Local Rhythms – Montreal, Where Music Is Free

Gas is four bucks a gallon, and the Canadian loonie is close to even with our dollar, but I’m driving to Montreal.  Because for the next 10 days, the music is free.

It’s the 29th Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and if you live in New England but haven’t yet experienced this eclectic street party, you really should join me.

Don’t be fooled by the “jazz” moniker – the 200-plus performers run the gamut from Afro-pop to Zydeco.   Shows are scattered across the massive Place des Arts in the heart of the city; I tried to tally up the total number of venues – 15, 20?

It’s hard to say, but every day there’s something happening from noon until well past midnight.  The trick is getting organized so as to not miss the top acts.

On the festival’s opening night, the nationally televised tribute to Leonard Cohen, featuring Katie Melua, Madeline Peyroux, Chris Botti and several more, will draw a huge crowd.   Cohen’s also playing one of the many ticketed Festival Montreal shows – Steely Dan, Return to Forever and Woody Allen are among the others – but why pay when you can enjoy so much for free?

Besides, the best thing about Jazz Fest is discovering new talents.  So while I’m stoked to see Trixie Whitely, who impressed me so much a couple of months ago at the Bellows Falls tribute to her father Chris, I’m even more excited about Back Door Slam, a British acoustic trio that sounds like a cross between Dave Matthews and Robert Johnson.

The South American world beat of Ecos de Portoalegre is another on my list of must-sees, but if the past is any indication – this will be my fifth festival in 9 years – the week’s best band will be a complete surprise, or a tie among several.

Festival de Jazz de Montreal is also very child-friendly; that’s one of its’ best features.  There are several kid-centered music exhibits, face painting and fun food.  Last year, the festival introduced a free “blues camp” for 13 to 17 year old musicians selected from auditions in April. These talented youngsters will play a show on the festival’s final night, July 6.

Think of it – the Paris of North America is but a short car ride away.  Montreal is an amazing city; thrown in a few hundred hours of great music and nothing – not pump shock nor careening currency exchange rates – can keep me away.

There are a few cool events if you decide to stay Stateside:

Thursday: Tammy Jackson, Newbury Harbor Gazebo – Thanks to Mother Nature, I haven’t had to water my garden much in the last few days. But the rain has made outdoor shows a bit dodgy. Whatever the elements have in store, this popular country singer and her rockin’ band will give it their all, playing everything from “Mony, Mony” to “Harper Valley P.T.A.”

Friday: Bobby K and the Peace, Salt hill – Citing Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dave Matthews and Tupac as influences, you know this combo is out of the ordinary.  They’ve dubbed their music “folk-hop,” and this Vermont trio gets the crowd involved when they play. Salt hill will temporarily suspend their no-cover policy for a good cause on Saturday, when NYC’s Zach Fisher performs a a benefit show for Global Health Cares.

Saturday: Willie Edwards Band, Canoe Club – Usually, this Hanover restaurant mixes the music with other elements like good food, cozy ambience and a bar featuring 40 or so craft beers on tap. Tonight, the tunes get turned up to eleven; there’s a 10 PM start time and (gasp!) tables cleared away for dancing.  I want to be there when the reverberations shake that old canoe from the wall.

Sunday: Pardy Benefit Show, Claremont Moose – Roadhouse, Flashback, Tinderbox and Come Sunrise gather to raise money to assist the family of Robert and Cody Pardy, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their Charlestown home on June 2.  Friends and fellow musicians are invited to attend the event, which is open to the public.  Organizer Joe Peters encourages musicians to bring their gear if they want to jam.

Monday: Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Quechee Polo Grounds – It’s that time again, when the VSO tours the state, playing music for picnicking families at various ski resorts (but this year, not Ascutney).    This year’s program includes selections from “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the Fourth of July’s version of “Free Bird” – Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with cannon shots and a sky lit up with fireworks.

