Category Archives: Show Review

Interview + Show review: Varya

Photography, interview & review by Jonathan Orenstein.

Set up in a small corner of a south Austin popular Greek hangout, Opa!, VARYA adjusts her mic stand, amplifier, and tunes her lyric-adorned acoustic guitar. Her husband and a complete stranger fuss with a string of fairy lights at her feet in an attempt to bring some light to her face. The photographer suggested that more light will enhance the photos and eliminate the dark shadows under her brow. “I can’t deal with this right now, I’m really nervous,” VARYA cries to her uninvited stage crew as she waves them off. I walk back to the bar with her husband discussing lighting issues that these small venues create but I would capture her with my camera none-the-less. The house is full this night, a table of Russian-speaking men clap vigorously as she thanks the crowd for coming out. A table with a dozen or so couples sits nearby, her invited posse, and they erupt into applause.

VARYA steels herself, organizing her thoughts, going over her play her set silently. She’s been performing for over a decade in small venues like this, each show gives her butterflies. VARYA describes herself as strong, sensitive, and loud – these traits give her the strength to perform. Her husband and sister modify her self-identifying personality with outgoing, impulsive, and stubborn. Regardless of which are the correct modifiers, there is something about VARYA with which everyone in her presence can connect.

She tunes her dark-wood guitar and the overhead lights shimmer across poetic phrases scrawled around the guitar’s face. Her soft melodic voice turns heads as an almost Gaelic sound echoes throughout the space. The songs are dark, emotional, and raw, but her emotive expressions draw you in, connecting with her as if she was a longtime friend. Over the next hour, VARYA connects with the audience much like a storyteller engrosses a crowd during a book reading. Page after page of lyrics share thoughts about struggle of love, fear, and togetherness. The small table of men sing along with her to sad tunes of loves lost, like close-knit friends (Russian: drougs) in a local pub.

VARYA focuses her music on telling stories rather than appease to a pop listening crowd. Growing up in Moldova, a small Balkan region country nestled between Romania and Ukraine, VARYA was immersed in local storytelling and music. Her mother and she sang children’s songs together, and her father, known for his poetic verse, wrote her a song that they performed together during some of his concerts. Her native country has a very long and beautiful musical history, where most of the population speaks the Romanian romance language. Moldova existed long before the U.S.S.R. and has very much reclaimed its culture since the breakup of the Soviet republic. There is a deep tradition of Bard music in her country, considered much less of a music genre but rather a lifestyle. VARYA calls it “poetry delivered through the medium of music.”

Poet-songwriters known as romance bards, mostly students of the physical sciences and history, brought this far reaching global musical attitude to the Soviet bloc countries in the early 1950s. The bard style was common in the Baltic region long before it grew in popularity under Soviet rule. The common man and woman would compose romantic lyrics that enshrined the beauty of life, gathering like souls together in harmony and joy. At first this was an underground movement that helped Soviet citizens cope with governmental oppression under Stalin and following the easing of controls under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Bard music became the naturalists’ music. Bards performed their own songs, and as they were not classically trained musicians, linguists, or lyricists, their poetry was played to simple chord progressions. These songs were sung for pleasure and not for monetary gain. This brought bard music to the young people who enjoyed camping, kayaking, and outdoor adventures. Songs may be political in nature at times, but mainly romantic and family-based themes were the norm. Russian bard music is akin to American folk music, although not commercialized.

VARYA’s family and neighbors wrote original songs, played instruments and performed at small concerts and festivals. “Nobody was particularly good, at least not in a commercial way, but it’s incredibly intimate and honest and raw.”


Published by Jonathan Orenstein

My focus is on highlighting the great programs that support the community, local musicians, and those in need. I am an Austin-based photographer with experience shooting at the Long Center, various music venues, as well as high school theater performances. My clients include the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Greater Austin High School Musical Theater Awards, and Rock to Recovery. I welcome the opportunity to work for you. View more posts

Brother Moses in Austin: Show Review + interview

Story: Kail Rose, Photography: Christopher De La Rosa & K Rose

On Friday we had the privilege of catching NYC indie rock band Brother Moses live at Stubbs Austin, the first stop on their headlining tour for the month of February. 

