The last of the summer festivals are finalizing their lineups just as many of the fall indoor festivals have announced theirs.
By Noah Schaffer
If you were one of the thousands who enjoyed this year’s stellar Lowell Folk Festival, the bad news is you’ll have to wait another 11 months before it returns. The good news is that the group that programs the music lineup in Lowell, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, also helps book a similar event in Bangor, Maine that is taking place this coming weekend. The American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront is likewise free and features an eclectic lineup that includes two of Lowell’s highlights, Peruvian scissor dancers The Chankas and Garifuna hero Aurelio Martinez. Also on board is Sun Records rockabilly pioneer Sonny Burgess and his Legendary Pacers, bluegrass traditionalist James King, Nepalese Sarangi master Prem Raja Maha, and much more. A Maine-centric crafts area includes canoe and donut-making demonstrations. Much further afield another NCTA event, the Richmond Folk Festival, takes place in October.
This coming weekend also brings Boston’s annual Caribbean Carnival. Besides Saturday’s day-long fete in Franklin Park, there are numerous boat rides, concerts, and dances all weekend. More details will be in this week’s Arts Fuse weekly picks column.
Long-running Labor Day Weekend bash Rhythm and Roots in Charlestown, R.I. has finalized its lineup, and there’s so much music its added a third stage. At the top of this year’s roster is the 50th anniversary of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, the all-star unit that played a major role in making Boston a roots music bastion (and which was also intertwined with cult leader Mel Lymon’s controversial Ft. Hill commune). Jug Band members Maria Muldaur, Bill Keith, and Samoa Wilson will also be playing their own sets, while Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur will play as a duo earlier in the day before the whole entourage gathers on stage for the reunion. (The ensemble is also doing a two-night stand at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, August 29 and 30.) Rhythm and Roots also boasts a dance tent chock full of Cajun and zydeco bands, headliners like Taj Mahal and Steve Earle, and rising talents like Lindi Ortega.
The Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival technically ended in 2008. But a reunion at the Brunswick, Maine campground two years ago was so successful that these “Bluegrass Specials” seem to have become an annual Labor Day Weekend tradition. The fest mixes traditional and contemporary bluegrass bands like Dailey and Vincent, the Rambling Rooks, and the Gibson Brothers with lots of campsite picking.
The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA brings top-shelf roots artists to its indoor stage year-round. Every September they also host a free, outdoor festival. The lineup for the September 8 fest includes rock survivor Chuck Prophet, Ethio-funk partiers Debo Band, and local tenor sax great Dino Govoni.
Pulaski Park in Three Rivers, MA, is one of the last full-time polka venues in the country. The tented dance floor fills up on Sundays throughout the summer, and there’s no shortage of beer or perogis. It holds a special Labor Day show with the Eddie Forman Orchestra on September 2 as well as a Farewell Party with polka superstar Jimmy Sturr on September 8. (Contrary to what the Boston Globe recently reported, the non-profit venue charges admissions to its shows and also holds raffles during band breaks.)
New England fairs don’t get any larger than The Big E in West Springfield, MA. Besides giant pumpkins, daily horse shows, and carnival rides, the fair has often featured notable country and classic soul artists. This year Phil Spector vocalist Darlene Love, whose profile is at an all-time high thanks to her appearance in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, performs September 14–16. Other oldies fare includes Tommy James and the Shondells September 15, Merseybeat pioneer Mike Pender of the Searchers September 17–20, and the Soul Survivors, whose “Expressway to Your Heart” was the first hit for Gamble and Huff’s Philly soul stable (September 22–25).
One of the few outdoors bluegrass festivals that does not take place in a campground, the FreshGrass Festival at MassMOCA in North Adams, MA (September 20–22) has lined up many of the genre’s stars, including Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and the Del McCoury Band. It’s so far the only New England date on banjo icon Ralph Stanley’s farewell tour (although chances are that will change before Dr. Stanley hangs it up at the end of 2014). And it features a rare local appearance by the unusual duo of mandolinst Mike Marshall and bassist Edgar Meyer. The duo also appears at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA on September 22. That Rockport venue has expanded well beyond its classical music roots — they’ve also got gospel-blues warriors The Holmes Brothers on October 25 and funk saxophone legend Maceo Parker on January 25.
For years a major percentage of concerts presented by World Music took place at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA. Their fall season finds just one concert at the Davis Square movie theater (Greg Brown, November 1), but seven shows are taking place across the street at Johnny D’s. Perhaps because the smaller club puts less pressure on selling tickets the programming seems to be more adventurous — Ukraine’s DakhaBrakha (October 3), Tuareg West African, desert blues band Terakaft (October 18), and Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez (October 19) are all making their Boston debuts. There are also shows at the Berklee Performance Center with Indian sarod master Amjad Ali Khan on September 15 and Urugayian songwriter Jorge Drexler on October 6.
Besides the previously mentioned Jim Kweskin Jug Band reunion (and a solo Geoff Muldaur show November 9), Club Passim in Cambridge, MA has a full fall that includes Tim Ericksen and his Trio de Pumpkintown (September 7), traditional Danish masters Helene Blum and Harald Haugaard (September 11), Celtic guitarist John Doyle (October 3), a tribute to local bluegrass pioneers The Lily Brothers (October 20), and the harmonies of the Stray Birds (November 22). Pop songwriter Freedy Johnston plays a double bill with the Winterpills on October 15. Hopefully this time Johnston will get to play a full set, unlike his show last week at Johnny D’s, which started late due to traffic delays and then was then cut short so the club could present a band that was playing for no cover charge — a scenario that displeased those who had bought tickets to see Johnston.
An ironic quirk of bluegrass economics is that much of the typical festival budget is devoted to presenting touring bluegrass bands — even though many of the attendees are largely there to pick with old and new friends, often spending meagre time around the stage area. So the Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU) has come up with its Jam’n Weekend at the Colonial Inn in Concord, MA (November 1–3), which is devoted to jam sessions, workshops, and other interactive activities. The BBU is also presenting a concert by songbird Claire Lynch and her band at the National Heritage Musuem in Lexington, MA on November 23.
Bluegrass’ enduring popularity means that even highbrow arts presenters are getting in on the action. The Celebrity Series is hosting Bela Fleck’s Banjo Summit, a cavalcade of New York State-based banjo aces with Bill Keith, Eric Weissberg, Noam Pikelny, Richie Stearns, and Tony Trischka, at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA on October 10.
For those seeking a real road trip, a few fall festivals outside of New England are worthy of mention. The International Bluegrass Music Association has moved its annual fall awards and convention show to Raleigh, NC. (Local band Della Mae, Vermont’s Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival and thoughtful, New Hampshire blogger Ted Lehmann are among those vying for awards this year.) It’s also inaugurated the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival Sept. 27–28, which is anchored by a one-time collaboration involving Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Mark Schatz.
Finally, the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans has been reactivated after a year off. The October 3–5 fest, which exclusively showcases under-recognized vintage artists, has announced a lineup that includes soul iconoclast Swamp Dogg, garage wildmen The Sonics, northeast rockabilly crooner Charlie Gracie, and a band that many inaccurately think was Boston-based, Los Angeles’ Standells of “Dirty Water” fame.
Noah Schaffer has written hundreds of published articles about roots and world music, jazz, rock, and other forms of music and art. He is the winner of numerous awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association.