Photos by Steven Sandick
Founded in 1957, APAP (The Association of Performing Arts Presenters) is a national advocacy group for furthering the performing arts. Each January, APAP/NYC holds a five-day conference at New York’s Hilton. Thousands of industry professionals file into the midtown hotel, including presenters, artists, managers, agents and emerging artists from all 50 states and dozens of countries. In addition to music, you’ll witness dance, theater, spoken word, comics, jugglers, acrobats and more.
Here’s where the fun begins. You sign in and get your 274-page spiral book of events and showcases. After several minutes, panic sets in. Since APAP is such a large event, the confines of the Hilton cannot contain all of the showcases. So it’s off the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and the surprise opener, Darlene Love. This event was not an APAP members’ exclusive show. The audience was comprised of not only Southside Johnny fans, but also prospective theater owners and bookers, to see Southside’s offering for the upcoming year. For almost two hours, Southside Johnny became one with the audience. Hard to believe any band has as much fun on stage.
Darlene Love’s showcase was only 30 minutes but her powerful soulful vocals packed many songs from the Phil Spector songbook, such as “He’s A Rebel” and “Today I Met The Boy I’m Going To Marry” as well as her Christmas classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Love also offered several tracks from her upcoming Steven Van Zandt produced record.
By day two, the event was in full-swing. All the suites and ballrooms were now flourishing. The halls were filled with actors running around in pirate costumes, belly dancers, musicians etc., each practicing for their short sets. One of the most notable was the weekend-long The Harlem Suite, sponsored by Allan Harris Productions. Every 15 minutes, there was a showcase by a different artist, from 10 A.M. until midnight. Also on this second day, the expo opens, spanning three floors. This is where theater owners and booking agent meet with artists’ agent and managers to fill their calendar for the upcoming year.
Saturday evening’s event was “The Plan Your Season” showcase at Funky Joe’s. This venue is an enigma. The address does not coincide with the final destination. When you finally find the correct door, you’re still not sure you’re in the right place. When the door opened, I said “swordfish.” Thankfully, Robert Williams (335 Records) knew the Marx Brothers reference. Funky Joe’s, as it was explained to me is a rehearsal space for A- list clientele that sometime rents the space for worthy parties. Well this was quite the party. The performers included the Brothers Brown, Lee Roy Parnell, Blue Meadow and Scotty Bratcher.
Lee Roy Parnell drew me to this showcase. From his early albums on the country charts to his later blues albums, Parnell has always been one of my favorite slide players. After all these years, the Redhead hasn’t lost a step. Scotty Bratcher was the surprise of the night. He is the epitome of a young guitar slinger. Most of his set was 15-minute jam, beginning with James Gang’s “Funk 49,” then weaving from Hendrix to SRV to the Allman Brothers. At the end of the set, Bratcher stated, “I guess my parents had great taste in music because this is the stuff I heard growing up.”
Sunday’s offerings proved to be just as exciting. Radio personality Ira Glass served as a Keynote speaker for the next chapter of his “This American Life” series. Musically, Americana and bluegrass were served in a healthy dose, starting with Mike & Ruthy (formally of the Mammals), Claire Lynch, Red Molly, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion and Balsam Range.
The highlight was the Bluegrass Sampler Platter at the City Winery. First up was Bryan Sutton, an extraordinary guitarist who started as a member of Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder. He has also toured with the Dixie Chicks, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and many others. Performing songs from his latest album, Into My Own, Sutton’s confidence and brand of mountain music shows that he should no longer be a sideman.
Next up was Sierra Hull, an amazing mandolin player who released her first album at ten years old. Hull, joined onstage by bassist Ethan Jodziewicz ,performed songs from an upcoming project. At age 23, the new material has taken on a jazz-like maturity that can be compared with the likes of a David Grisman.
As far as great mandolin players go, Tim O’Brien schooled the rest. His solo set just mesmerized the audience as well as his peers. I observed a stunned Sarah Jarosz watching the jaw-dropping performance. Later, O’Brien introduced Andy Statman for several mandolin duets. This was truly a stunning performance.
Finally, the Concerted Efforts Booking Agency brought their showcase to Joe’s Pub. Performers included Dom Flemons, The American Songster (formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion. Flemons performed songs from his latest release, Prospect Hill drawing from old-timey, blues, folk and even rockabilly. Being a third generation Guthrie, you can imagine that sing-a-longs were in order for the night with “Go Waggaloo” from Guthrie and Irion’s children’s album. They also paid homage to Woody Guthrie, Sarah Lee’s grandfather, with the entire “Tom Joad” and “This Land Is Your Land,” the latter joined by Flemons.
If you happen to be in New York next January, be on the lookout for these amazing showcases.
– Steven Sandick