SOLD OUT: Amos Lee: Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song Tour – Tickets – Oregon Zoo – Portland, OR – July 17th, 2014

SOLD OUT: Amos Lee: Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song Tour

Oregon Zoo Summer Concerts 2014

SOLD OUT: Amos Lee: Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song Tour

Black Prairie

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doors: 5:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm

Oregon Zoo

$39.50 - $69.50

Sold Out

This event is all ages

Amos Lee
Amos Lee
"I enjoy the unplanned things that happen in the studio," says Amos Lee. "The shapes that things take, the manipulation of sounds—it's a learning process for me. I can't do that when I'm just writing on my guitar. Usually, the stuff you like the most wasn't what was planned anyway, so I try not to put too much pressure on it because then the fun leaves." For his fifth album, Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, Lee took a different path for the recording; he worked in a new city with a new producer, while, for the first time, he brought his touring band into the studio with him. The twelve songs that resulted—the follow-up to 2011's chart-topping Mission Bell—bring Amos into new sonic territory, while retaining the trenchant impact of the scenes, characters, and stories in his writing.

This album arrives a full ten years after Amos Lee first signed with Blue Note Records and began a career that continues to grow and surprise. With the release of his self-titled debut in 2004, the Philadelphia-born former schoolteacher immediately earned the attention of not only the press and discerning music fans, but also of his fellow artists. He has toured with legendary artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, collaborated with Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams, and been regularly touted as a favorite songwriter and performer by the likes of The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum. Though Amos says that his primary strategy has always been to keep things as simple as possible, he knew that there was one thing he required for Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, which was to record with the musicians he has been taking on the road. "I wanted to play these songs with people that I trust musically, and stay open to where it took us," he says.

"The touring band works really hard, they're really musical, they're a good hang, so it was cool to hole up for a few weeks and experience it together. In the singer-songwriter world, it can be sort of a solitary creative process, so it's good to collaborate with people and bring songs to life together." The songs were almost all cut live, in just a few takes. The album was the first project to be recorded in a brand-new studio, built in a converted church in Nashville by producer Jay Joyce (Emmylou Harris, Little Big Town, Eric Church). Adding new textures and treatments to the sound, Joyce introduced a broader palette to Amos's work, creating a richness and a variety that's never distracting or self-conscious. "Jay brings a musicality, a different kind of ear," says Amos. "He definitely hears things in ways that I don't, and brings out extra dimensions in the songs. He also brings a voice of reason, where he can step back from the particulars and get to the essence of an actual take." The singer points to the song “Plain View" as an example of Joyce's contribution. "The instrumentation led to a lot of the discovery," Lee says "We used a mandi-cello, a recorder, this funky box bass drum, and then in post-production, Jay put some really interesting touches on there. In the moment, I'm never that concerned with where it's going to end up—I know that we'll figure it out, and the recording will tell you the truth anyway." Making Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song in Nashville solidified Amos Lee's relationship to a community that has embraced him warmly. He has worked alongside country artists from Sugarland to Willie Nelson (who called Lee “an exceptional artist, unique to his generation”) and, perhaps most notably, he teamed up with the Zac Brown Band on their single "Day That I Die." "It's a good place to make a record," says Amos. "There's good places to eat, the people are friendly, there's less distraction. I've always enjoyed it down there, so I thought I'd bring my guys and see how a bunch of Philly guys fit in."

