Local Rhythms – Led Zeppelin “Idol”

The latest news for the Zeppelin-obsessed came last week, when Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford revealed that Steven Tyler recently jammed with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham in a London studio.

Don’t read too much into it, though.

Tyler idolized bands like the Yardbirds, Cream and Zeppelin back in his Sunapee Barn days, so I’m sure he had a fantastic time. But Whitford says Page’s high-powered invite was really designed to goad Robert Plant into touring.

“He was trying to light a fire under Robert,” Whitford told a British TV host. “Come on! Come on, Robert, let’s go!”

God bless him, Plant didn’t bite. A statement on the singer’s web site called the rumors “both frustrating and ridiculous.”

For that, he’s still my hero.

Jones, however, who seethed when Page/Plant made “Unledded” in the mid-90’s without him, is fixated on a classic rock payday. “But we don’t want to be our own tribute band,” the bassist told the BBC.

To which I reply, why not?  Boston plucked their new lead singer from a karaoke bar; Journey found Steve Perry’s doppelganger on YouTube.

More recently, Yes replaced the ailing Jon Anderson with Benoit David, who until the call came had been fronting – you guessed it – a Yes tribute band.

This could make for great reality television. I know, INXS did it on “Rock Star,” but their lead singer was dead.

Robert Plant is very much alive, and apparently doesn’t have any plans for the next couple of years beyond a possible follow-up to “Raising Sand,” the album he made with Allison Krauss.

Though he may not be interested in playing with Led Zeppelin, perhaps Plant could be coaxed into helping pick his replacement.

Picture it – with dreams of stadium shows filling their heads, cover bands count off “Whole Lotta Love” with renewed vigor.

Aging rockers clear out garage practice space, and once again squeeze into ripped old bell bottomed jeans – all for a chance at the top.

High drama ensues when Plant, weary of these Golden God wannabes, says, “sod it all, I’ll do it myself,” and then demurs.

As each hopeful takes a shot, real time ticket price estimates crawl across the screen like a Dow Jones report.  That, after all, is the reason for the exercise.  How much will fans pay to see this farce?

I’ve got a better idea – save your money, and check out some local talent:

Thursday: Jason Cann, Casa del Sol – When this newly opened Ascutney restaurant was known as Moguls in the 1980s, it hosted bands like Foghat and Marshall Tucker. The live music tradition continues weekly with Cann, one of my favorite local singer-songwriters, and in January, Wise Rokobili will perform Saturdays.   There are plans to present even bigger names in the future – good news indeed.

Friday: Red Molly, Boccelli’s – This trio, who met around a Falcon Ridge campfire a few years back, has built an avid area following since playing the Roots on the River festival in 2007.  Their gorgeous harmonies can take your breath away. I could watch them for hours.  Upper Valley fans got a taste of them last summer. If you like smooth, elegant folk music, you’ll love Red Molly.

Saturday: Bob Marley, Claremont Opera House – One of the funniest people alive, and the hardest working comedian I know is back for another area show.  Unlike many comics, Bob brings a new set of material every time he comes to town.  He can form a bit in his head in the morning and have it audience-ready by the time he walks on stage, riffing on current events, his parents (who must love the exposure), and life in New England -the essence of Ha!

Sunday: Nine Inch Nails, Worcester Centrum – I don’t typically plug many arena shows, but it’s worth noting that as the music business implodes, NIN (who play in Manchester Saturday) is thriving.  Why?  Leader Trent Reznor does right by the fans.   He gives away entire albums on the band’s web site, has no label and kowtows to no bosses.  He keeps things interesting and never forgets the reason for his success – and NIN sells out everywhere they appear.

Tuesday: Dartmouth Wind Symphony, Spaulding Auditorium – Highbrow music from an ensemble celebrating its 25th year with founder/director Max Culpepper.  This show features selections from Aida, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, the Marriage of Figaro and other masterpieces, arranged for flute, clarinet, trumpet and other wind instruments.

Wednesday: Off the Beaten Path, Woodstock Town Hall Theatre – Subtitled “A Jazz Tap Odyssey,” this program joins a jazz quartet consisting of piano, bass, drums and woodwinds with a company of six tap dancers.  They perform a program inspired by proto-environmentalist author Rachel Carson.  There’s a special “Arts In Education” program for school kids at 12:30, and a public performance at 7:30.