We show up early in the evening, cruising through the still-empty Stubbs downstairs venue. Out back, there’s a crew playing football in the vast expanse of the Stubbs amphitheater yard, which I’m used to seeing jam-packed full of people. I quickly realize it’s the band themselves and their opener Feeves. They see us and head straight over to introduce themselves; James, John-Lewis, Moses and Corey, who comes with his own tagline: “the Best Drummer in the World.” 

We take over the spacious back garden’s notorious Airstream trailer for a quick informal video interview. We chat about humble beginnings, dance-fueled performances and how they are addressing real-world experiences with music that is fun and lighthearted. I later realize it’s the type of music that brings us together in a celebration of being humble, human, flawed and flawless. 

We skip upstairs to grab a quick bite of legendary Stubbs Barbecue before Feeves warms up the crowd with a fresh indie set. The evening crowd fills in quickly. It’s a predominantly younger group; college kids and those in their later 20s. A few hip couples in denim, slouchy beanies and vintage boots, sipping a craft beer. We spot many a girl gang, locked elbows, giggling and ready to dance. 

As Brother Moses takes the stage, the hype is very real. The venue and the crowd are literally buzzing. These people are here to boogie. As they kick off the set, it’s apparent that there will be no rockstar power poses, no slamming back a beer with a side of ego; no, none of that. Their humble and relatable demeanor makes this an inclusive performance. We’re not just here to see this band, but to become a part of their performance. With palpable energy, we unwittingly find ourselves committed – committed to celebrating our quirks and crazies, and to dance like nobody’s watching. 

After more than one occasion of a show-stopping technical issue, frontman James exclaims; “this is just like that time you have that nightmare where you go on stage and you’re in your underwear and all your stuff starts breaking… except this is real life.” Turning misfortune into humor, it’s an opportunity to connect with the audience, make them part of the show. I almost wonder if this was rehearsed. But the audience is game; hooting & hollering when finally Feeves brings us a backup guitar and saves the show. 

They progress through old hits and new material, somehow amplifying the energy as they go. Two blonde college girls slam back their White Claws, sling their tiny purses over their shoulder and barrel through the crowd in an impressively dainty fashion for What Does It Take. Blonde locks are flying as they dance and spin each other. The crowd parts to circle around this informal dance-off. Guitarists John-Lewis and Moses jump down into the crowd, in between twirling girls, for the song finale. Carefree is the word of the night.

And somehow Brother Moses manages a very full sound – a set of surprisingly intricate, groovy, quirky songs. John-Lewis and James trade off on the keyboard and guitar. With signature floppy hair and wireframe glasses doing nothing to conceal a cheeky sparkle of confidence (likely from his most excellent dance moves, if I must be honest…), James leads the vocals with quirk, kitsch and utter coolness. I see why this crowd had arrived with soaring expectations and impressive energy. And despite all expectations, this is a band that sounds even better live than recorded. 

I highly recommend you catch their live show, and grab their music here. Check out their remaining February tour stops and keep an eye out on March 6 to catch the release of Desperation Pop.

Show Review: Marshall Tucker Band’s Southern Rockin’ Roundup Tour

Photography and Show Review by Geoff Clowes of Sage + Spirit Photo

After forty-five years and numerous lineup changes the Marshall Tucker Band is still doing what they love to do, hitting the road and making crowds forget the present and live, if only for ninety minutes, the ‘seventies. Such was the case when the band’s Southern Rockin’ Roundup rolled into the Charles Dodge Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

On this night a near capacity crowd that was old enough to have seen the band on their first visit to this very spot in 1974 at the now defunct Hollywood Sportatorium got to revel in the rocking memories of better days. Today Doug Gray, the lone member of the original band, has less hair and more miles but his brand of Southern blues rock hasn’t diminished a bit. Sure, the breaks between songs are longer and the gyrations are fewer, but this crowd came to hear their favorite songs played live again. The current lineup includes Doug Gray handling the vocal and tambourine duties backed by a lively rhythm section including BB Borden on drums and Marcus James Henderson handling the triple duty of keys, sax, and flute.

