I get giddy when announcements for the summer music season begin to hit. Two local opera houses have once again ordered up some fine talent for their “pre-season” shows. In Claremont, a musical pioneer in both rock and country, Leon Russell, performs August 6. Famous for songs like “Tightrope” and “Out in the Woods,” he also made a mark with his alter ego Hank Wilson, performing down-home material with the likes of Willie Nelson and the New Grass Revival.
Cape Breton fiddle master and mad clogger Natalie MacMaster returns to Lebanon Opera House July 29 to once again whip the locals into a frenzy. MacMaster, a road warrior like no other, has a new CD due and plans for more regional shows (teaming with gonzo banjo man Bela Fleck, no less) around New England later in the summer.
Americana fans like myself should welcome the latest change on the cable dial. VH1 Country, a video channel that’s lost a lot of its bite lately, is gone, replaced by CMT Pure, a more adventurous all-clip channel. “Wide Open Country,” a two hour spotlight show that airs in the morning and evening, leaves aside the black hat/white t-shirt clichés, serving up a healthy helping of Alison Krause, Rodney Crowell, Pat Green and other great rebel yellers. There are also exclusive live videos from the CMT-produced “Studio 333” show.
Watch the members of Nickel Creek wander into a Nashville guitar shop and hook up with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo for a bang up version of “Smoothie Song,” one of the best bluegrass instrumentals of the last 10 years. That’s melting pot America, and it’s on TV (Adelphia channel 143).
Windham Winds Down
The final shows at the Windham in downtown Bellows Falls were recently announced, with this admonition from proprietor Gary Smith: “Something better will happen after this, I promise. Why would we close? Because it’s time for something new.”
On June 9, two artists from Thursday’s Fredfest New Faces opener, Sam Baker and Anäis Mitchell, join Mike Plume (who also has a Saturday main stage set). Local rockers Mr. Burns play June 15, and the gypsy jazz group Ameranouche set up June 22. The final weekend happens June 30-July 1, with talent to be announced.
As for the here and now:
Thursday: Jeffrey Foucault, Iron Horse – The Wisconsin troubadour just released “Ghost Repeater,” with a fuller band sound, thanks to the help of guitarist/producer Bo Ramsey. This is Foucault’s only area appearance until early August, when he joins a great lineup including Rosanne Cash, David Gray and Madeline Peyroux at the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival (Rhode Island, not New Hampshire).
Friday: Stone Cold Roosters, Middle Earth – OK, they’re not Cream, or even the Thorns, but this loose amalgamation is a supergroup in my eyes. They’re musician fans of American roots artists diverse as George Jones and Creedence, led by songwriter Colin McCaffrey (who stops by solo at Claremont’s Sophie & Zeke’s June 16). The band includes Northern Spy fiddler Thal Aylward and Dr. Burma’s Ted Mortimer. Mortimer’s talented bride Linda Boudreault sometimes joins the fun.
Saturday: Stonewall, Claremont Knights Hall – Against all odds, they’re still Stonewall. In fact, I think that’s a great name for them – “Still Stonewall” – don’t you? Tonight’s show is hosted by Rock 93.9’s Steve Smith, and includes DJ Matt Cross’s band. DJ Stax and Broken Mindz also perform. Stonewall leader Josh Parker tells me that the band will head to the studio in the coming months. I’m looking forward to that.
Sunday: Jazz Brunch, Courthouse – Young improvisational jazz pianist David DiLorenzo entertains diners at this downtown Newport landmark. An upscale menu, including goodies from North Country Smokehouse, and cool blue music – it doesn’t get more sophisticated than that. This is a regular weekend affair, and a welcome new addition to the regional music scene.
Tuesday: Jim McNeely & the Discover Jazz Festival Big Band, FlynnSpace – The downtown Burlington Discover Jazz Festival gets better every year. Tonight, pianist and composer McNeely, who’s helmed tributes to everyone from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis, is himself in the spotlight. The BDJFBB, under the direction of UVM Professor Alex Stewart, includes many long-familiar faces from the Vermont jazz scene, along with new, fresh up-and-comers.
Wednesday: Jeremiah McLane, Canoe Club – Music lover and Canoe Club owner John Chapin personally recommended this, something I don’t take lightly in that he presents 362 nights of music a year. This is a CD release party for McLane’s “Freetown” project, a tribute to African music. Chapin cites McLane as “a good example of why you should not go into the music business.” In other words, he does it for love, not money, playing a diverse collection of roots music, from Celtic to Cajun to African.