Hogwaller Ramblers at Escafé April 28, 2002
By Amy Briggs
Sunday night I found myself sitting in a place I'd walked by for years, listening to a band I'd heard about for nearly as long.
I think folks like me who thrive in these small, contained Charlottesville moments, who enjoy running into people at Kroger's… well, we get comfortable after a while. At some point, between when the strangers start looking friendly and the neighbor's dogs quit lunging against the fence, it becomes easy to see life here under rosy rays of permanence. You start to think that you can always go see the local bands play some other time. They'll be around for a while, right?
I know I was guilty of misinformation. Over the years, I'd pretty much equated Escafé with small town pomp, as a great place to study the mating rituals of the artistically inclined. I'd walked by countless times, seen the well-dressed wafting martinis over their appetizers, ignoring the svank jazz, saying things like "bravo" and "touché."
That wasn't the case Sunday evening, when the Hogwaller Ramblers laid down their weekly gig. All the doors and windows were thrown wide open… and through those, Jamie Dyer and his collective sat, laughin' and happily scrapin' away on their instruments of choice. Watching them churn bluegrass into rock, I understood their following’s passion for these low-key rustics.
Somehow the crowd's smiles seemed a little less forced; people milled about in untucked shirts, humming along under their breath. And as the night wore on, the Ramblers transformed Escafé into a country porch– almost; a pitcher of lemonade and a bullfrog chorus would have completed the picture.
As I watched, sipping on my Dr. Pepper, I pitied the porch's painful transition back to clique central in the week to follow.
The Ramblers' sound, pared down and simple, is devoid of sniffy pretense, invented identities, or silly angst (these are not souls in bitter turmoil). Song after song, the interplay of violin, banjo, guitar, and bass coasted easily alongside Spencer Lathrop's brushed rhythms.
The crowd loved it, especially when Sydney Tapscott, soda-drinker, harmonica player, and friend to all, tossed out a solo.
The best cover I recognized was "Waitress in the Sky," an arm-around-shoulders number by the Replacements; the tune led even some of the more resistant booth parties to drum on the tabletops.
During the break, I overheard the star violinist, Rolland Colella, state matter-of-factly how he'd gotten snakebit that afternoon. Sucked the poison right out with a vacuum cleaner. Was a fortunate thing he done did that, too. Because there's no venom worse than the regret of missing a good time.
John Scofield/Modern Groove Syndicate
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
By Damani Harrison
It’s a Tuesday. Seasoned and versatile guitarist John Scofield has chosen our town as the place to end a 50-date tour to promote his newest album Uberjam. Modern Groove Syndicate, the scheduled openers, are already playing by the time I arrive. Composed of a random hodgepodge of talented young players whose list of ex-affiliations is a yard long, MGS is an off-kilter blend of jazz improvisation, rock energy, and funk groove that can hit the right spot if you are in the mood. Tonight I was in the mood.
John Scofield has been around the block a few times. I am sure that the over-40 members of the audience were familiar with Scofield’s earlier work– the more traditional, straight ahead jazz sounds. Conversely, the larger and younger crowd probably discovered Scofield around the time he released A Go Go with Medeski Martin and Wood in 1995. It was apparent that his new incarnation had created a huge generation gap in his listeners.
If the first few songs the John Scofield Band played are any indication of what’s on Uberjam, I better reconsider my oath never again to touch a hallucinogen. I felt sorry for the people who felt the need to dance. There wasn’t even a steady beat.
When the quartet returned from an early set break, the mood was altered and the groove multiplied by 10. The rhythm guitarist supplemented the sounds with synthesized drums and a variety of samples from a Roland Groovebox. No matter the foundation of the tune– house, jazz, calypso, funk, drum ‘n’ bass– Scofield wove his trademark tone skillfully around the pocket. Just when the jam couldn’t get more spaced out, the entire unit dropped back into the initial groove with surgical precision.
Scofield played in the spirit of any red-blooded jazz artist: he played like nothing mattered but the music. The audience reciprocated, lovingly and loyally hanging on to the band’s every note. Like a cool down following an intense workout or a cigarette after sex, he chose to perform a mellow, meditative tune to send us home.
I took one last glance around the room to see how many old-timers hung in until the end of the show. Not a one. I don’t believe any even made it through the first set.