North Mississippi Allstars
Sep
7
7:00pm 7:00pm

North Mississippi Allstars

North Mississippi Allstars are back with PRAYER FOR PEACE and couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Founded in 1996 by brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals), the now venerable band are entering their second decade with what is unquestionably the most vital album of their brilliant career. Released by Sony Legacy, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees North Mississippi Allstars continuing to think globally following 2013’s Earth-shaking WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING. That album, the band’s seventh studio recording, proved the planetary sensation its title promised, with The Guardian simply declaring it the North Mississippi Allstars’ “best yet.” Now North Mississippi Allstars weave their bred-to-the-bone musical sensibility with a potent message of positivity, inclusion, family, and hope. As ever, songs like the powerhouse title track and “You Got To Move” – the latter featuring accompaniment from Hill Country Blues guitar hero Kenny Brown and award-winning singer/bassist Danielle Nicole – pay homage to the band’s long lineage of musical heroes, celebrating the blues’ extraordinary legacy while reshaping and pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

The majority of PRAYER FOR PEACE was recorded at Memphis’ famed Royal Studios with the great Boo Mitchell behind the board. The hard-touring band also recorded as they traveled the country, lighting up studios in St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Austin, and of course, their legendary father Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in the Allstars’ own Hernando, MS. A number of old friends join the congregation, among them bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company), Graeme Lesh (Midnight North, The Terrapin Family Band), vocalist Sharisse Norman, bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White), and singer/fife player Shardé Thomas, daughter of Mississippi blues giant Otha Turner. Simultaneously master curators, expert revivalists and forward-thinking visionaries, the Dickinson brothers have crafted their most daringly creative and provocatively topical collection to date. PRAYER FOR PEACE stands tall as yet another milestone marking North Mississippi Allstars own unique place in the American musical tradition. 

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Lady Wray
Sep
8
7:00pm 7:00pm

Lady Wray

Virginia-born singer/songwriter Nicole Wray has everything you’d want in a singer: an infectious Jackson-5-family-member flare, a range like Aretha’s, and a church upbringing that’s brought a pure, healing texture to her voice. But the struggle she’s been through has made her more than a singer. Nicole Wray is an artist.

When talking about Queen Alone, her first solo album in some time, Nicole explains, “It’s a reflection of my soul. It’s who I am today.” And aptly so. Released on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records, Nicole is writing and singing songs about her life. And yet to even start to know her soul, you have to go back to the beginning.

Growing up in Portsmouth was tough at times for Nicole. Of course, there were aspects of teenage normalcy: the Sundays in church, hanging out with friends, her first real job as a temporary telemarketer. At the age of fifteen, life opened up quickly when Missy Elliot paid a visit to Nicole’s family home to audition her on the spot. Missy was there on the rumored strength and quality of her voice. Instantly blowing her away, she signed and left with Missy that night. Two years later, in 1998, she had a hit gold single off a solid debut album (Make It Hot). Suddenly she was part of a team that included late ‘90s R&B and rap royalty: Missy, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Playa, Timbaland and Magoo. She made it. And fast.

However, the only hint of a second album was a single (“I’m Lookin’”). As rapidly as she achieved success, Nicole then found herself needing to re-make it. By late 2001, her time with Missy and company had run its course. They amicably parted ways and Nicole, once on top of the R&B world, was unsure of what was next.

It was a very low, but important, point in her life. While her passion and talent propelled her forward–friends disappeared and her purpose seemed unclear. While neck-deep in this struggle, Damon Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records called. They signed an album deal and by 2004 she had a new single that was getting healthy play (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”). In what was starting to be a pattern, just as things were looking up, Roc-A-Fella then (famously) split and despite the strong single, there wasn’t enough push to get her sophomore album out. Once again, industry factors beyond her control took charge. Like a recurring dream, Nicole found herself in a familiar situation. Having just been in the spotlight, and then again back living the “real life.”

Besides the fickleness of the industry, life was also testing her. Nicole’s father and his drug addiction strained her parents’ marriage, family members had run-ins with the law, and friends passed away too early. Motivated by the pain, she pushed on, and through this duality of regular life and fame, Nicole came into her own. No longer that shy girl from Virginia, letting people write her lyrics and dictate how she sang songs–Nicole was more in control of what she wanted and was a smarter and sharper vocalist for it.

Maintaining her connection with Damon Dash, she did a few guest spots. Nicole’s powerful voice had a huge presence on The Black Keys’ Blackroc project in 2009 which led her to recording background vocals on The Black Keys’ Grammy-winning LP, Brothers.

In 2013, Nicole paired up with London vocalist Terri Walker and released the album Lady. On Truth & Soul Records, Nicole and Terri had a backdrop supplied by the same musicians that helped make Aloe Blacc a global smash and Lee Fields a household name. Pitchfork said of the LP: “The singers clearly relish the opportunity to indulge in a little comfort food soul, resulting in an infectiously fun set with broad, cross-generational appeal.”

Once again, Nicole was tested. Terri parted ways with the group to pursue her own projects shortly after the album’s release–despite rave reviews and upcoming travel dates. Nicole could’ve stopped as well. Instead, she carried the Lady project herself, show to show, town to town. In the face of frustration and decisions beyond her control, Nicole stepped up and took charge. She knew that she could make this happen. The Lady project allowed Nicole to showcase her impeccably strong and unique voice as well as her succinct poetic prowess for song writing. She found herself renewed and in a realer place, a place where success and frustration honed her talent and drive. She wasn’t just a singer anymore—she was tapping into something altogether different.

Fast forward to now–the transformation from singer-for-hire to pure artist is evident in this new full-length solo release, Queen Alone. Reunited with the top-class musicianship from the Lady project and with Big Crown’s own Leon Michels and Daptone / Dunham’s Tom Brenneck handling production, Nicole says she is “Singing out loud now–singing from the stomach.” Back in 1998 she was coached how to sing. Today, after stutter-stepping in and out of the industry, there is a new soul and substance to her songs–all of it from her life.

