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The Future of Guitar: A Conversation with Brandon "Taz" Niederauer August 07, 2018 12:01

Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you have most likely heard about teenage guitar prodigy Brandon "Taz" Niederauer. Taz has taken the jam scene by storm, appearing at many of the nation's most prominent music festivals, and sitting in with the likes of Gregg Allman, Col. Bruce Hampton, George Porter Jr., Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey's McGee, and so many more. Last Friday, Live & Listen's lead photographer, Craig Baird, had a chance to sit down and catch up with the young superstar. See below for the full conversation, as well as various video content and a photo gallery from the Terminal West show. 

Interview by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography

Let's talk about how this all started. I've read that your musical journey began after watching School of Rock when you were eight. At what point did you really start focusing on playing?

Taz: Watching the School of Rock is definitely what started it all. I started taking the guitar seriously as soon as I picked it up for the first time and played my first couple of notes. I knew I loved it and wanted to pursue it. 

It wasn't long until you were cast as the principal guitarist in the broadway  musical (School of Rock) at age 12. How was that experience, and what type of opportunities came from this role?

Taz: Many opportunities came from that, I mean...it was an amazing experience. I loved every second of it. One experience that came from that was I got to play in Jesus Christ Superstar live on TV. An Andrew Lloyd Webber live production so that was amazing. So many opportunities have came from that production that I can't even name them all. I'm so happy, and I'm so grateful for all of these opportunities.

Wow...I read that almost 10 million people tuned in to watch that.

Taz: Yeah, it was really cool.

Your rapid popularity certainly steered you to a unique lifestyle at an early age. How vital has your family been through this experience, and how do you guys go about balancing things out?

Taz: We have family dinners. We're just a normal family when I'm home. They're just so supportive. My mom, dad, and my brother are just the most supportive people I know, and I can't thank them enough for that. I'm so grateful for them. When I go home, my brother and I are playing football and basketball outside. We play video games together. It's very much a normal family when I'm home. I still go to school, so I'm at home most of the week, and then I do shows on the weekend. I'm just so grateful to have a super supportive loving family. 

It seems like each year, the momentum continues to build. Who were some of the early big name artists that invited you to play with them? Are there any in particular that stick out the most?

Taz: As far as the notable artists that I've played with, I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to play. I definitely can't pick a favorite. Every single person I get to play with, I'm super grateful for the opportunity. I guess I'd say the more notable artists I've played for would have to be George Porter Jr, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Col. Bruce Hampton, Lady Gaga, Slash, Dr. John, Warren Haynes, Umphrey's McGee. Those are the first few that come to mind, and I can't thank them enough for the opportunity.

That's amazing. I'm no musician, but I know that comprehending and writing original music is no easy task. Not many have reason to do it in their early teenage years. What is your current approach, and how do you see things unfolding moving forward?

Taz: It's either things that happen in my daily life, or I'm writing a story about a certain character, or I'm writing about something that everybody experiences. I hope that the audience, at least one audience member, every night, can connect to what I'm singing, because I really do mean it. Even through my playing, I hope that I can touch one person in the audience, move them, make their day. I can't thank these people enough for coming to my performances. I mean...they could have stayed home or done something else. To spend that night with me is just mind boggling. The band...we spend many hours a week rehearsing, and I hope our hard work pays off, and they love what we're doing, because we love them. 

I know this city brings a whirlwind of memories to mind. Most recently, performing with Umphrey's McGee, String Cheese, Tedeschi Trucks, and so many more on at SweetWater 420 Festival. There was also the Hampton 70 show. How would you describe your relationship with Col. Bruce and his lasting impact on you personally?

Taz: My relationship with Col. Bruce was special. He was such a mentor. He was probably my biggest mentor. Not just to me, but to everyone in the music world. I mean...everyone has been touched by him. He's given me so much advice. To always play with the utmost intention. Always be humble. Love your fans. Make them the number one priority. He was an amazing guy. He's brought up so many amazing musicians. The time that he devoted to helping me out is just again, mind boggling. The fact the he would even consider taking me under his wing. The Hampton 70 show, of course it was a whirlwind of emotions. It was an amazing time and unfortunately was the day of his passing. Once you get past the horrific part...I say this all the time, but if he were to write his own story, his own life, that's the way he would go out. 

I agree. My friend and I right in front of the both of you during that encore and his passing. It was truly an emotional night. So let's switch gears and talk about Brooklyn Comes Alive, which is coming up this September. Tell me how that came about.

