SB: How did the Freaks Ball come together?
Aaron Stein: By word of mouth, the list went from about 10 of us from that first night to 100 or so by the end of 2000. I thought it would be fun to put together a party to celebrate the anniversary. Of course, live music had to be part of the equation and piecing together one connection and the other with the help of Adam Rosenberg we put together our own gig at Tribeca Blues.
Around the time I was throwing this together, there was a little bit of buzz about this fellow playing pedal steel guitar — Robert Randolph. I had actually seen him play with Medeski, Martin and Wood that past Halloween and was kind of blown away and reviewed it for JamBase except I called him Robert Rudolph. His “manager” actually emailed me to correct it. Later I was able to catch him with his band at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village. I’ve had many magical moments seeing live music, but that first night at Lakeside, with 10 or so people in the room, was one of the tops. Words can’t describe. I went one more time (which was much more crowded) and then the next night after that he was opening for Derek Trucks at the Bowery Ballroom.
[Photo of Robert Randolph at FBIII by smacko11]
He was electric that night and I got the idea that this was going to be a perfect fit for this gig I was putting together. I ran into him downstairs and chatted him up and asked if he’d be interested in playing our show. He said it was fine, talk to his manager. I realized I had his email on my computer and booked him for the show for a couple hundred bucks. The rest is Freaks Ball and Freaks list (and Robert Randolph) history. The first Freaks Ball was a unqualified success which meant there’d be a second and a third and so on… by the time Robert was too big to play, the training wheels were off and we were on to the next thing. Really worked out well for all of us.
SB: How do you decide which bands to put on the bill, more specifically for> this year’s FB?
AS: There are a few goals to keep in mind when we book the Ball. First and foremost, we want to make the best damn party of the year, which almost goes without saying. But more than that, I have a personal interest in booking bands that I think are worth checking out that are a little on the up-and-coming side. Although the Robert Randolph of 2003 that sold out the Bowery Ballroom quite easily was amazing and one of the few times I didn’t worry about losing money, the Robert Randolph of 2001 who hadn’t even quit his day job yet is much dearer to my heart. Lastly, I want to showcase what I call “friends of the Freaks” — a special group of musicians who are world class talents but seem to care as much about the FB and the Freaks as much as we do them.
This year we’ve done an amazing job fulfilling all three of those goals. JR Hevron (who has been the Freaks list admin and been my FB partner in crime for the past 6 years) has been dying to get Anders Osborne for the Ball for a while, but it never seemed to fit for one reason or another (usually because of $$$). Last fall Anders played one of those legendary level shows at Sullivan Hall which got everyone buzzing. I had been thinking of keeping the show on the small side this year because the last couple have been organizational and financial headaches. I actually had this running list of smaller up-and-coming acts that I wanted to feature at the Ball this year. I got an IM from fellow Freak Joshua Roth asking what the chances of getting Anders for the 10th FB would be. I immediately replied “zero” but it got my mind turning and I finally said “why not?” By the end of the day, with the help of Howie Schnee at Sullivan Hall, we’d all but secured Anders and I couldn’t be more psyched at how it played out.
The Black Hollies were one of the bands at the top of my list ever since I saw them last year. They really blew me away and thankfully were really psyched to play this year so we didn’t have to go any further down the list. These guys are a prime example of the kind of band that the Freaks need to see but haven’t yet.
Last but certainly not least is Scott Metzger who has played the last eight Freaks Balls! I basically said to Scott: this is number 10, you have to be there, I don’t care what you play or who you play it with. He took it to heart because we still don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s got funky-as-fuck Ron Johnson on board as well as drummer Eric Kalb and I have little doubt it will be another FB set for the ages. Does it get any better than Scott Metzger? No, it does not.
[Photo of Metzger and Russo @ FBIV by Andrew Cahn]
SB: What were some of your favorite Freaks Balls’ musically?
AS: That’s a real hard one to answer.
