AmericanaramA festival

Darien Lake, NY

July 18 2013

by Jeff Stapleton
Right when I heard that AmericanaramA was coming to Darien Lake, NY, which is only about an hour and a half drive from me, I bought the best seats I could get my hands on.  AmericanaramA (Yes the “A” is supposed to be capitalized) is a mini traveling festival that features Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket & one more act that is different depending on where you go.  At Darien Lake, it was Ryan Bingham.  Other acts at other venues include Bob Weir and the Richard Thompson Electric Trio.  MMJ & Wilco are on every bill except Jones Beach.  Beck fills in for MMJ on that one.
The last show I attended at Darien Lake was Phish in 2011 and it was an amazing show.  I usually don’t have many issues at the venue.  I ran in to a few minor speed bumps for this show, but nothing major.  My friend that I thought was going all along, had to cancel with only a little over a week away so I had to scramble to find someone who wanted to go.  It’s not always easy to find someone for a show on a Thursday at the last minute.  I ended up finding a good friend who I haven’t been to a show with in years, so I was cool with that.
We decided to leave for the show around 11:30 AM, even though it didn’t start until 5:30(Or so we thought).  We decided, since we both were off from work, that we would do some early tailgating.  We arrived around 1 PM and the girl at the entrance said the parking lot didn’t open until 3 PM for the show.
Darien Lake is a theme park so we could hang out in the lot for the park, but it was mainly people parking for the theme park.  So we pulled our chairs out, turned on some music at a reasonable volume and pre-gamed before the pre-game.  It’s safe to say that we were one of the first ones there.  That would never happen at a show like Phish.  I  have never been to a Phish show where they said the parking lot hadn’t opened yet.  I have seen other venues do this before but not very often.  I would think when you have a show that’s considered a festival, the lot would open as early as possible but I guess I was wrong.  Maybe the reason this doesn’t happen at Phish is because Phish is going to draw huge numbers every time and Phish-heads are coming out early.  They need to have somewhere to go.  At about 2:00 we had a few more concert goers roll on in next to us, but not very many.

The weather report called for very hot temperatures and possible thunderstorms.  The sky was looking a little dark but it didn’t rain yet.  Temps were already over 90 degrees at noon.  There was a nice breeze at Darien Lake that was a blessing from above.  No one seemed to care that we were hanging out in the theme park lot, having a few drinks and listening to music.  Security went by once and I just waved to them.  When 3:00 came around we headed into the back lot and were feeling pretty good.  We were surprised at the small number of cars, but were thinking maybe they will arrive later.  I actually had a feeling before going, that the attendance level might be down for a few reasons:  1) They cancelled one of these shows in Columbus, Ohio due to not enough ticket sales which is mind boggling considering the lineup. 2)When we saw MMJ at CMAC in Canadaigua in 2010 there were only 2,000 people out of a 15,000 capacity venue. 3) It was on a Thursday & the heat was supposed to be pretty fierce 4) Bob Dylan was the main draw and I’ve heard more than a few people complain about how his voice had seen better days. 5) A few friends that I asked to go, turned me down because they were going to Furthur at CMAC the next day. I’m sure that didn’t help ticket sales.

The parking lot was very mellow and not even close to full.  Somebody told me, they heard that only 4,000 people were expected.  The maximum capacity was around 21,500.  Unreal!  Even with the above reasons that I posted, there is no reason the numbers should be that low with talent like this.  Bob Dylan is a legend and Wilco & MMJ have headlined festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo & Mountain Jam.  Basically there are 3 headliners at one show and they are having trouble filling seats.  It is sickening to me, being a diehard music fan that people in Central New York don’t seem to be coming out to see great bands like MMJ & Wilco, when WAY less talented musicians have no problem selling out the same venues.  You would think Bob Dylan alone would be able to sell more than 4,000 tickets.  People I have talked to in bigger cities like Chicago and LA have said that this same tour is selling out pretty quick, so at least it isn’t happening everywhere.  I know from a personal standpoint, that many people in my area, including close friends, have never heard of bands like MMJ & Wilco.  In a way, I kind of like it that the mainstream is not putting an overwhelming chokehold on bands like this. But in another light,it would be nice to see them get the recognition they deserve.  It’s a fine line I guess, that is always being debated.  That line of being too mainstream or not.  Either way, it’s a shame that I’ve seen MMJ two times where the venues weren’t even halfway filled.  It’s hard to believe seeing that both times I’ve seen them were about as good as any band I’ve ever seen live.

