Austin City Limits Expands to Western New York State by chefjimi

Posted on 6/26/2010 by Chefjimi

Snap quiz:
What is the Capital of Texas ?

Very good, take five . . . .

‘Keep Austin Weird’ has been the oft quoted city slogan appearing on t-shirts, bumper stickers and guitar cases around the music world for the better part of thirty years. Austin is, or has been, home to such outstanding artists as the Asylum Street Spankers, Julia Cruz Magness, Storyville, Omar & the Howlers and Shawn Phillips. Yet at times that catchy phrase can overshadow what might be one of the most musically diverse & interesting cities around.

Carolyn Wonderland, who is blessed with some of the best pipes this side of Susan Tedeschi, showed us what a city that truly integrates it’s varied cultures can produce musically. Touring in support of her latest release “Miss Understood’, Ms. Wonderland brought the melting pot of Austin to the stage here in Rochester, NY. The concert was part of the two-week Lilac Festival, which featured free-concerts for the entire festival. A quick thought, just cos it's free don't make it bad. The large, milling crowd soon found themselves listening to, and enjoying a gritty blues guitarist who was equally adept at stylistically recreating all of the influences of Austin in a solid one and a half hour set.

Hitting the stage hard, sporting a tatoo of the state of Texas on her right wrist, Ms. Wonderland and band started with, in her own words, “something nasty”. Throwing down some blistering leads, and tilting her head, 'just so' to allow us to see her obvious pleasure to be here, she opened with the classic 'Still Alive and Well', by Rick Derringer. With the early evening Lake Ontario breezes licking at her red mane, it sent a statement to the uninitiated in the audience that this night was going to be a hot and sensuous one. Working several songs in the 'something nasty' vein, Ms. Wonderland then brought out fellow Texan Guy Forsyth, who at various times played guitar, harp and saw (yeh, saw, like for cuttin' wood) with equal virtuosity. Oh yeh, he can sing a fine song too. Along with Mr. Forsyth's mentioned abilities, the band pitched in with bass, bass keys, tuba, cajons, drums, and trombone. As for the saw, see the photo alongside to see how he played it.

The city of Austin has a wide, ethnically diverse population, being in Texas (big 'n wide) and a college town, plus it’s proximity to our friendly neighbor to the South, Mexico, has created a simmering pot of menudo that is quite unlike anywhere else. Ms. Wonderland put all of these talents to use as she proceeded to take us on a musical tour of Austin's back streets and juke joints, as well as the super-mercados and honky-tonks that exist side by side there. Ranging from 'pretty songs' where we were urged 'to grab a loved one or a beer' and reminded us that sometimes they were the same, to an electric mandolin version of Jimi Hendrix' haunting classic, 'The Wind Cries Mary'. Remembering another fallen comrade, Ms. Wonderland and band, treated us to the Janis Joplin song “What's The Use of Drinking”. Playing it tuff and gritty with equal parts reckless abandon and defiant acceptance of the inevitable. they stated that they wish to keep her memory alive by playing a song that Janis actually wrote.

Then at one point she and the band hammered out some outstanding Tejas based numbers with trumpets, trombones and sousaphone laying the emphasis over the rhythms from the piano and drums. Throw in some more nasty songs, such as her own 'Judgment Day Blues' where Ms. Wonderland displayed her prowess on those six strings that had jaws dropping and air guitarists freaking out cos they couldn't keep up the pace.

All too quickly the hour had come to roll up the mean streets of Rochester, but the band came out for one more. An electric church version of Blind Willie Johnson's classic, 'Nobody's Fault but Mine'. Ms. Wonderland recalled hearing the original version and having her pants scared off of her, then credited swamp rocker Papa Mali for teaching her the song. Combining brilliant harmonies and gospel sounds that most likely have not been heard North of Texas in quite some time Ms. Wonderland left the audience scurrying to look for cheap air fares to Austin to see if it is really that grand of a place and was as varied as portrayed by her performance this night.

Until the next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

If you enjoyed this serving of the Blues, you might want to check out my Memphis report at

or my interview with World Blues Fusion player Harper at

or my review of the Chicago Blues Fest at

copyright © 2010 – bluesuitspeaks, all rights reserved.
photo credits:
Leslie K. Joseph, all photos used with permission

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