Taz: Well, they asked me to lead a set focusing on the artists that we've recently lost, including Col. Bruce Hampton, members of the Allman Brothers, and a whole bunch more. I said that's something I would be delighted to do, so I got some of my favorite musicians in the world, including George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Adam Smirnoff (Lettuce), Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit), Peter Levin (Gregg Allman Band), and Elise Testone (American Idol). I asked them if they could come play and they said yes. All of these musicians that I'm playing with for this special set have influenced me, so the fact that they said yes to play with me is an amazing thing. 

I know that will be a special experience. Your calendar seems to be as busy as anyone these days. Before we wrap this up, I'm curious to know what can we expect from Taz and Co. the rest of this year? What has you most excited?

Taz: I'm going to Japan this October. I've got jitters for that. I can't wait to go and play four shows, so that's gonna be awesome. I can't wait to go to new states that I've never been to before. We're going to Illinois and Indiana soon. I'm looking forward to meeting those folks over there. Every single state has a different way of life. Different culture. Even every city. The crowd is even different, so I can't wait to feed off the energy of the different crowds and meet all the new people. 

That will be an amazing experience. It's been a pleasure watching your story unfold thus far, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Thank you so much for your time today Taz. 

Taz: Of course. Thank you and hope you enjoy the show.

Watch Taz perform his new tune "My Revival" at Chicago Music Exchange here:

Watch Taz perform "Statesboro Blues" with Tedeschi Trucks Band at SweetWater 420 Festival here:

Craig Baird (Home Team Photography) and Taz at Terminal West




SweetWater 420 Festival: A Weekend We Will Never Forget April 26, 2018 18:01

Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen

Photos by Craig Baird: [Home Team Photography] & Ryan Lewis [Rylewphoto]

Growing up in the southeast, I became accustomed to traveling to Atlanta to see my favorite bands at an early age. Weekend excursions to The Tabernacle became a regular occurrence by the time I was in high school, with plenty of trips to The Fox Theatre and Variety Playhouse mixed in as well. Just last year, I finally made plans to attend SweetWater 420 Festival, which was clearly becoming one of the premier festivals in the country. Following that weekend, it was clear that this would become my latest annual tradition. No excuses.

After a lineup which featured two nights of Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, moe., Ween, and Dark Star Orchestra (just to name a few), festival organizers had their work cut out for them. When the initial lineup dropped in mid-October, it almost felt like they were reading my mind. Umphrey’s McGee, Sturgill Simpson, and Tedeschi Trucks Band sat atop this lineup, along with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Vulfpeck, Papadosio, Anders Osborne, Spafford, and many more. The second wave would ultimately include The String Cheese Incident, Greensky Bluegrass, Ghostland Observatory, The Infamous Stringdusters, and the young phenom Brandon “Taz” Niederauer.

Once the schedule was released, plans were made to arrive early on Friday afternoon. Southern Avenue was rocking the Planet 420 Stage in full force, and The Record Company was getting started on the main stage shortly after. We made a point to catch a nice segment of both sets and couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the weekend. This was my first opportunity to see either of these bands live, and I’ll definitely be making a point to see both again.

If you follow the festival scene at all, you’ve surely seen the hype surrounding Spafford. This band has taken the jam world by storm, selling out just about every venue on the schedule. This would be my first live experience with them as well, and I was totally floored. The band came out swinging the “Backdoor Funk” and “The Remedy” and continued with killer takes on “Windmill,” “Lovesick Melody,” and “Minds Unchained.” They closed out the set with Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and I think everyone was wishing we had a second set. I was fortunate enough to attend to Spafford’s late night show at Variety Playhouse, which seemed to be the hottest ticket in town. This set included some amazing takes on “Electric Taco Stand,” “All My Friends,” “Salamander Song,” “All In,” and a cover of Men at Work’s “Down Under.”

Watch Spafford perform "You Don't Know How It Feels" here:

Sturgill Simpson was up next on the main stage. This would be he and his band’s first performance since October 14th, and it was clear that these guys were ready to rock. Highlights from this set included originals such as “Turtles All The Way Down” and “Keep It Between The Lines,” while the cover of Freddie King’s “Going Down” really got the crowd moving. While Sturgill has one of the most unique, powerful voices I’ve ever heard, his guitar playing is equally impressive. He’s one of the most talented performers I’ve ever watched, and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds.

