Monday Morning Notebook

Jul 8, 2012

Bill Donabedian and his wife are expecting their second child this fall. But first, Donabedian will give birth this week to the Bunbury Music Festival, which sets up on the Cincinnati riverfront Friday for its three-day run.

Donabedian, who co-founded the MidPoint Music Festival 10 years ago,  has raised the stakes with Bunbury.

“MidPoint is a showcase for up and coming artists,” Donabedian recently told WNKU-FM’s Sara Niccum. “I always thought it would be great to do a big festival  on the river with national touring acts, as kind of the other side of (MidPoint).

“In 2009, I started working toward it, in 2010 I did a lot of the legwork, in 2011 I  announced it, and now here we are ...”

Bunbury, which was named one of the top 10 summer festivals by Yahoo Music, will feature headliners Jane’s Addiction, Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie. But the strength of the event is its depth. More than 100 acts are booked for the six stages. 

Donabedian admitted to brain fatigue last week, but said, “Everything is coming together nicely and we’ll be ready for them.”

If all goes well, Bunbury will be a destination for both fans and bands in years to come. MidPoint has grown into a must-see event in the fall, so the precedent is there.

Cook rocks Rumba Cafe in Columbus

Elizabeth Cook’s summer tour skipped Cincinnati this year, so a few intrepid fans made the drive to Columbus Saturday night for her date at the Rumba Cafe near the Ohio State campus. It was certainly worth the effort.

Cook’s confidence has grown since she climbed into the national consciousness with her 2010 album “Welder.” She played Greater Cincinnati three times that year, and seemed a bit surprised by the enthusiasm of the audiences. Now she knows she belongs in the conversation about top-flight writers and performers. 

Flanked by husband Tim Carroll on guitar and Bones Hillman on upright bass, Cook showcased tunes from her new “Gospel Plow” EP, the hits from “Welder” (“El Camino,” “Rock ’N’ Roll Man,” “Heroin Addict Sister”) and a quartet of covers that paid tribute to Gram Parsons, Doc Watson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Horton.

As good as the music was – and it was very, very good – it’s Cook’s rapport with fans that makes her live shows special. Whether it’s something as simple as the stage lights being too bright (“I’ll be confessin’ [crap] before long.”), or the sweltering room (“I need a fan like Beyonce has. I’d put mine lower, though, since I have this mullet skirt – short in front, long in back – where it would do some good.”), the singer is quick with a quip and a smile that makes the audience into her ally.

The evening began with a pleasant surprise when Carroll, an accomplished songwriter himself, played a solo set featuring his tunes and the tales that accompanied them.  

The Terre Haute, Ind., native’s journey wound from New York where he hung with Rank & File, the punk band that wanted to play country music, to Nashville after his “If I Could, I Would” was recorded by John Prine. 

His tunes have been cut by BR-549, Robbie Fulks, Kasey Chambers and Sonny Burgess among others, and it seems like each song has a backstory that is at least as entertaining as the music. 

Cook closed “Welder” with Carroll’s “Til Then,” and she introduced it Saturday as their “Roof Song.”  It was recorded for the upcoming Jane Fonda movie, “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” and the couple was thrilled when the check – “a big check,” Cook said with her eyes widening – arrived in the mail. 

It allowed the couple to fix the faulty top to their East Nashville home, but then came word that the song didn’t make the final cut of the film. Cook allowed as how that was too bad, but the studio couldn’t take the new roof away, so it all worked out in the end.

Just like a steamy Saturday night in Columbus.

NKU grad makes good (music)

Gary Bertsch has been playing music since his college days at NKU. The Amelia High School English teacher, who has played in a number of local bands over the years, has partnered with guitarist Dan Walsh to produce “Blame Bertsch,” a new album that features the pair on guitars and vocals.

The CD shows that Bertsch has learned his folk-rock lessons well. He harmonizes nicely with Walsh, who adds spicy slide licks on multiple tracks. 

Bertsch wrote 12 of the 13 songs on the disc, which will make its official debut at 9 p.m. Friday at Mokka, 500 Monmouth St., Newport. Bertsch and Walsh also are schedule to play the Rabbit Hash Browngrass Festival July 21 and are on the bill of the Travis Tritt show at Alexandria Fairgrounds Aug. 24

Album of the week

“Little Rock” by Hayes Carll. The Texas singer-songwriter, who plays the Redmoor July 18, has won awards his last two albums – “Trouble in Mind,” which featured “She Left Me for Jesus,” and “KMAG YOYO.” 

If you’re a fan of those records and haven’t heard 2004’s “Little Rock,” give it a listen before Carll hits town. 

Produced by the estimable R.S. Field, “Little Rock” features some big-name talent for a then-unknown artist. Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard (who is also name-checked in another tune) co-wrote songs, Kenny Vaughn (Lucinda Williams, Marty Stuart) plays guitar and Allison Moorer sings with Carll. 

Carll wears his influences on his (rolled-up) sleeves, but the songs reflect his world view, which can range from sensitive (“Take Me Away” and “Long Way Home”) to sardonic (“Chickens” and “”Hey Baby Where You Been”) and most places in between. 

The liner notes provide insight into the stories behind the songs, and make reading the lyrics while listening that much more enjoyable. Carll can offer a skewed view like compadres Todd Snider and Elizabeth Cook, but he can also break your heart with a heartfelt sentence about the heart. 

Bonus album of the week

“Viva Terlingua” by Jerry Jeff Walker. Although Todd Snider didn’t play any songs from his tribute album when he passed through last month, the tunes on “Time As We Know It” triggered a trip into the archives.

“Viva Terlingua” is a live recording from Luckenbach, Texas, in 1973 featuring Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band. There are only nine songs on the record, but it is a wonderful snapshot of a time and place where Walker is finding his voice, plus uncovering great songs by others including Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”

The five Walker originals include the familiar (“Sangria Wine” and “Little Bird”) and the not so well known (“Get It Out” and “Wheel”). Although “Mr. Bojangles” didn’t appear in Luckenbach that day, his comrades more than make up for his absence.

Email Bill Thompson