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AMERICANAFEST® Pre-Party: Mint House
Featuring White Denim, Celisse, David Ramirez, Jesse Malin, The Wandering Hearts + JB Strauss
In his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus wrote that “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.” 15 years later Richard Wayne Penniman wrote “Wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom”, an undeniably powerful vocalization that on any given Wednesday in any given situation, civilized or otherwise, is still fully capable of setting somebody’s stuff aflame. Over ten years and seven long players into their career, White Denim are still in the relentless pursuit of a thread – in other words, a wick.
The Austin,Texas band have carefully and continuously studied the greatest records ever made, but they write songs just dumb enough to drink, dance, and fight to. Theirs is a music that aims for the whole body, while equally satisfying the mind. While it has morphed, expanded, and even burst apart, White Denim’s sincere and human drive and ability to spark true rock & roll exhilaration have been unerring constants of the band’s 10-year existence.
Celisse is a singer, songwriter, multi- instrumentalist, performer and spoken word artist. Her deep and varied career has seen her in concert, at venues ranging from the Beacon Theater, supporting Mariah Carey, Town Hall supporting Graham Nash, Madison Square Garden supporting Kesha at the 60th annual Grammy Awards, The Greek Theater in Trey Anastasio’s Ghosts of the Forest, and the Apollo Theater with Melissa Etheridge; as well starring in the recent revival of Godspell at Circle in the Square Theater, singing in Bridget Everett’s Rock Bottom at Joe’s Pub at The Public; and appearing on television in 30 Rock, The Electric Company, Rescue Me, The Big C, the LATE SHOW with Stephen Colbert as a special guest of Jon Batiste and Stay Human and most recently playing lead guitar with LIZZO on SNL. But it’s her prodigious talents as a singer-songwriter and musician that have defined Celisse the most as an artist. Her original music, powered by her soulful voice, is hard-rocking and blues-tinged with infectious hooks that stay with you.
How do you write love songs when you’re heartbroken? How do you sing about hope and passion when yours is lost? How do you finish an album when the relationship that inspired it has ended?
During the Summer of 2017, David Ramirez had fallen in love with a woman who, despite having only just met, felt incredibly familiar to him. There was a scary but comfortable feeling of deja vu within their moments together. “In past relationships, no matter how eager I was to feel loved and to give love, there had always been a hesitation to crawl out of my old life. I didn’t feel this with her,” he recollects.
Ramirez began to pen songs for his next album and hopeful odes to new love spilled out. Songs like “Lover, Will You Lead Me?” filled with vivid images from the heart: I recognized you from some distant dream / Like when it rains on a cold day / I had a chill in my bones / Is it true what they say / “When you know, you know.”
These were followed by sultry, romantic ballads about how love matures and grows. He wrote “I Wanna Live In Your Bedroom” while sitting on his lover’s bed just minutes after waking up on a hazy fall day. “I was looking around at all the perfectly curated pieces in her room,” he says. “Everything was so intentional and held a story and a place in her heart. I wanted to be one of those pieces.”
One after another, Ramirez poured his soul into a new work of art that covered both the sweet parts of love and the hard times it can bring. He wrote about potential, survival, hope, and encouragement. He wrote about partnership.
But art is often bred from spontaneity and suffers under the confines of routines and borders. This is a conflicting dynamic that can cause massive problems when you’re building a partnership, when you’re part of a team. A seeming “whatever” attitude can foster insecurity and doubt in a lover. As more and more troubles emerged in his relationship, Ramirez found solace still at the tip of his pen, holding his guitar, sitting at his piano.
“I was born in August of 1983 just days after Hurricane Alicia had hit my hometown of Houston. As my relationship began ripping at the seams, I started to think of this storm as a precursor to my being born,” Ramirez confides. “Was there something in the universe that imprinted a characteristic of chaos in my blood during my last few days in the womb? Was I destined to wreak havoc everywhere I went?”
Soon, the relationship that had inspired a new burst of creativity in Ramirez and moved him to start writing an album unlike any he had ever attempted before, came to an end. And with that ending, he still had one last song to write. His heart exhausted, he sat on his patio one night and tried to process all of the lyrics that he knew he had written, yet now left him feeling like a stranger to his own story. Through tears and muffled whimpers, he started to write down all of his negative thoughts about love and put the pain of his broken heart into words. From this emotional purge, he began to see the beauty in what he had gone through: the struggle, the pain, the confusion. He soon found himself writing the lyrics that would become album standout “Hallelujah, Love Is Real!”