The String Cheese Incident has been very kind to Atlanta in recent years. The past two summers have featured some amazing two-night runs at Chastain Park Amphitheatre, and expectations were high for Friday night’s headlining spot. The band got off to a hot start with “Sirens,” “Let’s Go Outside, and “Song In My Head.” The Motet’s Lyle Divinsky and Dave Watts, along with local Atlanta vocalist Rhonda Thomas, joined in on “Get To You,” before a cover of Jamiroquai’s “Space Cowboy” and “Believe” closed out the set.

Cheese returned to the stage with young star Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, who traded licks with Michael Kang and Bill Nershi throughout “Close Your Eyes.” Second set highlights also included “Beautiful,” “Joyful Sound,” “Rollover,” and “Restless Wind.” The crowd had a chance to sing “Happy Birthday” to drummer Michael Travis during the encore, and Taz + Rhonda Thomas would return for the closer, “I Saw The Light.”

Saturday may have been my favorite day of the weekend, and there are a number of reasons why. One of my favorite regional bands, Funk You, kicked things off with an amazing set on the main stage. The band welcomed The Brotherhorns for the entirety of the set, and the Augusta natives brought out an impressive crowd for the early set. Funk You delivered a number of killer originals before closing things out with The Village People's "Kung Fu Fighting" with a little help from three dancers dressed as Gumby. Why not?

Watch Funk You perform "Kung Fu Fighting" here:

Anders Osborne was up next on the main stage, and I could listen to this guy for days. Anders has one of the most soothing voices you will find, and his songwriting is tough to beat. As is the case at most festivals, you're forced to cut several sets earlier than you'd like, and I knew I couldn't miss a minute of Marco Benevento. As a longtime fan of the Benevento Russo Duo, it's been remarkable to watch Marco's career flourish. This was my first chance to see his solo band, and it was easily one of the weekend highlights. This set was jam packed with energy from start to finish, and I was floored by bassist Karina Rykman. They gave us an amazing cover of Butthole Surfers' "Pepper" and had the entire crowd going wild as they closed out with "At The Show."

Brandon "Taz" Niederauer was arguably the star of the weekend. While he made guest appearances with all three headliners, he and his band provided an incredible set on Saturday afternoon. The last time I'd seen Taz in Atlanta, he was tearing through a guitar solo as his mentor Col. Bruce Hampton tragically passed away on stage. Watching him perform "I'm So Glad" in Bruce's honor was a truly special moment. While his guitar playing is essentially indescribable, this "kid" can really sing too. 

While this weekend had many peak moments, Joe Russo's Almost Dead was my personal main event. Thankfully, the second wave of artist announcements included a second set for JRAD, which set us up for an unforgettable evening. A lengthy jam led into "Cats Down Under The Stars," while "Feel Like A Stranger" would follow. A beautiful take on "The Wheel" led into a rockin' "Estimated Prophet," which segued perfectly into "He's Gone" to close the set. The second set was as strong as anything I've seen from these guys. "Shakedown Street" set the tone right off the bat and moved straight into "I Need A Miracle." The set continued with "Ramble On Rose," and "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider," before "Not Fade Away" and "One More Saturday Night" closed out the set on the highest of notes. I could go on for days about this band. Here's to hoping that they become regular performers at this festival.

While I hated to miss The Infamous Stringdusters and Ghostland Observatory, we solidified our spot front and center for Tedeschi Trucks Band. This was the most intriguing storyline of the weekend for me, as I knew this JRAD > TTB sequence would be outrageous. To no one's surprise, TTB came out firing with a downright spiritual set which included classics such as "Made Up Mind," "Part of Me," and "Midnight in Harlem." Susan Tedeschi led a beautiful combo of "Angel From Montgomery" > "Sugaree," and young Taz made his way onto the stage for a monster cover of "Statesboro Blues." Watching he and Derek Trucks trade licks on the Allman Brothers' classic was a moment I'll never forget. Taz would also join the band for the encore which featured Sly & The Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song" > "I Want To Take You Higher."

Sunday's weather looked questionable all week, and the rainy forecast became a reality early on. This was a familiar situation for those who attended the festival last year, and a little dancing in the rain is good for the soul. Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds kicked things off with a super soulful performance. Greensky Bluegrass would follow with their wildly entertaining serving of jamgrass. This would give us yet another cameo from Taz, who took the lead on the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider." We then made our way to the Planet 420 Stage to catch the tail end of TAUK. This band is one of the most talented, dynamic bands on the scene, and we caught them just in time for an incredible cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer." 

