zach evans

For the Sake of the Song

September 30, 2023 @ 2:00 pm 9:00 pm

For the Sake of the Song is a music festival at Wesselman Woods Odonata Amphitheater on 9.30.23


5 bands, 2 singer-songwriter roundtables, 1 beautiful afternoon celebrating songs

Music, nature, beer garden, kids activities and more.


33 & 1/3: ‘American Beauty’ & ‘New Speedway Boogie’

33 & 1/3 is a weekly column looking back at the albums and songs of 1970 to coincide with the Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. Community Director Zach Evans will write about one album (33) and one song (1/3) from 50 years ago.

Most musicians and bands don’t release two albums in the same year these days.

The industry is such that insiders say bands really shouldn’t put out full albums every year — the idea is to release singles and smaller releases more regularly to feed the content beast.

But in 1970, there were several acts who released two albums in a year. Black Sabbath released two of the most important albums in metal history in 1970 with “Black Sabbath” and “Paranoid” and Funkadelic released “Funkadelic” and “Free Your Mind .. and Your Ass Will Follow.”

Here’s a good list of other double releases in 1970 (I’m probably missing a few):
• Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Cosmo’s Factory” and “Pendulum”
• King Crimson – “The Wake of Poseidon” and “Lizard”
• Aretha Franklin – “This Girl’s in Love With You” and “Sprit in the Dark”
• Elton John – “Elton John” and “Tumbleweed Connection”

The most interesting double release in 1970 came from a band’s whose following and legacy is not largely connected to their studio releases: The Grateful Dead, which released “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” four months apart in 1970.

Both albums are a rich chapter in the Dead history, because the pair were a pivot from the electric kool-aid psychedelic sounds in the 1960s to an Americana / roots style in 1970. The stylistic switch is even apparent on the album covers, warm browns, greens and sepia tones versus the bright palette “Aoxomoxoa,” their album before “Workingman’s Dead.”

That Path is For Your Steps Alone

American Beauty
The Grateful Dead
Nov. 1, 1970
Stand-out tracks: “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace,” “Candyman”

As I said, The Grateful Dead aren’t really known for their studio albums. They have a prolific live career: 37,000 songs performed live, 2,300 concerts, 450 unique songs, 300 cities and 30 years of touring. That’s just for the original Grateful Dead lineup and doesn’t include the subsequent spin-offs featuring members of the band, like The Dead or Dead & Co.

But if you ask most songwriters, musicians, or music fans about the Dead, they’ll probably say they like “American Beauty.” That’s because it’s hard to not appreciate the blending of American folk and rock music, poetic lyrics and woven strings and harmonies — kind of like CSNY, but not.

The album is exquisite, it’s hard to argue that isn’t. But I usually take issue when people say “I really don’t like the Dead, but I did like ‘American Beauty.'” There are differences between the two — the live Dead and the American folk-style studio Dead. But I embrace both deeply. Can’t a guy like a 30 minute Scarlet>Fire jam and a well-crafted 4-minute folk song from the same band?

Onto the actual album. I love the song “Candyman,” because of its slow creepiness and an absolutely beautiful pedal steel guitar solo played through a rotating Leslie speaker by Jerry Garcia.

What makes “American Beauty” so eternal to me is the songwriting marriage of Jerry’s roots-y musical stylings and Robert Hunter’s brilliant lyrics.

Much like the relationship between Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Robert Hunter would write lyrics and Jerry would write the music.

Hunter was a true American poet, with an ability to tap into the cultural psyche and tell us about it. “American Beauty” wasn’t the first album featuring lyrics by Hunter, but to me it’s his finest showcase and the best song on the album is “Ripple.”

“If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?”

The song has lyrics that invokes both Western religion and Eastern poetic style. The third verse, of which Hunter said he was most proud to write, is filled with biblical imagery, with phrases like, “Reach out your hand if your cup be empty / If your cup is full may it be again” and — the favorite line he ever wrote — “Let it be known there is a fountain / That was not made by the hands of men.”

Then there’s the chorus, which is a 17-syllable haiku poem washed in mystery.

“Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow”

Combine that with major key melodies, David Grisman on mandolin, rich harmonies and a sing-a-long ending of la-di-das, and you have one hell of a song.

What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

Bob Weir recently mentioned on the podcast “Broken Records” in a conversation with Rick Rubin he wished the band had done more work in the studio. I do too. I love the energy and vibe of a well-connected, breathing live performance, but the artistry and intention that comes out in albums is unmatchable.