Almost echoing her new record, Nicole says, “You have to go through something for it to be real.” She has been living with one foot in fame and the other in real life. The result is clear: she’s feeling something real in her music again. And it’s hard for us as listeners not to follow suit.

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Brian Owens & the Deacons of Soul
Sep
9
7:00pm 7:00pm

Brian Owens & the Deacons of Soul

When you hear Brian Owens sing, it’s hard to believe that anyone could find as much joy in music as he does. You would have to believe that his greatest goal is to thrill audiences and reinforce his reputation as one of America’s true soul music virtuosos.

On his new album, SOUL OF CASH, Owens offers up his own soulful take on timeless classics recorded by legendary Johnny Cash, including "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Walk The Line," Man In Black," and "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Each song is configured respectfully by Owens and his band, The Deacons of Soul (Alvin Quinn, Shaun Robinson, Rob Woodie), to preserve the genius of the original versions while demonstrating their universal meaning and adaptability. 

 

"The way I look at this project is not so much as a tribute, but more of an Americana soul project that features the music of Johnny Cash," says Owens, who has been lauded by Rolling Stone as a “vibrant soul singer who bridges a racial and generational divide." "One of the things I've come to know is that the soul of Johnny Cash is very similar to the soul of me."

 

"I get the sense from people that they think my connection to Johnny Cash is a strange one," Owens continues. "I don't know if it's because he's white or because I'm black. When people hear my original material, it leans more toward Marvin Gaye and that kind of vibe. But I really discovered my voice singing Johnny Cash music. When I sing music of some of my other influences, it's pulling from Marvin, Sam Cooke, and Curtis Mayfield. But when I sing Johnny Cash, you're hearing me because there's no reference point for me other than the song."  

 

Owens was 11 years old when first saw Johnny Cash on the popular TV series Columbo where Cash portrayed playing a televangelist and sang "I Saw the Light." Later in his mid-20s, Owens discovered him once again through the movie Walk The Line. "There was something about his life that resonated with me," Owens says. "From then on, I really got into Cash -- not only the music, but also the person."

In a country where everything feels so divided now and people are seemingly forced by the media to look at our differences more than what makes us the same, Owens says he thinks of Soul Of Cash a middle-of-the-road narrative.  "To me it says here's this guy, a white man born in the South, who's now passed on, and I, a young African-American guy born in the Midwest, raised on soul music, finding much common ground through music," explains Owens.  "What we have in common far outweighs the difference that I'm black and he's white, and that's 

what I want people to get from this project." 

Owens has accomplished a lot in his musical career. He was the lead singer for the U.S. military band Sidewinder that became an internet sensation. He says performing for the troops was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that helped shape and mold him as an artist and a person. Owens has since released three nationally distributed solo albums, opened for such notable artists as Ramsey Lewis and Michael McDonald, and has headlined his own tours from coast to coast. Owens has also performed at the World Series and for First Lady Michelle Obama and made numerous national TV appearances including Entertainment Tonight, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Fox & Friends, The Wayne Brady Show and more. 

A longtime resident of Ferguson, Missouri, Owens has led by example in launching numerous charitable initiatives. Through his LIFE (Leadership, Innovation, Faith and Excellence) Cultural and Performing Arts, he offers education in music, art and technology with the aim of empowering youth in his community.

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John Kilzer
Sep
10
7:00pm 7:00pm

John Kilzer

Hide Away finds John Kilzer turning in a new set of songs in that rich, cross-genre tradition, with the help of Memphis’s established musical community and members of the up-and-coming generation as well. Alvin Youngblood Hart, Luther Dickinson, Steve Selvidge, Bobby Manuel, Greg Morrow and Kirk Whalum, among others, all show up to help Kilzer bring it home. It’s a testimony to John Kilzer’s respected standing in the Memphis music community, and it’s the reason Hide Away marks a return to top form for a songwriter who knows, personally and professionally, how music can move, can shake, can heal us.

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Alex Cuba
Sep
14
7:00pm 7:00pm

Alex Cuba

Following the release of “Healer”, Alex Cuba's forth studio album, it has been an eventful year. He opened for Sheryl Crow two nights in Hollywood Bowl, won the singer songwriter category at the Latin Grammys 2015 and was nominated for the Latin Pop category at the 2016 Grammys. All this from the small town in northern Canada where Alex Cuba has lived and independently produced music for 12 years. After completing tours in Canada and making best of lists for NPR and CBC for Healer for 2015 Alex celebrated Canada Day in Ottawa playing for Prime Minister Trudeau and made 1M streams on Spotify for the single Sarah. Alex is now preparing a new soulful, melody rich production that has him in Montreal, Spain, Los Angeles and Victoria for an April 2017 release.

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Jonathan Blanchard
Sep
15
7:00pm 7:00pm

Jonathan Blanchard

Soul Singer, songwriter actor and preserver of the Negro Spiritual, Jonathan Blanchard has successfully released his first studio album entitled “Freedom’s Soul…..the REVOLUTION”.  Freedom’s Soul was recorded with live musicians in Memphis, TN and Atlanta, GA.

Brought forth from the historical roots of Memphis, Freedom’s Soul, is easily one of today’s most dynamic and powerful musical works.  A culmination of musical genres, steeped in soul music and lessons learned.  With an inspiring message and originality,  Freedom’s Soul “takes you there”, with every song.  There is truth, pureness and clarity in the message, and simple genius within the compositions.  This album is a fusion of Soul, Funk, Jazz, Spirituals, and R&B.  “As a creative spirit, your creations will either manifest freedom or bondage in the souls of those who bare witness”.  Blanchard would describe his lyrical content as simply being “Honest”.  The genius is in the commonality and practicality of how he expresses his views on an array of subject matter.  Blanchard is heavily influenced by Memphis Artist who preceded him such as EWF, The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, and WC Handy…who also maintained a since of being current and relevant.