Wednesday: Rich Meijer, Elixir – The Gully Boy guitarist takes a solo turn in White River Junction.  Elixir, by the way, is gearing up for the River City Blues Festival, to be held July 8-12th, featuring Michael Payton, Ricker Winsor, Johnny Bishop and his band Johnny B and the Goodes, and inimitable harp man James Montgomery.

Local Rhythms – Don’t Steal From Musicians

I need to vent this week, mainly because of a recent email. A friend wrote asking me to send  any pictures I might have taken of Eilen Jewell and her band.  She’s my favorite throwback chanteuse, and I’ve had a couple of occasions to photograph her over the years (resisting the urge to shoot in black and white).

The reason for this request is at the source of my crankiness.

After playing a great set in Vermont last weekend, Eilen and the boys drove out to California.  While they were playing a gig in San Francisco, some cretin broke into their van and took drummer/manager Jason Beek’s laptop.

With all the talk about not stealing music, you’d think people would know enough not to actually, you know, steal from musicians.

The laptop had all the band’s photos, and there’s no backup, so the call went out to friends to replenish their history.  If you’re a Eilen fan and have anything, shoot me an email.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so in addition to ticking me off, this makes me ashamed for my former home.

At least these creeps didn’t get Eilen’s autographed guitar, or Jason’s custom tom tom head.  In 1970, Pink Floyd had to cancel their third American tour when all their equipment was stolen in New Orleans.

These days, it happens more frequently than I care to admit.

Matt Costa (“Mr. Pitiful”) lost $25,000 worth of gear during a tour stop in Winnipeg last January, and country rockers the Pullman Strike were shut down earlier this year when some jerk drove away with a trailer containing all of their equipment.

There’s even a web site devoted to ripped-off musicians. Called stolengear.org, it has links to reported thefts from all over the world.  The latest victim reported a lap steel guitar and fiddle taken from a parked car in West Philadelpia.

This is outrageous.

It’s bad enough that most of the profits in the music business go to guys in suits who can’t play a note, and that an entire generation of fans thinks that songs are free because they can find them on the Internet.

But stealing a guitar from a musician is like taking a toolbox from a carpenter.  In these techno-centric times, a laptop isn’t much different.  It’s how a lot of struggling musicians manage their livelihood.

Until some criminal comes along and grabs it.

Oh, there’s some music happening in the next few days:

Thursday: Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers, Newbury Gazebo – There’s a new drummer, but the focus of this working class band remains the same.  They play the blues, everything from Ruth Brown to Stevie Ray Vaughn, with sass and flair. Outdoor shows around Sunapee Harbor are a summer highlight for me.  I just hope the sun’s out when Roxanne counts the band down.  The Voodoo Rockers will be at indoors next month (Anchorage, July 12).

Friday: Wherehouse, Salt hill Pub – Tonight marks five years in business for one of the local music scene’s best friends.  Helping them celebrate is a band with a good ear for covers, and a healthy collection of tasty originals, the latter courtesy of front man Jason Cann.  Jason, as regular readers of this column know, has a big following as a solo artist.  With a band, he rocks, so it should be a fun night.  Happy Birthday!

Saturday: Vestal, A Taste of Claremont – The annual downtown gathering features many surprises this year – a first look at the Common Man restaurant in the food court, an art show in the old Latchis Theatre lobby (what a great idea!), and a special unplugged performance by Claremont’s own Hexerei, performing as Vestal.  There’s plenty more, including an indoor Harpoon beer garden at Hullabaloo, oldies music from Flashback, and a DJ spinning records.

Sunday: Phil Lesh & Friends w/ Levon Helm, Meadowbrook – In what can be taken either as a nice gesture or the bellwether of a struggling business, the Gilford shed is offering a free gallon of gas with each ticket purchased.  The whole region is holding its collective breath during Motorcycle Week, worried that high fuel costs will keep bikers away.  Here’s an ironic fact – this summer’s Meadowbrook calendar is co-sponsored by a propane company.

Tuesday: Orchestra Baobab, Hanover Green – A free show from the Hopkins Center showcases one of the originators of the Afro-pop sound.  Ochestra Baobab, hailing from Senegal, feature “shimmering Ghanaian-style guitar riffs, rich African and Caribbean percussion, and tangy vocals,” says one critic.