Being in Nashville also allowed several remarkable guests to come by the sessions. Alison Krauss joins Lee for "Chill in the Air" ("If Mother Earth had a voice, that would be it," he says), and Patty Griffin lends her voice to "Mountains of Sorrow." Elsewhere, instrumentalists Jerry Douglas, Mickey Raphael, and Jeff Coffin (of the Dave Matthews Band) all pitch in. Amos maintains that the new material is less autobiographical than usual, but that he "enjoyed getting away from myself and writing through other people's eyes." One track that derives from his own experiences, though, is the deep and dazzling title song, which is based on his visit to Levon Helm's barn in Woodstock, where he appeared at the legendary drummer's Midnight Ramble not long before Helm's death. "For a few months after Levon passed, I was just so struck by the loss," says Amos. "That tune is completely inspired by him and the legacy he left for someone like me to chase. I didn't realize how heavy it was going to be for me—while I was there, I was kind of overwhelmed and a little shut down, but sometimes I see things a little stronger in the reflecting pool. "There's sometimes this uber-nostalgic view of what music used to be," he continues, "but if that wasn't it, nothing was. People were there to play the music and to hear the music, nothing else—just the meat and the bread, nothing in between. That's why I always wanted to do this, and it brought me right back to the center." This reconnection to the power of pure music presumably came at a good time for Amos Lee, coming off of the success of Mission Bell—which debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, Amazon, and iTunes charts, and spun off a hit single with "Windows are Rolled Down." "That was a freakish thing," Amos says with a laugh. "It was cool, I'm glad it happened, but that was never part of our vision. The real goal for us was always to make good music so we can put more songs in the show that we like and that people respond to." As Amos considers his accomplishment with Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, he acknowledges the new ground he has broken, but saves his pride for the set's consistency and cohesiveness. "It's a bunch of songs from 1 to 12 you can listen to together," he says. "That notion of an album may be antiquated, but as someone whose mind has always been set to that, as a performer and as a listener, I still feel inclined to do it."
Black Prairie
Black Prairie
By now, Black Prairie has clearly outgrown its roots as a casual side project, solidifying into a primary, creative focus for its members—a band with its own internal momentum, genuine character and style. Still, it’s only become harder to describe what that style is. “I gave up a long time ago,” guitarist Jon Neufeld says. When asked what kind of music Black Prairie plays, Neufeld usually just says “soft rock,” and walks away.

Black Prairie’s fourth full-length record Fortune is an unexpected departure—which is, strangely, exactly what everyone’s come to expect from the band. This group of seasoned musicians from Portland, Oregon—each steeped in traditional American acoustic music—has become hellbent on taking one imaginative leap after another.

“We’re a much more fearless writing team now,” says bassist Nate Query. The band that started as an informal collective has now materialized into its own, fully living thing. Getting together to write Fortune last fall after a busy year of touring and tackling smaller, unconventional songwriting projects, the band felt like they had a well-bred, spirited animal hitched up and waiting for them—a horse flaring its nostrils, ready to run—and they wanted to keep driving it through as many different landscapes as they could.

“It was the most collaborative and magical thing,” Chris Funk says. Individual members brought in little strands of ideas, and the band collectively spooled them in like a loom and spun them into songs. Again and again, they found one person’s chorus and someone else’s verse slapping together like attractive magnets, or lines for a lyric flying out of all six mouths.

In a way, Fortune is also Black Prairie’s most conventional record—thirteen, polished vocal tunes with (mostly) conventional pop song structures. On the other hand, there’s a glaring eccentricity to Fortune that hits you right away: here is a band of accomplished acoustic musicians playing what are essentially rock songs, and sometimes with a pretty hard edge—it's a record, band members say, that’s trying to channel not the spirit of Earl Scruggs or Jerry Douglas, but Led Zeppelin.

At the outset of making the album, Chris Funk set a new challenge for the group: write a record of all vocal songs. (Fiddle player Annalisa Tornfelt had reluctantly sung a handful of songs on Black Prairie’s earlier records; though Black Prairie always intended to be a strictly instrumental group, Tornfelt's bandmates felt her voice was too rich and beguiling to keep quiet.) “I’ve worked with so many great songwriters over the years,” Funk says, “We all have. You sit behind them listening to all these great songs go by, and eventually you’re like, ‘Can I do that?’” The answer was yes. The band began hunkering down in their living rooms. After only two weeks, they looked up and realized they’d written their new record.

Inspiration and ideas had come ricocheting off everyone, pinball-like, and often at the oddest angles. Writing the lyric to Funk’s riff, “White Tundra,” for example, Tornfelt incorporated lines from a poem by Funk’s wife, Seann McKeel, and psychedelic stories about ethereal wolves from a book of Norse mythology that accordionist Jenny Conlee had read Tornfelt to sleep with in their hotel room on tour. Conlee’s song “Trask,” about a late 19th century Oregon fur trapper, came in as a straight ragtime number until Funk suggested reimagining it, amping it up into a grinding, punk romp, like something by the Pogues. Tornfelt took a melody by drummer John Moen and a half-jokey aside by Funk—he told the band he wanted to write a song about a couple kissing on the sidewalk, surrounded by rats—and came back with the pop-country gem “Kiss of Fate.”

