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CukoRakko: The Southeast's Best Kept Secret October 12, 2018 12:00

Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen

Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography 
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If you've paid the slightest bit of attention to this website in the last three years, you're well aware of my affection for CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival and Horse Pens 40. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the Cuko team in early 2015, and it didn't take long to realize the impact that this festival would have on my life. What once started as a tiny, grassroots festival featuring predominantly Alabama-based bands has evolved into a bi-annual showcase of incredibly diverse talent from across the southeast and beyond.
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Each year, I leave that beautiful property thinking, "How can this weekend possibly be topped?" and the bar continues to be raised. I'll be the first to say that the team at Big Friendly Productions absolutely crushed it yet again, and their work never ceases to amaze me. And I would be remissed if I didn't mention that this festival would not be possible without the support of the title sponsor, Land Rover Birmingham, as well as Birmingham's Avondale Brewing CompanyTrimTab Brewing, and Cahaba Brewing Company.
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We should probably start off by talking a little history on Horse Pens 40HP40 is a privately owned outdoor nature park located in St. Clair County near Steele, Alabama. The park is situated atop Alabama's third-highest mountain, Chandler Mountain, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The park is known among the rock climbing community as a premier bouldering site in the American Southeast
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The natural rock shelters located in Horse Pens 40 have seen over 15,000 years of human habitation. The park contains ancient Indian burial grounds dating from the earliest inhabitants of this area, all the way up to the time of the Cherokee removal known as the "Trail of Tears".  During The American Civil War, the site was used as a hiding place for horses and their owners wishing to avoid invaders from the north and the Confederate recruiters and "bushwhackers". Once it was discovered by Confederate forces, Horse Pens 40 was then used for the storage of supplies to be used by Confederate troops as they passed nearby.
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It was home to one of the first outdoor bluegrass music festivals in the country, and by the 1970s had grown to be one of the largest in the world. The park served as a venue showcasing many legends of the bluegrass genre including Bill Monroe, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs, Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, and Norman Blake. Emmylou Harris made her first public appearance at Horse Pens 40, "standing barefoot on a wooden door propped up on the rocks." During this period, the park was designated by the Alabama State Legislature as "The Home of the South's Bluegrass Music".
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Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty. Those who were lucky enough to make the Thursday night pre-party witnessed something truly special. Winston Ramble and The Pearl each laid down powerful thirty-minute sets, before joining forces for a full hour of blazing hot Grateful Dead covers. The level of collaboration was borderline overwhelming, with special guests such as Davis Little (Little Raine Band), Desmond Sykes (Tragic City), and Connor Broome (The Broomestix) joining the party early and often. A tremendous amount of Alabama talent was on hand for the opening set, only to be followed by Doctor Ocular of Johnson City, Tennessee. I was shocked to learn this band formed in late 2016, as their combination of acid jazz, jamtronica, and roots rock had a very cohesive feel all night. 
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Watch Ramble On Pearl perform "Shakedown Street" here:
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Video by Home Team Photography
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The Jauntee and Skydyed made the trek all the way from Colorado, and it's safe to say that they both left their mark on Alabama. Many of us had gotten our first taste of The Jauntee the previous weekend at Saturn Birmingham with Twiddle, and thankfully, we got 90-minutes this go round. A product of Berklee College of Music, it's clear that these guys will continue to climb the ladder of the festival scene.
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One of the most dynamic sets of the weekend came from The Fritz. This was just an all out dance party from start to finish. Frontman Jamar Woods straight up owns the stage and works a crowd about as well as anyone I've seen. It's rare to see the front man standing up behind the keys and synth, but these guys are far from you're average band. A combination of fresh originals, as well as covers of Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime," Michael Jackson's "Black or White" and "Don't Stop 'Til Ya Get Enough," and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" will certainly remembered for years to come.
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Watch video footage of The Fritz performing "Life During Wartime" here:
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Video by Isom Morgan Photoraphy
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Friday night was capped off with a surprise late night set from The Illuminators, a brand new band out of Birmingham. You wouldn't believe it if you were there, but this was the band's first official public performance. These spontaneous late night collaborations will be amongst my best memories of the weekend. Members of The Fritz, The Jauntee, and the Tragic City horns even joined in on what seemed like a three-hour dance party.