I loved the 2nd Freaks Ball when Robert Randolph played a late night set at Northsix — he played, in my opinion, the best, most wide-open set he’d ever played up til that point and probably hasn’t it topped it yet. The venue cut him off at one point, but he probably would have played until he keeled over.
Another favorite was #7 with the Dansettes warming things up followed by a monster Chris Harford>Apollo Sunshine>Chris Harford sandwich. Deaner from Ween sat in with Harford marvelously and Apollo Sunshine (one of my all-time favorite bands) played louder and more intensely than anyone has at a FB.
But they’ve all been great for one reason or another.
[Bonnaroo Flag Flies at Bonnaroo 2002 Arena Stage]
SB: Can you tell us a little bit about each band on this year’s bill?
AS: In the end, this was #10, FBX, and going all the way was definitely the way to go…
Although this will be his first time playing there, Anders Osborne really epitomizes what the Freaks Ball is all about. Where he plays, the party is sure to follow and yet he’s talented enough to dig down and tickle your cerebral side for as long as you’ll let him. His band is bona fide all-star mixing NOLA funk, Delta blues and raging rock and roll. Really, what more could you ask for? Either you’ve seen Anders play before and you’ve already got your ticket for the Ball or you’re about to find out what the rest of us know. I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited for a band to play the FB and I’ve been pretty damn psyched for the past nine years.
Like I said, I saw The Black Hollies earlier this year (reviewed here) and they blew me away. When you see these guys you’re gonna think you transported back in time. Pure ’60s psychedelic garage rock with squealing guitar, whirling organ and the best damn drummer you’ve never seen. If you ever wondered what it was like to see bands with names like Steppenwolf or the Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Black Hollies may just scratch that itch. Do not miss these guys!
As for Scott Metzger — what can I say? There aren’t a ton like him out there. He’s got the chops and wherewithal to fit in and thrive in any genre at any level with almost any band and sound right at home and yet he plays with a 100% distinctive “Metzger” sound. Most importantly, he’s a good guy. The best, actually. For the Ball he’s going to be playing with Ron Johnson on bass, doing some free form guitar-groove music. He’s inspired by the rest of the bill and no doubt will show us the love like he’s done every year in the past. Hands down my favorite guitar player out there.
SB: Do you see the Freaks Ball continuing each year in the future?
AS: In some possibly-smaller form, yes, I hope so. Putting together the Freaks Ball, for all the pain-in-the-ass dealings with all the details, is a rare opportunity to turn dreams into reality. I mean, what big live music fan doesn’t fantasize about putting together the ultimate gig of their own, a party where everyone knows everyone else and is having the time of their lives. All the bullshit that goes with playing music-biz for a few months is all made worth it in the end. Once the hangover from this year’s wears off, I’ll already be thinking about the next one. So yes, I can’t imagine stopping any time soon.
SB: What was your favorite moment (musically or otherwise) of any Freaks Ball?
AS: Wow, just one, eh? I’ve probably forgotten more amazing moments in a whiskey-stupor than I can remember. I’m sure something better will come to me, but I’ll just choose one for the poetic nature of the moment.
At the first Freaks Ball, Robert Randolph was mid-set and the room was buzzing and I realized that this really was the start of something. And then Randolph introduces an original number he was calling “NYC Rock.” And someone (I believe it was Sam Wilcher) yelled out to the stage “NYC Freaks!” and Robert changed the name of the song right there to “NYC Freaks.” It was maybe at that moment that a line was crossed or blurred. The line where we were both loving the shit out of the music being made live on stage and also maybe influencing it in our own little way right as it was happening in front of us. That moment set the tone for the next nine years. When the set was over a couple songs later, it was like the whole room had just consummated the NYC Freaks and the Freaks Ball.
Thanks to Aaron and JR for all their hard work in keeping the list going and putting on Freaks Ball each year. Tickets for FBX are going fast, so be sure to pick up your tickets in advance if you’d like to attend this year’s shindig.