Monday, June 20, 2011

June 18-19, 2011 The Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival Festival

The annual Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival Festival at Croton on the Hudson was held this past weekend. It is that unusual eclectic mix of activism, music, food and vendors that has come to characterize it. The demographics of the attendees speaks volumes about the reach and scope of the Clearwater Festival: families with children in tow, young people, old people, people with disabilities, veterans, and activists. The festival has something for everyone--story tellers, children’s music, folk music, rock music, dance music—all going on at four separate stages around Croton Park with the backdrop of the Hudson River and the Hudson River Sloop the Clearwater's noble symbol of the organizers' ongoing effort to remove toxic PCPs dumped by GE into the river. There is variety of food spanning the global palate and vendors selling wares of every nation, activists’ booths educating the concert goers to everything from local issues like the Hudson River clean up, the aging Indian Point nuclear reactor, the proposed fracking for natural gas in New York that threatens our water supply, to world issues like the four wars our nation is currently engaged in as the economy sinks toward a new recession or worse. Of course, it is the wide variety of music that draws people forcing the concert goers to make choices they’d rather not make with so much going on during the same time slot. On Sunday, when I was there, the listeners were torn between John Sebastian, James McMurtry or Joe D’Urso; Jorma Kaukonen, Tao Seeger or Buskin and Batteau; Suzanne Vega, David Amram or Jeffrey  Broussard and the Creole Cowboys. How do you choose?  Like a fool I ran around trying to get a taste of everyone. I was disappointed by John Sebastian whose voice has seen better days, lifted up by James McMurtry with his driving sound, mesmerized by Jorma Kaukonen fiery fingers, vaguely interested in Suzanne Vega who has become the standard bearer for Carson McCullers, wished I had spent more time with the Creole Cowboys, and ended the night with Drive-By Truckers who have captured the unique voicing and intonation of Richard Manuel as they eloquently sang about the hardscrabble life that typifies the heartland of America. All in all, the Clearwater Festival was a great success thanks to Pete Seeger who proves that the total of a life can be greater than the sum of its parts.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 04, 2011 War Horse

For any of you who want to have a thrilling theatre experience, then you should see War Horse, adapted by Nick Stafford based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. The play has everything that makes for good theatre: a great cast, a wonderful set design,  a story line with a deep emotional core, a musical storyline (although this is not a musical) and of course the horses, in particular Joey, brought to life in the style of the Lion King by the Handspring Puppet Company. The first half of the play is absolutely gripping. The play pulls at your heartstrings as you watch the alcoholic father with his deep-seated inferiority complex wreak havoc on his family and ironically create a lasting bond between his son, Albert Narracott, and the colt, Joey. This relationship remains the very core of the play as we witness both boy and horse mature and grow. The second half of the play depicts the horse going off to war, The War to End All Wars. We witness the untold story of horses on both sides of the battle front, German and British on French soil, and in this case Joey, as Albert searches for him. Here, the emotional core is severed through a series of vignettes that are designed to capture the uses and abuses of the many horses that were used to ferry men into war, pull the wagons, and carry the injured, even as the war itself becomes more technologically sophisticated with the introduction of machines guns, armored tanks, tear gas and mustard gas. Joey is the sole cohesive core to the second half. While we care deeply for animals caught up in manmade wars, and particularly for Joey, we care more for human beings, who unfortunately are reduced to cutouts, as in war itself, and therefore lose our emotional connection. Still, the play is a marvel to behold, a theatre experience to know first hand, and an account of WW I that needs telling. Go see it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 01, 2011 Jeff LeBlanc and Mike Krum

Jeff LeBlanc and Mike Krum both headlined at Acoustic Long Island on the first concert of the summer series. Jeff LeBlanc singing style can best be compared to the talented Chris Ayers and Tim Blane. And while his songs were well crafted, they never reached the highs that characterized those two artists. Instead, LeBlanc’s songs can best be described as pretty, the kind of songs that you could snuggle up to with someone you love while sitting by the a fire and want to complete the mood. His songs never reached deep into your soul or lifted you off your seat. For the first half of his set he was accompanied on the duel keyboard by his talented philosophy professor from Sacred Heart University, a man who made you want to go back and reread Socrates, Aristotle and maybe Henri Bergson. For the second half LeBlanc went solo incorporating a music loop machine into his performance. While it was amazing to watch his pyrotechnic footwork as he looped riffs and rhythms and voiceovers, he slowly drifted off into a solipsistic world, where like an onion when you peel back the layers, the core seemed empty and lonely. These machines must be addicting to musicians, much like gazing into two mirrors toward infinity. Unfortunately they produce endlessly layered repetition which contradicts what real music is all about where musicians, not machines, play off each other. This isn’t to say that Jeff LeBlanc doesn’t have some wonderfully rendered songs. Until We Get It Right has a nice vocal reach and emotional pull. His song Believe in a Chris Ayers style is a simple lyrical ballad. He ended the night with the return of his college professor to the stage and their rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, a sing-along that the audience loved and sang enthusiastically. The keyboardist was driving and inventive, and they played off each without the raw passion of Springsteen, but with a much needed, rousingly closing to the set. More of that please.

Mike Krum was a complete surprise. His singing style evoked Vance Gilbert with all of Vance’s soulfulness and sincerity; there were even shades of Kenny Rankin hidden deep within. There was something real about Krum’s songs that made you want to sit up and listen. On stage, he was often playful and even silly, sometimes self-deprecating and somewhat scattered. However, when he sang, he was transformed into a true artist with something to say about things that mattered: his girl friend, his friends, the breakup of a musical friendship and his generation. That generational theme he captured honestly and reverentially in his song Slacker, certainly something he is not. It would have been nice if he had brought his own guitar instead of playing an instrument that he picked up out of the Acoustic Long Island grab bag closet because the guitar was barely audible. Fortunately, he was accompanied by a wonderfully inventive electric guitarist who filled in all of the gaps, always lingering in the background, augmenting Krum’s voicing and his reach. Mike Krum ended his set with a beautifully soulful song sung in the Vance Gilbert tradition, No More, which is destined to be a classic in its own right.