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‘Canary in a Coalmine’ 

Nobody --- and I mean nobody --- sounds lonelier than John Hammond when his voice cracks. It's heartbreaking. Hammond played the lonesome blues a few weeks back at the High Falls Festival Site as the clouds and sun both fought for a seat along with roughly 500 souls.

          At one point the stripped-down sound of Hammond's plaintive, pleading voice, acoustic guitar, and rusty harp were accented by a passing locomotive. Though this was apparently lost on the majority of the audience, it seemed to tickle Hammond. He smiled, squinting into the elusive sun. The fact that rock and blues rhythms are direct descendants of trains --- and galloping horses --- was proven in that one beautifully organic moment.

          You should've been there. Hammond has rubbed and continues to rub his elbows with countless musical giants. Yet he is one of the nicest, appreciative, and most approachable cats I have ever met.

          Hammond got the boards all hot 'n' steamy for guitar master Duke Robillard who, though mixing plenty of favorites from his vinyl past into the set, came off a little more laidback. Duke let his black archtop do the talking while the band swung suave with a heapin' helpin' of T-Bone cool.

          Since summer seems to have forgotten to get off the train in Rochester, I drove down south to Winston Salem, North Carolina, where it grows in abundance, where folks say "ya'll" --- and mean it --- and where the rock 'n' roll still has guts.

          It was the fourth annual Heavy Rebel Weekend brought to you by ex-Jack Black frontman Dave Quick. There was punk rock, rockabilly, metal, country, blues, rock 'n' roll --- all with a decidedly southern slant. Underground bands like Fury & Heat, The 7 Shot Screamers, Jimmy & The Teasers, Artimus Pyledriver, The Octane Saints, Dexter Romwebber, Johnny Knox & Hi-Test, The Leroy Fix, The Crank County Daredevils, The Lords Of The Highway, The Blind Pharaohs --- just to name a few --- rocked out for three days alongside mud wrestling, wet T-shirt contests, and a guitar showdown where Goat from Angry Johnny & The Killbillies took first place... with a mandolin. A lot of these bands have been to Rochester already and the rest are coming soon. There's still some real rock out there.... alive and well, living in Dixie.

          Sting and Annie Lennox at Darien Lake: OK, so I guess I didn't actually see this one, but I didn't have to. I saw Sting at his best with The Police back in 1982. There's no way he could top that or the impact that show made on my 15-year-old ears. All I've heard from Sting lately sounds kind of smooth-jazzish and Disney.

          Plus, I figured he'd have this huge band with bongo players, a bunch of obligatory black female back-up singers, and a bass player with something like 10 strings on his instrument. He probably wouldn't have done "I Can't Stand Losing You," and no doubt would have sauntered out on stage barefoot. If I had gone to the show, I would have been the one screaming --- besides "four dollars for a bottled water?!"--- "Canary In A Coalmine! Canary In A Coalmine!"

          The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart somehow managed to produce The Ramones' "Howlin' At The Moon (Sha La La)" with virtually no guitar and to this day I hate him for it. So despite not really knowing what tricks Dreamboat Annie was gonna pull out of her hat, I hate her by proxy and therefore had no interest in seeing her perform either.

          So the next time you breathe deep the gathering gloom to blow the blues into your harp just remember Rob Cullivan's harmonica tip number two: Make sure there's more blood in your body than in your harp.

          And last but not least Southern Culture On the Skids rocked a packed house at Milestones last week with red-hot Southern-fried guitar boogie thrown at the audience along with Kentucky Fried Chicken. They recently kicked out the fat man and were runnin' lean with a second guitar player replacing Crispy's keyboards and high jinx.

          This band is a nonstop beach party. Just good ol' down-home hillbilly fun with a hint-o-surf and Link lurking in the background. It was one of the best live shows you will ever see.

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