Watch Greensky Bluegrass perform "Midnight Rider" with Taz here:

The bouncing between stages continued as we prepared for Vulfpeck on the main stage. Frequent collaborators Antwuan Stanley, Joey Dosik, and Corey Wong were each on hand for the funky occasion. The set was highlighted by classics such as "Animal Spirits," "1612," "Funky Duck," "Back Pocket," "Christmas in LA," and even a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman." Bassist Joe Dart would lead the way through "Dean Town" to close out a high-energy occasion with Vulfpeck. Meanwhile, Papadosio was closing out the Planet 420 stage in powerful fashion. We walked up just in time to catch a sequence which included "Cue," "Garden," and "We Are Water." The energy was palpable as the rain picked up, and the Papadosio dance party was a sight to see. 

The final performance of the weekend belonged to Umphrey's McGee, and they closed out a magical weekend in fine form. They kicked off the set with "Half Delayed" and "Remind Me," before "Booth Love" really got the party moving. "Preamble" would follow before what would become a massive "Mantis" sandwich. The sequence of "Mantis" > "Wife Soup", "Lenny" w/ Taz, "Draconian" > "Mantis" would definitely need to be on any list of weekend highlights. "Wappy Sprayberry" and "Ringo" would put an exclamation point on a wild, rainy set from Umphrey's. The encore began with a very fitting cover of Led Zeppelin's "Fool In The Rain," which was followed by "Ocean Billy" and "The Silent Type." While there were quite a few heavy hitters on this lineup, Umphrey's most certainly justified their spot in closing out the festivities.

As you would expect, there was wide variety of afterparties around Atlanta each night. While many made their way to Variety Playhouse for TAUKing McGee on Sunday night, our crew headed over to one of my favorite venues, Aisle 5. Local favorites Bird Dog Jubilee were set to perform 'A Picture of Hoist' which consisted of songs from the two Phish albums ('A Picture of Nectar' and 'Hoist'). From start to finish, these guys absolutely killed it and provided a perfect ending to our 420 Fest experience. It's always a pleasure catching a show at Aisle 5, and Sunday night was no different.

I've said more than enough at this point, but I'll conclude by saying that I truly believe this was my favorite festival experience to date. You couldn't ask for a better lineup, and Centennial Olympic Park is perfectly structured for a festival of this magnitude. There were a handful of sets that I really wish I could've seen, but it's impossible to catch them all. Festival organizers and the entire staff did an absolutely phenomenal job, and things couldn't have run any smoother. I'm not sure how they will top this year's experience, but I have no doubt that they will. 


Hampton 70: A Musical Celebration Like No Other May 04, 2017 15:45

Photos by Dave Vann  -  Words by Jordan Kirkland

When I heard that there would be a 70th birthday celebration for Col. Bruce Hampton at The Fox Theatre, I knew that I had to be there. After reading through the star-studded lineup, there was no doubt that this would be one of the most unique musical experiences of my life. With members of Widespread Panic, Phish, Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, Blues Traveler, and so many more scheduled to perform, the possibilities for this show were endless. This lineup was a true testament to the immeasurable influence that Col. Bruce Hampton made on the world of music, and the ultimate experience was one that no one could prepare for.

The show got started just after 7:30 PM, with the evening's emcee introducing a cast featuring many frequent Col. Bruce collaborators, such as Darren Stanley, Matt Slocum, Carter Herring, and Ike Stubblefield.  The Colonel was eventually brought to the stage, wearing a blue blazer, and led the group through "There Was A Time."  The show's first featured guest was Oliver Wood, who was backed by Slocum, Darick Campbell, Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic) and others. As soon as Wood began working through two originals from The Wood Brothers catalog ("Sing About It" and "Postcards From Hell"), it became apparent that anything was fair game. Before long, Susan Tedeschi was on stage trading lines with Wood.  San Diego Padres' pitcher Jake Peavy and 14-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer were then introduced and led the charge through "Oh Pretty Woman" and "Shake Your Hips."

