Written by Harry Kaplan

When I saw the lineup for the 2017 Outlaw Country Cruise in July of 2016, I was completely dumbfounded. That list contained many artists I have reviewed and followed for a long time. Where could I get to see artists like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, The Bottle Rockets, The Old 97s, Supersuckers, and many others all under one cover? It was like I died and went to honky tonk heaven. I did a good job of convincing my wife to go on this excursion. Without her, the trip wasn’t going to happen. She likes this type of music and had gone to see Lucinda Williams and The Old 97s with me, but I am way more enthusiastic.

So we booked the cruise. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. Anticipating this excursion, wishing the time would go faster. I kept imagining what it would be like. Who would I meet? What would I say to  them? How good would the shows be? So many questions and so much time until the cruise. As if it couldn’t get any better, three months before the cruise date, they sent offer for drink packages! Are you kidding me? Not only would I be enjoying the music I love from sun up to sun down, now there is an all inclusive drink package? Well now there is a chance I could die and go to honky tonk heaven. Well not really, but I was determined to get our money’s worth from this package. I am a finance guy, so I figured that the break even point for drinks on the cruise was 14. That is seven drinks a day each. Easy! That’s two drinks at each meal and one more for good measure. After that, we are playing with house money. Well, that was my rationale. And I did it! It’s the little things.

So it finally comes….travel day. We went to Tampa a day early, just in case something happened with the flight. Well everything went fine and we spent a pretty nondescript day and evening in Tampa. Some people started partying earlier, but we were waiting for the cruise to really let our hair down. I didn’t sleep that well because of my excitement about the cruise. Again, childish exuberance overtook me and I was waiting with bated breath for this big boat to leave. 

We got to the port at around 11:30 AM.  I thought we were early, but I guess everyone else had the same idea that we did. There were throngs of people everywhere with lots of luggage. As prepared as I thought we were, we didn’t label our bags correctly and had to redo them. Then we queued up and went up a couple of escalators with the NCL people herding us through the roped areas like sheep. Just when it seemed we were about to board the ship, we had another station to go to, and another form to fill out. Finally, we got to  the ship, and they corralled us to the only place they could, the buffet. So we ate.

We met some great people from all over the country and the world. There were people on the boat from Australia and Europe. It was nice to talk to everyone. Of course the first question was, where are you from? And then, is this your first Outlaw Country Cruise? Then we found a bar and quickly tried to start getting a return on our drink investment. I may have tried  little too hard. That childish exuberance caught up with me again. So we were in the buffet area for about an hour or so and Steve Earle walks right by us. Steve Earle! So I proceed to engage Mr. Earle in conversation. Much to pleasant surprise, he was a very nice guy and extremely engaging. It wasn’t phone either. He is a genuinely nice fella and very good with his fans. He gets it.

Then, I saw Dale Watson. I had just been at his Ameripolitan Award Show in Austin two weeks prior and had done a write up in Twangri-La. I mentioned that to him and he had read my review and was extremely complimentary of my writing. What a thrill that was.These are people that I revere and they actually are recognizing my small work? This is shaping up to be one hell of a trip and we haven’t even left the port yet.

We finally got the word at around 2 PM that the cabins were ready. _DSC0617We went to the cabin and unpacked our clothes and chilled for a bit. After about a half hour of chilling, we got thirsty and decided to proceed to the bar for more drinks only to find out that they stopped serving drinks because we had to go to a safety drill. This was perplexing. Where is it written that you can’t get drinks during a safety drill? In fact, drinking would make the safety presentation more exciting. I pleaded my case but I was vetoed by every employee on the ship. 

Once we got over the perfunctory safety presentation, it was back to hi-jinx. We finally left port around 4 PM. When we made our way outside, we were greeted to the sweet sounds of The Mavericks playing.

It was absolutely sublime. It was one of the best experiences and sensations I ever felt. I hope I can always recall that memory and feel the way I did at that very moment. To be out in the sunshine and feeling the warm breeze as the boat was hauling ass through the Gulf Of Mexico was truly magical. It seemed every passenger on the boat was on that deck listening and watching The Mavericks. Then, to hear the music and see everyone so happy elicited such powerful emotions. We didn’t have a care in the world and it was fantastic. We watched The Mavericks for about an hour and then went back to the cabin to see what was next.

The schedule was very complex and there was so much entertainment, it was impossible to see everything. We had to make some very tough decisions. There was no other choice in the matter. That is better than not having enough choices, I suppose. It reminds me of baseball spring training when the manager has to make cuts. They always state it is better to have too much talent and have to release some good players than to not have enough talent. That was the way the entire cruise was. Too much talent for one baseball diamond.

After some cabin deliberations, it was on to the next event. Scott H. Biram was on deck.

