Well, folks, another Jazz Fest has come and gone and, honestly, it was great. With such a bewildering breadth of world-class music to choose from, it was difficult to know just what to see. Fortunately, I have the luxury of dispatching my Jazz Mafia minions to shake down - metaphorically, of course - our fair city, freeing me up to keep tabs on the rest of the goings-on about town. Man, everyone should have minions. But I digress. Let's talk about live music.
Of all of the lines I've written in these esteemed pages over the last month, none have raised more eyebrows than my self-proclaimed "man-crush" on R&B singer Ryan Shaw. As I sauntered into Nectar's last Wednesday evening, I encountered a co-worker who, with a devilish grin across her lips, inquired about my adoration for the 26-year-old soul man. Blushing, I confessed that it was true. She put her arm around me in a consoling fashion, and said, "It's OK, Dan. I have a man-crush on Ryan Shaw, too, and I'm a lesbian." I felt much better.
The show was stunning. Shaw is an electrifying performer, even without a backing band - he opened the show with a jaw-dropping a cappella number. When the band did join in, the close-to-capacity crowd was treated to the most authentic soul music this side of Sam Cooke.
I'm guessing I was the youngest person in the bar by about 25 years, which, in retrospect, probably makes sense; many of these people were my age when the first wave of soul was sweeping the country. Shaw closed the show with his signature hit, "Do The 45." I'm not exactly sure what "The 45" is supposed to look like, but I'm going out on a limb to say that whatever dance the Subaru Outback-set was doing wasn't it. Watching the crowd's awkward gyrations, I was reminded of the off-balance bouncing fits that grip toddlers when they hear the "Spongebob Squarepants" theme song - but in an endearing sort of way.
While we're discussing the rhythmically challenged, allow me to offer some advice. When a performer implores his crowd to clap along - as Shaw did on many occasions that night - by all means do, but only if you can clap in time. Ninety percent of popular American music is written in 4/4-time, which means that the accented beats - i.e., where you should clap - fall on the second and fourth beats of each measure. It goes like this: one-CLAP-three-CLAP. And so on. Got it? Good. Next week, we'll graduate to 3/4 time, but practice that for now.
There were plenty of Subarus at Higher Ground on Friday night. The majority were presumably owned by those with tickets to see Appalachian folkie Iris Dement in the Ballroom, though I'm sure more than a few were borrowed by teenagers checking out Brooklyn-based indie-rockers The Urgency, in the Showcase Lounge.
I was there for the former, though I'm told the latter was excellent as well. Dement is a captivating songwriter with a unique voice and a charmingly geeky stage presence. Imagine if Emmylou Harris mated with Julia Sweeney's androgynous "Saturday Night Live" character Pat, and you might have a sense of what I mean. Hack-ish comparisons aside, the seated show was achingly beautiful.
Saturday night is Jazz Fest's main event and, this year, they pulled out all the stops. My evening began at the Waterfront Tent with ska originators The Skatalites. As I'm a former "rude boy," this show was the highlight of the festival for me. It's been a while since I've skanked full-stop, but I was surprised by how easily it all came back. Then again, the dance really isn't much more than running in place.
Following The Skatalites was the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry, who, while still a musical force, is old. And crazy. And old. His backing band, Dub Is a Weapon, does the droning reggae thing to perfection, providing an ideal backdrop for Perry to ramble incoherently in heavy patois. Worse, he didn't scratch. The dude invented turntable scratching. His freaking name is "Scratch." Throw us a bone, dude.
From the waterfront, I followed the crowd up the hill to the Block Party on Church Street. Typically, local brewmeisters Magic Hat fill the pedestrian mall with jammy fare for late-night revelers. This year they switched gears and stocked up on indie-rock. Local art-rockers Swale and math-rock - you read that right, math-rock - outfit The Mathematicians were this year's highlights. Sure, it's not jazz, but it was refreshing and very well received. In particular, The Mathematicians had the most raucous crowd I've seen on Church Street since The Jazz Guys were "banned for life," a couple of years ago.
Speaking of The Jazz Guys, I finished my evening at the Radio Bean, where the band was playing a tune-up gig and unveiling a slew of new songs. I'm pretty sure it was great, but by that point in the night, I'd consumed an awful lot of . . . um, jazz. Fuzzy recollections notwithstanding, we'll be hearing a lot more from The Jazz Guys in coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Congrats to the Discover Jazz folks on yet another job well done, and to all the other local venues for providing quality alternatives.
Last summer, local countrified super-group Ramble Dove made big waves at the Bonnaroo festival. This year, the country's most prestigious and eclectic festival will again have a bit of Burlington flair as our own vaudevillian-harmonicore heroes Cccome? bring their uniquely bohemian theatrics to Tennessee.
As with nearly everything the band does, their Bonnaroo experience will not be of the standard variety. The group is performing "The (Damn Everything But the) Circus," a traveling post-apocalyptic sideshow that will patrol the festival grounds and stage impromptu performances in unlikely spots. From the beer tent to the port-a-potty lines, festival-goers will be treated to Cccome?'s bizarre musical blend wherever they roam. If you go, avoid the brown acid when you see them cccoming.
FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US
If you can't go to Bonnaroo and are jonesing for a festival fix, The Langdon Street Café in Montpelier has got you covered. This Saturday, there will be a special screening of concert footage from last summer's Northeast Kingdom Music Festival. The film's original showing packed the artsy café, so event organizers thought it a good idea to do it all again. Lucky us. While you're there, reserve your tickets for this year's festival, which is August 3 and 4 in East Albany.