Rams Head On Stage Show Review: Marrakesh Express – A Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Experience on August 1

Now that many of the “elder” rock stars are aged and fading, we rely on classic rock stations and old vinyl records to keep their legendary music alive.  Fortunately, in this day and age, we are also blessed with incredibly talented tribute bands who make a living recreating and in some cases, adding new flavor and life to these old classics. It makes me wonder…Will we have Justin Bieber tribute bands in 30-40 years? God, I hope not.  But for now, I’m very thankful for bands like Marrakesh Express: The Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Experience.

CSNY – the originals – are one of my favorite bands.  They epitomize what I hold to be the true sound and feeling of the 60s.  They were one of a kind and all four members went on to very successful solo careers.  Their intricate folk rock stylings and complex harmonies are nearly impossible to recreate exactly.  In fact, it takes the talent of all seven members of Marrakesh Express to play a full sets-worth of CSNY songs.  But boy do they pull it off.  The band features three stellar, multi-faceted singers: David Varella plays guitar and harmonica, and Rick Hemphill is a master on the keys.  Lead singer, Shawn Kelly, who somewhat resembles a more relaxed Axl Rose, and Varella have incredible voices that melt together effortlessly.  They deserve to be the only CSNY tribute band currently touring.  If anyone can do it better than them, I’d like to see it.

These weren’t just session musicians playing someone else’s music.  They were bonafide rock stars in their own right, and they had the crowd begging for more the whole night.  At one point, Kelly said, somewhat sarcastically, “Who would have thoughtAnnapoliswould be full of such pinko, Commie, liberal hippies…” A woman in the crowd immediately yelled out, “Party at my house later!” to which Kelly laughingly responded, “I just may go…it is my birthday weekend.  Trust me, you don’t want these dirty hippies at your house.”  Later on, Rick Hemphill dedicated “Long Time Gone” to his late father, a Green Beret who served 32 years in Vietnam, the Middle East, Central and South America before succumbing to Agent Orange poisoning that had plagued him since his tours in Vietnam.

Seeing these guys come together in such impressive musical form, all hailing from different areas, backgrounds, families and artistic influences, was a real treat.  The greatest moment of the night occurred during a rendition of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.” Guitarists, Bobby Belinksy and Kevin Bryant, and Hemphill all soloed, each one trying to top the one before him.  Hemphill was banging on the ivories so hard that his fedora hat flew off mid-solo, and both Varella and Kelly matched their band mates’ musical prowess with amazing vocal range and improvisation.  By the end of the night, people all over the room were out of their seats, grooving and dancing as the band jammed on.  If you want to check out live videos, photos and more material from these guys, head over to their website for exclusive content: www.marrakeshmusic.net.

-Matt Ellis

Matt Ellis graduated from the University of Maryland last year, where he majored in journalism with a minor in Geographic Information Systems.  He grew up in Western Howard County, Maryland and currently works in Edgewater, Md.  His father indoctrinated him on classic rock vinyl and old 80s cassette tapes, leading to a lifelong obsession with the music of that bygone era.  He has written for a number of different publications including National Geographic, Spinner.com, the Montgomery County Sentinel, and other local papers and websites.


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