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Saturday began with Huntsville's Lamont Landers Band, a recent finalist on 'Showtime's Live at The Apollo'. I had heard a fair amount of hype about these guys, and festival attendees were buzzing about their performance all weekend. Early James & The Latest was one of the more intriguing acts on this lineup for me. I can't get enough of their sound, which has been described as "a mishmash of blues, country, folk, and jazz with crooner-esque styling." Whoever came up with that hit the nail on the head. You've got to hear the pipes on (Early) James Mullis. You won't forget him.
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After catching Steady Flow at the CukoRakko Fam Jam back in May, there was quite a bit of anticipation for this set. This band hits you with an onslaught of upbeat funk from start to finish, with some of the funkiest riffs you'll find. It would be impossible to make it through 90-minutes of Steady Flow without a little movin' and shakin'. Guitarist Tanner Brown's use of the talk box adds an especially fun element to the table, as seen during the band's creative spin on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Thankfully, this wouldn't be the last time we saw Brown on stage shredding. 
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Watch footage from Get Rhythm's drum circle here:
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Video by Home Team Photography
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I try my best to stay in tune with as many bands as possible, but there are always going to be a few that slip through the cracks. The New Orleans Suspects were a perfect example for me...until Saturday night. They're easily one of the most seasoned, accomplished groups to play this festival, and I haven't stopped listening to their music since leaving. Specific highlights came in the form of songs such as "Let's Get It Started," "Cocaine Jane," and a cover of The Wild Magnolia's "Peace Pipe." Do yourselves a favor and give those tracks a whirl.
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Following the Suspects, Skydyed took the festival in an entirely new direction, and I couldn't have been more impressed. While one could classify this band as 'jamtronica', a simple term couldn't possibly do them justice. Their placement as the final band on Saturday night couldn't have been more fitting. As I stood in front of the stage and looked around the amphitheater, hundreds of people were getting down in ways I can't even describe. It was a perfect picture in many ways. 
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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend came from The Talismen, the youngest band to ever hit the stage at CukoRakko. The Montgomery-natives are scattered across three different colleges, but you would never know it. The original plan was for two thirty-minute pop-up sets under the pavilion, between sets on the main stage. It didn't take long to decide that these guys deserved an additional late-night set. Word quickly spread across the festival grounds, and the band took full advantage of the opportunity.
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The level of improvisation displayed on The Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup," Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle," and Phish's "Chalkdust Torture" was ridiculous. Tanner Brown, Wildman Steve, the Tragic City horns, and others joined in for Kool & The Gang's "Get Down Tonight," which was sandwiched perfectly with Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing." Equally as impressive were a few Talismen originals: "Strange Man" and "The Lawnchair Song." Get ready, because you'll be hearing a lot more about this band in the future. 
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Watch The Talismen performing "Chalkdust Torture" > "Whole Lotta Love" > "Chalkdust Torture" here:
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Sunday started off with one of Birmingham's hottest acts, The Brook & The Bluff. This was a new band for me, but after hearing of their recent signing with The Paradigm Agency, I knew that we were in for a treat. This band's unique sound and beautiful harmony vocals made for a perfect early Sunday set. Another Birmingham act, Eat a Peach, would take the stage next and lay down a scorching 90-minutes of Allman Brothers Band classics. All five members of this band also perform with the Black Jacket Symphony, and I can't imagine there is a better ABB tribute out there. You can see for yourself with the video footage of "Melissa" below. 
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Watch footage of Eat a Peach performing "Melissa" here:
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The living legend Charlie Hunter would then close out the weekend with his amazing trio. I had been waiting to see Charlie perform live for many years, and he was even better than expected. Watching this guy essentially play bass and lead guitar simultaneously is nothing short of mind blowing. For this performance, Hunter was joined by Grammy Award winning drummer Derrick Phillips (Hank Williams Jr.) and Ms. Dara Tucker, whose vocals had all of Horse Pens 40 melting. This was yet another Sunday that we'll all be talking about for years to come. 
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At the end of the day, I just can't say enough about this festival and the team behind it. I consider it one of my greatest honors to be involved with CukoRakko. Having the ability to live out these magical experiences at Horse Pens 40 is something that I will never take for granted. I can say "thank you" enough to the Schultz family for their willingness to share this magical property with us. The CukoRakko family is beyond special, so I won't even try to cheapen it with words. You know who you are. And for everyone else, if you ever have the opportunity to witness live music at this incomparable venue, I advise you run, not walk, towards that opportunity. Until next time...
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The Road To CukoRakko: Beck Hall & Taylor Goodwin of The Pearl September 11, 2018 23:04

Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography

Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen

If you're a music lover in Alabama, you've more than likely heard about an amazing grassroots festival known as CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival. Founded in 2014, the festival has been held twice a year at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL. As we prepare for another unforgettable CukoRakko weekend on October 5th - 7th, we're sitting down and getting to know a few of the performers on the 2018 Fall Festival lineup. For our first installment, we caught up with Beck Hall (bass) and Taylor Goodwin (lead guitar) of The Pearl. See below for the full interview, and make sure to catch The Pearl supporting BIG Something at Zydeco on Friday, September 14th. Stay tuned for further exclusive CukoRakko preview coverage!

Click Here: Purchase Tickets to CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival 

While this band is newer project, you guys have been active members of the Birmingham music scene for years. How did The Pearl ultimately come together?
 
Taylor: We met each over the last couple years through our friends in the music scene at jam sessions and pick-up gigs. Beck has also been putting on these warehouse parties for the last few years, inviting local players to come collaborate with one another. At last years Annual Christmas Jam, we really started noticing a connection.
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Beck: Taylor was starting his final semester in Nashville, while I had started booking gigs as The Pearl as well as Honey & Pop, just using them as excuses to play with different people (often with Devonte on drums.) I think that big "AHA" moment occurred the first time we played together as a trio in March. After that, every gig we booked as The Pearl was the trio were are now.
 
You can tell that there is a strong chemistry amongst the band already. What type of playing history is there amongst the three of you?
 
Taylor: We’ve all known and listened to each other for a while now, which makes it a lot easier to understand and meet somebody where they are, musically speaking It helps that we're all really tight friends, so honest communication comes easily. 
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Beck: It also helps that we're all practice junkies.. so a lot of work normally done in rehearsal is ready at the start of practice. So, although we haven’t played together exclusively for an incredibly long time, the chemistry came pretty quickly.
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You guys have a notably upbeat, powerful presence. How is the song structure working for you thus far? What is your approach to improvisation?
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Beck: Glad our presence comes across this way! Seems like the key is never taking the music too seriously to laugh at a flub or take risks, while at the same time doing all we can to prepare. 
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Taylor: Regarding song structure, it’s sort of case by case… our originals have lengthy through-composed forms and are probably the hardest songs we play, whereas some of the music we play is a simple vamp/groove that we sort of use as a departure point to improvise from. 
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Beck: In terms of our approach to jamming, we really don’t talk about it very much at all or plan our jams. We try to just let things happen naturally, which has been feeling great so far. 
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Have you made any plans to hit the studio?
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Taylor: Sooner than later, hopefully. We’re currently focused on broadening our original repertoire and putting together the best live performances we can. We’re also doing our best to capture these live performances, which we might could use to put together our first release. 
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Beck: We've been writing a good amount of material though. I think we wrote four full compositions in two weeks during July. So, yeah, the live shows have been a big focus, because everything's been happening pretty quickly. It's good to know that we can crank out (what we consider to be) quality music at such a consistent pace. 
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Tell me about the general grind associated with starting a new band at this point in your lives. What all goes on behind the scenes?
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Beck: Well, frankly there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when compared to starting a band from scratch, say, ten years ago. For one thing, just getting all the social media started takes quite a while, as you have to have original content (both audio and video or both covers and originals), create an in depth Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, and Twitter page. There are lots of things you have got to have these days that, in past, weren’t quite as important. Also, practicing twice or more a week is a pretty heavy investment, considering we all have side gigs on top of this one. It’s a labor of love to get a serious new project started, but definitely worth it.
 