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Trout Fishing In America
Sep
17
7:00pm 7:00pm

Trout Fishing In America

Trout Fishing in America is the long-standing musical partnership of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet. The name, taken from a Richard Brautigan novel, seems almost as incongruous as a picture of this musical duo: Ezra Idlet (guitar) stands six feet eight inches and Keith Grimwood (bass), five feet five and one half inches. Ezra is more playful and extroverted while Keith is more serious and reserved. Each of them bring out the best in the other and the joy that comes from this musical interaction is contagious and impossible to deny.

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Southern Avenue
Sep
21
7:00pm 7:00pm

Southern Avenue

Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs from the easternmost part of the city limits all the way to Soulsville, the original home of Stax Records. Southern Avenue is also the name of a fiery young Memphis quintet that embodies its home city’s soul, blues and gospel traditions, while adding a youthful spirit and dynamic energy all their own. “If Memphis music is a genre, this is it!” proclaims American Blues Scene, and Rock 103FM calls Southern Avenue, “The most-talked-about band in Memphis.”

Their self-titled debut album is a breath of fresh air with its own unique blend of gospel- tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting. And Southern Avenue’s upcoming release on the fabled Stax label is a testament to the young combo’s talent and vision.

Southern Avenue features five young but seasoned musicians who came from diverse musical and personal backgrounds to create music that spans their wide-ranging musical interests, while showcasing the powerful chemistry that the group has honed through stage and studio experience.

Southern Avenue encompasses Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle, powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; versatile jazz-inspired bassist Daniel McKee; and the band’s newest addition, keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax’s legendary music academy.

The band members’ diverse skills come together organically on Southern Avenue, scheduled for release on February 24, 2017 via Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group. Produced by Kevin Houston (North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Patty Griffin), the 10-song album features guest appearances from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and trumpeter Marc Franklin of the Bo-Keys. But it’s Southern Avenue’s own potent musical chemistry that drives such sublimely soulful originals as “Don’t Give Up,” “What Did I Do,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Love Me Right” and “Wildflower.”  The band also pays tribute to its roots with an incandescent reading of Ann Peebles’ Memphis soul classic “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”

The seeds for Southern Avenue’s birth were planted when Ori Naftaly, who’d grown up in Israel with a deeply rooted passion for American blues and funk, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. That experience led to Naftaly moving permanently to Memphis and successfully touring the United States with his own band. 

Although his talents were embraced by American audiences, Naftaly felt constrained in his own band, feeling the need to include a more expansive, collaborative musical vision.  That opportunity arrived when he met Memphis native Tierinii Jackson, who’d gotten her start singing in church, before performing in a series of cover bands and theatrical projects. 

According to Ori, “When I saw Tierinii perform, I thought, ‘This is why I came to America.’ I met her and we clicked. At our first rehearsal, she told me that her sister was a drummer, and she thought it would be great to have her in the band. We had such a good vibe, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about my solo thing.”

“I initially clicked with Ori really well, but it was his project,” Tierinii remembers. “Then he came to me and said ‘I want this band to be a collaboration, I want this to be our vision and our music.’  So we started writing together, and that’s when I realized that we were really the same, musically.”

“We started over,” Naftaly continues. “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set, and we became Southern Avenue. The more we played together, the closer we got, and the more we became a family. We started getting a different kind of crowd, and from there things escalated quickly.”

“Ori said, ‘My band is done, this is y’all’s band,'” Tierinii recalls. “We all quit our other gigs and started focusing on this, working and writing and living together in a way that you don’t experience when you’re playing somebody else’s music. Now we’re playing songs that we wrote ourselves and we’re playing them from our hearts. That is when I realized that we had something special.”

Despite not having a record deal, Southern Avenue quickly found success touring in America and Europe. They won additional attention playing some prestigious festivals and competing in the International Blues Challenge, in which they represented Memphis. Less than a year after the band’s formation, they were signed to the resurgent Stax label. 

“I feel like being on Stax is a responsibility,” says Tierinii. “I grew up in Memphis, seeing the name Stax everywhere. It was a constant presence, and now it’s up to us to live up to that. I feel like this band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is home.”

Tierinii views Southern Avenue as “a perfect soundtrack to our first year together. We wrote these songs in our first nine months of being a band. We’d all done so many things and come from so many different places, but the music represents all of us.

“It’s been a real crash course,” she continues. “We haven’t been a band for very long, but what we have feels very special, and it’s made us a strong unit. I think that we represent something that people need to see right now.”

“This band has already made our dreams come true,” Ori concludes. “I’ve waited all my life to be in a band like this, and it’s amazing to me that I get to play with these people every night. Our goal is to keep doing this for a long time and leave our mark. We’re trying to build a legacy.”

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Memphis Renaissance: Going On From Here
Sep
22
7:00pm 7:00pm

Memphis Renaissance: Going On From Here

New Ballet Ensemble dances a narrative of the human experience – its highs, lows, and hopes for the future – accompanied by spoken word passages and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra playing music from legendary black artists, including rarely-performed works by pioneering classical composer William Grant Still and Duke Ellington, with a finale from Marvin Gaye. It answers Dr. King’s question – “Where do we go from here” – with an optimistic community pledge: “We’re going on together.”

This unique presentation continues the creative alliance between New Ballet Ensemble & School, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and Levitt Shell that began in 2015 with Memphis Renaissance + Harlem, performed to a packed audience of 4,500.

Memphis Renaissance: Going on from Here is a Collaborating Partner of the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK50 commemoration. 

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Deedee Bridgewater
Sep
23
7:00pm 7:00pm

Deedee Bridgewater

Rhodes College and Levitt Shell Partnership

For the past six years, the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College and The Levitt Shell have worked as community partners to provide access and educational opportunities for the Memphis community through music. Building on the strengths of each organization, the partnership has resulted in a variety of concerts and community events that have explored the breadth of Memphis music both past and present. Artists who have visited Memphis as a result of this partnership include Grammy award winners and NEA recognized artists such as Rosanne Cash, George Coleman, and Charles Lloyd, as well as important local musicians. The partnership has also given students from Rhodes College, the STAX Academy, and Shelby County Schools performing opportunities and access to professional artists. In addition, important community events and archival opportunities have been created through this partnership supporting the Benjamin Hooks Public Library, the Manassas High School alumni association, and area musicians whose stories have been underrepresented in the narrative of Memphis music.

