What was Bob Malone (world-renowned solo artist and John Fogerty’s keyboardist), doing at The Moisture Festival? The man plays stadiums, wowing audiences with his masterful rock, blues, and New Orleans rhythm & blues. His highly anticipated record, Mojo Deluxe, came out recently. Why would he perform in a small beer brewer’s warehouse that has been cleared out for jugglers, magicians, aerialists, and mimes? Isn’t that like catching Tom Waits soloing at the circus?
The Moisture Festival is the largest and longest running vaudeville/variety/burlesque festival in the world, but it’s an odd place to find a rock star. First of all, performances take place in the artsy, hippy-ish Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, which bills itself as the Center of the Universe and runs parades featuring naked bicyclists. The festival’s Hales Palladium stage is small and the lighting is basic (on, off, spotlight), with no laser lights or special effects. Festival goers often wear old-timey costume pieces like barber-stripe vests or fez hats.
The acts too, are not typical for a music concert. Many of them are one-off, oddball acts like a western bullwhip expert or a surrealist juggler. The one thing they have in common is that they are all either funny or astounding.
The moment Malone begins playing, it’s apparent he fits right in, because his playing is so enthusiastic that you can’t help laugh with joy. And having trained as a concert pianist before turning to rock, Malone is skillful and his music acrobatic.
I ask Malone why he performs at The Moisture Festival, and he says it’s “unlike anything I’ve ever done.” After thirty years of performing, that’s a surprising disclosure. At the festival, Malone gets to interact with jugglers, dancers, and vaudevillians—people he never sees anywhere else. It’s a different reality, a culture that seems crazy when Malone first arrives, but once he’s immersed, becomes normal. “After two days the outside world is crazy.”
Has any act stood out on the crazy spectrum? Malone is hard pressed. There have been so many. “I like them all, actually. I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t know was out there.”
Malone paints a picture for me: “I’m at The Moisture Festival: me sitting in my chair backstage waiting to go on, watching the pandemonium of stuff going on around me. Dancers warming up, jugglers juggling chain saws, there’s such a variety of things going on, it’s even more entertaining backstage than onstage. I’m glad to be there. There’s nothing else like it.”
Malone first played there a decade ago and has played a few times since. He keeps going back because it’s so different from any other venue: “Part cabaret, part circus, part concert. Very unique. And it gets me up to Seattle, which is great, and puts me in front of a whole kind of crowd I normally don’t see.”
Malone gets to see a lot of crowds. Doing solo shows and performances with Fogerty, he spends about 120 days a year on the road. “I’ve played every conceivable size venue. I’ve played the biggest possible and the smallest.” As long as the crowd is appreciative, he doesn’t think about the size. The music is the most important thing, and “the rest is kind of fleeting.” America has a metric they use to judge whether a musician has “made it,” but Malone feels he made it thirty years ago when he realized he could play music for a living. “The music is what matters, ‘cause the rest comes and goes.” He can’t judge his career on venue size, because that is out of a musician’s control.
I ask Malone about other strange venues he’s played, and he can’t think of any, instead saying that plenty of strange events have happened. Early in his career he performed at a funeral on a harbor cruise boat. A wealthy man had found out he had a year to live, so he divorced his wife, married his mistress, and planned his own funeral. He left all his money to his wife, and both she and the mistress attended the funeral. A storm rocked the boat so hard the buffet slipped into the water, and when they scattered the man’s ashes, they blew back in Malone’s face. In thirty years of performance, there have been many other strange events like that.
And in those thirty years, Malone has been able to stay creative, coming up with new music and lyrics. How has he done that? “It’s evolved over the years. When I was young it poured out of me and I was convinced because I was young that the whole world wanted to hear every thought that came out of my head and every note I wanted to play.” With time, he found that it was important to change methods occasionally, otherwise he starts writing lessor versions of songs he’s already written. His best advice? “Go out there and live life, and from that you get ideas.”
Photo courtesy of David Rose Photography and The Moisture Festival