“Boarding House Stage: The Supt. Creasey Effect” by Richard Marion (2011), Copyright (c) 2013
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If I had a “bucket list,” seeing John Sebastian perform live once more would have been on it until last night. Check.
The highly entertaining Sebastian has been a favorite of mine since the Lovin’ Spoonful broke into the record charts in the mid-1960s with songs like “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” and “Six O’Clock.”
I bought the single “Six O’Clock,” probably obtained at Beaver Brook Department Store in Dracut or Stuart’s at the Sunrise Shopping Center on Bridge Street or maybe at the Giant Store at the corner of Dutton Street and Broadway. Dick Clark’s record-rating dancers on American Bandstand might have said, “It has a good beat.” I still have the sleeved disc somewhere.
Last night, John Sebastian offered a musical tour of the Sixties, mostly, with side trips into roots rock, Motown, hill country blues, and jug band gigs in hip boites in Greenwich Village. He played the Mississippi John Hurt song with a line that gave his foursome the name Lovin’ Spoonful. I didn’t know that. The group’s first seven songs made the Top Ten. The music and words are staples on oldies radio, but the melodies and lyrics are here to stay in the American cultural canon.
Sebastian voice was croaky on the slow songs but rich and deep on the more low-down bluesy numbers—and he can still pick it up and lay it down. The guitar-playing was superb to my ears. He is a walking Wikipedia of the Sixties pop-music heydey, from the Mamas and the Papas to Woodstock. He will be forever cast in cinematic tie-dye thanks to the little get-together on Max Yasgur’s farm in August 1969. I heard him in concert at Merrimack College in the fall of 1972, after the Spoonful disbanded, and enjoyed a little John Sebastian streak with his solo records around that time. One of them was a “live” album produced by “Cheapo-Cheapo Productions.” I was in line to shake his hand at the CD table last night when part two of the show started, and like the professional that he is, Sebastian told the fans that he had to stop so that we would not interfere with the stage activity. He put on on good show, opening the performance while the sky was still bright over Boarding House Park.
During the break I wandered over to the Boott Mills complex, which at night looks spectacular. The tall stair towers, lines of mill windows, illuminated mill yard, canal bridge leading into the complex—all these features combine to make an appealing historical setting, someplace you’d get in your car to drive to if you didn’t live here. At night, the area feels even more special as a cultural attraction and entertainment venue. On the way out, you emerge from the mill yard to see the colored lights on the Boarding House Park pavilion and the hundreds and hundreds of people arrayed in the park, nestled among a line of trees, the elegant stage structure, handsomely restored millworkers’ boarding house (Mogan Cultural Center), and old Trade High School that is now the Freshman Academy of Lowell High School.
I remember Jon Pousette-Dart’s band as a Boston FM-radio phenomenon in the late ’70s and early ’80s with songs like “Fall on Me” and “Amnesia,” but they were not the draw for me last night. The Pousette-Dart Band always struck me as a first-rate Boston-area college concert headliner, so I was suprised to learn that the group had an extensive touring record, opening for Peter Frampton, Yes, the Byrds, and many others in the past. Clearly a talented guitarist and composer, Pousette-Dart led his group through more than an hour of pleasant country-ish tunes. I can understand why Jon P-D admires John Sebastian. He has spent a lot of time in Nashville writing songs. My friends and I left as his encore was wrapping up, but I had hoped he might bring on John Sebastian for band-backed versions of “Summer in the City” and “Nashville Cats.” I think the crowd would have enjoyed it. I hope I didn’t miss it, if there was a second encore.
Folksinger and songwriter Richard Thompson is featured tonight in the Lowell Summer Music Series. There was a long line of people waiting for the opening bell to ring at 7 a.m. so they could get their chairs and blankets in place. The forecast is for mixed sun and clouds, so let’s hope for a clear sky this evening. Central Street was partially blocked due to cobblestone work. UTEC construction crew was already busy on the Hurd Street side. I saw Alex Demas with this fiddle case, who must have been coming from a WCAP appearance to promote the Banjo and Fiddle Contest on Saturday, Sept. 10. The Lowell Summer Music Series management team is looking forward to the Friday, Sept. 9, show with Warren Haynes of Allman Bros., The Dead, and Government Mule fame. Tomorrow night at Bd Hse Park the star is Matisyahu, a Reggae Rapper, and there will be a large contingent of UMass Lowell students thanks to the Student Activities Office. We’re wrapping up another impressive season of the Music Series. Congratulations to all the organizers, sponsors, and ticket-buyers.
Last thought: Can someone explain what the Lowell Connector construction work is about? It’s a huge project, but I don’t know enough about roadwork to be able to figure out what is going on. Shoring up overpasses?
