Fear and Loathing at Tall Stacks: Day 5

Wednesday was warm, but it rained a little bit. Thursday was slightly overcast and chilly. But for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the weather just got better and better. I’ve broken a sweat already on Sunday just walking from my car down to the river. Free parking is hard to come by, even today.

Again, I gotta point out how atrocious the bathrooms are at Tall Stacks. Today I venture into one of the trailers and immediately regret it, cuz it’s so cramped. These things are the most useless portable restroom facilities I’ve ever seen, with four urinals and three stalls crammed into a space barely big enough for a small sofa. Poorly lit, too, so you’re flying blind in a stall the size of a high school locker.

Since today is the last day of Tall Stacks, advice on public restrooms should be filed away for future reference. Next time you go downtown for a ballgame or whatever, remember that both the Westin Hotel lobby and the Tower Place Mall have public restrooms. On the Kentucky side, there’s Newport on the Levee.

After a quick stop at the media trailer just to touch base, say hi and grab a Coke outta the cooler of beverages they provide for us, I enter the festival grounds. I find huge crowds on hand Sunday afternoon, mostly families. I decide, after avoiding it pretty much the whole weekend, to brave the main thoroughfare where they sell food, beverages, souvenirs and other crap. God, what a mistake. I get the fuck outta there when I realize that “family-friendly atmosphere” equals inconsiderate swivel-headed idiots walking slower than shit, totally oblivious to the hundreds of thousands of other people stuck and stutter-stepping behind their fat asses. Back to my trusty detours!

Finally make my way east of the main stage today. But Sawyer Town turns out to be frickin’ Kiddie Land of no use to me whatsoever after a few minutes of MILF-watching. Not much happening on that front, either. Sad. OK, this is another area I gotta get out of fast cuz it just doesn’t feel right smokin’ a cigarette and takin’ nips from my flask around here. Can’t even sneak a quick catnap in the grass cuz of all the screaming kids, so I flee.

With Sunday’s musical lineup heavy on the Blues, it’s no surprise to see Dean Newman, owner/proprietor of Mole’s Record Exchange, in the crowd. Newman is such a devoted fan of good Blues he’s taken to bringing some of his favorite acts to town, most notably guitarist extraordinaire Walter Trout. When I run into Dean, his wife and sister-in-law, they’re anxiously awaiting Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas‘ 5 p.m. performance.

On my way to scale the Purple People Bridge, I see overpriced food everywhere I look. But people still stand in line for it, don’t they? Ridiculous.

The walk across the bridge is awesome, as it provides a panoramic overview of the whole festival: the river, the boats, the multiple stages, the music, the vendors, all the people milling about. This massive event takes on an almost serene quality when seen from this point of view.

It occurs to me that I’m bored. If I’d been down earlier in the day, I could have caught sets by my friends Steve Schmidt and George Cunningham with The Faux Frenchmen. But looking at the schedule, I realize there’s not much happening that I really care about until The Blind Boys of Alabama, and they’re not on ’til 9 p.m.

So today is the only day I actually leave the festival for a while and then return later. If I don’t, Tall Stacks will have completely dominated every spare minute of my weekend. I’m sure my editor understands that a man needs a little time to himself on a Sunday afternoon to pick up a bag of groceries. Besides, all those children and their uptight parents are starting to freak me out.

I have to make six trips downtown in five days in order to get one good parking spot, but even on a Sunday night it isn’t easy to find.

Back on site by 8:30 p.m., I’m pleasantly surprised to see a sizable crowd still on hand for The Blind Boys of Alabama. The Sunday night crowd is transfixed by their Gospel harmonies, and I’m especially pleased to hear them sing Tom Waits’ “Down in the Hole.”

Tonight the Tall Stacks’ panoply of local celebrities continues with sightings including psychodot Bob Nyswonger; one of the city’s finest drummers, Tony Franklin; Craig Fox of The Greenhornes; and even world-renowned chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, pushing a stroller through the crowd.