Wednesday: Juke Joynt, Canoe Club –
The Hanover restaurant’s schedule lists this as Dave Clark, but Clark’s own web site reports that this band is playing. Juke Joynt, one of Dave’s 10 or so groups, plays original music inspired by blues masters and classic rockers.  That’s pretty lively for a mid-week CC gig.

Scott Ainslie – “Thunder’s Mouth”

10 days after the September 11 attacks, Bruce Springsteen opened a nationally televised benefit show with “My City of Ruins,” a song that could have been a direct response to the tragedy – if it weren’t more than a year old.

Scott Ainslie’s “It’s Gonna Rain,” the centerpiece of his new collection of originals, blues standards and a tasty Tom Waits tune, seems no less prophetic. Written several weeks before Hurricane Katrina, its tableau of a man tripping over “beer bottles and broken Mardi Gras beads” while he wanders the swamped city searching for a lost lover, is a perfect allegory for the days that followed the disaster.

Another artist might have been tempted to tinker with it, but Ainslie didn’t change a word, as the world intersected with art to transform a story of broken love into the tale of a broken city.

Ainslie is blues authority with a political bent, and his selection of cover songs reflects this. “Down In Mississippi,” written in the 1960s by J. B. Lenoir in response to Southern racial injustice, is given just the right balance of pain and rage.

He plays “Dust My Broom” (an obvious selection for Ainslie, the author of a Robert Johnson biography) on a vintage 1931 national. The a capella version of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face” shares an edgy, unadorned sound with many of the album’s non-originals.

Including “It’s Gonna Rain,” Ainslie wrote four of the album’s 10 songs. The title track is a haunting denunciation of slavery, helped by Eugene Friesen’s moaning cello and Sam Broussard’s knife-edged guitar work. “If Anybody Asks About Me” and “I Should Get Over This” are both laced with evocative African textures, sounding of the same vintage as “Another Man Done Gone,” a lovely, sad Vera Hall blues song that Ainslie learned from a John Avery Lomax field recording.

Ainslie recruited a top-pedigree lineup for “Thunder’s Mouth.” In addition to Friesen (Paul Winter Consort) and Broussard (Michael Martin Murphey, Jimmy Buffett, Steve Riley), SNL Band veteran T-Bone Wolk played accordion, keyboards, guitars and percussion along with his regular bass guitar.

Wolk uses the latter to great effect on “Little Trip To Heaven,” a song that will delight anyone who’s impatient with Tom Waits’ gravelly singing style. Ainslie cleans it up nicely, revealing a romantic side of the curmudgeonly songwriter.

“Thunder’s Mouth” is a sturdy record, powerful both as homage and history. But most of all, it reveals a talented tunesmith shaping his unique vision to deep musical roots.

Robert Plant Tells Village Voice: No Zep Tour

Great Village Voice Interview with Robert Plant, though it’s a bit dated.

Given the certitude of Mr. Plant’s statements, and the jubilation he displayed at last Thursday’s Boston show, I’d say these sentiments still hold.  Rumors fly on the Internets, but Robert Plant is on a mission that has nothing to do with Led Zeppelin:

“I mean, there are so many situations that I wouldn’t want to tour in now, because I may have visited certain areas of music too often to actually be excited.”

“… touring for the sake of touring, for me, after all these years, is just pointless. I have to be excited. … You can’t just borrow the Stones’ plane,” Plant says. “It’s got to have a creative kernel of endeavor and whatever it is, otherwise it won’t work, because Zep was about that.”

“I mean, if you want the quick tug,” he continues, “if you want the $5 massage or the happy ending, you know exactly how to get that. That’s a pointless exercise. For me, I just want to do stuff where at the end of the night, I can turn and look at the people I’m working with and go, ‘That was not just an achievement—it was one of the most heart-rending experiences I’ve had.'”