“Normally in a band,” says guitarist Jon Neufeld, “you bring in solid, fully-formed ideas, because you think your song’s precious and you don’t want to leave a chance for anything to go wrong. But we were all leaving a lot of things up in the air. We were leaving space for inspiration, for things to go right.” There was no insecurity or ego, no sniping or bruised feelings; the writing was propelled forward by the band’s shared sense of adventure and the unshakable faith in each other they’ve forged. “I completely trust in everyone’s musicianship,” Tornfelt says, “and I know that an idea I bring in will be realized in its best light.”

Band members trace the new, classic rock attitude that infuses Fortune back to New Year's Eve 2012. That's when Tornfelt sang Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" at a gig with Black Prairie members and Portland musician Laura Veirs. “Annalisa tore the roof off it,” Funk remembers, and having discovered a whole new, blaring dimension to their fiddle-player’s voice—and with a longstanding love of classic rock between them—Black Prairie got excited to edge a little in that direction. The band started covering the Zeppelin tune on the road, and other covers followed, including “Carry On My Wayward Son.” Inevitably that energy started inflecting the songs they were writing. Query says, “We’re trying to avoid the kitschy factor of a string band playing classic rock—we’re just trying to convey a joy of music and life.” It’s whimsical, maybe, but they’re committing to the whim with total artistic seriousness and passion.

To that end, they recruited Grammy-winning engineer Vance Powell—whose work with The Dead Weather and Red Fang the folks in Black Prairie especially loved—to produce Fortune. Powell’s battle cry in the studio became, “Let’s make it sound more broken!” He set up the band to play the tracks live, then he’d funnel them through an array of effects and layer that rougher sound behind their acoustic instruments. Pushing things in this direction seemed natural to Powell who, having seen Black Prairie live many times, knew that they may look like a bluegrass or folk band, but that their tastes and repertoire are much more expansive. There’s a fierce emphasis on musicianship, he says, but otherwise: “They’re genre-less. They’re not afraid of anything.”

The band’s story started in 2007, when Chris Funk gathered local musicians he admired for a chance to write music and play instruments he wasn’t utilizing in his role as guitarist in The Decemberists. He pulled in fellow Decemberists Nate Query and Jenny Conlee, on bass and accordion, Annalisa Tornfelt on fiddle and Jon Neufeld (Jackstraw, Doloreon) on guitar. In 2012, Decemberists drummer John Moen joined in, too. Their only ambition was to have fun, and their all-acoustic instrumentation meant they could hold practices in each other’s living rooms, sitting around a fire like a Stitch n’ Bitch or a book club.

But ideas started sparking immediately—they were pushing their own musicianship and the conventions of their instruments, and could hear a new brand of Americana music burbling up. Black Prairie's first record, 2010’s Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, documented these first moves forward. And with 2012’s A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart—a record that seamlessly combined ghostly, progressive bluegrass, plaintive alt-country hooks and the occasional, wailing gypsy romp—the
band was off and running.

The attention and excitement A Tear in the Eye generated made 2013 a breakout year for the band, from gigs at big festivals like Bonaroo and Newport Folk to an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But none of it dampened the anything-goes, risk-taking attitude Black Prairie had adopted in the living room days. They jumped into all kinds of eccentric and creatively demanding projects. They did a stint writing songs and performing with cult-folk legend Michael Hurley. They supported a rotating, eclectic cast of musicians as the “house band” for Wesley Stace’s “Cabinet of Wonders” variety show in New York. They performed a set with the Oregon Symphony in Portland and composed a theatrical score for a production at the Oregon Children’s Theater, eventually released as the record “The Storm in the Barn.” And, last summer, they composed a “soundtrack” to New York Times Magazine writer Jon Mooallem’s book Wild Ones, then teamed up with Mooallem for a string of shows, orchestrating his storytelling live on stage.

"Last year was epic, in many ways," says Funk. "I'm excited to play these songs live, but I'm also excited to keep going and just start writing the next record. It's like a whole new muscle is getting exercised."
Venue Information:
Oregon Zoo
4001 SW Canyon Road
Portland, OR, 97221

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