First up was 1979’s jazzed up Running Like the Wind, from the record of the same name, which is normally nine minutes but cut down to a shorter four minutes. Regardless of length this remains a fan favorite and one that is a constant member of the setlist. Next up was an interesting choice, Dog Eat Dog World, a song written by MTB guitarist Chris Hicks and released on his solo record, a record that even hardcore fans might not have on the tip of their tongue. The number is driven by heavy guitar riffs that wouldn’t be out of place at a more traditional rock show. The setlist then kicked back into more traditional numbers from the mid-seventies before going into the classic Heard It In A Love Song, a song that had the entire crowd singing along to every word as if their very lives depended on it. Following a couple deeper tracks from the early days Doug and the boys finished up with another classic, Can’t You See – another favorite that was on the lips of everyone as they filtered out into the warm night, having had their fill of good old Southern blues rock from a long lost musical era.

Show Review: Dirty Honey, Parish Austin

Photography & Show Review: Kail Rose

I was first introduced to Dirty Honey while sitting backstage with fellow rockers, Blacktop Mojo. As I customarily do, I asked my artist friends for new music recommendations – who had they seen on their tours that was new, upcoming and totally worth checking out? Unanimously, they answered “Dirty Honey.”

On my way home, I found a couple of their songs on Spotify and clicked play. They were right to recommend them – energetic rock reminiscent of Zeppelin and Aerosmith, with incredible vocals and catchy lyrics. This was everything a hit was made of. I followed, kept them on my playlist (I highly recommend adding When I’m Gone to your workout playlist) and looked forward to seeing them live as soon as possible.

I lucked out at Exit 111 Festival, just a few months later; a Tennessee rock festival I was already scheduled to photograph. Commanding a massive mid-afternoon crowd, their high-energy set and explosive vocals bought them a great number of new fans. Word on the street; Dirty Honey was the hot new band on the 111 lineup. Crowds packed early on, and the front row was buzzing with die-hard fans, homemade signs and more than a few DH shirts and hats. I later caught the band in the media lounge for a quick chat. It was apparent that despite being new to the scene, they were seasoned professionals and wholly committed to their music.

“The tracks on Dirty Honey bang with the kind of organic grit that could bring hard rock back to the mainstream, which would be an amazingly good thing. The New Classic Rock movement is building up steam and Dirty Honey is in an excellent position to help shape its leading edge.” – Mike O’Cull, Rock and Blues Muse

Hailing from Los Angeles, the band consists of singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone. The band formed only very recently, in 2017, but has very quickly gained notoriety and a sizeable, enthusiastic fanbase in the rock genre. They self-released a self-titled EP in March of 2019. Their single When I’m Gone quickly topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart, making them the very first unsigned band to achieve such accolades. 

“For years, the term ‘saviors of rock and roll’ has been handed out too easily, with very few in recent years, barring Rival Sons, getting anywhere close. But, with the backing Dirty Honey have from established stars and iconic producers, a major label is sure to come calling soon. If that happens, the potential of this band is infinite.” – Adam Keys, Rush on Rock

I recently caught their January show at The Parish Austin, just one of their multi-city US tour dates. They’d enticed a formidable crowd. I quickly learned that Dirty Honey has quickly amassed a group of hardcore fans – many of which had been travelling along, city-to-city, to catch more than one show. All were clad in DH merch, and could barely contain their excitement. Their Friday evening show kicked off with Scars, a bluesy, groovy tune, and quickly accelerated through Break You to hit Fire Away. The ten-song set was over before we knew it, but not before a flawless rendition of Aerosmith’s Last Child (Marc sure can hit those delicious notes), wrapping with When I’m Gone and Rolling 7’s.

As we left the venue, I overheard several parties commenting on how excited they were to hit their Dallas show the very next day. Others commented that they were prepared to travel up to Pryor, OK for their Rocklahoma festival set May 22-24. We predict big things for these guys – and rightfully so. The talent is humbling, and their energy and prowess on stage is unmatched. If you haven’t taken a quick listen, we highly recommend you do. Check out their upcoming tour schedule here.

