophie Nelson to sing Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY.” He said he wrote the song as a reflection on the times like Ferguson, where Max’s friend DeRay has been recently, holding a sign “My blackness is not a weapon.” Max described DeRay as one of the nicest people he’s ever met, and it is so difficult that the nicest person he’s ever met has to hold that sign. The performance was perfect–understated, emotional (but not sentimental), and it felt like we were at a house concert for a few minutes.

Keep Us All is the first track on ellery, but Max wasn’t sure it would even make the record. His genius producer, Ben Cosgrove, convinced him to lead off the album with it, and it’s grown so much on Max that he has added a transfixing, fingerpicked introduction to the live performance of the song. Max played one of his older songs, from his first EP, “As Much A Rising Sun As A Setting One,” and that was beautiful (here is an almost-as-good-if-you-can’t-be-there-in-person version). The Songs is another favorite from ellery, with it’s perfect juxtaposition of truth and artifice:  “time busted engines barked and choked / forgotten for useless as wedding coats / the towers of men the starving ford / he don’t want truth he wants something more / subcontracted gardeners for cul de sacs / slow moving parades of white cadillacs / the national mascot, the savior sighs / they don’t want truth just tell better lies.” The Start of Fables,” was great too, as the audience sang loudly along with the chorus:  “Honey we been tryin’ / honey we been tryin’ / honey we tryin’ like a barnswallow tries / piling sticks so high.”

Max hits the road on September 12. Check out his tour dates here and pick up ellery so you can sing along.

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

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Sturgill Simpson

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA

*My dear friend and comrade-in-music, the uber-talented Ken Templeton, is obsessed with Sturgill Simpson. He’s posted about Sturgill on Facebook so many times that I finally sat down and listened to the Kentucky native’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert myself to see what the buzz is about. Ken recently moved to Massachusetts and got the chance to see Sturgill live a couple of weeks back. Here’s his guest post. Thanks, Ken!*

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Sturgill Simpson looked around at the packed room at Brighton Music Hall last week, seemingly sizing us up. “What’s up, Boston,” he said, then launched into Livin’ The Dream,” with the crowd more shouting-along than singing. The date at BMH was rescheduled from July 12, as he was tapped to open for Zac Brown on a string of dates in July and August.

Sturgill has the perfect balance of humility (when he’s talking) and cockiness (when he’s singing). He plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, knowing that he and his band are really good; also knowing that they have played a lot of empty rooms over the years, leading him to quit music for a while. Miles Miller plays drums and Kevin Black plays bass–the only reason you might overlook their understated, spot-on rhythm is that every solo Laur Joamets takes on lead guitar is jaw-slackening and Simpson’s vocals are so forceful.

After a couple of songs, someone shouted Long White Line!” Without missing a beat, Sturgill just said, “We’ll get there,” in a settle-down tone. Then, he elaborated, “I don’t write set lists,” he said, “and we play what we feel like playing. But we’ll play ‘em all, so you don’t have to worry about it.” He was as good as his word. He played all but one song from his debut High Top Mountain, most of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and a few covers, because, as he said, “Even though most people haven’t heard ‘em, I get tired of playing my shit.” While introducing Turtles All The Way Down,” a song with references to hallucinogenic drugs that has been picked apart by journalists (“And none of ‘em have got it right”), Sturgill pointed out Graham Uhelski in the audience, who directed the song’s music video, thanking him for his support and artistry. After the song, he walked to the front of the stage, and Uhelski came forward–they shook hands and exchanged a few words, with clear mutual respect and affection.

This was probably the last chance to see him in a venue where you talk directly to the performer. When Sturgill reflected that it’s been a “crazy couple of months,” since Metamodern broke through and garnered him national attention, a fan said “Congratulations, man,” and Sturgill looked right at him, thanking him. “You made it!” someone else said. He smiled a little and said, “We’ve crawled our way to the beginning. That’s still a van parked out back.” When he comes back through Boston, it will be at a bigger venue with a tour bus parked outside. But he’ll still play what he feels like and the crowd will be lucky to shout along.



