Rockin' Rhythm & BLUES
Elvin Bishop and the Charlie Daniels Band
at Big Mountain Resort, Whitefish, Montana
Photo/Review by Michael Evans
August 5, 2000 -- the weather was warm, but the air was clean that
evening. It was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, but
the Flathead Valley of Northwestern Montana would be spared. The
smoke from the Bitteroot fires blew in another direction. All the
forests would be closed throughout the state, soon, but not that
night. About three thousand people made the drive up the Big Mountain
for a little cooling-off, and a lot of HOT music. There were teenagers,
twenty-somethings, and baby-boomers of all ages -- dressed, or undressed,
in their lightest "concert clothes, " sitting on blankets, portable
chairs, or just milling about.
3000-plus showed up to boogie on Big Mountain.
Some of the "locals" were on hand -- the "local" from Australia was talking to the "local" from Switzerland in front of a food stand run by the "local" from Hawaii. I high-fived a "local" from Texas as we all settled in to watch Elvin Bishop from California via Chicago, and Charlie Daniels from North Carolina via Nashville on the dusty ski hill, surrounded by evergreen trees.
The sun was just starting to sink below the summit when the show started. The Big Mountain's announcer called everyone's attention to the mountain-sliders criss-crossing down the trail behind them, kicking up about a pound of dust per yard, to advertise their new summer attraction.
Takin' it to the stage!
Elvin Bishop took the stage soon afterward, shielding his eyes from
Sol's level rays at first -- hitting it rhythmically and HARD from
note number one!
A bass, a piano, drums, a second guitarist, a trombonist -- and
Elvin Bishop -- not the biggest band you'll ever see, not the biggest
name you'll ever read, but some of the most satisfying music you'll
Melodies weaving around loopy rhythms, and horn lines seeming to
smile as wide as 'bone man Ed Earley himself, playing long inventive
solos ala' Fred Wesley, and singing from his heart.
||Trombonist Ed Earley has
a GOOD job -- playing Elvin's
inventive horn lines, improvising his own riffs, and singing
his heart out.
He also runs his own band.
(Check out the link to his website.)
Sinuous beats kicked and caressed in turn, with guitars truly swinging
-- like foolish acrobats on high-voltage wires.
Bishop's guitar BURNS -- he has a unique way of ripping out phat, sustained notes that crackle with electricity. He sings in a unique style too, with the same smile and energy in his voice that you hear in his horn arrangements.
The audience was still filing in and milling about, but an ever-increasing number were dancing. As they found their places, they even started listening to the golden rain of music that was falling on their ears. The sonic champagne and caviar was being served first!
Bishop made them laugh when he talked between songs.
"Do ya' notice how older folks always repeat themselves -- repeat themselves?"
"We talk about the past because there's so damn much of it!"
He maybe made them think a moment (but not for long) when he sang "Ya' Gotta Slow Down." A few lines like "Ya' gotta lose that cocaine, and use that Rogaine" or "Quit that alcohol, and drink that Geritol!" got a few laughs, but the crowd continued to get drunker by the minute.
(He's talkin' about somebody else, I know he is.)
About half the attendees were concieved in the days when Bishop's song "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" was a hit.
He did that tune as part of a semi-instrumental medley that began with his memories of the 50's -- "When the girls' skirts stopped, THATS where their socks started."
"The best song on the radio was 'How Much Is That Doggie In
the Window!" (Some of us were old enough to laugh about that.)
"The most fun we had was slow-dancin' to songs like this --" and
Bishop picked a good one, "In The Still of the Night," minus the
keening high lead vocal. The band sang "Shoo -- Doop, Shoo -- Bee
-- Doop" plus the chorus, and Elvin played a dazzling slide guitar
solo. "How about that other slow-dancin' tune fellas?" he said,
and they segued into "Fooled Around etc," his biggest song on the
radio. "You can sing along if ya' know the words!" said Bishop.
The climax of Elvin Bishop's set was "Fish - Fish - Fishin'." Somehow the audience learned the song right then and there, at least the chorus.
"All it takes is a jerk on both ends of the line!"
Elvin took this opportunity to unplug his guitar, mingle with the throng, and "reel in" a young woman who joined him onstage.
Fish, fish, fishin' -- sportin' with a good sport.
Once the encore was done, it wasn't quite twilight, but the opening act was over, and no one was going to hear anything better than that!
Elvin Bishop kindly granted the "Online Mercury" an interview
afterward. We overlapped into Charlie Daniels set a little, but
you can eavesdrop on our conversation by following this link:
Conversation with Elvin Bishop
Charlie Daniels' management declined an interview,
even though they were told I was interested in asking him about
the 60's, when he was one of the few Nashville musicians who built
bridges to Rock and Pop. We'll never know how he came to play guitar
for banjo legend Earl Scruggs, after Scruggs broke up with Lester
Flatt, or why his single "The Middle of a Heartache" made the Top
40 in 1966. We'll never even get confirmation if he's the "Charles
E. Daniels" who produced 1969's classic song "Darkness Darkness"
by the Youngbloods, with its dark violin intro.
The Charlie Daniels Band headlined the show:
Elvin Bishop (inset) watching Charlie Daniels from the wings.
When Daniels mounted the stage in the blue evening, the crowd was
roaring. They got to their feet, and shuffled over to buy more beer.
They drank, and cheered every mention of a "toke," and fell over
each other to get to the front and dance. Quite a few stayed back
on the blankets to sleep, or drink some more too.
Daniels sat down after forty minutes or so to do some of his slower
songs, and half-raps that helped make him famous.
Glistening multiple lead guitars -- the "Boogie Grass Sound" of the late '70's
He got back up and introduced a mini-set of tributes to his passed
contemporaries like Toy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band, and
Ronnie Van Zant of Lynrd Skynrd. He mentioned the Allman Brothers,
for sure, and started with one of their instrumentals, "In
Memory of Elizibeth Reed." For a good long while the multiple-lead
guitar lines that decorated the 70's echoed over the slopes of Big
Mountain as Daniels and his band re-created the southern "Boogie-Grass
Sound," (as the late Conway Twitty called it).
Those who could still stand ALL got to their feet when Daniels finally uncased his electric fiddle. Another hour of frenetic boogie-woogie followed -- thunderous, loud, eight-to-the-bar, four-on-the-floor, honky-tonk blooze.
Boogie Woogie on the Big Mountain -- lit up in the moonlight.
The sweat was flying and a few butts were being grabbed here and
there as I left. I said a prayer for those who needed designated
drivers, and made my way down the dark, twisty road while the gettin'
was good. In the Fireside Lodge a half-hour away, I talked with
Garrett Cheen (who would have covered this concert, except he
had to tend the bar) over a straight-up tomato juice.
A couple of Canadians came down from the show, and we talked some
more. "Damn good music!" they said, "but that crowd was too out-of-it
to risk the drive down when they were done!"