“I was reminded of a great line in the film Vanilla Sky, ‘The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.’ I decided to celebrate Love,” he explains. “I wasn’t gonna write about how it made me feel in that moment. I was going to write about its existence and how thankful I am having known it.”
This chapter of Ramirez’s life came to a close in the form of his forthcoming 10-song set, My Love Is A Hurricane, recorded with producer Jason Burt at Modern Electric Studios in Dallas, TX. For the first time in his career, he did no pre-production ahead of time, working from gut feelings throughout the process and spending most of his time in the studio on the edge of his seat. The resulting R&B-influenced, piano-driven production is highlighted by heavy basslines and synths with the occasional gospel backing. This experimentation with new melodies and rhythms places Ramirez’s deeply personal songwriting on top of dreamy, groove-driven landscapes that heal the heart and promote positivity while prompting listeners to want to sing (and dance) along.
My Love Is A Hurricane is Ramirez’s fifth full-length record and eighth collection of songs. Early albums like American Soil (2009) and Apologies (2012) put him on the map both locally and beyond, while his STRANGETOWN (2011) and The Rooster (2013) EPs delivered fan-favorite recordings, “Shoeboxes” and “The Bad Days respectively, that are staple singalongs at his concerts to this day. He made his Thirty Tigers debut with 2015’s FABLES, produced by Noah Gundersen, which features his most widely received single to date, “Harder to Lie.” While this earlier work landed Ramirez firmly in the singer/songwriter canon, a need to do more exploring sonically led to the expansive sound of his most recent album, We’re Not Going Anywhere (2017). Influenced by ‘80s bands like The Cars and Journey, it is lyrically reflective of the country’s intense political landscape framed from his perspective as a bi-racial American of Mexican heritage.
As songwriters evolve as people, so does their art, and that could not be more apparent than on Ramirez’s newest offering. The soundscapes utilized on My Love Is A Hurricane may be unlike any recording he has previously crafted, but it’s not a departure from his journey. It’s a new path created in order to tell a new story. A new canvas needed to hold the scene that his intensely personal lyrics are painting.
From collaborations with Bruce Springsteen and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, to his early writing in D Generation, Jesse Malin fuses evocative lyrics with music that cross genres. His newest effort, the Lucinda Williams produced ‘Sunset Kids,’ finds Jesse reimagining broad swaths of American musical textures- invoking Lou Reed, Neil Young and Paul Simon. ‘Sunset Kids’ began to take shape when Jesse accepted Lucinda’s invitation to see her open for what would be the last Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert. The album explores the bittersweet as well as topics more upbeat, with Jesse’s street-smart writing style acting as the thread weaving indie rock, folk and heartland Americana together.
One can hear ‘Sunset Kids’ as a natural progression of Malin’s previous work. D Generation charged onto the scene with downtown swagger while ‘The Fine Art of Self-Destruction’, his Ryan Adams’s produced first solo album, combined this toughness with heart-rending lyrics reminiscent of Steve Earle and Tom Waits. Subsequent work refine rock in the vein The Hold Steady and The Strokes while cultivating a personal lyrical approach a la Wilco or Elliot Smith. In Sunset Kids, the genres and influences gel and Jesse Malin steps assuredly into the role of street-savvy, roots-minded songster. AllMusic says Sunset Kids “ranks of one of Malin’s best records” while Americana UK calls it “a triumph a record… among the best of Malin’s career and among the best of this year.”
The Wandering Hearts shot to the forefront of the UK folk-Americana scene with their debut album ‘Wild Silence’. Earning glowing comparisons ranging from First Aid Kit to Fleetwood Mac, the album propelled them upon a remarkable journey during which they played some of America’s most storied venues. After a personal invitation from the legendary Marty Stuart, they became the first band to make their US debut at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium and then play the Grand Ole Opry in the same week.