Jerry has been dead for 25 years and Robert Hunter died last September. In 1970, Rolling Stone reviewer Andy Zwerling said “American Beauty” would be enjoyed for the next 20 years. Jerry has been dead for 25 years and Robert Hunter died last September, but the songs are still loved and played to hundreds of thousands of fans every year (well, not this year) by surviving members in the off-shoot Dead & Co. featuring John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge.

I think it’s deeply appreciated at 50 and will be talked about and listened to for its 100th anniversary.

I Spent a Little Time on the Mountain

New Speedway Boogie
Workingman’s Dead
The Grateful Dead
June 14, 1970

“New Speedway Boogie” will make me noodle dance every time. You know, that stereotypical Dead-head hippy dance? Yeah, that’s all 6’7″ of me when I hear this song live.

I love this song for its groove, for the memories I have with it and for the memories I was hoping to have with it in the future.

I was in a string band called the “Pocket City Pushers” in the early 2010s and “New Speedway Boogie” was one of the first covers we practiced.

I had just performed my first gig as a keyboardist with Calabash in Cincinnati just days before our region began locking down. We played several Dead songs that night. We didn’t perform “New Speedway” but with gigs lined up in the coming weeks and months, I’m sure we would have (if it were a gig they invited to me play).

One day soon, we’ll all be boogying — at least, I hope.

Zach Evans is the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Community Director. When life returns to normal, you can find him performing around town with his band Corduroy OrbisonYou can reach him at [email protected].

Other 33 & 1/3 posts
Kristofferson & My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama
Morrison Hotel & Isolation

Published April 18, 2020.

33 & 1/3: Kristofferson & ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’

33 & 1/3 is a weekly column looking back at the albums and songs of 1970 to coincide with the Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. Community Director Zach Evans will write about one album (33) and one song (1/3) from 50 years ago.

The artist world lost a prolific creator and storyteller this week. John Prine’s legacy remains in his brilliant, irreverent songs, but also in the songwriters he helped and those he inspired through his career.

It seemed fitting this week to choose an album with a close connection to Prine — Kris Kristofferson’s 1970 debut album, “Kristofferson.”

Kristofferson is credited with discovering Prine. Billboard has a great Q&A with Prine in which he talks about how Kristofferson got his guitar in the door and got him a record deal. Of course, helping a fellow songwriter land a gig wasn’t unfamiliar to Kristofferson, who was discovered by June Carter and Johnny Cash when he was a janitor at Columbia Recording Studios.

Kristofferson is one of my favorite songwriters. Plus, I’m probably five years from looking like him when he played Whistler in “Blade.”

Me in five years, probably.

Just the year before Kristofferson set up Prine for a record contract, Kristofferson released his first album.

“If it sounds country, man, that’s what it is — a country song”

Kris Kristofferson
Released April 1970
Stand-out tracks: Me and Bobby McGee, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Blame it on the Stones

“Kristofferson” is full of the wit, honesty, gruff and counter radio country style that made Kristofferson synonymous with outlaw country through the rest of his career — songs about being stoned and drunk, songs with contempt for the police, songs empathizing with long-haired hippy folk and songs of despair.

The album begins with “Blame it on the Stones,” which is rolling with irony and pointing out society’s constant ability to find a music scapegoat for the moral degradation of society, like Judas Priest in the 80s, gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the 90s, Eminem in the early 2000s, and Corduroy Orbison in the late 2010s and early 2020s. “Mister Marvin Middle Class is really in a stew / Wond’rin’ what the younger generation’s coming to / And the taste of his martini doesn’t please his bitter tongue / Blame it on the Rolling Stones,” Kristofferson sings on the first verse.

The everlasting standout, of course, is “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song engrained in the American experience that was popularized by the barn burner of version that Janis Joplin recorded. Kristofferson and Joplin were lovers around the time “Kristofferson” was released in the spring of 1970. She finished recording the song three days before she died of a heroin overdose in October 1970. He first heard her version a few days after she died and then he spent the rest of the day walking around Los Angeles crying.

The brilliance of the song is Kristofferson’s complete comfortability with brevity. He could use a nine word line like a novelist uses 50 or a director uses 120 minutes. If John Prine was the Mark Twain of songwriting, then Kris Kristofferson is the Ernest Hemingway — it’s not flowery or verbose writing, it’s direct and spare.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

I think this line — which, by the way, this line is one of the greatest in popular music — is often taken to only mean the way to be free is to be without material or romantic ties. But really the song sets up the duality of freedom, freedom as a two-sided knife. You’re free, but you’re empty and lonely. You can see that in the lament later in the song (also another brilliant line), “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday / Holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine.” Sometimes that for which we yearn is not as great as what we have, something sometimes not realized until you’re free with nothing.

