by Mike Corrigan

If Little Feat's music doesn't sound terribly innovative to modern ears, it's only because the group's musical innovations have been completely integrated into the American popular music vernacular. During its peak in the 1970s, Little Feat was both greatly appreciated by music critics and deeply loved by its fans, thanks to an unbroken string of terrific albums and a well-deserved reputation as one of the best live acts in the country. At a time when American rock was becoming increasingly overstated and showy, Little Feat's eccentric yet approachable mix of R & amp;B, soul, blues rock, country and folk sounded fresh and distinct. Thirty years down the road, the group (containing every member of the classic lineup, minus just one) manages to keep Little Feat's rich musical legacy alive while adding to its eclectic and storied past. The band hits Spokane for a show at the Met next Tuesday night with opening act Stephen Bruton.

Singer/songwriter/slide guitarist Lowell George was encouraged to form Little Feat by Frank Zappa (both George and first bassist Roy Estrada were members of Zappa's Mothers of Invention). Debuting in 1969 with Ritchie Haward on drums and Bill Payne on keyboards, the group quickly established itself in rock circles on the strength of George's songwriting and the quartet's soulful and fluid synthesis of just about every American music form. Though sounding conventional enough on the surface, the group's affinity for the absurd and the surreal set them well apart from Southern rock contemporaries. The band's live performances were legendary and despite a lack of commercial success, Little Feat enjoyed a rabid cult following.

The first four Little Feat albums (Little Feat, Sailin' Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don't Fail Me Now) showcase the group at its boogie-crazed, funked-up, rocking best and contain most of what have become the backbone of the Feat's repertoire: "Willin'," "Cold, Cold, Cold," "Dixie Chicken," "Teenage Nervous Breakdown," "Tripe Face Boogie" and dozens more.

Despite critical acclaim and an ever-widening fan base, turmoil within group -- brought on by artistic differences, George's escalating drug use and his frequently erratic behavior -- was an ever-present hazard to Little Feat's continued success. In 1979, during the recording of the band's seventh studio album (Down on the Farm), George, at age 34, died of a heart attack, an apparent victim of his own lifestyle excesses.

With the death of George -- whom many considered not only the band's guiding light but its very heart and soul -- Little Feat drifted off the radar screen as a viable musical entity. The surviving members (Payne, Hayward, guitarist Paul Barrere, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney) reformed nine years later after a chance jam session. To the delight of Little Feat fans everywhere, the reconstituted group has been able to capture enough of the old magic to maintain a performing and recording career to the present day. The current lineup adds Fred Tackett (guitar) and Shaun Murphy (vocals) to the mix.

Little Feat was always best appreciated live. Fans unable to make it to the Met show should check out two new double live CD sets, Raw Tomatoes and Ripe Tomatoes on the band's own label, Hot Tomato Records. Also of note is the ultimate Feat anthology, the four-disc Warner/Rhino box set, Hotcakes and Outtakes, which features the best of the band's studio work along with lots of rarities, outtakes and, fittingly enough, oddities.

Rock the Sagebrush

Why are nearly two dozen area bands heading out to the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers this weekend, into what could accurately be described as the freakin' middle of nowhere, for a two-day all-ages music festival at the Two Rivers Casino? For a shot at the green, most likely. And I'm not talking golf or sagebrush, here.

The Two Rivers Casino is hosting a "Battle of the Bands" competition this Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10, featuring Spokane-area acts competing for a share of $8,000 in prize money. That's a lot of bread (considering most bands in this town are forced to work for peanuts). Each band will have just 20 minutes to wow the crowd and the judges before the next contestants take the stage. A panel made up of respected and reputable local scene musicians, promoters and writers (including yours truly) will judge the event and, at the end of day two, award the cash prizes. Bands will be judged in six categories (musical ability, original cover, original song, original sound, stage performance and crowd-pleaser), with each category winner walking away with $1,000. A seventh category (Best in Show, no less) carries with it the promise of a $2,000 payoff. The "Best Crowd-Pleaser" category will give you, the audience member, a chance to heap respect, fame and riches on your favorite band. Event organizers are providing the sound equipment and are promising quick changeovers, insuring audience members a high music-to-setup nonsense ratio.

The competition concerts run each day from 4-10 pm at the Two Rivers Casino on the shores of Lake Roosevelt, just north of Davenport, slightly over an hour's drive from Spokane. The resort has RV and tent sites available for overnight guests (though they are filling up fast). Tickets for both days are only $5 (available at Real Soda, the Guitar Center and Two Rivers), making this one of the most affordable regional music festivals of the season.

Bands scheduled to perform include some of the best and most eclectic in town, including (as of Friday) Burns Like Hellfire, A Thousand Times No, Planet Zen, Illusion 33, Torn, 10 Minutes Down, Paradox, Civilized Animal, Gorilla & amp; Rabbit, Sweet Fancy Moses and Lucid. On Saturday, it's Back To Three, No Cover, Bad Ride, Mang, Vertigo Bliss, 2 Copper, Bird House, Rand-Univac, Vengeance, Crushbone and Buddy Ruckus.

See you there. And bring a towel.

Band Contest Heatin' Up

It's happening. Right now, as we speak, the voting process that will ultimately guarantee one Spokane-area band a performance slot at Musicfest NW (Portland's big summer music festival, conference and industry tradeshow this Sept. 12-14) has commenced. And our readers, along with Rock 94.5 listeners, get to decide who goes and who stays home -- essentially, who lives and who dies.

The Inlander and Rock 94.5 are sending one Spokane band to Musicfest NW to perform amid a hundred other regional and national acts in one of more than a dozen downtown Portland clubs. The winning band will also have the opportunity to attend workshops and the music industry tradeshow, rubbing elbows with peers and folks in the biz along the way.

The finalists have been chosen. Now it's up to you. Here's the drill: In this very issue of The Inlander, look for the official Musicfest NW Battle of the Bands ballot (hint: it's on page 46). Cut it out. Hopefully, you've been listening to Rock 94.5's local artist show, "Local 945" each night this week (Aug. 5-9). Well, keep it up. Listen to all the bands, then vote for your favorite. Get your completed ballot back to us by the Aug. 16 deadline and then wait for The Inlander and Rock 94.5 to jointly announce the winner on Aug. 22. It's that simple.

We love our local heroes, right? Well, get mobilized and show 'em that love. Who knows, Musicfest NW might just be the showcase where your favorite band gets "discovered" by some recording industry A & amp;R type with money to burn and a signing quota of up-and-coming bands to fill.

Seriously, it could happen.

Festival of Fair Trade @ Community Building

Sun., Nov. 27, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
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