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Spin Doctors

Several years back after a string of hit singles that surprised even their own record label, the Spin Doctors quietly broke up and went their separate ways.

And very few cared.

In addition to dwindling interest in the sort of vaguely misogynistic feel-good pabulum they were peddling (and the loss of founding member and guitarist Eric Schenkman), lanky front-dude Chris Barron woke up one morning and found that he had pretty much completely lost his voice. The diagnosis? A paralyzed vocal cord. Dispirited, the band was dropped by their label, and quickly vanished into the Where Are They Now File, presumably never to be heard form again.

Wonder of wonders, then that they have reformed with all the original members intact and are now hitting the small club circuit with a vengeance.

Or is it?

With Barron now sheepishly admitting that – barring any scientific evidence to the contrary – his many years of inability to even croak his way through such multi-platinum ditties as “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” may have been the result of a psychosomatic illness, time seems to have healed most of the wounds he and his bandmates suffered as they were forced to trade in their riches for the same rags they had on the way in.

So, why recommend a show by what appears on the surface to be a fairly washed-up faux-hippie act responsible for a handful of the more annoying Steve Miller knockoffs to come down the music biz pipeline in, well, ever?

Because, for all their irritating tendencies and condescending music school pretensions, they always had better chops than most of their ilk. And, truth be told, by getting back out there and starting at the bottom again (on a tiny label, and with – for a band that once served as the support slot for The Stones – a grueling string of dates in relatively cramped, low-rent venues ), plying their nostalgic wares in front of folks weaned on infotainment like the E! True Hollywood Story, they’re daring people to call them corny. I’m tempted not to do it, which is unlike me... But hey, this shit takes balls. Thurs., Monkey Business (Hilton Head).

Widespread Panic

One of the only superstar jam groups left standing after the death of the (original) Grateful Dead and the disbanding of Phish, these Athens icons’ careers are continuing to thrive, while so many of their brethren fall by the wayside or simply make the transition to straight up pop music (with jam tendencies).

The group has weathered the death of founding guitarist Michael Houser, and come through just fine on the other side when many folks thought his passing would mark the end of this hard-touring group of easygoing Southern boys. Hardly. Now, they’re seemingly emboldened by their rebirth, and enjoying the fruits of a lucrative international record deal with the Sanctuary Group that has seen them release Surround Sound DVDs and plenty of new music over the past few years.

The group retains strong ties to Savannah, a town that was good to them in their formative club years, and while this general admission show may not wind up completely selling out, it’ll at least be impressively packed with sandal-clad, patchouli-soaked Trustafarians and old-school devotees of the sort of hard-driving, jazzy free-rock these survivors wallow in. If you’ve never seen them before, but have always been curious as to what the fuss was all about, grab a ticket and see if you can enjoy the ride while it lasts. Sun., 7 pm, Savannah Civic Center.

The Kissers

Good Fight!, the sophomore CD from this Wisconsin-based Celtic rock group is purportedly a loosely-configured concept album about the sorry state of American politics and the repercussions said politics have on the downtrodden people of the world. I say purportedly, because there are no lyrics included, and the vocals are buried on half the racks, so it feels like the band is blowing their own horn about finally taking a strong stance on something (other than traditional ballads and punked-up party music they’re better known for), but deep down is still a little spooked about putting their views on dispaly for all to see.

Nevertheless, the musical performances on this record are a noticeable step forward for the group that formed in 1998 as a Pogues tribute group. Since then, they’ve followed the tried and true path of so many Ireland-fixated bands before them: they started picking up on the similarity between that island’s own traditional jigs and the rambunctious snarl of everything from The Clash to The Ramones to the late, great Johnny Cash. This musical spelunking has helped them to become a much more interesting band with a much firmer grasp on dynamics and song structure. So, even if you don’t give a tinker’s cuss about Howard Zinn’s views on the global economy, you can still raise a glass of Stella, and slap your knee to a rising act on the U.S. pub-rock circuit. Mon., 10 pm, Finnegan’s Wake.

Hinesville’s Blues & BBQ Fest w/Tinsley Ellis

It’s been a few years since Tinsley Ellis last made a stop in Savannah – at The Roundhouse Blues & BBQ Fest, no less – and since then, he’s undergone something of a career renassiance.