That shoe leather poetic style shines through on my favorite song on the album, also its closing track, the autobiographical “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

Kristofferson explains the song in an interview: “I was living in a condemned apartment and had lost my family, and Sunday was a day when the bars were closed, and, uh … it was not a day to be alone.”

Descriptive lyrics take us through his divine punishment (you know, when you’re hungover on a Sunday), with a chorus of hopelessness, and then he hits you with this beautiful simile of a church bell: “Then I headed back for home / And somewhere far away / A lonely bell was ringing / And it echoed thru the canyon / Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.”

I had the pleasure of seeing Kristofferson perform solo on May 11, 2017 at the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. I was there for a few days ahead of a three-week long journey to Pakistan, and I decided I wanted to see some live music. I was lucky to find a front-row seat ticket on Stubhub for about the same price as face value.

It’s one of my most memorable concert experiences, but not because he was so explosive or magnetic, or that the performances of songs I loved were that outstanding. It was because of the despondency, and damn, sometimes pity, I felt while watching him on stage for those 90 or so minutes.

He was 80 years old at the time and performing solo. The problem with performing solo is, as Johnny Cash said before his Viper Room show ahead of 90s solo revival, “You can’t blame the drummer for screwing up.”

It was rough. He lost his finger-picking dexterity with his age, which meant his timing and accuracy was off, and his voice was knotted and showing his eight decades of living. He seemed weak and feeble at times.

I felt sorrow watching it, as if I was watching my grandfather on his death bed. But reflecting on the moment three years later while writing this, I realize Kristofferson did as he has done his entire life and musical career. He put himself out there, vulnerable and exposed, with the scars of time and the broke down body of man who’d been through some shit. From his poetic contempt on his debut 1970 album to the stage of the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. It was the unapologetic truth, and that’s what Kris Kristofferson embodies.

“My guitar wants to kill your mama / My guitar wants to burn your dad”

My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama
Off of “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”
By The Mothers of Invention
Released Aug. 10, 1970

And now for something completely different.

As a guitarist/artist /absurdist myself, I’m a big Zappa fan. The song “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” is my favorite tune off “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” again, probably because every guitar player who’s heard that song title loves it automatically. “Weasels” is a basically a collection of leftover songs from The Mothers of Invention, Zappa’s breakout band, so there’s not a lot of great tunes on it, but what a fantastic album cover, right?

The Mothers were especially an avant-garde band, especially live with a lot of free from jazz movement, which is not for everyone, I know, but “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” is more grounded. Naturally the song features some great guitar solos that are worth hearing, including a buttery-smooth acoustic guitar solo and a closing fuzz guitar solo that really sounds like a parricidal guitar is on the loose.

Zach Evans is the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Community Director. When life returns to normal, you can find him performing around town with his band Corduroy Orbison. You can reach him at [email protected].

Published April 10, 2020.

Photo by Josh Kerchief

33 & 1/3: Morrison Hotel & ‘Isolation’

Introducing a new ARTSWIN column: 33 & 1/3

Do people still celebrate 50th birthdays with “over the hill” parties? That’s pretty bleak for a celebration, right? “Hey, you made it to 50, but too bad it’s all down hill and rubbish from here. Death’s specter lingers over you at all times. Enjoy your cake!”

It’s all in good fun, I know, but turning 50 doesn’t have to mean the turn towards the end of life. For the Arts Council, turning 50 this year is the beginning of a new era. Fifty years is quite the milestone, especially for this arts organization.

The Arts Council planned to celebrate its 50th anniversary all year. But, alas, its “over the hill” year of partying and celebrating the arts was impacted, like everything else, by COVID-19.

Photo by Josh Kerchief

So, we converted our programming, outreach and art experiences to all digital. Part of that includes the Arts Council staff developing their own weekly columns/blogs/posts. With mine, I decided to keep with the 1970 theme.

Do you know how many good albums came out in 1970? The Beatles final album, the beginning of metal with Black Sabbath, The Grateful Dead’s dip into Americana — it’s absurd how many important, interesting albums came out that year. I wanted to write about all those albums to coincide with our anniversary.