I have some of his albums, but I had never seen him live. I was unprepared for what I was about to see. He is a one man show, but  he makes enough music for four people. He seems to channel the spirit of a 70 year old blues man. It is absolutely astounding. You would think one man and a guitar is folk music. Not in this case. Biram’s style is part blues, country, punk, and metal. When he sings though, he sounds like a mix of John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt. In the audience watching Scott was Shooter Jennings. I said to him, “You look a lot like Shooter Jennings.’ He replied, “Yeah, that’s what my momma tells me.” Very funny, down to earth guy.

After Scott, I needed a little time to decompress, but I didn’t really have much time. It was on to see The Bottle Rockets.

The Bottle Rockets are a band I have followed for quite a long time but never had the chance to see them live. They lived up to and exceeded my expectations. They are an incredible tight outfit, yet loose enough not to sweat the small stuff. They had great interplay with the audience but really let their music do the talking. I heard all of the songs I wanted to hear. ($1,000 Car, Queen Of The World, Welfare Music, etc.). I left that show a very happy feller. After that, I headed for the rack. That was a lot for the first day, and I think I may have tried to hard to get our money’s worth on the alcohol. We still had four more days left. This was a marathon and not a sprint. Day 1, in the books.


Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

I was looking forward to seeing these folks live for about a month. After I heard their CD The Sailor And The Siren, I was immensely impressed. I was wondering how the recorded sound would translate into a live performance. I had some lofty expectations and they shattered them. It isn’t often that I know that a group has that “something” to make it to the next level. I can remember three times before when it happened: Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, and Sublime. I could tell that all three of those acts, while still playing on a small stage had the x factor to make it big. I felt that way seeing Jeremy And Lynne & The Typical Johnsons. The vocals, musicianship, and general band chemistry make it pretty evident to me that these guys are ready for prime time. Jeremy and Lynne are husband and wife and they have great chemistry on stage and their harmonies are heavenly. I got goose bumps a few times during their sets. Jeremy, the front man, is comfortable with an audience and knows how to engage a crowd. He gives commentary between songs and is also loose enough to exchange banter with the rest of the band.

Now for the music. Their live material is as good as any band out there today. Every song off their new CD is hit worthy for sure. Ohio Gone, which the band played beautifully, has garnered some attention and it isn’t difficult to see why. Seeing it live was really special.Inside My Head, as Jeremy explained, was written after he and Lynne’s first date. Seeing them sing it together live and harmonize gave me chills it was so awesome. The Lo-Fi Type, the first track off the Sailor And The Siren, was played for me. It did not disappoint. Jeremy and the rest of the band fed off each other and worked the song up into quite a frenzy. Lynne played a pretty ferocious mandolin.  

They played a lot more original material as well as some really great covers. These weren’t your garden variety cover songs, they were more obscure and played flawlessly. One other notable event of the evening was their playing of the song The Sailor And The SirenIt is about following your dreams, as Jeremy explained. I hope these guys follow their dreams and exceeded them. Thank you guys (and girl) for a memorable night! 

If you want a great CD and also support a band worthy of your interest, you get it here.


Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Everyone has heard the proverb you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I am going to add a line to that one. You can’t judge a performer by the size of the audience. Last night Ray Wylie Hubbard played Hill Country Barbeque in Washington DC. To me, it goes down in the annals as one of the most memorable evenings in a long time. Seeing him in the room of 200 (which was sold out) was better than seeing anyone else, anywhere. And the crowd knew it as well. Mr. Hubbard is a legendary performer with nearly a 50 year career.

Ray is very punctual. The ticket said the start time was 9:30 and he and the band came out at precisely 9:30. That may seem like a little thing, but to me is shows respect and reverence. An acknowledgement that our time is just as important as his. What humility! He is a very humble guy. As he told stories between songs, he interjected self-deprecating humor. It was more of a way for him to down play his many accomplishments in a clever and entertaining way. It came across as sincere and as a man without a big ego. If anyone deserves to carry around a little bit of an ego it is Ray, but he doesn’t at all. A true testament to his character.

Backing Ray were his son and guitar virtuoso, Lucas Hubbard. This wasn’t a case where the baseball coach lets his son pitch just because that’s his son. Oh no! Lucas can flat out play! I can’t think of anyone better to play Ray’s music with him. As my father gets older, I also have a special place in my heart when I see fathers and sons doing things together. Seeing them on stage choked me up a little bit. Also in the band was drummer and backing vocalist Kyle Schneider. Another tight musician who complimented Ray perfectly.

Ray and the band played for almost 2 hours! The crowd surely got their money’s worth. He played all of the songs we hoped he would play and then some. The third song out of the gate was Drunken Poet’s Dream and Ray nailed it.

He played Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother towards the end of the show and told a funny story about the song that happened that very night. Some people prior to the show asked Ray if he was going to play it and he stated he doesn’t play it every night. Apparently, the people stated that if they didn’t hear it, they would be disappointed. So Ray brought up a story where he saw Bob Dylan and the one song he wanted to hear was Masters Of War and Dylan didn’t play it. Well he didn’t think Bob played it. That was when Dylan was going through his phase where most of his songs performed live were unrecognizable. And the crowd roared.

