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Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:01 am

Decoration Day revisited

Motel Mirrors play Donnie’s Homespun, Friday, May 23.


Why, hello Memorial Day weekend! How in the world did you get here so fast? Bookended by Labor Day weekend in the fall, this three-day run, for some American workers (others are working harder than usual), is considered by most folks as the start of the summer season.

My grandma always called this holiday Decoration Day. Indeed, for nearly a century May 30 was recognized as a day to acknowledge fallen military soldiers after the Civil War, with some historical disputes over the origins of the first commemoration. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (implemented in 1971) placing four national holidays on Mondays and establishing the name of Memorial Day for the last Monday in May. So now you know, just in case you’re casually shooting the breeze and someone asks about the actual reason for the whoop-de-do associated with this celebratory summer kickoff.

The big show in Springfield for many happens out at Boondocks when the legendary Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plays on Saturday night. Posting an incredible history that spans from 1966 (when Jackson Browne was in the band) to a current record and tour with founding and longtime members, NGDB has earned the legendary tag. The group is possibly most famous for the Grammy-nominated and genre-changing album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, where they brought older Nashville country and traditional folk performers to play along with the then current torchbearers of roots music. The recording still plays as a true and lasting statement of Americana music at a peak of passion and incredible intensity as nothing before had accomplished. In 1971 as the old and new generations collided in nearly every other faction of American society, the music created harmony and understanding, plus the songs and performances captured historical and musical moments of great beauty and honesty.

The group continued on for decades to make history in other ways. They were the first American band allowed to tour the Soviet Union, played the background music for Steve Martin’s smash hit “King Tut,” scored a run of 17 Country No. 1 Hits, won several Grammys, did “Saturday Night Live,” made another Will the Circle Be Unbroken record, toured incessantly and basically just did it all. So rather than go on for much longer (an easy task with this group), please understand, these guys are really the real deal and are playing right here on a Saturday night. Woo-hoo and how about that!

On Friday, the Bedrock 66 Live! concert series returns with the first rocking band concert of the season as Motel Mirrors featuring John Paul Keith and Amy LaVere play Donnie’s Homespun. Both performers have dedicated careers of their own and both are based in Memphis, one of America’s great music cities. They most definitely tap into the Memphis history of blues, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, soul and all the great music those genres make when mixed.

The Swamp Tigers roar up from Carbondale to open the show with hearts-on-the-sleeve, classic rockabilly using a trio of drums, standup bass and electric guitar to get the across the eternal message of rockin’, dancin’, drinkin’ and being cool.

For something different on a Sunday night (Monday is a holiday; see above) go see the Philly and Friends Comedy Show at Bar None. Sponsored by the going strong Tuesday Hip-Hop Night group, Ray “Philly” Phillips brings on the laughs with pals, Jayson Liljaytoofunny Davis and Duone J. Allen joining in the fun, plus Jus Ortiz makes his public comedy debut. Be sure to check the extra Sunday night entertainment as venues take advantage of the long weekend, especially the Shooter Jennings show at Guitars and Cadillacs.

But most of all, take a moment to think about what really makes Memorial Day so memorable, if you will, and then go decorate.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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