On the main stage Marcia Ball plays a nice variety of Blues, from torchy ballads to New Orleans Funk, while Photographer Keith searches in vain for the booth selling the chocolate-covered bananas. (Seriously, somebody please get this guy a chocolate-covered banana. He’s obsessed.)

The Sunday night crowd is still hangin’ tough when Buddy Guy takes the stage and declares, “If you don’t like the Blues, you’re at the wrong fuckin’ stage!” Damn, it’s a sheer joy to watch him tear up a guitar. A member of Muddy Waters’ band while still in his teens, Buddy played guitar with his teeth and behind his back long before Jimi Hendrix stole these tricks and added them to his famous trick bag.

I’ve never seen an old guy having so much fun on stage, and his playful mood keeps the crowd smiling and laughing and dancing for his entire set. He plays a medley of Muddy Waters tunes, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “19 Years Old,” and repeatedly asks the light man to shine a light on the crowd so he can see all the happy faces. Buddy totally owns this night.

By the time Dr. John starts at 10:45 p.m., the crowd is beginning to thin out, but not by much. I think a lotta Blues fans are torn between the two options, with Buddy still playing when Dr. John’s set begins — much like last night when Wilco went on and Medeski, Martin, and Wood were still on the other stage and Thursday with Roseanne Cash and Rodney Crowell on competing stages.

I can see where Tall Stacks organizers might be trying to present a cohesive “theme” to each night. Thursday: Country. Friday: Bluegrass. Saturday: Rock. Sunday: Blues & Gospel. But I wonder if they mixed it up more would they actually draw more people instead of just Blues fans on Sunday, etc.

Either way, a lot of the remaining stragglers make their way over to the main stage for Dr. John. He is great, but honestly he seems a little tired and never really gets up on the microphone and belts out his vocals. Starting your set at 10:45 on a Sunday night can’t be easy. But Dr. John’s an old pro, so I won’t make excuses for him. He doesn’t really bring his “A Game” tonight, I feel.

Extra special thanks to Tall Stacks publicist Courtney Kinney. On Saturday I asked one of her super friendly assistants if we could get an interview with Wilco. I didn’t really think it was very likely, but Courtney, bless her heart, tried right up to the last possible minute to make it happen. Four songs into Wilco’s performance, she rang me on my cell phone and apologized for not being able to get it together.

By the time things wind down Sunday night, I realize my legs don’t hurt anymore. Now they’re just numb. But I’ll happily feel the burn and pray the rumors are true: Tall Stacks might go annual!

— Ric Hickey

NOTE: Don’t forget to check citybeat.com/tallstacks for photos and more from all five nights of Tall Stacks.

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3 Comments on “Fear and Loathing at Tall Stacks: Day 5”

  1. jackie Says:

    I agree with you on the toilet issue. It certainly can be done better than this. However, on the whole, I think Tall Stacks is a great festival. Good, though pricey, food with lots of choices, kids stuff, oldsters stuff and great music for those of us in between. On Saturday afternoon I was Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys and Over the Rhine, as well as Old Crow Medicine Show. All were fantastic. Sunday’s goodies included OllaBelle. I just couldn’t hang in for any of the late shows on the weeknights (Wed, thurs, Sunday) 10 pm is just too late for me. I also vote for annual!

  2. Breen Says:

    I like when Ric gets cranky! I thought it was a nearly perfect festival as well. It’s funny: most anything anyone tries to do in Cincinnati has it’s fair share of “haters” who come out and bash it because it’s not what they think it should be. Tall Stacks hasn’t received hardly any flack, from what I’ve seen (though I’m sure there’s a “Tall Stacks Sux” Web site out there somewhere).

    If you pee on a tree in the forest and a cop doesn’t see you, does it make a sound?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Ah, leave it to Mr. Livingston: http://blackcincinnati.blogspot.com/2006/10/more-welfare-for-tall-stacks.html

    I actually like the “White Family Reunion” comment. Funny.


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