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Celebrating 44 years of free performances, Lincoln Center Out of Doors brought three weeks of music, dance and spoken word to the plazas of its Manhattan campus. On a gorgeous summer Saturday afternoon, the shows began at the beautifully shaded Hearst Plaza.
Oklahoma’s John Fulbright opened with a great set of ballads backed sparingly by drums and upright bass. Next up, alt-country pioneers Old 97’s did a raucous set of their Texas-bred cowpunk power pop that had the audience right in the palm of their hands. Enthusiastic frontman Rhett Miller always brings his best and Murry Hammond (bass), Ken Bethea (lead guitar) and Philip Peeples (drums) had his back as they powered through some of their best songs, kicking off with “Jagged,” then covering Merle Haggard’s classic cautionary tale “Mama Tried” and finishing with an ass-kicking version of “Time Bomb.”
Headlining string band the Devil Makes Three brought a rootsy, upbeat spin to their jug-band inspired blues and ragtime numbers. With Pete Bernard and Cooper McBean on guitar and banjo and Lucia Turino on upright bass, the band played a great set of their genre-defying sound and, by the end of the set, had the audience on their feet.
Meanwhile, across the Lincoln Center campus at the larger venue, the Damrosch Park Bandshell, Americanafest continued with openers Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. The Nashville singer/songwriters put on a wonderful set, mixing blues, bluegrass, rock and folk. Kicking off with “I Lost My Job of Loving You,” from their 2012’s Buddy & Jim, they continued with a dozen more tunes mostly from that duet album.
Next came the Lone Bellow followed, sounding incredibly tight, featuring soaring three-part harmonies by lead singer/principal songwriter/guitarist Zach Williams, mandolinist Kanene Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, along with a full backing band. Their well-received set included “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold,” a frantic tale of losing everything for love and a rousing country arrangement of Harry Nilsson’s, “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City.”
Rosanne Cash and her fine band, including husband John Leventhal on guitar, kicked off with “A Feather’s Not A Bird,” the first track on her recent album The River & The Thread. With a highly polished sound, the band proceeded through beautiful versions of the new songs. Cash and Leventhal performed a completely re-arranged version of Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit “ Ode to Billie Joe.” The band then returned for a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” and then finished with a rousing encore, with both opening acts coming on stage for the title track from Cash’s 1981 album Seven Year Ache. A great way to wrap up a rewarding day of roots music.
– George Kopp
Soul music, in all its sweat-drenched glory, took center stage at Damrosch Park for Americanafest’s spectacular final show. As the sun set and the heavenly smells from the Hill Country BBQ truck wafted through the air, the audience settled in for a long night of music.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to supporting the traditional music of the South, was on hand to warm up the crowd. As Beverly “Guitar” Watkins tore into solos with her black Stratocaster held behind her head and Ironing Board Sam banged out riffs on his one-of-a-kind homemade keyboard, the audience got a taste of authentic Chitlin’ Circuit showmanship.
A strong sense of tradition remained in the air when Texas soul veteran Bobby Patterson had the audience dancing in the aisles to signature tunes like “How Do You Spell Love” and “That’s What the Blues is All About.” Young guns St. Paul & the Broken Bones combined a deep sense of tradition with the blistering guitar riffs and boundless energy of modern rock. Vocalist and bandleader Paul Janeway remarked, “Growing up in Alabama, all we could listen to were gospel and soul music.” His passionate vocals on the original ballad “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” left no doubt that this claim was true.
Headliner Charles Bradley is an artist whose personal story is as fascinating as his music. The indignities of poverty, menial labor and homelessness all shaped the unrestrained emotion in Bradley’s gravelly voice. From the mournful conviction of “The World (is Going Up in Flames),” to the psychedelic soul of “Confusion,” Bradley and his tightly-honed backing band put their hearts into every note. While the evening’s concert was a stirring tribute to soul music’s place in America’s musical heritage, it also celebrated a living musical genre that continues to evolve and thrive with a new generation of artists and fans.
– Jon Kleinman