A pointless exercise – I agree, Robert – I hope the next time through you play a better venue than the BofA (or whatever bank/telecom buys it by the next time you tour) Amphitheatre.  The sound was awful.

Roots Wrap

Plentiful sun, widely varied music, good food and good vibes prevailed at this year’s Roots on the River Festival in Rockingham. Saturday’s day-long concert was capped by a Fred Eaglesmith performance that fans called his “best in years”. Local musician Ezra Veitch helped out when regular Flying Squirrels drummer, Kori Heppner, left unexpectedly on Friday. Ezra earned high marks as a quick study.

Robbie Fulks played solo, mixing humorous songs, such as a cover of Cher’s “Do You Believe?” and the creepy story of “Godfrey, the Amateur Children’s Magician,” with beautiful and poignant performances. “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” an early alt-country hit, got a stripped-down treatment, and the unreleased “That’s Where I’m From,” which hushed the crowd, sounded like George Strait’s next hit single.

Promoter Ray Massucco was pleased with the turnout for all four days. The Lori McKenna/Mark Erelli opener was well attended, and the Fred & the Flying Squirrels/Bottle Rockets double bill was, he said, “the best Friday ever.”

Sunday’s Meeting House show was also sold out, with Fred Eaglesmith and Mary Gauthier, and included a special guest appearance by Diana Jones (“My Remembrance of You”), who joined Fred for one song.

Sarah Borges and her band The Broken Singles whipped through a set of high-energy country rock that won the crowd over in a big way. After Borges played, her merchandise sold out and had to be replenished. If Avril Lavigne went twangy, she might sound like Sarah, who had amazing chemistry with her band (based in Boston, they’ve played together six years).

Laid-back Steve Forbert acted like he was in a living room, not a concert stage, as he loped though songs that touched on the political (“Baghdad Dream”, “Good Planets Are Hard to Find”) and the romantic (most notably his biggest hit, “Romeo’s Tune”). Fans shouted out requests, most of which he good-naturedly honored, though one caused him to pause thoughtfully. “That’s a good idea,” he said, “but I’m going to play this one instead.”

After playing a refreshing set of old time country music, members of the Starline Rhythm Boys relaxed in the guitar tent and tried a few instruments. The band kept things early twentieth century for their performance, playing songs like “One Dime at a Time” and touting their latest record, “Drunk Tank,” which they plan to release as a 45 – their new album is also on vinyl.

Wearing pearls and a wry smile, and playing a guitar signed by Loretta Lynn, Eilen Jewell time-traveled to Depression-era musical times. She played several songs from last year’s “Letters From Sinners & Strangers,” as well as selections from her upcoming gospel album. Like Steve Forbert before her, she jokingly asked that no one take pictures – “I’m way too sweaty”.

Chosen Vale – Total Trumpet Immersion

Gathering 37 talented trumpet players from prestigious musical schools like Julliard, Eastman and the Boston Conservatory for two weeks of collaboration would seem a recipe for musical perfection to most people. But not to Edward Carroll, director of the Chosen Vale International Trumpet Seminar, which begins June 16 at the Shaker Village Museum in Enfield.

The seminar attracts talent from all over the world to focus on a single maxim – any piece of music, no matter how sublime, can be improved.

“That’s the essence of art,” says Carroll, who’s played the trumpet for 48 years and taught for 25. “We don’t create masterpieces – that’s for someone else to judge. We do our work, we do the best we can, and we constantly re-evaluate and re-investigate it.”

Chosen Vale began as a response to overly structured curriculums at conservatories and academies that didn’t effectively address some students’ non-mainstream impulses.

“The conventional music school teaches the conventional repertoire,” Carroll says. “A typical Julliard student knows he or she will be surrounded by an excellent faculty at Lincoln Center, and by peers of the same caliber. And yet at the same time he or she might have interests that run slightly outside of what they’re presented at Julliard. We’re able to address these individual needs.”

“We’re most interested in music that falls outside of the normal repertoire of the trumpet – romantic and early twentieth century music,” says Carroll. For sessions that typically run 12-14 hours a day, students work with experimental pieces, real-time composition and improvisation.