A Good Rogering: My favorite band you’ve never heard of

Photography: Josh Wolfer, Story: Kail Rose

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of their 2010 EP, Long Overdue, January 11th saw an absurdly excellent evening of music, rainbow penguins, and rock & roll debauchery with Austin’s own A Good Rogering. One of the few Austin bands I’ve seen more than a handful of times, I’ve yet to witness them perform a less-than-stellar show. 

No AGR set is the same. Expect eclectic acts of disobedience, an abundance of flying hair, and likely a few f-bombs. But excellence is the standard in everything they touch – be it 2017’s This is Death Metal, or something decidedly ‘funkier,’ a-la the more recent Mr. Peanut (seriously, check this one out).

Frontman Skunk Manhattan reeks brilliance on a myriad of instruments, but on lead vocals he brings an unpredictably grizzled, pitch-perfect showman-esque stature to the whole production. Clad this time in suit and tie (as is the entire band), you never quite know what he’ll do next. From “snailing” along the pit rail (you kinda had to be there…), gnawing on a cymbal or licking the plushie penguin before throwing himself into the crowd; it’s epic, it’s rock n’ roll, it’s a certain je-ne-sais-quois. All the while, lead guitarist Tim Driscoll takes us through a veritable wonderland of perfect riffs and slick solos. He’s flawless. Bassist Sammiard Alvarado trades holding down the low end with showing off some of the most beautiful hand-made basses I’ve seen. This multi-talented human also moonlights as a luthier, creating incredible works of art that happen to also sound amazing. This evening, the lineup includes John Takanikos on keys and another favorite local, Marc Coronado of The Crowned on drums. Through the evening we see cameos -including Blaine Matte of Eyetooth, who was once AGR’s bassist- and unexpected twists and turns; none of which overshadow the musical brilliance that is AGR live. 

This is one of those bands that leads you to consistently ask; “why the hell aren’t these guys touring internationally?” With a smorgasbord of music available on popular streaming platforms, they’re certainly not new to the scene. Some of their music is deliciously reminiscent of 80s rock, while other songs slip toward gritty heavy metal. Their many EP’s are dotted with deliciously frivolous sounds from pretty much every genre. When asked what their primary genre is, they’ll reply; “We call ourselves ‘eclectic rock’ because not much else really fits.” And that’s part of why we love them: there’s nothing they can’t do.

While almost all of the current band lineup moonlights in other musical projects (fully worth checking out), we can only sate our appetite by looking forward to their next rare appearance. What’s next for these eclectic rock geniuses? Will it be a brand new love song? A tribute show? Or a brand new EP, featuring songs of who-knows-what genre? Will it be their enormously popular summer rock festival, Skunkfest? The latter is guaranteed, and if 2019 was any indication, Skunkfest 2020 will be bigger, better, louder and crazier than ever before. Save the date: June 19 & 20 at Come and Take It Live in Austin, Texas. 

The Photo Pit: Sevendust with Deepfall and Stitched Up Heart

Article by Bernard Cana / Talon Kane Photography Published Jan 3, 2020 on

From The Pit To The Crowd: Sevendust with Deepfall and Stitched Up Heart – House of Blues Orlando – Lake Buena Vista FL – December 29, 2019

On November 9, 2014 before I started photographing and reviewing concerts, I attended a show at House of Blues Orlando I would never forget. One of my favorite bands, Sevendust, was performing an acoustic show of their music. Getting to hear songs I love in a stripped-down format was incredible. And seeing them in this very intimate format was something I would never forget. Skip ahead to Winter 2019 where I remember commenting on a post on the Sevendust Facebook page that I wished they’d do another acoustic show. Literally days after that, the band announced their Acoustic Xmas shows with three dates with one of them being at House of Blues Orlando, a place the band considers a second home for performances. There was no way I was going to miss this show and was blessed to be able to cover it for The Photo Pit. It was a show I will truly never forget.

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In Flames Set the Culture Room Ablaze

Despite a cold and wet evening, fans were lined up down the block to get into Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room. The venue, a must-play for any metal act passing through South Florida, was at capacity this evening to see Swedish heavy metal favorites, In Flames.