Ryan Bingham was the first to go on and it said on the tickets that show started at 5:30 and that’s when he was going on.  Well they were wrong.  I heard later that gates actually opened at 4:30 and he went on right away.  It wasn’t a big deal for us because we didn’t really planning on seeing him because we had a long day of heat and plenty of music ahead.  That being said, I did check out some of his stuff beforehand and he is very talented.  He had some songs on the Jeff Bridges movie, Crazy Heart back in 2009.

Now, it may not have been a very big deal that we missed Bingham, but the blunder by Darien Lake also meant that My Morning Jacket was hitting the stage at around 6:00, when we thought it would be more like 6:30 which almost caused us to miss some of the show.  They are one of my favorite current bands so that is a big deal to me. Fortunately, we were close enough in the parking lot that we could hear when they started their set.  They opened with “At Dawn” which they’ve only done one other time on the tour.   The set was pretty mellow and they busted out some obscure songs that they don’t normally play much like “Lowdown” & “Just One Thing.” 

When I saw them in 2010 they played a longer set, but this time they only played 2 songs that they played for that show, which I think is pretty amazing.  They played 5 songs which I haven’t heard live yet.  The lead singer for MMJ, Jim James was engaging with the crowd as usual.  He sported a towel on his head because of the heat for most of the show and busted out his cape, which he likes to “rock” on occasion for part of the show.  They sounded crisp.  “Victory Dance” was one of my favorite moments of their set.  It was beautifully placed & gained some serious momentum.  They closed with an epic version of “Phone Went West” which is off the album “It Still Moves.”  That is a song that I kind of overlooked in the past, but I am now a big fan of after seeing that version.  I really would have loved it if they came out for a 2 or 3 song encore but they never did. 

I understand that time was limited in a tour like this but a brief encore isn’t asking for too much.  Maybe if they started the music a little earlier, that could have happened.  I know that it had to have been sweltering on the stage for the musicians, so it’s easy for me to say, but an encore would have brought the set to the next level.  They didn’t play hardly any of their “bigger hits” including “One Big Holiday,” “Dondante,” “Gideon,” “Mageetah,” “Golden,” “Circuital,” Touch Me I’m Going to Scream-Part 2,” or “Wordless Chorus.”  It really surprised me that they didn’t play any of those songs but the set was still incredible.  That shows how strong of a band MMJ is, when they didn’t play virtually any of their core songs and they still awed everyone with a great (but too short) set.  If it was my first time seeing them, I may have been a tad disappointed, but I was mostly satisfied with it.  I didn’t hear anyone else complain either.  It just made me want to see them again as soon as possible.  The heat could have been one of the main factors for the more laid back song choices. I recommend the dvd Okonokos for people trying to get more familiar with MMJ.  It is a video of a live secret show that they did back in 2006.  The location is unknown, although some think it was around the San Francisco area.

Wilco came on next and were outstanding.  It was my first time seeing them and I left wanting more.  Partly because of the shorter than usual setlist and partly because they were so damn good.  I was pretty satisfied with the set list.  “Art of Almost” & “Bull Black Nova” are 2 of my favorites.  I was really hoping for “Poor Places” and/or “Handshake Drugs” too, but they didn’t play either.  I really enjoyed some of the songs that I am less familiar with too.  Other standouts for me included “Impossible Germany,”  “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Cars Can’t Escape” & “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” Their frontman, Jeff Tweedy, who is known to be a bit of a grouch at times, seemed to be in good spirits.  He has a phenomenal voice and has to be considered one of the best current lyricists in music.

