Summer 2003's best bets

Jen Chapin performs at Club Helsinki on June 7

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 5, 2003) – It’s always a dicey proposition to handicap the summer music season in advance. Favorites can disappoint, unknowns can (and hopefully will) surprise, and there will undoubtedly be many last-minute changes and additions.

But in any case, as of last week, when this column was written, here’s what looked most intriguing and most promising on the summer schedule of folk, pop, jazz and rock in the Berkshires and the greater region.

Jen Chapin Band (Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, June 7): Straddling the fine line between singer-songwriter and jazz chanteuse, Jen Chapin blurs the distinctions between the genres aided by her terrific ensemble, her smart songwriting, and her alluring, dusky vocals.

Hazard County Girls (Helsinki, June 13): A few months back this all-female, punk-rock trio from New Orleans were a last-minute, add-on as a late show at the club. Again they’ll be going on late – after singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke, around 10:30 or so – but this gig is no afterthought – the Girls play punk like it’s 1979 and grunge never happened.

Norah Jones (Proctor’s Theater, Schenectady, N.Y., June 30; Tanglewood, Lenox, August 30): With over five million copies of her debut album sold, all Norah Jones has left to prove is can she make it as a live performer, or was the success of her CD just a fluke? At Tanglewood, she will be Marian McPartland’s guest for a live taping of “Piano Jazz.”

Neil Young and Crazy Horse/Lucinda Williams (July 4, SPAC): Neil Young is one of rock’s more erratic performers, but when he plays out with Crazy Horse he rarely fails to ignite sparks. And Lucinda Williams has just released a new album of torrid tales of woe. A great double-bill.

Polygraph Lounge (Mass MoCA, July 12): In Polygraph Lounge, Led Zeppelin rubs shoulders with Aaron Copland and “Inna Gadda Da Vida” meets Gregorian Chant. Keyboardist Rob Schwimmer and guitarist Mark Stewart – stalwarts of the downtown jazz and avant-garde scenes -- focus their polymathic musical sensibilities and acute critical eye on classic rock and pop music.

Patty Griffin (Mahaiwe Theatre, July 18): New England’s answer to Lucinda Williams is a great choice to inaugurate the newly-renovated Mahaiwe Theatre, the diamond of South County. In just the few short years she’s been around, this Old Town, Maine native, who now calls Boston home, has had her songs recorded by the Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Bette Midler. But no one can sing them like Griffin herself.

Bang on a Can (Mass MoCA, July 19 and 26): Once again, Mass MoCA will play host to the Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute, or “Banglewood” as it is unofficially known. And once again the residency will be bookended by two concerts. On July 19th, the Bang on a Can All-Stars will perform in a program called “American UnPop,” with guest artist Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in a preview of composer David Lang’s “Songs for Lou Reed,” featuring new settings of classic texts by the Velvet Underground. On July 26th, the second annual Bang on a Can Summer Marathon will feature six straight hours of non-stop contemporary music, with special guest composer Louis Andriessen.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (Long Hill Farm, Hillsdale, N.Y., July 24-27): This year’s festival marks 15 years, and to celebrate Falcon Ridge is bringing back an all-star lineup of favorite guests including Greg Brown, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky, plus artists seen less frequently or never at Falcon Ridge, including Richard Thompson, Holly Near, Tom Paxton and the Berkshires’ own Arlo Guthrie, making his Falcon Ridge debut.

Jazz Passengers (Mass MoCA, August 2): Roy Nathanson’s Jazz Passengers are an all-star collective of downtown jazz talent with a penchant for Charles Mingus, dance rhythms and circus music. Thus, they should be perfect for reinventing the 1954 3-D classic, “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” While the film rolls, they’ll provide the music and the dialogue in radio-play fashion.

Steely Dan (SPAC, August 29): The classic, soul-jazz sound of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker never goes out of style, but just gets better with age.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 5, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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