This year, the partnership continues with an appearance by Dee Dee Bridgewater and her return home to Memphis. Bridgewater, a three-time Grammy Winner, TONY Award Winner, and 2017 NEA Jazz Master, is among the most accomplished jazz performers in the world. Bridgewater was born in Memphis, where her father, Matthew Garrett, was the band director at Manassas High School in the 1950s during the time when George Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Hank Crawford, Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier were students. Her recent album Memphis (recorded at the legendary Royal Studio) signals a return by Bridgewater to her roots and her hometown, and explores the influence the city had on her during her early years.

The Mike Curb Institute at Rhodes and the Levitt Shell are thrilled to present this concert for the Memphis community, and to host a series of community discussions and interactions with students in conjunction with her appearance in Memphis.

Past Series Highlights:

  1. Six concerts at the Levitt Shell, including Rosanne Cash, Charles Lloyd, George Coleman

  2. Over 20,000 attendees at these concerts

  3. Numerous clinics, discussions, and oral history projects connected to these concerts for area students, as well as performing opportunities for over 30 local professional musicians

  4. Rhodes Office of Alumni Relations has hosted receptions in conjunction with Family Weekend

  5. Community partners engaged through this partnership have included:

    1. Levitt Shell

    2. STAX Music Academy

    3. Shelby County Schools

    4. Benjamin Hooks Public Library

    5. Manassas High School Alumni Association

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Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Sep
24
7:00pm 7:00pm

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Celebrating 40 years since their founding in 1977, New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band has taken the traditional foundation of brass band music and incorporated it into a blend of genres including Bebop Jazz, Funk and R&B/Soul. This unique sound, described by the band as a musical gumbo, has allowed the Dirty Dozen to tour across 5 continents and 30 countries, record 12 studio albums and collaborate with a range of artists from Modest Mouse to Widespread Panic to Norah Jones. Forty years later, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a world famous music machine whose name is synonymous with genre-bending romps and high-octane performances.

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Opera Memphis
Sep
28
7:00pm 7:00pm

Opera Memphis

Opera Memphis is back at the Levitt Shell during this year's 30 Days of Opera! 30 Days of Opera is exactly what it sounds like: 30 days of totally awesome - totally FREE - performances by Opera Memphis all over Memphis and the MidSouth. A fan favorite, our yearly Levitt Shell performance is full of fun for operaphiles and newbies alike. Think of it as Opera's Greatest Hits with pop music favorites and exciting surprises thrown in for good measure. Bring the whole family and join us for this event - one of the highlights of our year!  For more information, visit operamemphis.org.

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Bruce Sudano
Sep
29
7:00pm 7:00pm

Bruce Sudano

Bruce Sudano has had his hand in some of the 20th century’s biggest hits, sung by megatalents from Michael and Jermaine Jackson to Dolly Parton and Donna Summer, his late wife. At this point, he could easily rest on his musical laurels. Instead, he recorded an album about life right here, right now, in this 21st Century World. And he filled it with hard questions, some well-aimed finger pointing and poignant observations about the human experience — for better and worse.

“I’ve always been somebody who writes about what I’m going through,” Sudano says, “because I believe that if this is something I’m feeling, other people are going to be able to relate to it as well. With this record, I’m trying to provoke people to think. I want to start a dialogue about what’s going on in our culture and our society.”

In the very first song, “Your World Now,” he wonders whether younger generations will step up to cure the world’s ills, while encouraging them to try. With “It Ain’t Cool,” he chastises “a selfish society,” and in “Common Sense,” he pleads for understanding, sacrifice and compromise. In a voice that conjures comparisons to a less-psychedelic, less British Donovan, he also implores, Come on people use your heads/We need common, common sense.

“People seem to have forgotten middle ground,” says Sudano, who also trains his pen on issues such as our self(ie)-obsessed social media culture, religion and hypocrisy, homelessness and other subjects that need addressing.

In one particularly powerful song, “When Cinderella Dies,” he examines single motherhood and the challenges women who find themselves in that situation face. When Summer passed away in 2012, they’d been together 35 years — 32 as husband and wife. Eventually, he started dating again — and found himself listening to too many stories that sounded distressingly similar.

“I started running into all these middle-aged women with kids, abandoned by their husbands, feeling discarded, left carrying the load and just struggling, trying to figure out who they were now that the fairytale had died, asking ‘How do I carry on with my life and who am I now? What is my dream? Do I even have one?’ That got me thinking about the state of marriage and what a mess it is; about the breakdown of marriage in our culture and the lack of commitment.”

But even though he dissects society’s ills, Sudano still delivers notes of hope, one of which comes in the form of the first cover song he’s ever recorded: Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.”

“I’ve always had this philosophy that I’m a songwriter, not a singer. A singer can cover somebody else’s songs. But a songwriter should sing their own songs,” he explains. But his producer, Mike Montali of the rock band Hollis Brown, talked him into it. Montali was asked to produce after he and Sudano “developed a musical simpatico” during a European tour.

“I wanted somebody with a different perspective than me to produce this record, because I’ve been doing it for a long time, and you develop habits,” Sudano says. “I also wanted it to be more under-produced than produced. As I have evolved as this solo guy, it’s more and more coming down to me and my guitar and my point of view. I want the message to be clearer, with fewer frills. I just really want to communicate.”

When he speaks, the longtime Los Angeles resident’s accent still conveys his strong New York roots; in fact, his first child is named Brooklyn. (He and Summer had two daughters; Brooklyn stars in the new NBC series Taken, and Amanda co-founded the band Johnnyswim. Sudano also raised stepdaughter Mimi.)

