The 2012 Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival, Saturday, June 2, 2012

Beginning in 1989, with the exception of one year, Appel Farm, a non-profit arts and music summer camp for children, located in the rural outpost of Elmer, NJ, has hosted a one day music festival whose lineup has always been loaded with adult alternative artists. Past headliners have included Jackson Browne, The Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Avett Brothers, Rufus Wainright, Fountains of Wayne, and Trombone Shorty. Other favorites who have played there over the last decade are Los Lonely Boys, Madeleine Peyroux, The Smithereens, Josh Ritter, and Roseanne Cash. This year's headlining act was the critically acclaimed jam band, The Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

The festival almost ended a few years ago due to financial concerns partially caused by several years of inclement weather but this year it came back with a vengeance as 2012's advance ticket sales outnumbered the total gate receipts for last year. Terrific weather and a stellar lineup helped Saturday become one of their better attended affairs.

The festival has two stages and both of them host music at the same time.  The day usually begins with many unknown, often local acts. Then the medium to heavy hitters step up to the plate. At the smaller Grove Stage Cheryl Wheeler and Rodney Crowell performed solo acoustic shows while at the larger Meadow Stage newcomers Jukebox the Ghost proved, despite their awful name, that they are a thoroughly entertaining pop-rock trio. They feature two lead vocalists playing electric guitar, piano, and drums but no bass player. The group often sounds like The Ben Folds Five (only better) while playing a set of short, power-pop tunes that hold your interest. Their songs are not deep but they're not trite either.

For us, the best performance of the whole day occurred at the Meadow Stage. Dawes, the young, Southern California rock band whose CD, Nothing is Wrong, was one of the outstanding releases of 2011 played an excellent, tight set.  After it was over, the MC, Michaela Majoun, the morning DJ from Phildelphia's WXPN, 88.5 FM, told the assembled multitude that lead singer Taylor Goldsmith is "the best lyricist currently working in rock." Fronting a quartet that is obviously influenced by Jackson Browne, Dawes played all of their best songs from their sophomore disc including "If I Needed Someone," "Fire Away," "Time Spent In Los Angeles," and "A Little Bit of Everything." The clarity of Goldsmith's lead vocals was superb. Never have I heard singing as vivid over top of electric instruments before and, because they are a band whose lyrics are very important, that is a good thing.

Next, The Carolina Chocolate Drops played at the Grove. They are a traditional folk band whose music is all fiddle and banjo based. The African-American quartet talk a lot between songs but it's not idle banter. Instead, they offer the audience a full education on American roots music as they play tunes ranging from Stephen Foster to Woody Guthrie, plus some originals. If you want to explore both the music and the culture of America's deep South The Drops are for you. They are led by a top notch lead singer, Rhiannon Giddens who never misses a note. I enjoyed them but a moderate amount of their gospel, bluegrass, and folk is enough. If you listen too long you'll need some rock n' roll to get your adrenalin flowing again.

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi
Speaking of rock n' roll, the day-long event closed with The Tedeschi-Trucks Band who played a very disappointing two hour set. I'm sure the rock, blues, and R&B gods will all smite me for writing this but Derek Trucks is the most screeching slide guitarist I've ever had the displeasure of hearing. He will never be Duane Allman nor does he ever display any of the tasteful restraint of other famous slide players such as George Harrison or Bonnie Raitt. Frequently, the band's four man horn section was barely audible under the annoying onslaught of a muddy mix played at maximum volume.

Even worse, Susan Tedeschi's vocals have all the subtlety of a runaway 18-wheeler roaring downhill at full throttle and crashing into a freight train loaded with dynamite. She makes Janis Joplin sound like Norah Jones and her cover of Harry Nillson's "Everybody’s Talkin" was completely unrecognizable.


  1. Good coverage Charlie. Guess you didn't like the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. I've listened to a lot of shows by the current generation Allman Brothers, and when Derek Trucks plays with Warren Haynes, it compares favorably to Duane Allman and Dickie Betts in the old days.

  2. I agree with you. When Trucks plays with The Allman Bros. he's much better, more tasteful. Live, with his own band, on this particular day, he left a lot to be desired.


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