There seems to be a nice buzz surrounding The Pearl already. You've played quite a few rooms around the city in a short time. How do you see the schedule progressing in the future?
 
Beck: The local scene has really showed us some serious support for being so new to the scene, and we can’t thank them enough. Hopefully we’ll continue to grow at the rate we have been. We have all been playing around for quite a while and we chatted at the beginning about how easy it is to get stuck in that bar circuit, which happens to so many groups.. so we opted to really work hard to have a product ready and worthy of the the bigger stages as to start there instead of in bars. It’s been working out great playing the club/theater size venues from the get go. Bands tend to gain momentum much quicker from those shows. In terms of the future, we have some incredible shows coming up, but really plan to hit the ground running, in terms of touring more, at the beginning of next year.
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I know you have quite a few things cooking for the later part of 2018. What can fans expect and what are you guys most excited about moving forward?
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Beck: I’d say the thing we’re most excited about at the moment is being welcomed so warmly into the amazing crew surrounding the CukoRakko Music and Arts Festival during the first weekend in October. It’s one of our favorite festivals, put on by some of our favorite people. We’re going to be opening the festival this year with a very special set and playing some shows to get people warmed up for the event. It’ll be amazing playing alongside such acts as The Charlie Hunter Trio, The New Orleans Suspects, and many many other amazing national and regional acts.
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We’re also excited to be playing this Friday night (9/14/18) with Big Something at Zydeco. We also have some really awesome Halloween and Holiday plans that we can’t quite talk about yet, but please stay tuned, as more dates will be released in the coming weeks!
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Listen to The Pearl's "Pudding and Pie" here:
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Little Raine Band, The Pearl, & Killakeys To Join Forces In Birmingham July 18, 2018 21:22

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Photos by Thomas Diasio
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It's no secret that the local music scene in Birmingham is booming with creative talent, and Saturday night will feature a prime display. Veteran jam group Little Raine Band is teaming up with two newly formed supergroups, The Pearl and Killakeys, for what is sure to be an evening full of powerful and funky collaborations at Saturn Birmingham. In preparation for the weekend's festivities, we're giving away a pair of tickets via Facebook. To enter the contest, simply head over to our Facebook page, share this post, and tag a friend in the comments section. We will select and announce the winner at 12:00 PM on Saturday. See below for further details on the show!
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Little Raine Band: LRB has been fixture in the Southeastern music scene for many years, but one thing has been proven time and time again. These guys continue to evolve.. With their second studio album on the horizon, it goes without saying that this quartet is on their game. With a very clean exploratory sound, unique and catchy originals, and a cleverly chosen list of covers, the Little Raine Band doesn’t disappoint.
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The Pearl: The newest group to rise to the ranks of Birmingham's thriving homegrown music scene, The Pearl is a high energy power trio that goes heavy on the improvisation and original compositions, both of which are deeply rooted in funk, drum and bass, gospel, progessive rock, and jazz. The trio features Beck Hall (Birmingham Allstars, The Dagobah System) on bass/synth/vocals, Taylor Goodwin (Matt Bennett Band, Raquel Lily, JOVA) as the lead and rhythm guitar wizard, and Mr. Devonte Hutchins (LRB, Soul Mechanic, Taylor Hunnicutt) on drums and samples. 
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Killakeys: Marcus White, the mind-blowing keys and synth player from Soul Mechanic who most recently filled in with The Marcus King Band, has pulled together a band of familiar faces to start a fresh new Funk/Fusion keyboard trio, with a recognizable pocket. Featuring Parrish Gabriel on Bass, and DeVonte Hutchins on Kit (both also members of Soul Mechanic) this trio brings the funk, high energy improv, and a pocket that is undeniably danceable.  
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