Butch Trucks Band–Live at City Winery

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One bright spot about the holidays ending was a concert after my first day back at work.  Even better when its a fairly intimate venue, there’s a bluesy kick ass band, and you’re sitting next to the stage.

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Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band kicked off their set with “Hot ‘Lanta,” an Allman Brothers instrumental.  This is appropriate, because this is also a blues/rock band, and Trucks was the original drummer for that band.  He’s touring in his second year, I think, with a gradually shifting set of players both since its inception and through the evening. 

One hope when attending concerts is that the artists interact with the audience, adding personality beyond what can be heard in recordings or even observed while they play.  Trucks has no issues in that regard.  A drummer, he took center stage to chat, and it’s clear that the warmth and authenticity of the performance starts with its founder.  From an entertaining band T-shirt, to music trivia, to singing a Dylan cover – never mind the drumming – it was great to see and hear the joy that he maintains in performing.  Hearing the band is a joy as well.

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Keyboards were tended by former Gregg Allman bandmate Bruce Katz, who added a somewhat jazzy organ vibe throughout the night.  The front of the stage included three guitarists, which might be about what it takes to night after night on a variety of Allman Brothers and other blues music.  These included Chris Vitarello, Damon Fowler, and 22 year old Heather Gillis, who is already making her presence known in the blues community.  Each handled solos more than capably, because that’s what’s required for blues/southern rock musicians.  Rounding out the stage were percussionist  Garrett Dawson and new (to the band) bassist Matt Walker.  A little research after the concert shows that about everyone has or had their own band and has earned their way to play with a number of blues legends such as Allman Band subsets and John Hammond.

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That, I think, is the core band, but it’s hard to tell when people rotate through.  The performance not only seemed to have the affection of a family affair, it actually was.  Butch’s son Vaylor played guitar several times, and Vaylor’s daughter sang on a couple of songs as well.

Highlights included pretty much all of it.  I particularly enjoyed the cover of the Allman’s “Dreams” sung by Lamar Williams, Jr., who suited the vibe of the song perfectly, augmented by Gillis’ tone and fluency of her guitar.  I also enjoyed the cover of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” and the Allman’s “Statesboro Blues.”

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I’d like to say I enjoyed “Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post,” but it was a work night with miles to travel before I slept.  I don’t actually know if they played those songs, as a venue hand seemed to be encouraging them to wrap things up.  When we left, it was apparent that others had already done the same, unfortunately.

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Which leads me to the opening act, Donna the Buffalo – their name resulting from a misheard “Dawn of the Buffalo.”   The best thing about this band was the opening comment, “It’s Tuesday night.  Let’s treat it well.”  Otherwise, it was pleasant but not for me… and too lengthy a set.  This is a Grateful Dead-ish band, with a feel good, jam/dance vibe with an occasional Americana influence.  I don’t mind any of those things, and I credit them for building a following called “The Herd” which were amply present during the show.  That said, I’d have traded all of their set for the extra two songs by the Freight Train, in part but not wholly due to the fact that if I hear an accordion, I’m 99% certain not to like it.  It takes an instrumental foil of Sonny Landreth proportions to make me tolerate that for any length of time…

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Click here for complete set of photos.

Set List:

Hot ‘Lanta (Allmans)
Trouble No More (Muddy Waters)
Freeway Jam (Jeff Beck)
Subterranean Homesick Blues (I think) (Dylan)
Up the Line (Little Walter)
Dreams (Allmans)
Jessica (Allmans)
Everyday (Allmans)
Statesboro Blues (Allmans)
Hippie Song (original)
Stand Back (Allmans)
Ophelia (The Band)
Goddammitt (original)
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (Allmans)
Whipping Post (Allmans)

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