New York: A Celebration of Kate McGarrigle
Every once in a great while a rare live musical experience comes your way – one in which a collective emotional thread weaves performers and audience together into a single energy. Finding the words to describe the magic is difficult, but the excitement is palpable, it hangs heavy in the air. You could tell from the moment you walked into NYC’s Town Hall on May 12 that the sold-out gathering of 1500 people for A Celebration of Kate McGarrigle were feeling it. The mood was both somber and celebratory. The audience had descended upon one of New York’s oldest and most storied concert venues to pay their respects, to honor, and remember the Canadian folk singer, who died of cancer at age 63 last year. Kate, along with her sister Anna, was a creative force on the folk scene for more than 50 years.
I first became aware of the McGarrigle sisters many moons ago when I heard their tunes covered by some of my favorite artists at the time, most notably Linda Ronstadt (e.g., Heart Like a Wheel) and Maria Muldauer (e.g.,the Work Song). To calibrate just how many moons ago it was, let’s just say cassette tape was the emerging media, the beginning of the end of vinyl. I was soon buying and enjoying the original McGarrigle sister versions and have been listening ever since. Kate McGarrigle and her ex-husband, folksinger Loudon Wainwright went on to raise two musically gifted children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright – in fact, the entire extended McGarrigle family have been recording and performing together for years.
So considering the large group of McGarrigle-Wainwright family and friends assembled for the occasion, the evening was off to a great start. Then add Emmy Lou Harris, Norah Jones, Jimmy Fallon (yes, he can sing too) and more than a dozen others and you’ve got a recipe for something really special. The performers came out in small groups that kept dissolving and reforming in different configurations – coordinating the logistics and minimizing the down time as performers and musicians rotated was not straight forward but the evening rolled along smoothly without a hitch.
Some of the exceptional performances of the night were by singers previously unknown to me – Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Jenni Muldaur (Geoff and Maria Muldauer’s daughter), Teddy Thompson (son of folk-rock musicians Richard and Linda Thompson), Justin Vivian Bond, and especially Krystle Warren, whose relaxed deep, rich voice was a perfect match for the McGarrigle sisters’ compositions. But the evening was dominated by Rufus and Martha – they each sang several haunting tunes in their own individual, unique and powerful style. There were plenty of smiles, tears, hugs and harmony to go round and audience and performers alike were disappointed when the clock struck 11 pm and Rufus announced if they stayed any longer to play yet another encore, the profits towards Kate’s charity would lose $30,000.
New Orleans: Eric Lindell at Tipitina’s
San Francisco native Eric Lindell was back in his adopted home of New Orleans where, along with his six piece band, he took Tipitina’s by storm. Lindell’s sound is very much locally based and influenced – backed by lead guitar, sax, organ, acoustic bass and drums – all musicians from southern Louisiana. Most of his tunes are upbeat with a characteristic New Orleans syncopation and big time, early R&B wailing sax, and call and return style harmonica. But Lindell mixes in some slower ballads too. His vocals have just a hint of southern drawl and his syrupy voice, with just a touch of growl around the edges (shades of Delbert McClinton), is a perfect complement to the solid R&B foundation his band lays down behind him.
In the middle of the show Lindell brought out John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) who happened to be in town. He performed the Creedence hit tunes Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising, which “borrowed” heavily on the NOLA sound. In helping to introduce this sound into pop music, Fogerty (a fellow California native) was a role model for Lindell. While a bit self-conscious performing his music in New Orleans, he was well received and could still sing.
During this recent visit to New Orleans there were many other musical high notes (too many to describe in detail) but they included Mac Rebinnack (aka Dr. John), Shannon Powell and the Preservation Hall Band, Walter Wolfman Washington, Washboard Chaz and the Tinmen, Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha Chas, Dorene Ketchen’s Jazz New Orleans and The Smoking Time Jazz Club. Fans of the excellent HBO series Treme, will recognize many of these names.
Bay Shore, NY: Jenny Scheinman – Appetizer and Side Dish
My uncle Herman used to say,“Don’t pace yourself, the hor d’oeuvres are always better than the main course” but for me, it’s always a pleasant surprise when an opening act, oftentimes a newly emerging artist you’ve never seen or heard turns out to be top-notch.
Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (Bruce Cockburn is a Small Source of Comfort) did his usual high energy, well-crafted, cooked to perfection live set when he headlined at The Bolten Center in Bay Shore, NY. But as both appetizer and side dish, Jenny Scheinman, violin, mandolin and vocals was the story of the night. Scheinman started the evening with a 45 min solo set where she showed off her mellow vocals, alternately accompanied by strumming the violin (held as you would guitar) and mandolin as well as playing the violin in a more traditional fashion. She then did a solid job on background vocals and instrumental support for Cockburn where she demonstrated her jazz violin chops. Definitely left me looking for more and at home I enjoyed a nightcap, sampling her five solo albums (www.jennyscheinman.com) that reveal she is equally comfortable with folk, klezmer, pop and jazz styles.