“Doing that work right there in situ is powerful, and it’s fun,” says Carroll. “When we practice we’re in solitude … quietly doing our own work. But then you take that moment, and put it up in front of 35 of our peers and observers – it’s very powerful.”

Carroll, a gregarious man with expressive eyes, is obviously enamored by his subject. For the interview, he sits at the granite kitchen counter of his Hanover home; music emanates throughout the house. A room to his left holds a grand piano, with two boom microphones positioned in front of it. Downstairs, a music lesson is in progress. In front of Carroll sit 9 or 10 trumpets, a small sampling of the many horns in his collection.

He’s spent a lifetime in music, playing with orchestras and chamber groups, teaching and recording. Chosen Vale is his creation, and though Carroll divides his time between teaching at Montreal’s McGill University and CalArts in Southern California, he chose to have the seminar in the town he’s called home in since 1992.

“It’s about community,” he says. “My kids go to school here.”

Chosen Vale began in 2006, and was fully subscribed from the start, which Carroll credits to the seminar’s teachers, drawn from the best orchestras, music programs and chamber ensembles in the world.

Says Carroll, “what makes this faculty truly interesting is its diversity, and its commitment to this project.”

The seminar features four public concerts, which Carroll calls “a byproduct of the work that we’re doing. We try to take those disparate pieces of music and present them, but we’re not there as concert presenters, we’re there as an institute to do the kind of work we do in a master class.”

In the master classes, which are open for the public to observe, the instructors typically take “a piece that seems complete, and then tear it down and dissect it and find ways to tweak it and make it better and then put it back together again. That’s the heart and soul of the seminar – doing that kind of work,” says Carroll.

He began Chosen Vale to focus the ensemble work he’d done at the Lake Placid Institute for the Arts, which he founded in 1996 and ran for 7 years, on the trumpet. As an example, Carroll spoke of one Lake Placid student’s difficulties accepting attempts to refine what was, by all accounts, a brilliant piece of music.

“She thought it was the performance of her life,” says Carroll. “Then, after the applause, the teacher said, ‘now let’s see what else we can do with it.’”

The crestfallen girl responded that she couldn’t possibly do better.

The teacher was unmoved. “That was a very good performance,” he said. “I’m sure you’re very proud of it, and we were very honored to hear it – but – now let’s take it apart and see if we can put it back together again.”

“At first she resisted, she was very willful, there were even some tears. But very gently,” he says, the piece was remade, ”perhaps in a way that she hadn’t envisioned before. When she saw that, it was a revelation to her – that she still had work to do.”

“And of course,” says Carroll, “the comment of the teachers was, ‘we all have work to do.’”

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Chosen Vale Public Concert Schedule:

Saturday, June 21st at 8:00
Mary Keane Chapel, Enfield Shaker Museum
“Opening Concert”
Stephen Burns, Edward Carroll, Gabriele Cassone, and participants from the seminar
perform music from the 17th to the 20th centuries
(pre-concert introduction with director Edward Carroll at 7:30)

Tuesday, June 24th at 8:00
Mary Keane Chapel, Enfield Shaker Museum
“Solo Stockhausen”
Markus Stockhausen

Friday, June 27th at 8:00
Mary Keane Chapel, Enfield Shaker Museum
“Sounds Like NOW!”
Edward Carroll, Mark Gould, David Rosenboom, Thomas Stevens, Markus Stockhausen,
and participants from the seminar perform music from the 20th and 21st centuries
(pre-concert introduction with director Edward Carroll at 7:30)

Saturday, June 28th at 4:00
Mary Keane Chapel, Enfield Shaker Museum
“Trumpet Favorites — Closing Concert”
Presenting participants in the seminar in a program
of favorite solo and ensemble works.
(pre-concert introduction with director Edward Carroll at 3:30)

Local Rhythms – Going Green With Plug and Tug

I got an email last week from Shamus Martin telling me about 84 Sheepdog, the power trio he recently formed with Josh Maiocco (Ingrid’s Ruse) and J.D. Martin (Highball Heroes). The band, named after the customized Ford Econoline van in “Dumb and Dumber,” plays its first gig Friday at J.D. McClintock’s in Putney.

