ALBANY — Call it “virtual Knobby Knees,” the pandemic-inspired on-air/online version of the music festival that is one of the primary fundraisers for the Flint Riverkeeper conservation group.
Whatever you might call the Sunday-night festival broadcast on local radio station WPFQ and on various associated social media sites, by all means call the Knobby Knees broadcast a success.
Six regional musical acts — Jodi Mann and Co., Pinebox Dwellers, Page Brothers Band, Unbreakable Bloodline, Evan Barber and BoDean & the Poachers — offered landmark acoustic performances crafted specifically for the virtual broadcast, which was accessed by thousands via the on-air broadcast on The Queen Bee radio station located inside Pretoria Fields Brewery in downtown Albany or on social media sites of the radio station, the Riverkeeper and the performing acts.
“What an amazing team effort,” Riverkeeper Executive Director Gordon Rogers, who traveled to Albany to watch the performances live, said after the Poachers closed out the six hours of music. “We were looking at a $70,000 event before the virus hit, so obviously we’re not going to get the same financial return. But through sponsorships and donations, we’re looking at a $30,000 event in a format no one involved had ever done before.
“I think it’s a tribute to our staff, to (WPFQ Station Manager) Tara (Dyer Stoyle) and to these acts who wanted to be associated with our organization that made this such a success. They all volunteered to play for next to nothing, and it’s because they’re the kind of folks who support what our agency does. This format allows us to get some important income that will help us to keep our staff busy doing what is very important work, and it also keeps the (Knobby Knees) brand going. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Jodi Mann — whose “Company” included Blake Cook and Bo Henry on acoustic guitars — set the tone for Knobby Knees with a rousing set that included original material and impressive covers of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” and Charlie Daniels’ “Long-Haired Country Boy,” which she altered to fit the gender change.
The Pinebox Dwellers, which for this show included only lead singer/guitarist Sean Clark and percussionist Connor Griffin — who played a cajon — gave a surprisingly rocking performance, the highlight of which was the almost out-of-control burner “Axle Grease and Gasoline.” The Page Brothers, one of the region’s hottest acts prior to the virus slowdown, played most of the songs off their forthcoming EP “Blood on the Bible Belt.” With only Travis Page’s guitar for accompaniment, Dakota Page wailed like a cross between Waylon Jennings and Otis Redding.
Unbreakable Bloodline proved to be the festival’s surprise act. Minus primary singer O’She Tyght, UBL managed to tone down the frenetic energy of their typical live show to offer nuanced performances of their mostly hip-hop/rock fusion catalog. MCs Vernon “Chief H” Cruz and Jay “O-Z” Osbourne traded rapid-fire lines, while usual bassist Ryan Myers — who played acoustic rhythm Sunday — offered excellent lyrical accompaniment.
Guitarist Jon Smith proved he could unplug with the best of them, providing Flamenco-like flourishes with his electric acoustic, while Paul Ward gave ample percussion backbeat.
Singer/songwriter Evan Barber had the unenviable task of following UBL, but he was up for the challenge. Barber, accompanied by stand-up bassist Phillip Rogers, sang several of the songs off his new album that he said is in the “mixing stage.” Standouts among them were “North Florida” and “Sundays.” The Poachers — Brandon and Todd Fox, Shane Brown, and Chris Overman (who were without scrub board man Michael Miller Sunday) — have a weekly show on the radio station. They closed out the fest with a rousing run-through of their best-loved songs, including “Frog Legs,” “Sing All Night, Sleep All Day” and “Slow Down and Live.”
“I absolutely loved this,” Pinebox Dweller Clark said. “I’ve never heard of anyone doing a virtual festival, but this turned out great. I got to see some really great musicians, and while I was concerned about how it would go playing without any audience feedback, it was actually the same kind of feel knowing there was a radio audience out there listening. I was pumped up; I could have gone on another hour or two.”