Funksgiving

Robert Randolph & the Family Band, McLovins, and BYOG

Union Station Trainshed in Montgomery, AL


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Editor’s Note: It was an honor and a pleasure for Live & Listen to have LiveMusicDaily assist on this event. What Jordan, Jacob, and the the team at Live & Listen are doing is very special and it is great to see the community behind such a noble cause that benefits charitable organizations. Cheers to Live & Listen.

The day after Thanksgiving everyone was still in town visiting family & friends in Montgomery, AL. With the Alabama vs. Auburn Iron Bowl slated for the day after, Friday was wide open and folks did not hesitate to show up in the masses for Funksgiving featuring Robert Randolph & the Family Band, McLovins, & BYOG.

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“We wanted to take a bigger swing this year, and Robert Randolph has been one of my favorite musicians for years. Bringing in our friends McLovins and BYOG allowed us to feature two of our favorite bands on the rise, and that’s a big part of what we’re doing.

Thankfully, we have built a really strong team, led by my brother, Jacob. So many friends and family members helped before and during the show. The weather was perfect, and Montgomery showed up. These events take a lot of hard work, but nights like Friday make it worth it.  We were able to raise $3,000 for Parkinson Association of Central Alabama.” – Jordan Kirkland, Live & Listen.

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The Montgomery Union Station was first opened in 1898 at a beautiful location just along the river. In 1979 it closed, and in recent years, has  accommodated numerous events in the city. It was a great setting for Funksgiving with Robert Randolph.

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As the crowds of Gumptown faithful arrived, the “family” vibe was palpable. This was much more than “just another show.” Robert Randolph’s uncle, Bishop David Randolph from House Of God Greater Biblical Fellowship Church in Montgomery, AL would grace us with his presence both on and off stage. This wasn’t just a special show for the locals, Robert got to enjoy the company of his family as well, which set the tone for an elevated attitude of positivity and fun that would take over the Union Station Trainshed Friday night.

Full of sit-ins, covers, and magic, the night was spectacular. To not give a very thorough review of the night would be a disservice.

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BYOG’s Charleston beach/jam vibes started off the night. The group has some very talented musicians (a few of them have formal music training at the famous Berklee School of Music in Boston.) Tandem guitars and top-of-the-line bass walks & melodies build layers upon layers of glazed, rockin’ sound. Drums and keys create a space-rock feel that pushes itself toward sleek improvisation. The set highlight was on “Voices” when radio host & MC for the night’s events, Wild Man Steve, got up there on Washboard where he dueled with bassist Andrew Wally. Got to love the feel-good vibes of this beach town band.

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Then came McLovins. These guys are hard-working musicians who are carving themselves out a path for success. Don’t let their age fool you, they’ve been doing this for years and with their schedules free (some members just graduated from college) they’re hitting the road harder than ever. The group had a strong introduction from “Wild Man Steve” before launching into “Greenhouse” off the new album.

Their new self-titled album is the most mature album to date, exhibiting  Jake Huffman’s strong song-writing abilities. Jake writes lyrics about life that are so honest, it is hard not to connect with him. You can relate to what Jake is saying in “Catch the Ball” on Funk No. Uno or a song of the new album, like “HTL,”  where he talks about his girlfriend Kara. HTL appeared early in the set and the feel-good sing-along was well received by the crowd.

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McLovins’ guitarist Justin Berger’s is very well-calculated and highly poised. A great example of this is his fiery solo on “Catch the Ball,” placed towards the end of their set. Justin’s chops also shined in their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” He nailed the “rock from space” sound.

Jason Ott’s bass lines are contagious and dancing becomes mandatory. Once you’ve got the Ott funk bug you just can’t stop. 

Keyboardist Atticus Kelly is a genius multi-instrumentalist: he’s a great guitarist, but on-stage in McLovins he handles the role of keys. Atticus’s best trait might be his ability layer in at the exact right place at the exact right time.

Late in their set, I got a little soft and teary-eyed when Jake looked over at his girlfriend Kara belting out the powerful lyrics of Bill Wither’s classic “Use Me.” Meanwhile, Robert Randolph signaled Atticus to trade twos back and forth with him. Atticus was firing back and forth with precision and choice cut chops and Robert was throwing it right back at him with his sacred steel.

“I don’t get up on stage very often so I was pretty nervous, but Robert Randolph started playing and looking to me and it just felt natural!” – Kara Kirkland

I’ve told you how great McLovins are, but the biggest testament was when, after that sit-in, Robert requested there be some McLovins sit-ins in his set. When a guy who has been named one of the top 100 guitarists of all time wants you up there to play with him, you’re doing something right.

After some good BBQ, a day at the gym, and some family time Robert was ready to blow ahead full speed ahead like a locomotive at the Union Station Trainshed.

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Robert Randolph plays an instrument not many people can play and he’s one of the best there is. The sacred steel is an instrument prevalent in many African American gospel churches (dating back to the 1930s) and it was where Randolph learned to play the instrument with purpose and feel. It is a spiritual experience that transcends boundaries. The greats all have their signature tone. Robert has his.

As any great front-man knows, having a strong backing band makes a difference in a good performance and a great one. With Ray Ray Randolph taking his bass for epic walks and slaps, thunderous drums, strong keys, and great rhythm and lead work from guitar extraordinaire Paul Pesco, The Family Band gives Robert a platform from which he can soar into the musical heavens. And soar he did, indeed.

The set featured staples like “The March,” an anthem of sort for Robert & The Family Band. We also saw songs like, “Amped Up,” a strong rock driven track off his 2013 album Lickety Split.  Bishop David Randolph sat in with Robert for a notable cover of Bill Withers’ classic “Lean on Me” in the middle of the set. Having Bishop David Randolph onstage solidified the theme of the  night: old friends and family reuniting in Montgomery for a happy Funksgiving.

Justin Berger (guitar) of McLovin’s hopped onstage for perhaps the best song of the night, a cover for Sly & The Family Stone’s 1969 released  “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” This was a free-for-all funk affair.  Robert was on drums for a bit as many band members swapped instruments for some improvisational grooving before reassuming their traditional instrument roles. The sacred steel screamed over one of the best funk songs ever written– it doesn’t get much better than that. Moreover, it was obvious that everyone on stage was have at least as much fun as the crowd, and the crowd was going nuts.

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The band took a brief break before returning for their encores. As a proper Funksgiving send-off, Randolph paid homage to one of the most innovative guitarist in the history of music, Jimi Hendrix. “Voodoo Chile” erupted with a thunderous roar. There is something about hearing a pedal steel with a crybaby wah-wah pedal play the intro to that song that makes the hair on your arm stand up straight. This version was so emotional and real that it really does a classic justice. Paul Pesco ripped some fiery Hendrix riffs coupled with his own chops as well. The climatic ending of the song wasn’t your typical build-up and send-off, they held it out and built the tension, then built it some more until everyone was yelling at the top of their lungs in approval before coming to a theatrical end. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic night of music in the Gump.

Funksgiving was a rousing success. Keep livin’ and listenin’ out for next year because this event is going to become a staple tradition in Montgomery, AL.


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