I’ve got Riverfest on my mind this week, and it’s not because the weather is so balmy. I’m already getting excited about the festival’s musical menu.
Last week, festival organizers announced that country hitmaker Chase Bryant is coming as the star attraction. This week, I discovered that the main stage on the opening day of the festival will be devoted to local bands that perform original music, with Porcupine headlining, giving its first La Crosse performance since Greg Norton (former bassist for Hüsker Dü) joined the lineup last year.
I was so eager to see the new Porcupine lineup I couldn’t wait for them to play in La Crosse, so I went up to Minneapolis last fall to see them at First Avenue, and it was well worth the trip. The band is fronted by singer/guitarist Casey Virock, a longtime fixture on the La Crosse music scene, but with the addition of Norton the band has been playing fairly frequently in the Twin Cities, with the closest approach to La Crosse coming with a show in Winona, Minn.
Virock has played on the Riverfest main stage before when he played bass with the El Caminos, a great crowd-pleasing cover band. A couple of Virock’s original bands had Riverfest shows (Dream 13 in 2004, Space Bike in 2008), but they weren’t on the main stage. Virock admitted being taken aback that his trio (with former Cloud Cult drummer Ian Prince) gets to close out the festivities on opening night of Riverfest on the main stage.
“Isn’t that weird? I don’t know how that happened,” Virock said. “I picture a lot of confused people in the beer tent. But you know I think it’s good to stir it up a bit.”
Other bands tentatively on the main stage roster for that evening include TUGG, Smokin’ Bandits, Red Sky Warning, Moth Mountain and Barely Losing.
“I think it’s great to have all the original bands on hand to just kind of do what they do and see how people react,” Virock said. “It’s nice to kind shake it up a little bit.”
Porcupine will be in Winona, Minn., at the end of April for Mid West Music Fest, just before playing Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago shows opening for the Meat Puppets and Mike Watt of The Minutemen, both 1980s indie rock icons.
“That’s pretty exciting,” Virock said. “I love the Meat Puppets and I love Mike Watt, so for me it’s a great opportunity.”
Interestingly, the Meat Puppets and Mike Watt will be joined on some dates by Grant Hart, another former member of Hüsker Dü (he was the drummer). If they could get guitarist Bob Mould to join in, they’d have a Hüsker Dü trifecta.
Porcupine is poised to hit the studio to record a new album. Virock has half a dozen songs ready to go, and Norton is going to pitch in a couple, with recording expected this summer sometime.
Virock has been busy in the studio lately with another band he plays with, Shen Teh, led by singer/songwriter/keyboardist Lara Riedel. The new album is pretty much done, and it’ll be a departure from the edgy art songs of the band’s debut recording. Virock says it’s much more of a rock record, and he noted that Shen Teh also will put on a show as part of Riverfest.
Virock also is working with Jason Knox on recording an EP of songs under the Dolly Rocker moniker. They’ve been collaborating over Skype a couple nights a week, with Knox having moved to Portland, Ore., but Knox is coming back for a week in April for a recording marathon. With any luck, there will be new Dolly Rocker songs to add to the summer soundtrack.
Summer already is shaping up to be pretty cool, musically.
I’m hoping summer will bring the return of Wood Chickens to our fair city. No, it’s not a migratory bird, it’s a Madison-based trio that specializes in high-energy, punkish country/rockabilly.
I’ve been listening to a sneak peak of the band’s new album, “Countrycide,” and I’m pretty sure that these recordings listened to through laptop speakers give only a pale approximation of what the band can do live with everything cranked up. There’s an urgency to the tempo of most Wood Chickens songs, as if the band can’t wait to get through them so they can take another slug of Jack Daniels, and there’s plenty of humor and attitude in the lyrics.
It’s probably a good thing the Wood Chickens are playing an acoustic set when they visit the Historic Trempealeau Hotel on Saturday. Fully amplified, I don’t know how the old hotel could stand the strain of this band playing inside.
Rock on …