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The Avett Brothers with Old Crow Medicine Show

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine

Ken is seeing more music in 2014 than I am! And he has two small children, so I have no idea what my excuse is. I think I’ve been hibernating this winter, and even the 45 minute drive to Portland has seemed like a genuine trek given the darkness of the season. Today is the first day of spring, though, so I expect all that to change soon. Here’s another beautifully written post by my dear friend and comrade-in-music, Ken Templeton. Thanks, Ken! I feel like I was right there with you!




It’s pretty hard to overestimate how much The Avett Brothers’ music means to me. I remember sitting at Chumley’s with a friend many years ago, telling him that I’d been casting about for new music. “The Avett Brothers,” he said. “They’re bluegrass-with-muscle.” I’ll confess that I didn’t go to the music store: I went to Napster. I stole a few songs like At The Beach and Old Wyom. Within a few days, I was at Bull Moose, cleaning them out of the few Avett Brothers discs they had in stock. But it was seeing them live that made me really love this band. Their passion, vulnerability, and joy for music have made Avett Brothers concerts some of the best experiences I’ve had as a music fan.

It was great to see them again (for the fifth time) last Monday at the Civic Center. I first saw them years ago at the Trocadero (a place I used to see The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Toasters and The Bouncing Souls play when I was in high school). The Troc is a great little club, a little smaller than the State and there really isn’t a way to replicate that intimate experience in an arena. But the Avetts’ energy is infectious and capacious, and more than fills a room – even a big one.

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured:  Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

They started out with Shame and Die, Die, Die, both off of Emotionalism. Shame is so much fun – great song to get a crowd of people belting out: “Shame / Boatloads of shame / Day after day / More of the same.” They followed these up with Talk on Indolence, a ripping stomp of a song that is usually featured in the beginning of their sets to draw everybody in. It’s from Four Thieves Gone and I think represents some of the different musical influences on this band: the banjo is strong and driving, there’s some punkish screaming, the song begins as a rap (sort of), and the tempo goes from all-out frenzy to drunken slowness and back again. While it’s hard to say that there is one song in the Avetts’ catalogue that captures them, this one might be it.

Ketch Secor joined the band for Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Ketch is probably the only guy in music who can make Scott Avett seem somewhat subdued. It was fun to see them play together. He can rip on the fiddle and his back-and-forth with Seth on the guitar was a blast.

Live and Die and Laundry Room came next. I was really hoping for Laundry Room. (They kicked off that show at the Troc years ago with it, and I clearly remember being transfixed.) That tune just has so many great lines – for me, it’s all about this verse: “Last night, I dreamt the whole night long. / I woke with a head full of songs. / I spent the whole day; I wrote ‘em down, but it’s a shame. / Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics, cause every chorus was your name.”

At this point, I was pretty sure they’d play something off their new album, Magpie and the Dandelion. Nope. They jumped into a breakneck version of Old Joe Clark with a slow, slow, slow interlude of The Roving Gambler, back to an even faster OJC. OK, now something from Magpie. Nope. Distraction #74, from Four Thieves and then At The Beach. I love At The Beach. Not only was it an introduction to me for this band, but it evokes, for me, rolling down your car windows and cranking the volume on this tune and giving the accelerator a little more shoe. “I know that you’re smilin baby, / I don’t even need to see your face. / Sunset at the shoreline / We are laughin, breaking up, just like the waves. / Are you feelin, feelin, feelin what I’m feelin – like I’m floating, floating / Up above that big blue ocean. Sand beneath our feet / Big blue sky above our heads, no need to keep / The stressin from our everyday life on our minds / We just had to leave all that behind.”

At this point, my dogs are barkin. There hasn’t been reason at all to sit down and take a load off. The whole show has been stunning. And then they kick into Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, which has to be one of the great descriptions of willing yourself to believe, despite what all the evidence might point to: “There was dream / And one day I could see it. / Like a bird in a cage, I broke in / And demanded that somebody free it. / There was a kid / With a head full of doubt / So I screamed til I died / And the last of those bad thoughts was finally out.” This song, and others like it off I and Love and You (like The Perfect Space) used to feature a lot of instrument-switching for the band – Seth would jump on the drums while Scott went to the piano. Now they have a full band, with Joe Kwon on cello, Mike Marsh on drums, and Justin (?) on organ, and the sound on songs like Head Full of Doubt rises to meet the grandeur implied by the lyrics.