An early highlight came at the UK Americana Awards, where they won the Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award and performed with Robert Plant, Mumford & Sons and Imelda May. Two years on the road followed, with sold-out headline tours, support slots for Lukas Nelson, Justin Townes Earle and Larkin Poe, opening for Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks at London’s BST Hyde Park, and festival circuits across the UK and US.
The Wandering Hearts headed to the idyllic setting of Woodstock, NY at the start of 2020 to record their follow-up self-titled album which will be released on 26 February 2021. Lead single ‘Over Your Body’, a beautifully haunting, driving track with harmonies that evoke The Mamas & The Papas, is available now.
From the true southern city of Macon, Georgia, and a family steeped in oral tradition, JB Strauss meshes music with storytelling in effortless fashion.
Influenced by the heavy, electric style of bands like The Allman Brothers, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with poetic and witty writers like John Prine, Gram Parsons, and Jim Croce, it is fitting JB borrows from the notion that ‘everything that rises must converge.’
Also noteworthy are the years JB spent with family and friends on Georgia’s Golden Isles. His music is redolent of the intricacies and depth of life in the marshes and intracoastal waterways and leans on their life-giving elements to feed the soul when the rivers of home run murky. As JB followed in both of his grandfathers’ footsteps, achieving a law degree all his own, he learned the stories hidden beneath the surface of life in the South. The musical result? The ability to deftly balance the human qualities of contradiction with spiritual redemption. “These songs are part of the foundation of who I am as a person and now as an artist,” JB says.
In “Man Possessed”, the title song of his debut EP, out everywhere December 5th, JB speaks of his grandfather’s life as a Judge and “…how that life wore him down like river over stone…he became a man possessed with moving on.” Another tune, “Piss Ant Hill”, which will be released as the first single on 11/22, is a humorous, yet poignant tale of a man whose fatal mistakes land him in Georgia’s Reidsville Prison. With no one to claim him when he dies, the subject’s destiny becomes a date with a pine box on prison land reserved for the unclaimed.
As JB launches his artist career, one can expect honesty and intensity, truth and salvage. His presence on-stage is paramount to the experience and fans will feel it immediately when they step into one of his shows. “Man Possessed” represents just the first chapter of a long musical journey ahead. Indeed, it’s harvest time for JB Strauss.
The latest full-length from Cordovas, Destiny Hotel is a work of wild poetry and wide-eyed abandon, set to a glorious collision of folk and country and groove-heavy rock-and-roll. In a major creative milestone for the Tennessee-based band—vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Joe Firstman, keyboardist Sevans Henderson, guitarist/vocalist Lucca Soria and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Toby Weaver—the album harnesses the freewheeling energy of their live show more fully than ever, all while lifting their songwriting to a whole new level of sophistication. The result is a batch of songs that ruminate and rhapsodize with equal intensity, inviting endless celebration on the way to transcendence.
Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Rick Parker (Lord Huron, Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), Destiny Hotel expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. Before heading to L.A., Cordovas spent over three months in their second homebase of Todos Santos (an artist community in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula), sketching dozens of songs partly sparked from their voracious reading of authors like mythologist Joseph Campbell, poet/novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. And when it came time for the recording sessions—a frenetic seven-day stretch squeezed in just before stay-at-home orders took effect in response to the global pandemic—the band methodically eliminated any lyrics they deemed inconsequential.
“We wanted to strike the term ‘want’ from our music—to get rid of all the ‘Baby, baby, baby, I want this, I want that,’ and create something more useful,” says Firstman. “We needed to make sure these were songs we’d be proud to sing forever.”
But while Destiny Hotel unfolds in untold revelations on fear and ego and self-liberation, Cordovas offer up that insight without ever slipping into didacticism. In fact, much of the album radiates utter elation, each moment echoing Cordovas’ band-of-brothers kinship and extraordinary closeness: when they’re not touring the world, taking the stage at leading festivals like Stagecoach, Newport Folk and Pickathon, or hosting their own Tropic of Cancer Concert Series down in Todos Santos, Cordovas spend much of their time practicing in the barn at their communal farm home just outside Nashville. “I can’t imagine that many bands rehearse more than we do,” says Firstman, whose wife and young child also live on the farm. “We’re all here together in this wonderful space, and we’re pretty good about never taking it for granted.”
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Doors Open 5pm