The Swedish sextet, supporting the release of their  thirteenth album, I, The Mask, a masterwork of melodic metal, took to the stage one at a time to a rapturous crowd. Much like their albums, an In Flames show is melodic and at the same time driven by a head-banging ferocity akin to At The Gates and Dark Tranquility,  the other pioneers of the melodic death metal genre.

As the band tore into the opening chords of Cloud Connected, a tight tour de force of power and elegance the crowd erupted. Throughout the night the band led the crowd through a collection of hits and deep tracks from almost every album in the catalog while harmonizing guitars accompanied scream growling.  However, some songs did away with both the guitar melodies and growling in favor of cleaner vocals as the multi-guitar harmonization is often difficult to achieve live much like the growling is not ideal for choruses. Either style, the crowd had no objections.

Canadian metal outfit Arrival of Autumn opening for In Flames.

Opening acts for the evening festivities included Canadian metal outfit Arrival of Autumn and Nashville Christian rock band Red, both of whom put on commanding performances for an enthralled house.

Nashville’s Red opening the evening for In Flames

Half Alive packs the Culture Room

The entire venue turned dark. Not a light anywhere, even the empty bars are dark. With the darkness came roars of approval from the largely teenage crowd, and then the opening chords of ok ok?, the smash hit from the Long Beach indie-pop band Half*Alive. With only a single hand-held spotlight to light their faces the trio played their way through a highly choreographed set of danceable yet abstract tunes, mostly from the recent release Now, Not Yet and a pair coming from the 2017 EP 3

The interesting choice of choreography, a mix of ’80’s popping and locking blended with Talking Heads era David Byrne was omnipresent all night as the crowd imitated every move of their idols. The music itself a sort of mashup of pop with quasi-religious overtones, or as lead singer Josh Taylor calls it, “the sweet spot between a strict and relatable”. Well said Josh. 

This is a band and a show with no discernable musical influences yet many at the same time. Is that Chance The Rapper I hear there, no, maybe Susan Stevens? And the name, well that’s a reference to Freud. Confused, don’t be. Stand back and enjoy this riveting live show the next time they come to town. Just don’t try to explain it to anyone. 

The opening act for the evening’s festivities was South Florida locals, The Polar Boys, bringing their take on retro surf-rock to the party.

​Geoff Clowes is a South Florida-based live music photographer. He’s shot hundreds of bands over the years in three countries in venues giant and intimate; “but it’s always the local shows in the small venues that I look forward to shooting the most.”

“Music photography allows me to indulge my passion for music, photography, and travel at the same time. I am truly blessed to be able to photograph the bands whose posters once adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom while also getting a pit view of the newest up and coming acts. None of this would be possible without the support of editors that believe in my art and an understanding family.”

Geoff brings with him a wealth of experience and a poignant black-and-white style that strikingly captures the passionate spirit of the artists he’s shooting.

Follow him on social media and his website, Sage and Spirit Photography.

Allman Betts Band ​Show off their heritage on the Down To The River tour

The Allman Brothers Band was never afraid to mix things up on stage. It wasn’t unusual to hear blues, Southern rock, and covers on the same setlist. The same can be said for the Allman Betts Band, the sextet made up of the children of founding Allman Brothers’ Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, and Berry Oakley. The band isn’t afraid to step outside the Southern blues rock box to try something different, much to the delight of fans. While the Allman Betts Band still has some growing to do, they are certainly finding their footing in the mid-sized performing arts centers that they are calling home on the Down To The River tour. The October 27 tour stop featured guitarist J.D. Simo and British blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor as opening acts.


Touring with a stellar lineup of musicians that features guitarists Duane Betts, the son of Dickey Betts, Devon Allman, the son of the late Gregg Allman, and Johnny Stachela alongside Dixie Chicks veteran organist John Ginty, bassist Berry Oakley Jr., son of Berry Oakley, percussionist R. Scott Bryan, and drummer John Lum, the young band played its way through a setlist that included the Allman Brothers, songs from individual band members, original compositions, and even a Prince cover.