Sudano was 4 when he began making music, first on accordion, then on guitar and piano. He started getting paid for it at 12. By the time he was 20, he had a hit, “Ball of Fire,” co-written with his mentor, Tommy James (“Hanky Panky,” “Mony, Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now”), who recorded it with his band, the Shondells.

“He was the first person to take me under his wing, to take me into a recording studio, write with me and basically show me how it was done, in the real world,” Sudano recalls. “He took me out of the neighborhood and put me in the music business. We’re friends to this day.”

Sudano had co-founded the band Alive N Kickin’ in 1968; in 1970, James wrote and produced their top-10 hit, “Tighter, Tighter.” Five years after leaving that band, Sudano co-founded Brooklyn Dreams. That same year, 1977, he met Summer, who began writing with the band. They penned “Take It to the Zoo” for the Thank God It’s Friday film soundtrack, then the band appeared as the Planotones in the film, American Hot Wax. They hit No. 4 with Summer duetting on “Heaven Knows,” and in 1979, Summer and the band wrote the No. 1 pop and R&B hit “Bad Girls.” It became the title song to the most popular album of her career.

In 1980, Sudano released his first solo album, which contained “Starting Over Again,” written with Summer about his parents’ divorce. Dolly Parton turned it into a No. 1 country hit. Fifteen years later, Reba McEntire took it to No. 19. In 1985, Sudano co-wrote the Grammy-nominated Michael and Jermaine Jackson duet, “Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming (Too Good to Be True).” After years spent managing Summer’s career, as well as playing and singing in her band, Sudano released another solo album, Rainy Day Soul. That 2004 release gave him three top 10 adult contemporary hits, and New Music Weekly’s Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year award. “It's Her Wedding Day,” a track from his third solo album, earned him the 2009 New Music Weekly Adult Contemporary Song of the Year award.

Bruce has returned to touring as well.  These days you can find him performing alongside an eclectic group of musicians.  From the wildly successful band Johnnyswim to the iconic British band The Zombies, or jamming with young rockers Hollis Brown, Sudano is back on the road re-engaging with audiences.  In addition to recording and touring, he is also working alongside the team behind the monster theatrical hit, Jersey Boys to produce a Broadway musical about Summer set for 2018.

Sudano says he’s glad to have new chapters in life. “There’s a song on my last album called ‘Never Too Late to Dream.’ That is exactly my philosophy,” he notes. “I feel very vibrant at this point. Going through losing my wife [to lung cancer] was the one bad thing that ever happened in my life. But I was like, ‘OK, Bruce, you have this other chapter to write, so get on it.’”

And he has. Though the album’s final track, “Coney Island Days,” is a wistful song about missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, it also references dreams that never die. And Sudano’s dreams are still very much alive.

“I’m engaged in life, I’m inspired and I’m on fire,” he says. In a 21st Century World, that’s a good place to be.

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Sam Outlaw
Oct
1
7:00pm 7:00pm

Sam Outlaw

"There's a tender heart beating for you..."

Cynicism comes easy, but having a soft heart takes real guts. Sam Outlaw's new album Tenderheart dares to tread gently and look inward, with unapologetic sentiment and un-ironic nods to country music's greatest neon rainbow chasers.

Since the release of his 2015 debut Angeleno, Outlaw remains one of LA's only modern country singers to earn international acclaim. And with his follow-up Tenderheart he shows an impressive refinement of his artistic identity. Sonically, the album further elaborates Outlaw's "SoCal Country" sound: a sun-bleached, Baja-influenced twang that deftly points to country's neo-traditionalists and LA's legendary singer-songwriters. Thematically Tenderheart is a thesis on self-discovery and the power of love - a course set with the opening chords of "Everyone's Looking For Home." The opening track is a cinematic, mariachi-laced meditation on Outlaw's own conflicted quest for peace amongst the chaos of his chosen path.

Along the way he also takes a look around, and Tenderheart's revelations are most potent when filtered through Outlaw's distinctive Los Angeles vantage point. "Bottomless Mimosas" is emotionally hollowing in its portrayal of west coast existentialism while "Bougainvillea, I Think" and "Dry In The Sun" round out this trio of ‘Los Angeles songs' that explore the city's faded beauty and define "SoCal Country" beyond instrumentation.

"Trouble," one of the album's standouts, makes being bad sound pretty damn good with determined ‘Side A' swagger and kicks off a song cycle that chronicles a heart's bend, break and mend. "She's Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)" showcases acerbic wit in teary three-four time, setting the scene for "Two Broken Hearts" - a wounded lovers' getaway story with an open ending. Over the course of these thirteen songs it becomes increasingly apparent why his clever intertwining of country tropes and crisp modernism has so impressed country music fans, critics and songwriters alike. (Alt-country pioneer Ryan Adams just recently praised Outlaw, calling his work "beyond great songwriting".)

Angeleno's critical acclaim also led to 18 months of international touring. He entertained thousands of festival-goers with a prime slot at Stagecoach, made four trips to Europe, toured Australia twice and played several hundred gigs in the USA. After all those miles it's fitting that Tenderheart bottles the energy of the songs that have become mainstays of his live show. Fan-favorites like "Diamond Ring" and honky-tonk sing-along "All My Life" finally get proper studio treatment, along with "Look At You Now," a regular highlight of his acoustic tours overseas - where Outlaw is nominated for AmericanaUK's International Album of the Year alongside Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price.

Not one to mess with a winning combination, Sam called on many of the same musicians that made Angeleno such a success: harmony singer Molly Jenson, pedal steel pro Jeremy Long and guitarist Danny Garcia, along with Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket). Produced by Martin Pradler and Outlaw and recorded in the San Fernando Valley, Tenderheart also features Erwin Vasquez and Mariachi Teocuitatlan, a local mariachi group who appeared in the video for Angeleno's title track.

Now two years into his new life, Outlaw has learned that great dreams can only be achieved at great cost. And at its core, Tenderheart is the outcome of another lesson learned: if your heart stays true, the sacrifice is worth it.

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Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience
Oct
5
7:00pm 7:00pm

Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience

Well hello there.