Local Rhythms – Shenanigans Supports Local Music

stonewall-sml.jpgA couple of months ago, the Upper Valley music scene’s ubiquity dimmed a bit when Shenanigans switched to a “house band” live music format. The nightclub, located next to the Astrobowl in White River Junction, used to book different performers every Friday and Saturday night.

Fortunately, that’s changing.

“Honestly, from the get-go I couldn’t wait to see it stop,” says Dennis Naylor, who recently took over management responsibilities. “People rely on something new.”

That’s a fresh outlook indeed, and when Naylor took over booking the music, he thought an open audition call of sorts might bring some variety to the venue.

That’s the idea behind the “Shenanigans Battle of the Bands,” which began last week.

“There’s so many bands out there that you don’t get to hear unless you go to one particular bar,” says Naylor. “The CDs you get … have been doctored up in the studio, and this is better than trying out a new band on Saturday night and finding out they’re horrible.”

Some of the area’s best stepped up – Sarvela, an AC/DC-inspired WRJ band won last week, and Stonewall battles D’brotherhood tonight.

Next week Four of Clubs and Reality Check compete.

The three first round winners meet in the finals May 24, and the winner gets a cash prize with a headline slot at Shenanigans on Saturday, May 26.

“We got so many bands that we’re going to do a second one in June,” says Naylor.

In the meantime, house bands are history, and one of Dennis’s favorites plays this Saturday. Conniption Fits features former members of Syd and the veteran area band Motorplant; their fine new CD, “Airplane Rides,” is getting airplay on more than a few area radio stations.

There’s a vibrant area music scene happening, and it’s great to see Shenanigans back on board with it. Where the recent talk was, in Naylor’s words, “want to go to Shenanigans? No, they had the same band last week,” now there’s plans for even more local talent.

Next month, the club is adding live music to the vintage car show they do every year. “It will probably feature one of those small local bands,” Naylor says.

With his novel competitition to pick a Saturday band catching on, there could also be a lot more Thursday night rocking going on in White River.

What else is shaking this weekend?

Thursday: Falcon Ridge “Most Wanted Showcase, Middle Earth – Each year the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival has an all-day New Artist Showcase, where juried performers play three tunes apiece. The well-heeled audience then votes on the top three, who are invited back and are also featured on a pre-festival tour, which stops tonight in Bradford. Red Molly is an all-female three-piece with great harmonies, Ellis plays her own brand of spirited acoustic rock, and Pat Wictor is, simply, worldly wise.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – It’s the long-awaited return of “Three Season Pete,” and can summer be far behind? He’s like “Cheers”with a beret – he knows everybody’s name. A word of advice – make reservations if you want to enjoy Merrigan’s happy-go-lucky blend of picking, singing and banter. Downtown Claremont’s favorite dining spot is sure to be packed for this one.

Saturday: Soak, Heritage – A new band in the box at Charlestown’s favorite music spot, this time a Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead-inspired three piece from Manchester. You can listen to their stuff on MySpace (www.myspace.com/soaknh), but the real fun happens when Soak plays live. Look for a big Memorial Day party in two weeks at the under-new-ownership Heritage, with Sun King, Stonewall and the Highball Heroes – always a great time.

Sunday: James Keelaghan, Boccelli’s – Recently, I failed to give this Juno-nominated songwriter credit for writing “Cold Missouri Waters,” done to perfection by Cry Cry Cry on their album, so I’m righting that wrong. Keelaghan has a great singing voice and a terrific catalog of songs, including “Jenny Brice” and “River Run.” He also did a nice cover on “Beautiful,” a tribute album to fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot released last year.


Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill – The musical circle in the center of Lebanon’s tavern on the green started and stopped in March. It resumes in earnest with the permanent trio of Chris Stevens on squeeze box, along with Roger Burridge and maestro/mainstay Dave Loney on fiddle. Anyone with a bit o’ talent can stop by and join in. A welcome return of an area tradition.

Wednesday: Michael Civiello, Old Courthouse – The Colby-Sawyer music direction tickles the ivories every Wednesday at this elegant, understated Newport eatery. His sound doesn’t dominate the room, but it always enhances it. A bit of jazz and classical to accompany an inventive menu. Highly recommended.

Local Rhythms – Summer Festivals Coming

fredfest.jpgForget the recent burst of warm, sunny weather. To my tune-addled brain, spring fever kicks in when summer music festival announcements begin arriving in my inbox.