Next up was a serving a blues and jamgrass royalty, as Rev. Jeff Mosier took the stage alongside John Popper of Blues Traveler and Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon. This combo, backed by Trucks, Kevin Scott, Emil Wrestler, Matt Slocum would eventually be joined by legendary drummer Jeff Sipe, aka Apt. Q-258 for a rousing take on "She Caught The Katy." It wasn't long before Kevin Kinney, Hardy Morris, Todd Snider, Peter Buck, Dave Schools were brought out to continue the magic. At this point, it was nearly impossible to keep up with who we had seen versus who was yet to come, but we would be quickly reminded as Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule), Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers Band / Rolling Stones), Jon Fishman (Phish), and saxophonist Karl Denson took the stage. The energy reached a new level during "Rip This Joint," and the combo of Fishman and Sipe during "Compared To What" and "Good Morning 'Lil School Girl" was as heavy as it gets. 

Duane Trucks stepped in for Sipe and joined Fishman behind the kit for "More Trouble Everyday," which would lead up to one of the evening's many highlights. The cast of Derek Trucks, Haynes, Leavell, Schools, Buck, Fishman, and (Duane) Trucks played the Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica" to absolute perfection. John Bell of Widespread Panic made his first appearance for "Time Is Free," and would stick around for "Don't Cry Not More," which would also feature Tedeschi on vocals.  

Watch the performance of "Jessica" here:

 

As the show proceeded into its third hour, the Colonel returned to the stage for the evening's final performances. After leading the way through "Yield Not To Temptation," Hampton took the microphone for one of his long-time staples, "Fixin' To Die."  Watching the Colonel turning, pointing, and singing those words to so many of his oldest friends and collaborators will forever be a surreal memory.  He would remain on stage for the final three songs of the nearly four hour set: "Don't Go In The Room," "Space Is The Place," and a cover of Cream's "I'm So Glad" that had an especially spiritual feel to it.

After the stage briefly cleared, nearly forty performers returned to the stage for one last nod to the godfather of jam. The encore began with in classic fashion, as ARU drummer Jeff Sipe led the massive group through "Zambi Military Ensemble," creating the feel of am early 90's Aquarium Rescue Unit Show. This epic celebration would end with none other than "Turn On Your Lovelight," with Tedeschi, Wood, and Hampton rotating verses.

As Colonel walked over to young Taz (Brandon Niederauer) and signaled him to solo, we would all witness the unthinkable. Col. Bruce appeared to take a knee, as if giving praise to the young prodigy, and proceeded to slowly, peacefully lay down behind him (with an arm propped onto a monitor). This was a man known for his wild theatrics, giving no reason for initial concern as he lied motionless on the stage. Video footage shows those surrounding him smiling and laughing at each other, waiting for his dramatic rise for the song's conclusion. But as several minutes passed with no movement, a feeling of concern was felt throughout the theatre, and it became evident that this was no joke. Several people rushed from the side stage to check on Hampton, the music abruptly stopped, and Billy Bob Thornton quickly addressed the crowd as the curtains were frantically closed.  

Those closer to the stage could see the immediate medical attention being applied to Col. Bruce, as the majority of us exited the building in total shock and confusion. Multiple ambulances were on the scene within minutes, and many witnessed Hampton being taken away in a frenzy to the hospital. Within the next two hours, the news began to spread that world had lost Col. Bruce Hampton. I can honestly say that this was a wave of emotions that I'd never dreamed of experiencing. The entire evening was surreal; witnessing so many musical heroes on stage together.

Watching the Colonel get carried off stage is an image that I'll never forget. But as the tributes and memoirs have piled in this week, this ending does seem beautifully poetic in many ways. Col. Bruce left this earthly life during the closing moments of his own musical celebration. His final act was showcasing and praising one of music's brightest young stars, while surrounded by 30+ world class musicians who considered him one of their greatest influences. Hampton 70 was truly a celebration like no other; honoring one of the most unique souls to ever walk this planet. While his presence will be missed by so many, we should all take comfort in knowing that his influence will be felt across the musical spectrum far beyond our time.

Setlist: Hampton 70 - A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton - 05.01.17

Set: There Was A Time, Postcards From Hell, Sing About It, Feelin’ Good, Oh Pretty Woman, Shake Your Hips, She Caught The Katy, Working On A Building, Put Down That Cane, Play A Train Song, Stupid Preoccupations, When You Come Back, Rip This Joint, Compared To What, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > Trouble Every Day, Jessica, Time Is Free, Trondossa, Smokestack Lightning > Cry Cry Cry, Basically Frightened, Fixin’ To Die, Space Is The Place, I’m So Glad

Encore: Zambi > Turn On Your Lovelight