Sometimes you don’t always know when a moment is special until after it occurs. Luckily, I knew this evening was exceptional as it was unfolding and was able to savor every moment. I wanted to have that evening etched in my memory in perpetuity. For once I succeeded. It wouldn’t have been possible without Ray Wylie Hubbard and his fine band.

Review By Harry Kaplan

All Cooley, all the time. I am not sure if non Drive By Trucker fans would enjoy this that much. But for Trucker fans like me and the other 300 people or so in attendance, this was pure Cooley bliss. Cooley played all of his hits that it would take 2 or 3 nights of Trucker shows to hear. He belted out Gravity’s Gone, Self Destructive Zones, Carl Perkin’s Cadillac, When the Pin Hits The Shell, and Uncle Frank, just to name a few. It was an intimate evening with Cooley on acoustic guitar.  

If I have to make one small complaint, it was that U Street Music Hall is not the ideal place to see an acoustic performance. The stage is quite low and the venue is very long and narrow. If someone was not in the first couple of rows in the front, it was difficult, if not impossible to see. The acoustics were good throughout, but if you like to see as well as hear, not the best venue for that. That was the only small complaint I had.

For me and the rest of the Trucker fans in attendance, you could not ask for a better night. Mike was very comfortable in front of the enthusiastic crowd, spoke freely in between songs, and exchanged some banter with the audience. Instead of a concert, it felt more like seeing a performer in someone’s family room and inviting 300 of your closest friends. It did not have the electricity of a full Drive By Truckers rock show, but it was a great evening nonetheless. 

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

The Fantastic Negrito (Negrito for brevity), whose real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, opened last night for Chris Cornell at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore. I understand why Mr. Dphrepaulezz may go by a pseudonym. That name is hard to pronounce and hard to remember. Fantastic Negrito is much easier to say and not easily forgotten. The name has almost a super hero quality to it. Fantastic Negrito definitely lives up to his name and maybe even surpasses it. Is deity too strong a word? Maybe, but I am still debating.

It is rare that you see someone without really knowing their material and you immediately connect with the artist and all of the songs. I remember it happening one time when I saw Smashing Pumpkins before they blew up (props to you, Larry L!). I had that same jaw dropping feeling as I did last night. The feeling that this guy is going to be large. To quote from the movie Fear of a Black Hat, “He’s gonna be so large, they’re gonna call him Dinosaur!” I liked all of the songs instantly and loved the performance. The Fabulous Negrito is electric and dynamic. He was playing last night without a full band, in fact, he was playing an acoustic guitar. He used the keyboard for one song he called “Rant Rushmore” which I will get to later. It was Negrito on stage with Tomas Salcedo (Negrito calls him “The Chilean), also armed with an acoustic guitar.

When you think of two people on stage with guitars, you probably think folk music. You would expect something very quiet and soothing. Au contraire. Negrito and the Chilean are anything but. Negrito has a strong powerful voice that compensates for any imbalance in instrumentation. In fact, his voice and playing are so good, that you can really focus on him and the music without a full band to distract you.

Negrito’s themes that he sings about are quite serious: homelessness, loneliness, poverty, loss, and inequality. Although these topics could be quite depressing, Negrito’s songs are songs of hope with an underlying theme that things will get better. He has convinced me. The purpose of music and performance is to be a temporary escape from the trappings of life. Negrito helps you escape and forget. Forget about your problems, not him or the music. In fact, I was problem free last night during his set. I was thinking about nothing else except Negrito and his energetic performance.

So enough of the preamble, let’s get to brass tacks: the performance. Negrito opened with a song off of his new album Last Days of Oakland, Working Poor. The song, as the title suggests, is about the “have nots”. People that work so hard but can never dig out of the hole they’re in. Negrito belts out the chorus. “I keep on knockin’ but I can’t get in”. The next song was written about Negrito’s time spent in a 3 week coma after a terrible car accident called Night Has Turned to Day (see video here). The next number was In The Pines. You know the last song Kurt Cobain sang on MTV Unplugged? Yes, that song. Well, Negrito said he wasn’t good at doing covers, but he lies. He did this song justice and made it his own. Even in the esteemed company of Cobain and Leadbelly. Negrito joked that he added a bridge to the song, which Leadbelly would never approve of. I disagree. I think the bridge, which is almost a gospel accent, is beautiful. It adds a very nice element.

Negrito described himself as a “strange black kid” liking David Bowie and Prince and wearing leopard skin boots through the streets of Oakland. You can definitely hear Prince and Bowie on the next number. Not only them, but I also hear some Queen. Rant Rushmore is normally a very funky upbeat song. The link to a performance with a full band is here. The performance last night was just Negrito on keys and The Chilean on acoustic. The rendition was not quite as energetic as the full band one, but still inspiring. Again, Negrito’s vocals made up for any missing instruments.

My only complaint is that it was too short. I was left wanting more. The whole crowd wanted more. Negrito could have played another hour and no one would have minded at all. I am guessing the performance was about 40 minutes, but it seemed like it was over in the blink of an eye.