So, I will write about one 1970 album and one song from another 1970 album every week. The column is called 33 & 1/3, a reference to the speed of an album rotating on a turntable. It’s also a George Harrison album. Think of it like the 33 is the album and that little extra 1/3 I will write about is the other song. I have albums and songs lined up from several genres and styles from artists like The Velvet Underground, Miles Davis, Kris Kristofferson, The Kinks, Aretha Franklin and more.

This week’s album is “Morrison Hotel” by The Doors and the single is “Isolation” by John Lennon.

“This is the strangest life I’ve ever know.”

Morrison Hotel
The Doors
Released: Feb. 9, 1970
Stand-out tracks: Waiting for the Sun, Peace Frog, Land Ho!

I was obsessed with The Doors in high school. I read “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Riders on the Storm” twice over each. I poured over albums, watched the Oliver Stone movie with friends, read special guitar magazine features and learned how to play dozens of songs. The Doors aren’t my favorite band from that era anymore, but I still appreciate what they offer: psychedelic exploration, unique rhythms, bizarre organ, slinky guitar, jazzy sensibilities and mysterious lyrics (which might actually not mean anything). I’m not sure “Morrison Hotel” is even in my top 3 studio albums by The Doors, but it is the only Doors album that came out in 1970.

“The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.”

Albums aren’t always about the final product itself — the quality of the production or the songs. Sometimes the circumstances and motivation around the album are what make it fascinating. Sometimes it’s both, like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” (see “High Fidelity” on Hulu). Great behind the scenes drama and brilliant songs.

In the case of “Morrison Hotel,” the circumstances of its creation were interesting. The record came right after Jim Morrison, and by proxy the rest of The Doors, were blacklisted after Morrison — allegedly — whipped little Jim out on stage in Miami in March 1969. Concerts were canceled. Money was lost. Then, after gaining some steam again in 1969, they released “The Soft Parade.” It features some of my favorite Doors songs (“The Soft Parade” and “Touch Me”), but the album overall doesn’t fit the normal Doors sonic aesthetic — the bright brassy sounds, dynamic string movements and densely packed arrangements just doesn’t really work. It fell flat with critics and fans, and they spent a lot of cash on it, which after being blacklisted from radio and concerts, isn’t a great position to be in.

So, enter “Morrison Hotel.” Shaking off bad PR, the band embraces the fundamental of rock: the blues.

Immediately, you’re introduced to this by the album’s opener “Roadhouse Blues,” with an angry blues guitar riff, jangly piano, blues harp, and barroom vocals. The song wasn’t even a single, but it’s one of the few remaining Doors songs on classic rock radio, and you’ve heard some bar band play it some time in your life, I guarantee it.

The album meanders a bit in terms of quality, and two of my favorite songs weren’t even recorded in the same year as the others (“Waiting for the Sun” in 1968 and “Indian Summer” in 1966), but the album is still fun and lively.

“Peace Frog” is a standout track. Evocative lyrics that straddle real world references (“Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago” as a reference to the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention) and autobiographical moments of Morrison’s life, like his 1967 arrest in New Haven, Connecticut and seeing a fatal car accident involving Native Americans when he was a child (“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding / Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind”). Robby Krieger’s wah wah guitar and groove keeps the song moving. I also love how it bleeds seamlessly into “Blue Sunday.”

I find joy in the small moments of albums. On “Morrison Hotel,” the small moment for me is in the song “Land Ho!” I love Morrison’s whimsy when he shouts “Laaaaand Ho!” It’s the little things, you know?

Check out Lester Bangs’ original write-up of the album in Rolling Stone. It’s not exactly a glowing review.

“The world is just a little town”

John Lennon
On the album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”
Released Dec. 11, 1970

As I said before, 1970 was packed full of great music and great music moments, but it was also filled with heartbreak. 1970 saw the death of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, and it was also the year The Beatles officially split up. The silver lining was the world was given at least one solo album from John, Paul, George and Ringo in 1970. That includes John Lennon’s debut solo album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.”

In the age of social distancing, “Isolation” seemed like a fitting track to highlight off the album.

It’s a great show of what “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” offered: sparse arrangements centered around piano, simple drum rhythms and introspective lyrics. My favorite part of the song is around the 1’10” mark, when Lennon’s vocals double in the middle of a long, drawn out “isolation” and create that weird warbly vibrato effect.

It’s a great song for weird times. Check it out, then listen to the entire album and tell me what you thought about it.

Zach Evans is the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Community Director. When life returns to normal, you can find him performing around town with his band Corduroy Orbison.

Published: April 2, 2020.