I didn’t know anything about Moe. before 7.30 p.m. tonight. It was hot as hell at Boarding House Park, and Moe. brought out the mellowest crowd of the year. The first half of the concert featured the highly anticipated long jams and as soon as the sun set a light show with multicolored spirals, amoeba shapes, and gear-wheels circulating on the face of the Boott Cotton Mills behind the stage. I’d judge tonight’s to be the youngest, hippest audience of the summer so far. Couples and singles, including lots of blissed-out looking young women and guys, were kind of swimming through the park as they slowly danced down the paths between the sections of lawn.
Emcee John Marciano delivered his pre-concert house remarks with just a bit more verve than usual, asking the crowd to help out by watching their neighbors in the heat. “If the person next to you suddenly starts talking about his or her childhood, please check to see if that person is properly hydrated,” urged John. He actually called our city “L-Town.”
We had people with psychedelic hula hoops, toddlers with heavy-duty earphones on for protection, all kinds of crazy hair, intermittent retirees in plaid lawnchairs, excess tie-dye and dreads, and standees in the first tier who all knew the words when there were words in the songs. The beautiful people were in the house. And that was only the first set.
Moe. at the Lowell Summer Music Series in Boarding House Park (phone-cam photo by R. Noon, slightly edited by Joe Marion)
Just back from Boarding House Park and what some audience members described as a “life-changing experience” after 2.5 hours of musical immersion in the art of Bela Fleck and the fabulous Flecktones. I don’t know the vocabulary of the banjo, but Mr Fleck coaxes out of it a sophisticated sound that is its own language, a whole dictionary, maybe encyclopedia, of distinctive sounds (in the spirit of folk-grass, jazz, blues, classsical, country, pop, soul, you name it) that make a harmonious union with the other instruments and players on stage.
Mr Fleck’s reputation as an artist makes him known to even the uninitiated. One of his bandmates tonight announced that Mr F has been nominated in more categories and more times than anyone else on the Grammy list. That’s a feat. I can see, or hear, why after having the show wash over me tonight. The Lowell Summer Music Series is getting to be a “Can you top this?” operation. After Joan Baez, Lyle Lovett, and Chris Isaak in the past two years, the organizers keep climbing the ladder of excellence.
There was a packed park tonight on the front lawn of the Mogan Cultural Center. I don’t know numbers, but I’d guess a couple of thousand people or near that figure. The gray sky kept squeezing rain on the audience for the first half of the performance, which prompted Mr Fleck to call an audible and cancel intermission for fear the drizzle would worsen. As soon as his ensemble swung into the second half of tunes, the rain stopped and never returned. It was clear sailing through the second set, and what a set it was with extended improvisation by virtuosos on harmonica and piano (Howard Levy), bass (Victor Wooten), and an invention that I think was called a “drumtar” (Futureman)—a drum machine shaped like a sawed-off guitar. Special guest Casey Driessen on fiddle/violin lifted several compositions to higher orbits, in keeping with the recent release “Rocket Science.”
Lowell continues to be the platform for the best in the arts. The National Park Service, Lowell Festival Foundation, and all the series’ sponsors and partners deserve wild applause for their contribution. It all adds up, it’s all cumulative, and I’m convinced there’s something bigger going on here than even close observers realize. The high quality experiences, good news, and social and cultural capital being created day by day is yielding important results, and the yield will only increase as the months and years advance.
Thanks to Amy Black on Facebook for this historic image that I hope she doesn’t mind us sharing here—this is inside the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, which has a front lawn in the form of Boarding House Park where Amy and Chris performed masterfully last night to open the 2011 Lowell Summer Music Series. That’s Pat Mogan, “Father of the Park,” in the permanent bronze. By the way, Pat is still around and giving homework assignments to some of us.
Chris Isaak, Patrick J. Mogan, and Amy Black (web photo courtesy of www.amyblack.com )
Shakespeare will return to Boarding House Park this summer with a free performance thanks to the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and Lowell Summer Music Series. On Sunday, August 14, at 4 pm, see the New England Shakespeare Company’s production of “Measure for Measure.” For news on the whole schedule announced to date, visit www.lowellsummermusic.org
You don’t have to say a lot more than “the B-52s played Boarding House Park last night.” They raised high the steel roof beams of the trademark pavilion set against a wall of brick and tall windows at the Boott Mills. The moon floated over downtown at about 7/8ths round and the air was cool and still. It was a standing dance party for the Lowell Summer Music Series crowd, something I haven’t seen often.
The iconic band of good-sport entertainers played all the fan favorites, plus a few new songs. The band of bass, keyboards, lead guitar, and drums superbly powered through vocal-driven numbers. Propulsive is a word to use here. Shouting is another word to use. Fred Schneider joked at one point about the group’s ballads. I didn’t hear much of that. Little Richard-type shout-singing from the 50s is more like it. And a kind of campy pop gospel holler mixed with ’80s’ techno-rock. They are from the South, after all. The sound level all night seemed slightly over the top, but maybe it’s just my older ears.
Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson raised the roar in the park with an extended version of “Roam,” and the whole crew closed the 90-minute show with a souped-up version of “Love Shack.” They came back for a two-song encore, the cosmically goofy “Planet Claire” and cellar dance classic ”Rock Lobster.” The last words from the stage by (was it?) guitarist Keith Strickland were a big shout out to Lowell’s own “dead beat”—”Thank you Jack Kerouac, wherever you are.”
(Web photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Press)
This isn’t a photo from last night’s show at Boarding House Park (The Lowell Summer Music Series), but it will help anyone who missed the so-far show of the year picture what the stage looked like. At one point, Lyle had 15 musicians and singers on stage. I never once thought of Lawrence Welk. I had never seen/heard Lyle Lovett in concert. What was I missing? What I was missing! Where to begin? Wow. Double-wow. The twin dynamos of BHP, Peter Aucella and John Marciano, keep out-doing themselves. For shows in recent years, Lyle Lovett & His Large Band ranks with the appearance of Joan Baez under the French Street pergola for sheer musicianship and performance power. For energy and lift and proliferation of fun, the edge goes to Lyle. The Sun this week reported that his troupe has played in Boston and on Cape Cod, but I can’t believe those shows were better than the one last night. The recording gods should have been at their machines because a live album/cd/download of the show last night in Lowell would be a mega-hit. The band played for more than two hours after a catchy opening set by song-stylist Kat Edmonson, whose voice wraps around standards like “Summertime” as if culturally engineered for them. I can’t remember the names of the players in the “Large Band” or the four fabulous older guys singing on the side, but each of them deserves to have his name etched into the steel of the performance pavilion for history’s sake. People will talk about this concert for years, maybe decades. The temperature was perfect. A searchlight swept across the sky overhead all night for added glamour. Am I too enthusiastic? Sitting there with my wife and some close friends, I was dual-tracking in my head, savoring every well-played note and beautifully sung word while trying to put what was going on in experiential context. Like the labels on science displays in the Exploratorium in San Francisco that ask ”What’s going on here?”—I was thinking, This is the essence of art-induced joy. This is why people say they “love” music, and it is not too strong a word. How many people attended the show? More than 2,000 probably. And there were moments when the artists and audience bonded in pleasure that explain why people have been beating on drums and plucking strings and trying to make harmonious sounds together for six million years or so. The show was a tour of American music, from rock and roll to jazz, from country and gospel to the pop songbook, from alt-country to blues and swing and the other variations. We witnessed a unit at its peak. When the lights came back on at the end of the show the grounds buzzed and bubbled with chatter as people folded up blankets and chairs and moved toward the exits. To the organizers and sponsors: “Well done, well done.” To the band-leader and the band: “Forget Cape Cod; come back to Lowell next summer.”
Accompanied by world-class guitarist Shane Fontayne and occasional vocals by Amy Correia, the masterful Marc Cohn lifted up the full-house audience at Boarding House Park with his stellar compositions like “Walking in Memphis,” “Silver Thunderbird,” and “True Companion” as well as beautifully rendered covers of a handful of hits from 1970 that are featured on his new CD, “Listening Booth: 1970.”
Cohn and Fontayne filled the Park with lush sounds of piano and various guitars, complementing and magnifying each other’s musicianship. Fontayne is a veteran of sessions and shows with Sting and Springsteen. Marc Cohn was a strong presence on stage, introducing many of the songs with back-story tidbits and bantering at times with audience members. What came through was his artistry as a composer and performer—and in particular his deeply textured singing. He joked about a good Jewish boy singing gospel and the blues in Memphis. Cohn’s love of the American songbook makes him a kind of throwback to an earlier era when musicians immersed themselves in the whole tradition on their way to finding their own voices and sounds.
From the covers CD he played “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, “Long as I Can See the Light” by John Fogerty, “The Letter” by the Boxtops, “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, and “No Matter What” by Badfinger—each in distinctive interpretations, often slower and more bluesy or slightly countrified. These won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the songs are so strong they hold up to Cohn’s new takes. When you’ve heard something the same way for 40 years, it requires some adjustment to receive these versions. His live renderings of “Wild World” and “Into the Mystic” were especially pleasing tonight.
And what can one say about “Walking in Memphis”? It’s a hall-of-fame candidate. Cohn mentioned that he heard that Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam has the song on his iPod-mix. He also let people know that the song is a tribute to Muriel the pianist, not Elvis and his blue suede shoes, as some folks assume.
We had a perfect night of weather and music at the Lowell Summer Music Series. Onward with Suzanne Vega, Patty Larkin, and Herbie Hancock next weekend!