- Bobby McFerrin
This is a big year for the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. For starters, 2013 marks the fest’s 30th anniversary. It is also the fest’s maiden voyage under the leadership of Flynn Center artistic director Steve MacQueen and new BDJF managing director, Linda Little. That duo takes the reins from departed honchos Arnie Malina, Brian Mital and Geeda Searforce, who stepped down following last year’s festival. Given that trio’s collective decades of experience piloting the Discover Jazz ship, theirs are pretty large saddle shoes to fill, never mind the added excitement of the fest’s big three-oh. But if the new kids are feeling the pressure, you’d never know it.
I met with Little and MacQueen over coffee last week to get acquainted and chat about this year’s lineup, and came away impressed. Right off the bat, I’m rather enamored with their way of doing business — specifically, bagging the tired formality of the annual BDJF press conference. Have I mentioned how much I loathe press conferences? Well, I do.
More importantly, this year’s lineup is shaping up to be a beauty, a fine mix of big-ticket headliners, dynamic newcomers and some underrated gems.
Like whom? Glad you asked!
Anchoring the marquee this year is Bobby McFerrin at the Flynn MainStage on Saturday, June 1. Yeah, yeah. He’s the guy who did “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” But don’t let the brain-gnawing catchiness of that song fool you. McFerrin is among the most technically gifted vocalists in history, a 10-time Grammy winner with enormous range and improvisational abilities. He’s touring a new project that reimagines a catalog of African American spirituals performed by his father, Robert McFerrin Sr. The elder McFerrin was a famed singer in his own right, and was the first black man to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.
Rounding out the rest of the MainStage lineup are John Scofield’s Überjam Band (Friday, May 31), the Branford Marsalis Quartet (Sunday, June 2), vocalist Eliane Elias (Friday, June 7) and Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band, featuring UVM’s own Ray Vega, on Sunday, June 9.
Impressive as the MainStage slate is, as with most years, many of the festival’s most memorable performances are likely to happen underground — or at least downstairs. The FlynnSpace lineup is brimming with lesser-known acts that could steal the festival, including Colombian harp virtuoso Edmar Castaneda (Saturday, June 1), the Dave Douglas Quintet (Monday, June 3), Boston jazz legends the Fringe (Wednesday, June 5) and soon-to-be legendary vocalist Gretchen Parlato (June 8). Personally, I’m most, ahem, jazzed for the Burlington debut of Brian Boyes’ 20-member Arkestra, the Saturn People’s Sound Collective, on Tuesday, June 4. Michael Chorney, no stranger to genre-bending space music himself, told me that band’s Goddard College premiere last fall was “simply one of the best concerts I have ever heard by anyone, local or not.” I believe him.
Another potential sleeper hit would have to be Lee Fields and the Expressions at Signal Kitchen on Friday, June 7. SK’s cool confines were used to great effect during last year’s festival, and the chance to hear one of R&B’s legendary wailers in such close quarters promises to be pretty special. And sweaty.
As of this writing, Little and MacQueen were not quite ready to dish on the bands playing the Waterfront Tent — my guess would be something funky, and maybe a little irie. But you can expect those announcements to come soon, as well as news on this year’s JazzLab, the block parties on Church Street and other smaller shows all over town. In the meantime, the website for the 2013 BDJF is live, with complete info and updates at discoverjazz.com.
It seems like every time I mention Villanelles these days, I have to lead with some version of “It’s been awhile since last we heard from our old pals, Villanelles.” Is any local band more prone to disappearing acts than our favorite grits-kissin’ indie rockers? Anyway, it turns out the band has a good reason for laying low lately. They’ve been hard at work on a new record with — who else? — Ryan Power. Sadly, the album won’t see the light of day until later this summer, in part because front man Tristan Baribeau is soon off to Alaska to fight bears. Or do some farming stuff. I can’t remember which. In any case, Villanelles play what is probably their last local show until the album-release party this Friday, March 29, at the Monkey House with Maine’s Coke Weed and another local indie band whose album we’re eagerly awaiting, Alpenglow.
Speaking of Baribeau, he’ll be playing a show with his side project, Doctor Sailor, at the Monkey this Wednesday, March 27, opening for recent VT transplant Chris Cohen. Cohen was formerly a member of bands such as Ariel Pink, Deerhoof and Cass McCombs before retreating to the Green Mountains. Here he has recorded his most recent album, the hipster-tested, Pitchfork-approved Overgrown Path. When I spoke to him recently, Baribeau was practically giddy over playing with Cohen, and I can understand why. Path is a killer little album.
Pure Pop Records, that death-defying bastion of brick-and-mortar music stores, is hosting a rare in-store performance this week. LA country-rockers Dawes — technically in Vermont for a gig at Jay Peak this Friday, March 29 — will rock the basement shop on Thursday, March 28. Tickets are limited, and if you want one, you have to pre-order the band’s forthcoming record, Stories Don’t End, at Pure Pop. Given the all-around awesomeness of their last record, Nothing Is Wrong, you should go ahead and do that.
This just in from the Reggae Desk: Junior Reid, who replaced Michael Rose as the vocalist in Black Uhuru, makes his Vermont debut at the Higher Ground Ballroom this Saturday, March 30, with K-Salaam. Interestingly, the show is curated by DJ Mashtodon and features some ace local openers, including DJ Big Dog, Purple Drank and the Ice Coast Band. So if you go, get there on time for once, OK?
Last but not least, a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon what might be my new favorite local band, the Blim-Blams, playing a late-night set — their debut performance, no less — at Radio Bean. Led by the criminally underrated Ryan Ober (Invisible Jet, Led Lo/Co), the BBs deliver a ragged take on early rock and roll that left me grinning from ear to ear. Granted, that could also have been the Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout — I wasn’t being facetious about the “stumbled” part earlier. Anyway, the group plays its second show this Saturday, March 30, again at Radio Bean. This time around, they’ll be joined by the Blamettes, Miriam Bernardo and Emer Feely, on backing vocals. (Full disclosure: Seven Days staffer Steve Hadeka plays drums in the Blim-Blams.)
This Week on Tour Date with DJ Llu
The third season of Seven Days’ music podcast, Tour Date with DJ Llu, continues this Wednesday, March 27, when Llu chats with British soul singer Jamie Lidell in advance of his upcoming show at Signal Kitchen in Burlington on Wednesday, April 10. BTW, if you tune in, you could win tickets to that show. Check it out at 7d.blogs.com/tour_date.