Hello all: Best wishes to everyone for 2016! Yes– there will be a list of the best gigs I attended in 2015, but first, some additional comments about music and how technology has affected my relationship with it.
As most of you probably know by now, music is my main passion in life. I’ve been writing about it since 1975, and I enjoy almost all kinds, with a few exceptions (avant garde jazz/heavy metal.hard rock, hip-hop with no band behind the MC’s), right wing country music). My favorites are British folk/folk-rock, “world music, British pop like The Zombies, New Orleans Mardi Gras music/r&b, and various other sorts of “roots” music. I used to be able to pretty much keep up with everything, by reading magazines, attending gigs, and talking with people. But I can no longer do that– information about artists new and old is coming from so many new sources: e-mail, Facebook friends and groups, web sites, Facebook pages… For example, just now I checked out a band’s Facebook group because they’d been mentioned in a Facebook thread I’d been following. I looked at their page, which showed a poster of a gig that band (Gilded Thieves) was doing with another band Tankus The Henge. I looked up Tankus, watched a video from a link on their FB page, and “liked” them too. It is now clear that I could spend all day with exercises like that. And as much as I might like to do so, it is not physically possible– I think my eyes would give out from the over-use at the very least. I now have to face the frustrating fact that I will miss out on some performers I might really like. I cannot attend every show or listen to every CD even in my favorite genres. That there is such an “embarrassment of riches” is wonderful, but no living person can absorb it all.
“And now back to our regularly scheduled program.”
GIGS OF THE YEAR
In a class by itself was the 2015 edition of TD SUNFEST, held at Victoria Park, in downtown London, Ontario. SUNFEST is a four day event and is free to the public. It emphasizes what is generally called “world music,” but there is also folk, blues, and jazz. What was remarkable to me was how this event can be contrasted to so much of the trouble plaguing our planet right now. People from different countries, regions, and traditions all gathered together with no strife or violence. People from countries that ordinarily would find it difficult to meet in a non pressured way, communicated easily at SUNFEST. I will never forget telling a Cuban musician that I was glad President Obama took steps to officially “recognize” Cuba. I speak no Spanish, the musician spoke no English. But his manger, a native Cuban now living in Montreal, interpreted for us. I felt like I was performing “citizen diplomacy.” What an incredible experience!
TD SUNFEST is held every July. For more information, and updates on the 2016 edition, go to: http://www.sunfest.on.ca TD SUNFEST also has a Facebook page. The organization which produces SUNFEST also runs a concert series in London during the fall and winter seasons.
Besides SUNFEST, I attended a number of excellent shows last year. In no particular order, here we go:
Rhiannon Giddens and band. Singer and violinist Rhiannon Giddens is a founding member of the remarkable Carolina Chocolate Drops who are still active, but she now also tours and records under her own name. At the concert I attended, she presented an incredible variety of material, including a Gaelic song. The band was an expanded version of the current Drops line-up– an upright bassist and drummer were added. The chemistry between everyone was great , and there is no question that Ms. Giddens is now a major “folk” star. (Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC).
Al Kooper. Yes– the legendary vocalist, band leader, song writer, keyboardist, and story teller. At 72, Kooper’s still got it– he played material from throughout his long career (Blues Project, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, “Super Session,” solo work) and kept us thoroughly entertained for about two hours. I would absolutely go to see him again. (The Mansion On O Street, Washington, DC).
Steeleye Span. English folk-rock band Steeleye Span celebrated 45 years of almost continuous service last year. They even came over to the United States for a short tour. This was almost a completely new line-up– the two veterans were founding member Maddy Prior and drummer Liam Genocky. Everyone else was new. But that did not matter. The assembled company put on a great show and I was glad to be there. (The Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia).
The Zombies. Here is a perfect case of good things happening to those who wait. English pop band The Zombies originally broke up years ago. They had several hits, and produced one masterpiece of an album: Odessey & Oracle (now available in several versions). At this concert, the current touring line-up presented a set of current material. All good. But the special treat of this was a live presentation of “Odessey & Oracle” with all surviving members of the original line-up: Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White and Hugh Grundy. Everyone was in great form. and I’m wondering if White and Grundy have re-discovered the urge to tour. Whether or not they do, the current regular touring line up: Founding members Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (vocals, keyboards) joined by Tom Toomey (guitar), Jim Rodford (bass), and Steve Rodford (drums) has done a fantastic show every time I’ve seen them. One can even say that Argent and Blunstone are better now than when they were younger. If The Zombies come anywhere near you, do not miss them! (Lincoln theater, Washington, DC).
Quetzal. This is a wonderful Mexican- American folk-rock band. Their new album will be released this year on Smithsonian/Folkways. (Museum of The American Indian, Washington, DC).
Dom Flemons/Dustbowl Revival. What a fantastic double bill this was! Flemons, an original member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, now performs under his own name with a trio. Flemons calls himself an “American Songster,” a title which fits him perfectly, as his sets include blues, ragtime, folk, and even rock’n’roll. Flemons is a consummate entertainer, and knows the history of American music intimately. Dustbowl Revival hails from Los Angeles, and the best label I can come up with for them is neo-vaudeville. They’ve clearly been listening to lots of old 78’s, but are not interested in just producing exact copies of vintage recordings. They definitely bring a contemporary spirit to their rootsy music. The two acts complemented each other well to create a very special experience. (The Hamilton, Washington, DC).
The Washington, DC Brazilian scene. Over the past several years, I have discovered that the Washington, DC area hosts a vibrant Brazilian scene. There are venues that regularly feature live Brazilian music. Performers such as Cissa Paz, Rose Moraes, and DC Choro can be found at Bossa (18th St), The Grill From Ipanema (Columbia Road), Rumba Cafe (18th St) and elsewhere. Paz just released her first CD– for details on that, and upcoming gigs, go to: http://www.cissapaz.com
That’s it for now. My typing finger is exhausted. See you again soon.