Feature: Roots & World Music Live Highlights of 2017

Here’s a look at the good stuff among last year’s live music events.


One of the standout shows of the year: the Joy Boyz.

By Noah Schaffer

In the past, I’ve always included low as well high live music moments. But, in a year in which I attended an out-of-town concert where the promoters fled under armed escort mid-show, it seems petty to complain about any of the weaker local events. So here’s a look at some of the good stuff:
February 19: A tribute to Nerses Nalbandian at the Mosesian Center for the Arts:  The Either/Orchestra, Debo Band vocalist Bruck Tesfaye and others told a surprising tale: how an Armenian became one of the most important figures in Ethiopian music.
February 25: Buffy St. Marie at the Columbus Theater in Providence, Rhode Island: The Columbus has been presenting a slew of interesting shows, including this date from the still-fiery songwriter and First Nations activist.
March 24: TIGUE and Innov Gnawa at the Celebrity Series Stave Sessions: The Stave Sessions bring a week of impressively eclectic programming into what normally serves as the Berklee School of Music cafeteria. The New York masters of Moroccan tradition, Innov Gnawa, collaborated with the percussion trio TIGUE. Innov Gnawa then returned for some even more powerful sets at the Lowell Folk Festival.
April 25:  Marty Stuart at the Sinclair: Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives have long been among the tightest and most entertaining units in traditional country. The surf-exotica of his Way Out West LP only made things better.
May 7:  Joy Boyz at the Lincoln Congregational Church, Brockton, MA: Formerly the Gospel Midgets and now known as the “Littlest Men in Gospel,” Darryl & Donnie and their band are no novelty act — just ask everyone who was felt the spirit at this excellent program, which also included Deacon Lou Dobbs from Connecticut, Boston’s Spiritual Encouragers and, from the host church, the Lincoln Men’s Witness Choir.
July 28-30: Lowell Folk Festival: The annual treasure trove of music and food from around the world had far too many highlights to list, but deserving of special mention were the Afro-Venezuelan ensemble led by Betsayda Machado, the stunning virtuosity of Boston-based Syrian oud player Kenan Adnawi, and the Sun Ra Arkestra, whose Afro-Futurism free jazz is as relevant as ever (as shown by their being tapped by Solange to open her sold-out show at the Orpheum).
August 4: Newport Jazz Festival: A nice new trick from the oldest jazz festival dog came with the establishment of a standing-room area right in front of the main stage.  Removing the sea of empty lawn chairs means the artists receive far more audience reaction. Musically, the most rewarding stages remained the small ones, whose bounties included the perfect straight ahead sounds of the supergroup One for All, an intriguing large-scale work from Amir ElSaffar and, perhaps best of all, New Orleans’ Evan Christopher and his Clarinet Road band, anchored by drummer Shannon Powell.
September 1-3: Rhythm and Roots: When this Rhode Island festival started 20 years ago it was easy to hear Cajun and zydeco bands at Johnny D’s. These days it’s an especially essential link to Louisiana culture, and event celebrated its anniversary via some great improvements, including the return of workshops. The likes of the Mavericks and Roseanne Cash turned in fine headlining performances, but it was especially fun to have acts like Los Texmaniacs and the Revelers in residence and sitting in with other groups all weekend.
September 14: The Cookers at Scullers Jazz Club: This was a tumultuous year for the DoubleTree Hotel-based club. The jazz room took a PR blow after it fired long-time programmer Fred Taylor. There were some  growing pains in terms of its new downstairs location, including mixed sightlines and noisy bar staff. But it remains a much-needed spot, as proven by the appearance of this supergroup of graceful jazz elders.
November 19: Julian Kytasty at the Arts at the Armory Cafe: The Journeys in Sound series continued to showcase a wide variety of world and new music artists, both new and seasoned. Ukranian bandura master Kytasty was spellbinding — and he’ll be back in town in January.
December 3: Andy Statman at Club Passim: In recent visits, Statman has focused on his interest in spiritual Jewish music. But this evening found him spending more time with the mandolin than the clarinet, returning to his bluegrass roots with some high-energy material which will appear on a forthcoming recording.
December 26: Mountain to Mountain at the Cantab Lounge: Why was music from Nepal performed at the venerable Cantab’s Tuesday night bluegrass jam? The answer:  a chance meeting between local old-time fiddlers Alan Kaufman and Ben Wetherbee and Nepalese musical master Shyam Nepali. The result was magical; it turns out that Nepali’s ensemble is playing three times a week at the new Chulo restaurant in Watertown Square. Seeing them again soon is my New Year’s resolution.

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