Get ready to dust off the low-slung lawn chairs, it’s going to be a great season. .

I was a bit worried when Charlie Hunter suggested the annual FredFest, formally known as Roots on the River, might change signficantly this year. The only apparent difference is a new producer, Ray Massuco.

The caliber of music is unchanged.

I’d daresay it’s better, with past favorites Gandalf Murphy, up and comers Red Molly and the awesomely talented Eilen Jewell, local heroes Josh Maiocco and Scot Ainslie, and of course, the many faces of Fred Eaglesmith highlighting a four-day bash that begins June 7 in downtown Bellows Falls.

The next weekend Moodus, Connecticut hosts an all-Cajun/Zydeco festival that’s worth the trip if you need to channel your innner Boozoo. The three day bash, which starts June 15, features 10 perfomers, including Keith Frank, Brian Jack and Step Rideau.

Out in Weston, Vermont the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival returns, with traditional music from the Gibson Brothers, Leroy Troy, Buddy Merriam and festival hosts the Seth Sawyer Band and the Sawyer Brothers. The long weekend, produced by Candi Sawyer (notice a trend here?), begins June 21.

One of my personal favorites, the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts, kicks off with a free Crooked Still/Eilen Jewell show July 19, then begins in earnest with a Zydeco bash featuring the Subdudes and Terence Simian the next night.

On Saturday, there’s hot air balloons and a flat-out amazing lineup of players. Blues legend Buddy Guy headlines, along with cutting edge alt-country from Southern Culture on the Skids, petite powerhouse Erin McKeown, the Kennedys and a performer I would crawl a mile over broken glass to see, Neko Case.

Acts are still being confirmed for the big daddy of regional shows, Falcon Ridge, which starts July 26th at its new home, Dodds Farm in the Berkshires. FredFest performers Red Molly and Gandalf Murphy are set, along with Marshall Crenshaw, Eddie from Ohio, Terri Hendrix and her legendary musical partner Lloyd Maines, and John Gorka.

A Falcon Ridge “Most Wanted” preview tour featuring Ellis, Pat Wictor and the aforementioned Red Molly (who met over a Falcon Ridge campfire), stops at Middle Earth Music Hall May 9.

The best part is you could buy tickets for all of these feastivals for about the price of one good seat for the Police’s Fenway Park concert.

What else is brewing this weekend?

Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – This jazz ensemble wowed the crowd the first time they stopped by this downtown eatery, so they’ve been asked back. First-rate players all, they step through standards and give modern songs a special touch. There’s much more music ahead at S&Z’s in the coming months, including the return of Pete Merrigan in May.

Friday: Rock Bottom Band, Electra – If you’re ready for the country, this is the place to go Friday Rock Bottom was named Country Music Band of the Year in 2006 by the New Hampshire Country Music Association, so it’s clear they know their stuff. Put on some cowboy boots, put a crease in those jeans, and practice your Electric Slide moves.

Saturday: Pulse Prophets, Salt Hill – Another interesting “get” for my favorite Upper Valley eclectic music spot, this Burlington band calls their sound an “organic and celestial fusion of funk, fegg, hip hop, Latin, and Afro-beat, with a touch of electronica. This musical stew has been known to pack a dance floor – it’s all groove to me.

Sunday: Red Fox Session Band, Boccelli’s – A local band celebrates the one year anniversary of this Bellows Falls restaurant, an afternoon (3-7 PM) buffet dinner featuring a bountiful table of food and all-around good vibrations. Boccelli’s, of course, is BF’s new home of live music; for a town that’s had its fair share of recent hard knocks, this is a welcome renaissance.

Tuesday: Colin McCaffrey, Canoe Club – This fine Vermont folksinger performs solo tonight in downtown Hanover, but look for his high energy band, the Stone Cold Roosters, at area venues in the coming weeks, celebrating the release of their new CD, “Out of the Woods.”. Their lineup regional all-stars includes Ted Mortimer and (occasionally) Linda Boudreault of Dr. Burma, former Breakway players Peter Riley and Scot Hopkins and many other hot pickers.

Wednesday: Brandi Carlile, Higher Ground – She’s the latest industry full-court press, with a “Grey’s Anatomy” video, Paste Magazine essay contest and stops on all the late-night televison shows, including Leno. Is she any good? Perhaps, but all this hype will probably bleed it out of her. Such is the music business.