Ever heard of a big band covering Rihanna? Get ready, my friend.

We’re happy to introduce you to what we call the new evolution of big band music – born of rebellion – and we owe it to Sinatra to keep that evolution alive and kicking.

How good are we? Glad you asked.

We have musicians who have toured with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and New Kids on the Block. This group is nothing if not upfront: it’s one of those rare cases where everything you know is right in the name:

You’ve got Shaun Johnson, an Emmy-winning singer/songwriter who’s sold nearly two million albums as part of the nationally known vocal group, Tonic Sol-fa.

Then there’s the big band sound. Few acts can channel Sinatra as he softly croons about lost love, inhabit Citizen Cope as he belts one out, and then segue into the theme from Spiderman without any indication that these musicians, these eras, and these styles were ever anything but destined to go together.

Finally there’s the experience. Our sound is centered on innovation to ensure that while each performance is an experience, no two experiences are exactly the same. And, let’s face it: being relatively new to the game not only means BBE has a fresh sound, but that your audiences can hear that sound.

Looking for a group heavily influenced by the big band era, but which never – not for one moment – feels as if it lives anywhere but the present? Live with us.

The Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience

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Dylan Leblanc
Oct
6
7:00pm 7:00pm

Dylan Leblanc

Dylan LeBlanc knows second chances don’t come around often. But, neither do voices like his.

Overwhelmed by the speed his gift would take him, from Applebee’s server to “the new Neil Young” in a matter of months, he walked away from an unlikely major label deal after releasing two critically acclaimed albums. He slipped into a blur of booze and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at just 23-years-old, Dylan came home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to write a new life for himself.

In between the moments of clarity and a few familiar falls, he also wrote a new album, Cautionary Tale: a collection of shimmering, arresting songs with the same haunting vocals that caught the attention of Lucinda Williams and Bruce Springsteen, now with a sharpened edge honed by hastened maturity.

“This record is about me getting honest with myself,” says Dylan. “I had to let the guilt about the past go and find a new truth within myself. This time, I felt like I really had something to say.”

To help him say it, he sought out long-time friend Ben Tanner, the same guy who had secretly helped Dylan record his first songs after hours while working at fabled FAME Studios. (He also introduced a 16-year-old Dylan to Wilco, George Harrison, and Ryan Adams by way of an external hard drive). In between touring with Alabama Shakes, Ben was beginning to engineer records again at the label he started with another friend of Dylan’s, Grammy Award-winning musician John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars. The two both produced and played on Cautionary Tale.

“They prevented me from burying my words,” says Dylan. “Doubt can often be my first instinct, and I’ll try to cover things up with more elements to hide my voice, but I made up my mind to trust them. I heard Merle Haggard say once that the singer is secondary to the song, and they both helped me build a strong foundation for the emotions I was feeling.”

The stripped down aesthetic that John Paul and Ben have made their label’s calling card sets Dylan’s voice in a light bright enough to see the patina the last few years has left behind.

“I spent a lot of time writing about programming and conditioning and the idea of ego,” says Dylan. “I don’t want to rely on my circumstances or the past to say why I am the way I am anymore. A lot of my songs like ‘Cautionary Tale’ and ‘Look How Far We’ve Come’ are about trying to break out of a vicious cycle. I was wondering if I could find my solutions from within—if I could believe in something beyond the present.”

If Dylan was wandering through a cemetery with his first album Paupers Field (“Songs are like headstones to me,” he told The Guardian), Cautionary Tale is an abandoned desert town. He reflects on what once was, and if anything could be again. At times, he wonders if the signs of life he sees on the horizon are real or just a mirage. Phantasmic, warbling voices in the background rise to meet his own and fade into the ether; ghostly guitar riffs echo in the emptiness around him.

Finding the right arrangement and words was a more deliberate effort for Dylan this time. After feeling lost in the “mania” of recording his first two albums, he relied on Ben and John Paul to help him collect the pieces of his vision.

“I’ve definitely become more disciplined. I don’t count on things like inspiration anymore,” says Dylan. “I learned so much from putting songs together with John Paul. Anything he does, it’s always going to be well-thought-out and well-placed. I’m naturally an improv guy, but now I see how that can be more limiting than planning your next move.”

That new-found discipline shows. Never one to write out parts, Dylan methodically scored the stunning string sections with violinist Kimi Samson and cellist Caleb Elliot. To form the polished rhythm section he wanted to drive songs like “The Easy Way Out” and “Beyond the Veil,” he paired drummer Jeremy Gibson with Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell (“I wanted it to feel like a Bill Withers record or Al Green—soulful, but tight.”)

While Dylan will be the first to admit he wasn’t ready to stand on the stages he played early in his career, there’s no doubting he is now. With a recalibrated compass, he’s back on the road opening sold-out shows for British singer-songwriter George Ezra, another artist praised for a wizened voice beyond his years.

Dylan will continue to support George through September 2015, including a show at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium. Next, he’ll embark on his solo tour with dates throughout the South, Midwest, and New England.

“After everything I’ve gone through, I still love putting records out and singing for people, no matter how big or small the crowd,” says Dylan. “It’s the only thing I want to do, and now I get to keep doing it as a more well-rounded person. I guess I’m blessed or whatever the hell you want to call it.”

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Lady Rizo
Oct
8
7:30pm 7:30pm

Lady Rizo

The NY Times described the Lady Rizo stage show as a “…fierce but kindhearted fusion of comedy, burlesque, performance art and rock ’n’ roll.” What’s not to love? She will be bringing a family friendly and fun for all ages version to Memphis.

Having veritably invented “caburlesque” with her 2005 show Lady Rizo & the Assettes, she went on to earn a 2010 Grammy for a collab with, of all people, Yo Yo Ma. Now, in advance of the release of her second album, she’s got a quite fabulous new single, “Hit of You,” which BlackBook premieres here.

Never one to record the obvious, the song comes off like Queen’s “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” as produced by Sgt. Pepper era George Martin, and performed in 1930s Weimar. Got that?