Their guitarist, Nels Cline is an absolute beast.  You don’t hear him get the praise that maybe he deserves.  Saying he’s underrated would be putting it mildly.  He is intense to watch with his combination of precision and distortion.  MMJ came out for one cover, which they have been doing the whole tour.  They brought up Bob Weir & Richard Thompson instead of MMJ most other times.  MMJ also came out the show before this one to play Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.”  For this one they played Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny bout) Peace Love & Understanding”.  It was one of my highlights of the night for sure.   Wilco, unfortunately didn’t come out for an encore either.  The crowd seemed to be very pleased with both bands so far.  If you’re not very familiar with Wilco, I recommend the 2002 documentary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which journals the making of their epic album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

I was buzzing at that point, seeing 2 of the best bands (in my opinion) around and still had a full Dylan set to go.  Dylan came out with a really talented group of musicians in his band and started grooving right from the bat.  It was a solid set but most of the classic songs we all know and love were switched around so much that you could barely recognize them.  It wasn’t a surprise to me because I knew going in that he has always done this.  I saw him back in 2000 at SPAC open up for Phil Lesh & Friends and he changed most of the songs there too, but not as extreme as this time.  “Tangled Up in Blue” is one of my favorite Dylan songs and I wasn’t in love with how the arrangement was for this one.  The arrangement in 2000 was awesome.  I really enjoyed it then.  “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall” was another one that I could hardly notice.  I would have personally been more satisfied if he had the songs resemble the originals at least a little bit.  His encore was “Blown in the WInd” and if I didn’t know any better I would have thought it was a different song.  I haven’t listened to a lot of his newer songs but most sounded pretty tight.  I consider myself a pretty big Dylan fan, but I would have had no qualms if he shortened his set and MMJ & Wilco played longer.  I hate saying it, but that’s how I felt.  It was still cool seeing Dylan, even with his voice hanging on by a thread.   He still has a strong emotional presence on stage and seemed to be having a good time up there.  I was hoping he would have brought up Jeff Tweedy from Wilco & Jim James from MMJ for his encore like he did the show before, but it never happened.
I’m glad that I went to AmericanramA, but was disappointed in the turnout.  MMJ is a band that is hard for me to pass up when they are that close, Wilco is another band who I have been dying to see & that was probably my last time seeing Dylan in person.   It was a memorable day for sure.  My friend that came along, only heard of Dylan before and was really feeling both other bands.  I never had too many problems with Darien Lake, but the parking lot opening later and the blunder on the set times left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.  Not enough to prevent me from coming back, but enough to take note.  Oh yea, I almost forgot to mention the $11 beers they were selling in the concert area.  Way to take advantage of  the hardworking people that actually decided to come.  I guess you can’t blame people for not coming out with prices like that.  I guess that’s the trend for most events these days.  It’s just too bad that more folks didn’t show up and experience a great day of music.  The people who were there got a very nice treat though.


Things Have Changed Love Sick High Water (For Charley Patton) Soon after Midnight Early Roman Kings Tangled Up in Blue Duquesne Whistle She Belongs to Me Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall Blind Willie McTell Simple Twist of Fate Thunder on the Mountain All Along the Watchtower Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind

Wilco Set List:

Cars Can’t Escape Bull Black Nova Sky Blue Sky Hesitating Beauty Impossible Germany I Am Trying to Break Your Heart Born Alone Radio Cure Art of Almost Passenger Side (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (Nick Lowe cover) (with My Morning Jacket) Hate It Here Dawned on Me Heavy Metal Drummer I’m the Man Who Loves You I’m a Wheel

My Morning Jacket Set List:

At Dawn Wonderful (The Way I Feel) Outta My System Lowdown Lay Low War Begun Just One Thing Heartbreakin Man Victory Dance The Day Is Coming Off the Record Phone Went West 

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