So far, it sounded like a lot of e-mails I receive, until I got to this part. “In an effort to promote ‘green business,’ we’re inviting anyone with an MP3 player to bring it, along with a cable, to the show. We’ll upload a copy of our CD, free of charge. No waste. No packaging.”

Reading that, I wanted to do a happy dance.

I don’t understand why bands, especially poor independent bands with no money to spend, insist on making CDs. I’m going to tell you something, in case you don’t already know. When I get a disk, I rip it to my laptop. If I like it, it gets copied to my iPod.

Packaging is so last century, and with oil approaching $150 a barrel, it’s un-American to manufacture something as wasteful as the compact disc.

Everything contained in a CD package will be better when it’s all-digital. If you like a guitar solo, you’ll press a button and see the song credits, and push another for lyrics.

With a net-connected device like an iPhone, you’ll switch from listening to searching the net for a band’s next live performance.

If you want to take the music home, it should be as simple as plug and tug

I can hear the audiophiles out there crying foul. MP3s, they whine, squash the highs and drown the lows.

To them I say – FLAC you.

No, I’m not being obscene. FLAC is short for Fully Lossless Audio Compression, a file format that sounds better than a typical CD. Not that most people would notice. Lots of bands now sell their music that way.

A typical FLAC file is five times bigger than an MP3. Before broadband, that was a problem; these days – not so much.

There’s also the issue of fairly compensating performers. But I really don’t see that as a big problem. Fans want to pay artists. Like I said the other day, after a megashow featuring bad sound and 10-dollar cups of Bud Lite, “I hate everyone in the music business who’s not a musician.”

Save the music, save the planet, and check out these local shows:

Thursday: Second Wind, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – This soft rock duo is turning up at more than a few outdoor markets this summer. The opened the Claremont Farmer’s Market last week, and will be back June 19. They’re also performing the first show at the Orford River Jam this Saturday. They have an easygoing sound, here’s hoping they’ll bring the sun with them.

Friday: Roamin’ Gabriels, Salt hill – This Philadelphia band comes to town every few months and packs the dance floor with a groove-infused, funk based sound. The RG’s are named after the Rams quarterback who was famous for never stepping out of the pocke. That’s how they sound – tight and in the pocket, though they’re inventive enough to change things up occasionally. It’s a fun time every time.

Saturday: Kilimanjaro, Quechee Balloon Festival – Burlington’s jazz masters performing as hot air balloons lift off into the sky – If the weather holds, this will be a very special ascension. The weekend-long festival (fathers are free on Sunday) includes family music, comedy, blues and rock. The entire lineup is on the web at http://www.quecheeballoonfestival.com.

Sunday – Godspell, New London Barn Playhouse – Here’s a fun fact: Stephen Schwartz wrote a good portion of this, his first Broadway hit, while working with the Barn Playhouse in the late 1960’s. Of course, he went on to create “Pippin,” and there’s a wing in his house for all the Tonys, Grammies and Oscars he’s won. So it makes perfect sense that the Barn would perform this work (while it waits for “Wicked” to become available).

Monday – NRG Band, Lobster Pound (Wier’s Beach) – It’s Motorcycle Week in Laconia, and this blues band is the featured attraction at the Lobster Pound every night. NRG is led by Nicole Hart, who looks like a young Bo Derek and sings like Bonnie Raitt. Make no mistake, though – a pretty girl can sing the blues, and Hart proves it every night.

Tuesday: Matt McCabe, Canoe Club – A while ago, Matt played my request – “Willow Weep For Me” by Wes Montgomery – even though it wasn’t a piano tune, which proved he was both versatile and a good guy. Canoe Club has been asking him back for a long time now, ever since he finished a long run with Roomful of Blues and moved upcountry for a quieter life. He and CC make a very good match.