A flat-out great blues guitarist and increasingly nuanced singer, he’s been a top draw around these parts since the ‘80s, when he was a focal part of Atlanta blues royalty The Heartfixers (who made a name for themselves on their own, and as a backing band for the renowned R & B shouter Nappy Brown).

It’s no exaggeration to say that not too awfully after Stevie Ray Vaughan died unexpectedly, Ellis found himself in rehearsals with that guitar icon’s rhythm section Double Trouble, vetted as a possible new frontman for their power trio. That never came to pass, but over the course of a number of incendiary albums on established labels like Telarc and Alligator, Ellis stepped out of that shadow, and though one never hears him mentioned as playing at the same level as SRV, it’s not odd to hear him mentioned in the same breath.

Touring behind his first-ever live CD (which brings him back into the Alligator fold), he’ll no doubt tear up the stage with his flashy Jeff Beck-isms and leave the audience clamoring for more. If you love the blues, but have never seen Tinsley in person – or, never heard of him before – spend the dough and see this show. You will be very glad you did. Admission is only $10. Call (912) 368-4445 for more info. Sat., 8:30 pm, Chamber of Commerce Grounds (500 E. Oglethorpe Hwy, Hinesville).

Savannah Folk Music Festival

Quick, how many festivals can we cram into a 2-month period?

Alright, alright, there’s no right or wrong answer to that query – but since this highly anticipated showcase of primarily acoustic entertainment is completely free, it – like the JazzFest which just finished – should be on everyone’s calendars, young and old alike.

There’s a ton of great artists on tap for the 16th installment, and they’re spread over 3 venues and as many days, so dig:

The first night of the event has traditionally featured all local talent, and been held in the courtyard of City Market (along Jefferson St.), and this year’s no exception. From Old-Time mountain music to contemporary blues, the performers scheduled represent some of the most popular acts to appear at the Savannah Folk Music Society’s monthly First Friday for Folk series. The music starts at 7 pm, and runs till 11 pm. Both traditional tunes and original compositions will be heard. Participants include: Bill Schumann, Dominique & Jean-Paul Carton, Chris Desa, Bob & Judy Williams, Melanie Mirande, FOCOROPO, society president Hank Weisman and John Powers.

Saturday night, the party gets into full swing (pun intended) during the Old-Time Country Dance, held in the gymnasium of the Notre Dame Academy at 1709 Bull Street. The soundtrack for this evening comes courtesy of Atlanta’s critically-acclaimed string band (with 2 fiddles, no less) The Tune Dogs. Both experienced dancers and complete novices are welcome, and folks on hand will guide newcomers through the myriad of contra dances geared for this jubilant music.

The Festival’s big finish takes place on Sunday from 1 pm to 7 pm, when major touring artists will play 2 sets each at the Historic Railroad Museum’s Roundhouse Complex by The Visitors’ Center. These headliners include: Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group – who’ve been together for a quarter century and appeared on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, Austin City Limits and The Grand Ole Opry; legendary ‘60s Greenwich Village folk revivalist Jesse Colin Young (whose stint in The Youngbloods resulted in the hit “Get Together”); Kate Campbell, an artful and reflective singer/songwriter from Sledge, Miss., who’s appeared on Public Radio’s Live From Mountain Stage, and is often compared to Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris; award-winning guitarist and songwriter Jack Williams (called “the best guitar player I have ever heard,” by Peter Yarrow), a peer of both Mickey Newbury and Harry Nilsson; and Asheville, N.C.’s Dana & Susan Robinson, traditionalists who weave finely crafted tunes on the banjo, guitar and fiddle that Dirty Linen Magazine says are worth crowning Dana “the modern-day Woody Guthrie” for his commitment to chronicle the American spirit.

The festival will also include an auction of guitars and fiddles (donated by the Gretsch company) which have been either hand-painted by local artists or autographed by the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Daniels and Glen Yarbrough.

In case of inclement weather, Friday night’s show (the only one with an exposed stage) will be moved to Trinity United Methodist Church on nearby Telfair Square. For more info, call Hank Weisman at (912) 786-6953, or go to www.savannahfolk.org.


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Jim Reed

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