11 songs in, they played Another is Waiting, the single from Magpie and then Skin and Bones, which is one of the great little gems on the new album. I was shocked that it was over an hour into the set before they played any new songs. But one of the great things you can see if you look at the Avetts’ set lists is that they really are different each night. Of the 26 songs they played in Pittsburgh, two nights prior to Portland, 11 were played again in Portland. (Looking at that list, it seems like they did include a few songs that feature just Scott and Seth, which didn’t happen at the Civic Center – that aspect of their show is usually so wonderful and I definitely missed it. There was an extended stage into the audience, and I thought that there would be a lovely little three or four song mini-set of the two of them on songs like When I Drink, Ten Thousand Words, Murder in the City, and Tear Down The House.)

Salina is one of my favorite Avett Brothers tunes – the one I used to introduce the band to my friend Max Garcia Conover (see here and here for Bree’s reviews of Max’s recent shows) – and it was fantastic. “Cleaveland, I ain’t never felt nothin’ so strong. / Been believin’ the words to my songs, / Ohio, I’m leaving. Ohio, I’m gone.” This video of Salina is awesome – it’s over in Glasgow, Scotland and when Seth sings the bridge, a lovely Scottish lass yells “sexy bastard” at him, making Scott kind of laugh, trying to sing, “Poughkeepsie, hang up the telephone.” And, while we have a minute, how many bands can throw Poughkeepsie into a song?

I and Love and You was, as it always is, rousing and beautiful and spiritual and gorgeous. Seth on the piano and Scott leading the crowd through chorus after chorus: “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. / Are you aware the shape I’m in? / My hands they shake, my head it spins / Oh, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in.” In the past, I have seen them end shows with this song, so it was interesting to see it here, and I think that it probably doesn’t work as well in the middle of a set – it seems like it either has to come at the very beginning or very end. It would be a great opening song, I think. To some degree, I felt like there was a four-song lull after “I and Love and You,” and I think at least part of that is this is a hard song to follow up.

They followed with Pretty Girl from Chile, a song I like, but is harder to engage with in concert, I think, because it leaps through the gamut of the band’s musical influences and expressions: it starts like a fairly standard country-ish tune: “I’m no more than a friend girl / I can see that you need more. / My boots are on my feet now / My bag is by the door.” But then it goes all flamenco (Seth’s guitar on this was spectacular), then heavy, driving, power-chord electric guitar, then hilarious answering machine message. Each part of the song was good, but it seemed like crowd had a hard time following the progressions. The next three songs are ones that I just don’t dig as much: The Fall, then Vanity, and Never Been Alive. All fine songs, but The Fall has always been a bit uninteresting to me, lyrically speaking, Vanity is my least favorite song on Magpie and Never Been Alive is a song from Magpie that just felt too slow for this part of the show. I sat down and took a rest at this point.

Paranoia in B-Flat Major and Go to Sleep ended the show – two really fun songs to sing along to and stomp around. Both songs are from Emotionalism and are kind of quintessential Avett songs, with a good amount of dissonance between the upbeat music and lyrics that explore some very challenging emotions. In Paranoia, Scott sings, “There was a time I could move, a time I could breathe / With crowded spaces filled with angry faces, it didn’t once cross my mind / With paranoia on my heels, will you love me still / When we awake and you find the sanity is gone from my eyes?” The crowd sang with Seth on Go To Sleep as he led a call-and-response of “La la, la la la la.” There was plenty of laughter, on stage and in the crowd, as he climbed out of our range into his own high notes that were barely squeaks.

The encore was stupendous. Old Crow Medicine Show joined and they tore through Fireball Mail before leading the audience in a really fun version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, with Scott, Ketch, and Seth taking turns singing verses.

Then, Seth, who normally hits all the high notes, comes out with: “Doh, doh, doh, doh,” in the low register and we all start singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” It was sweet and fun, and if you were there and weren’t singing, then you’re a cynic. I guess there are worse things to be, but not at an Avett Brothers show!

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