She elaborates, “It’s about the feeling of euphoria that you associate with the best lover or a really great audience. [It features a] Lewis Carroll pitter-patter rap, and feels like falling down a rabbit hole.”

Totally.

The follow up to her 2013 debut album Violet will be released this August 18. And it’s fittingly titled Indigo – which is known to be the color of perception and intuition.

“It’s like a tour of a grand old house,” she says of the album, “Every song is a different room.”

We can’t wait to get lost in it.

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Love Light Orchestra
Oct
12
7:00pm 7:00pm

Love Light Orchestra

Love Light Orchestra is the real-deal Memphis Blues. The kind of sophisticated blues and jazz sounds you would have heard floating from the windows of The Palace on Beale Street in the 40’s and 50’s.

LLO features Blues Music Award-winner John Nemeth on vocals, Joe Restivo on guitar, Tim Goodwin on bass, Earl Lowe on drums, Gerald Stephens on keys, and a five piece horn section that includes Marc Franklin, Scott Thompson, Art Edmaiston, Jason Yasinksy, and Kirk Smothers. The band has recently signed to Blue Barrel Records and the group is working on a full-length release with producer Matt Ross-Spang.

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FreeWorld
Oct
13
7:00pm 7:00pm

FreeWorld

FreeWorld has been an independent, regionally touring, ever-evolving Memphis-based musical ensemble since 1987, and are currently celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2017. Drawing from influences as broad-based as Booker T. & the MGs, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and The Meters, these brothers under one multicultural groove have remained a consistently entertaining and informed voice on the Memphis music scene since the groups inception.

Featuring current band members that range in age from 18 to 87-year- old jazz saxophone legend Dr. Herman Green (who has performed &/or recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Phineas & Calvin Newborn, Bob Weir, Stephen Perkins and a host of others during his 72 year professional music career), FreeWorld is literally; new school meets old school, and has been variously described as ;The best of Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco - all rolled into one fresh & excitingly unique musical experience!

They've also had the privilege of sharing the stage with a wide variety of musical legends over the years, such as Levon Helm, The Memphis Horns, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Richie Havens, Blues Traveler, Derek Trucks, Hot Tuna, Los Lobos, Merl Saunders, Dr. John, Timothy Leary, John Sinclair, The Bar-Kays, Ann Peebles, Steve Cropper, James Cotton, Mojo Buford, Jimmie Vaughan & Double Trouble, Susan Tedeschi, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, and Widespread Panic just to name a few.

FreeWorld was honored to receive a coveted Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame in 2012, and have a brand new studio CD entitled “What It Is” set for release in the Fall of 2017, recorded at Ardent Studios here in Memphis (featuring a special guest appearance on drums & vocals by Jody Stephens of Big Star fame), and mixed by the incomparable Dave Aron at Hollywood Way Studios in Los Angeles, CA.

Keep your eyes & ears tuned in to FreeWorld throughout 2017, as this celebratory year stands as a proud milestone in the band’s musical odyssey that now spans almost a third of a century.

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Emily Barker
Oct
15
7:00pm 7:00pm

Emily Barker

Emily Barker’s new album Sweet Kind of Blue is love story, between Barker and Memphis.

To understand how this love affair began, you have to go right back to the start… Barker grew up in remote, rural Western Australia; a childhood that was blessed with an almost idyllic, roaming freedom instilled not only an itinerant spirit, but also a mighty work ethic that has seen her playing over two hundred shows a year and on the cusp of releasing what will be her tenth studio album (including her albums with The Red Clay HaloVena Portae and last year’s acclaimed debut as part of country trio Applewood Road).

It is largely thanks to John Peel that Emily Barker first settled in the UK. After leaving home to see the world, she ended up on the Cambridge folk scene, and formed the band, the-low-country. Just as she was considering resuming her studies back home, Peel started playing them on Radio 1, so she stayed. Her music has since been described as “heartfelt songwriting… bridging the gap between folk, country and Fleetwood Mac” (The Times), “ambitious and beautifully wrought” (Q), while the Guardian applauds her “gift for great melodies.”

This gift has not gone unnoticed by film makers, resulting in Barker penning and performing theme songs for award-winning television dramas Wallander and The Shadow Line as well as an entire musical score for Jake Gavin’s poignant and well-received 2015 road movie, Hector, starring Peter Mullan.

Since taking a hiatus from multi-instrumental all-female group The Red Clay Halo, with whom she made four albums, Barker has been edging closer to the sources of her musical inspiration. At a tender age, her mother taught her to sing harmonies while her father introduced her to his record collection (they didn’t own a television). And then as she entered her teens, she discovered the blues and soul of Aretha FranklinKoko Taylor and Bettye LaVette, and that’s where this story really begins.

In recent years Barker has made herself at home in Nashville and Memphis, performing, collaborating and basking in musical history. In Nashville in 2014 she formed the trio Applewood Road with Tennessee-based songwriters Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. Their eponymous LP was recorded at Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville. Applewood Road was a regular on best-of-2016 album lists, they toured extensively, played Glastonbury and Cambridge Folk Festivals and made numerous television appearances.

On a visit to Muscle Shoals, Barker was shown around Fame Studios, where she fell in love with the old equipment used to record Aretha FranklinOtis Redding and Etta James. Soon after arriving back in the UK, she cropped her hair, got a slick black suit and a beautiful 1937 Gibson, and recorded a stripped-down solo album at analogue Toe Rag studios in East London (where The White Stripes recorded Elephant). The seeds of Sweet Kind of Blue were well and truly sown.

Meanwhile, plans for her new record started taking shape soon after. She was introduced to Grammy-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang, and the two hit it off straight away. Ross-Spang was the catalyst that brought Barker and Memphis together – born and bred in “Bluff City”, he honed in on where Barker’s roots lay as soon as she played him the songs she had been writing for the album.