​The band wrapped itself in its heritage by way of tasty versions of Allman classics Blue Sky and Midnight Rider which sounded perfect in the close quarters of the Charles Dodge Performing Arts Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The appreciative middle-aged audience was old enough to remember hearing these songs on an Allman’s tour 30 years before. The musicianship of the group was apparent as the guitarists blazed through barely noticeable chord changes that sounded like they were second nature. While drums and bass are usually the tempo of a live band, in this case that isn’t so. The groovy bass lines served as more of a backdrop to the shredding Les Pauls while the rhythmic drumming and percussion provided a funkified fill between chords. What was unusual was the prominent spot that the Hammond B-3 played in the music. While the B-3 is not a subtle instrument, it is even less so in the hands Ginty. Not one to show off, preferring to let his organ do the talking, he somehow manages to make the instrument sound like it belongs center stage with the guitars. This is never more apparent then on original numbers like the show opening All Night which featured blues guitar, dripping with the wah wah of the Hammond.


This band is still growing into itself, much like a labrador puppy that has paws too big for its’ body. They can at times be a little stiff and clumsy, but also flash hints of brilliance like their famous daddies before them. What is obvious is that the band is trying to have fun up on stage while showing off their musical chops. Given time, there should be no doubt that they have within them an Eat A Peach or Idlewild South. Stay tuned.

Wilderado & Mt. Joy ​Play a sold-out show at Scoot Inn, Austin TX

On a chilly Thursday evening, Scoot Inn played host to an indie rock pairing of epic proportions. Selling out the intimate outdoor venue, Wilderado and Mt. Joy brought their unique, upbeat indie flavors to an adoring crowd for an all-too-short evening of great live music.

Wilderado kickstarts the night with a laid-back set, beer-in-hand. Infamously once called ‘Bird Dog,’ the indie folk band hails from Tulsa, OK and has released three EPs (four if you count the acoustic version of 2018’s Favors). They are the epitome of what Austin loves best; solid music, a mellow indie vibe, and quirky unassuming personality. Their merch says it all, really. I take a quick spin past a table offering mildly distressed pastel tees, leather-encased lighters, beer koozies, earth-tone hats and vinyl encased in muted psychedelic patterns. This is indie folk rock at it’s best. 

The set opens with metered, groovy energy. Wilderado’s brand of folk rock boasts nothing over the top. Their performance is deliciously subdued, uplifted by pretty vocals – soaring at times, others in perfect raspy harmony. It’s pleasant indie rock that pairs perfectly with your craft beer. This isn’t a band that needs to be big. It’s groovy, fun, stoically upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable. 

It’s a short set -just 45 minutes- allowing the many 30-somethings with painstakingly groomed mustaches, trucker hats and faux vintage leather everything some time to purchase another Deep Eddy & soda for the petite blonde in baggy boyfriend jeans, a messy ponytail, deceptively pricey boots and an over-sized sweater. I wonder if she’s overheating (it’s really not that cold) as I eavesdrop on a trendy Hipster nouveau trio slamming the venue for being sold out of their favorite White Claw flavor. Several man buns bumble past in a skunky haze that is most certainly not cigarette smoke. A lanky girl clad in a tie-dye dress and pirate-esque dreads sways next to the Mission Dogs food cart, giggling; “hehe! It smells like hotdogs!” Austin certainly boasts a unique crowd. It’s a guilty pleasure to sit and people-watch in between sets.

​Mt. Joy are up next; the colorful, joyously upbeat indie-meets-psych-rock quintet always brings a great show and tonight is no exception. Hailing from Los Angeles, they debuted single Astrovan in 2016 and gently exploded into the contemporary music scene. They haven’t looked back, hitting major festivals such as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza in the last two years. It’s a deserved victory. Their set features a tidal wave of upbeat hits interspersed with newer material. Notably of their upcoming album release, of which single Rearrange Us was released the day prior. Spoiler: it’s groovy, melancholic and excellent. With neighborhood restrictions on the venue, it’s an all-to-early finish, but we leave pleasantly uplifted. The front row is clearly exhausted from exuberant fangirling, while the rest of us silently wish we could do it all over again. There’s a reason Mt Joy is selling out in cities across the US. With a sound that could fill an arena, it’s a treat to catch them in an intimate local Austin venue.