My last post was dated May 27th. Since I started this blog more than four years ago, it’s never been so long since the last one. More about being busy (a good thing) than having nothing to cover. So this one’s about making up for lost time and hitting a few highlights of the past six weeks…and sharing some of what this muggy summer still has in store.
I’ll work backwards while the memories of last Wednesday’s Wolf Trap experience are still fresh and resonant. First of all, the ride up 95, around the Beltway and out the Dulles access road was congestion free as was our ride home…that never happens. We opted for lawn space rather than covered seats and with new reclining chairs, a nice bottle of Malbec and a tasty homemade picnic, we were set up in a perfect spot just two hours after we’d left home. Remarkable. And after the storm-ridden afternoon we left behind in Richmond, northern VA was all breeze and blue sky and long shadows of a setting sun. Perfection, as was the music that lay ahead thanks to k.d. lang and her Siss Boom Bang. We knew we were in for greatness having shared the new album Sing It Loud with k.d.’s harmony-singing keyboard kid and old friend Daniel Clarke months ago, and he’d been gushing about how much fun this five-man band was having on tour. Expectations were brilliantly exceeded with ms. lang’s soaring, pristine vocals, the achingly tasteful supporting musicians, impeccable acoustics and sound reinforcement and gorgeously glitzy stage dressing and lighting. Conception and execution as good as it gets. For our many area fans of Dan who haven’t caught him with k.d. before, you’d be very proud of how much his boss leans on him and features his piano, accordion and B-3 work…he even co-wrote three tunes on the new record including the sinewy and sensuous “I Confess” which opens the show. And his bandmate Josh Grange plays some of the most creative pedal steel I’ve ever heard in any genre. Daniel will likely grow in earning power and name recognition as his career unfolds but he’ll not likely find a more stimulating musical setting than this one. And they travel with a masseuse. What a ride.
Back to June 30 and a long-awaited Ashland appearance by IBMA Female Vocalist winner Dale Ann Bradley and her tight new band. I’d just spent a long weekend in Owensboro, KY at the ROMP (River of Music Party) festival with a lineup chock full of a-list headliners (photos in the right column), but none of them moved me the way Dale Ann did that night, with her voice like butter and her sensational supporting cast comprised of (l to r) fiddling favorite Shad Cobb, killer young five-string master Mike Sumner, George’s younger brother Ron Shuffler on bass and gifted singer-songwriter-mandolinist Chris Harris. Some of the most appealing and listenable bluegrass you’ll ever hear. Go see them this summer if you can.
As I prepare to preview the final Groovin’ in the Garden concerts of the season at Lewis Ginter, I’m realizing that this whole post is focusing on the females we love to hear…so be it. Tom Beals and his Haymaker Productions team who promote the Groovin’ series have scored a trifecta of Americana’s leading ladies for the next three shows the area’s most elegant outdoor venue: Emmylou Harris and her Red Dirt Boys on July 20, Gillian Welch with David Rawlings on August 19th and Albemarle County’s Mary Chapin Carpenter on August 25th. That’s a lot of tuneful estrogen in one town for one summer so get out and show that we’re worthy of such ambitious booking and get your tickets now. The savvy solution is to buy a Songwriters’ Series ticket that gets you general admission lawn seating for all three for just 80 bucks! A nice break for sure as most of us would hate to miss any of the three. Click here for the combo pricing. Serious Gil & Dave fans will want to click here to see the cool video of how they created the old-fashioned letterpress CD cover for their long-awaited new album The Harrow & The Harvest. And how to coffee-stain your copy. It’s an engaging return to the haunting simplicity that hooked us all in the first place. See you at the Rose Garden. If you aren’t already holding for Alison Krauss & Union Station’s reunion Paper Airplane tour stops in Charlottesville or Wolftrap late this month and early next, fuggedaboudit, unless you're wanting to pay north of $400 a seat to a ticket re-seller. Both long sold out. It may be apples and oranges, but save your money on August 7th and take in the Robbin Thompson Band reunion show for free at Dogwood Dell on that Sunday night. Thirty years later the boys still rock. Deal? So much for the women.
Whether you’ve committed for a good long weekend of camping or are just doing a day or two at a time, this promises to be a year not to miss Virginia’s Blue Ridge cultural bonanza, FloydFest celebrating its tenth year up on the Parkway. It’s a lovingly crafted community of human expression with multiple hand-hewn stages, hundreds of performers, craft beer and creative festival food and lots of surprises commensurate with a best of the decade occasion. Proper name dropping would include Robert Randolph, OCMS, Grace Potter, Yonder Mountain String Band, Taj Mahal, Del McCoury, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Railroad Earth. Fair enough? Check the website for countless more including many you’ve never heard of but will no doubt take away as new favorites. There’s nothing like FloydFest anywhere. Founders Kris Hodges and Erika Johnson take this thing very seriously and they want to make the big X one for the ages. If you haven’t been, this should be your first. Mile post 170.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway July 28-31.
And a parting pop for a Broadway-style musical in all its glory right here in River City at Barksdale’s Empire Theatre on Broad. Hats off to Phil Whiteway, Bruce Miller and all those involved in bringing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to life in such a classy, sophisticated way. Every production element was just right…great sets and lighting, clever and witty dialogue and NY-caliber performances by Jeff McCarthy and Scott Wichmann and the whole cast directed flawlessly by Chase Kniffen. And last night, even a dandy cameo with Gene Cox having way too much fun. It runs through August 7th and it’ll make you proud to call Richmond home. Well done.
Details coming soon about JAMinc’s and In Your Ear Studios’ joint radio venture starting this fall on WCVE Public Radio.
Live music…get out and take it in…TT