Review: Mustang Rock & Roast – Two days of too great music

By on October 18, 2018

Pink Talking Fish performing at the Premier Mustang Rock & Roast. (LtoR) Richard Jame, keyboards; Dave Brunyak, lead guitar; Eric Gould, bass; Zack Burwick, drums. Photo, Kip Tabb

Pink Talking Fish performing at the Premier Mustang Rock & Roast. (LtoR) Richard Jame, keyboards; Dave Brunyak, lead guitar; Eric Gould, bass; Zack Burwick, drums. All photos, Kip Tabb

To best describe the Mustang Rock and Roast — Two days of nonstop music, one day of steamed oysters and one day of barbecue — does not come even close to describing what made the two day musical festival in Corolla so special.

Maybe it was all the families that came. Perhaps it was the music that was excellent. Not good, excellent!

Certainly the weather contributed. Sunny with daytime temperatures hovering around 70, it was a perfect Outer Banks weekend.

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Most likely it was a bit if everything. The oysters on Saturday and the Sunday BBQ Cookoff were great, but that just added to the event.

Ultimately it had to be about the music, because the music was why everyone was there. And this was arguably the best music festival we have seen on the Outer Banks.

The kids from the Mustang Music Outreach Program always take the stage first at the Mustang festivals, and kudos to the kids who get up in front of family, friends and some complete strangers and do a really good job of performing.

When the named bands started to perform,though, that’s when it was apparent that this was going to be a special day.

Songs from the Road Band kicked things off and their bluegrass sound with some jazz overtones was the ideal way to start things rolling.

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Followed by the mostly acoustic country rock sound of Dangermuffin, the music transitioned into the rock and electric sounds that followed.

The headliner for Saturday was Big Something. And Big Something is really something.

Taking the stage with an incredibly tight, full rich sound, good showmanship and a light show, they are a compelling band that demands attention.

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The musicianship is exceptional, but what seems to set them apart is the diversity of music and their arrangements.

One of their signature songs is Passenger, which at first first listen seems like a country song, and it has the elements of a country song—a basic drum beat, an easy to follow melody helped along by Nick MacDaniels vocals, straightforward chords, a slightly twangy lead guitar.

Then the band builds on that, the drum varying just a bit but never losing the feeling of “steam locomotive rolling through the fog.”

Big Something in performance. Casey Cranford on sax, Josh Kagel, keyboard, Nick Daniels, vocals and lead guitar, Doug Marshall, bass. Hidden behind the bright light is drummer Ben Vonograd.

The arrangement begins to take on a different sound, almost jazz-like, with Casey Cranford on EWI, or Electric Wind Instrument, which is a straight reed instrument with a keyboard creating a very different sound.

Jesse Hesnley’s guitar lead began in the world of country music, but as the song goes on, he was way up on the neck of his guitar, wailing away in the best tradition of rock and roll guitarists.

It’s all tied together by some great keyboard work from Josh Kagel, spot on bass from Doug Marshall and Ben Vonograd’s drums.

Big Something, though, is not some sort of a country band on steroids. They included a number of pieces that had their roots in reggae.

A song like In the Middle begins with an almost dreamlike ballad sound, moving quickly to a reggae beat, and what they do with what can be a somewhat repetitive, style type of music is wonderful.

They keep building on that reggae sound, each layer they add making the song a bit more compelling and interesting. The sax work of Cranford was particularly good in this piece.

It was the perfect way to end the first day of music.

What was perhaps most remarkable about the Rock & Roast was the second day was every bit as good as the first, with Paleface leading off.

A duo with Mo Samalot on a full set of drums and the vocals and guitar of Paleface, the high energy of Samalot’s rhythms coupled with some great original songs set the tone for the day.

Early arrivals on Sunday sample the outstanding BBQ. (Sam Walker)

The day was probably helped along, at least a little bit by the BBQ Showdown.

There was some very good barbecue being served, and it was a tough choice to decide what was best. Somehow the judges, including Sam Walker of The Outer Banks Voice, managed to decide on Fat Crabs Ribs in Corolla.

The collective votes of the people did not agree with that verdict, awarding the People’s Champion Award to Butcher Block, also located in Corolla, so it was a clean sweep of the far northern beach crowd.

As good as the food was, though, the music truly was the focus, and Pink Talking Fish wrapping things up as the headliner was as good as it gets.

The band takes it’s name from the music they cover — Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish — and they bill themselves as a cover band.

What they really are, though, is one of the best jam bands you will ever hear basing their jams off the music of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish.

What sets them apart is how well they cover the music. They are spot on with their sound.

In a song like Phish’s Take The Highway Through The Great Divide with its difficult harmonies and driving drumbeat, how good they are is on full display.

Beyond the band’s ability to match the music and sound of the songs from the original groups, is an extraordinary capacity to jam in the style of the band they are covering.

Talking Heads Psycho Killer was a performance that really got people dancing. The beginning was exactly what a good cover band does: Match note for note the original.

And then PTF took it to new places; but the screaming guitar work of Dave Brunyak or Richard James on keyboard was so true to the style of Talking Heads that it became a seamless transition to a PTF jam session.

Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos performing Saturday. Featuring a wide variety of rock and blues they seemed to standout among one of the best rock festivals we have seen on the Outer Banks.

Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos performing Saturday. Featuring a wide variety of rock and blues they seemed to standout among one of the best rock festivals we have seen on the Outer Banks.

There was so much great music on both days that picking out any one band beyond the headliners to call out is near impossible. There were, however, two groups that stood out for me—and I’m sure others will disagree.

I thought Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos on Saturday were outstanding. Great musicianship featuring a wide range of blues and rock sounds. But that’s a style of music that appeals to me so my judgment may be a bit clouded.

Sunday The Get Right Band on the Grill Room porch hit a home run. A classic rock trio—guitar, drum, bass, the band featured some excellent vocals and appeared to be equally as comfortable in a number of different of styles of music.

This was the premier Mustang Rock and Roast. If the weekend festival was an indication of what is to come, let’s hope for many, many more.

Mustang music festivals benefit the Mustang Outreach Program—helping kids make music—and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

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