Sweet Kind of Blue was recorded in June 2016, at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis, where the tapes have been rolling since 1960. Phillips opened his dream studio (he called it “the Cape Canaveral of studios”) after he and his artists Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and B B King outgrew Sun Studio, a few blocks away.

The stars were perfectly aligned for the Memphis sessions. Barker brought her songs, her guitar, that cathedral of a voice and her irrepressible freewheeling spirit. Ross-Spang was riding high following his Grammy for Jason Isbell’s Something More than Free, and the runaway success of Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Sam Phillips’ son Jerry, and granddaughter Halley, welcomed Barker into the fold and couldn’t tear themselves away from the studio throughout recording. And as each track was laid down, Barker, her band (you will have heard these musicians on Cat Power’s The Greatest as well as records by Neil YoungBooker T and the MGsAl Green and many more) and everyone in the control room fell a little bit more in love with each other. Spines tingled and eyes did not remain dry.

The result is an intoxicating blend of Barker penned songs about loves lost, heartrending humanity, the rush of the road trip and the sheer glory of a new love. The first single, ‘Sister Goodbye’, is a soulful tribute to one of Barker’s guitar-slinging heroes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, while the title track, ‘Sweet Kind of Blue’ captures the beautiful urgency of missing a new lover. Its name, says Barker, “also nods to the record’s blues elements, with blue-eyed soul being the ’60s term for white artists performing rhythm and blues”. But the making of Sweet Kind of Blue is a love story in itself, between Barker and Memphis.

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The Blue Stones
Oct
20
7:00pm 7:00pm

The Blue Stones

Canadian indie-blues duo THE BLUE STONES released their long-awaited second full-length album “Black Holes”.

The Blue Stones 2012 release “How’s That Sound?” was featured on Bandcamp’s best-selling list in 2013. Their smash single “Rolling with the Punches” propelled the band forward as it featured on hit television shows including Suits, Parks & Recreation, Necessary Roughness and Battle Creek. To date, “Rolling with the Punches” has garnered more than 1,000,000 views and spins between YouTube and Spotify.

“Black Holes” is a darker departure from the band’s previous blues-rock issue. Nevertheless, fans and critics very much recognize their sound. Canadian rock legend Ian Blurton took the lead on production. Guitarist/vocalist Tarek Jafar mentioned “He lent deep insight to the songwriting process; the songs were a lot better after our writing sessions together,” The album was mastered by Jim Diamond of Ghetto Recorders, who has also produced and recorded albums for The White Stripes.

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Making Movies
Jul
16
7:30pm 7:30pm

Making Movies

Making Movies is an American rock and roll band that entrances audiences with their interweaving of Afro-Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock'n'roll riffs. Armed with their ambitious and politically charged new album, I Am Another You, the band punches out one high-energy song after another with theatrics and improvisation littered throughout. Their culture gives way to dynamics too: at times front-man Enrique Chi trades his electric guitar for a folkloric Panamanian mejorana, and the Chaurand brothers hop off drums and percussion to instead supply the rhythmic pulse with dueling zapateados, a traditional dance from Guadalajara, Mexico. 

The band's political idea is straightforward enough that they can express it in four words: “We are all immigrants.” In supporting that cause, a portion of all proceeds from the upcoming album will go to the National Immigration Law Center. I Am Another You comes out May 26th.

 “... tough to classify into one genre, which ... makes them that much more appealing.” — CNN

“the band synthesizes what’s happening in ... Latin music better than anyone else out there today.” — MTV

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Foxygen
Jul
15
7:30pm 7:30pm

Foxygen

Foxygen and Star Power is the Los Angeles songwriting duo of 24-year-olds Sam France and Jonathan Rado. In May 2011, France and Rado nervously handed off a CD-R of this homemade mini-opus Take the Kids Off Broadway (Jagjaguwar, 2012) to producer and visionary Richard Swift after his performance in a Lower East Side club. The duo, who had just mixed and burned the disc that very night, had been devotees of Swift’s outsider-pop oeuvre since high school, when they first began recording their own pubescent forays into oddball rock n’ roll (At least a dozen records were finished before they graduated high school).

Foxygen left the venue that night unsure whether Swift would truly listen or sling the disc into a dumpster on his way out. You’re reading this right now because Swift did listen. In fact, he flipped for Foxygen’s bugged out, esoteric majesty and called upon them immediately to say as much. Eight months later, Foxygen was holed up for a week-long recording session at Swift’s neo-legendary National Freedom studio, creating what became their breakthrough, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar, 2013), a precocious and cocksure joyride across California psychedelia.

2013 saw the mercurial success of 21st Century, and with it, heightened demands for tour planning, added press days, demands on resources, the sacrifice of personal relationships, and the indefinite delay of recording plans. The quick-fire success made for an altogether turbulent 2013 for the band. Foxygen’s always captivating live performances shifted from eruptive to sometimes frightening — and then, just put on ice altogether. But at the close of 2013, France and Rado found secret sanctuary in their new studio, Dream Star, and holing up in some of LA’s most famous hotels for more recording. Writing music together is what their friendship has always thrived upon. At Dream Star in the northernmost passage of LA’s valley, they reformed as a punk band called Star Power. And the result, the svelte, 82-minute …And Star Power, is a morphing, splice-and-paste journey through soft rock indulgences, psych-ward folk, cartoon fantasia, D&D doomrock, and paranoid bathroom rompers. Foxygen, now expanded into a 9-piece touring machine as Star Power, calls the album “a cinematic, auditory adventure for the speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees, and misfits…the radio station you can only hear if you believe.” 

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Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers
Jul
14
7:30pm 7:30pm

Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers

An accomplished Americana instrumentalist with foundations in jazz and swing music, Phoebe makes an impressive creative leap with this record. It’s the culmination of a five year journey that has taken her from her Austin roots through Music Row, Brooklyn, and even to India to study with seventh-generation master violinist Kala Ramnath.  Along the way, Phoebe found her voice and delivered her most inspired set of songs to date — the soundtrack to her self-discovery.

Shanti’s Shadow marks an arrival for Phoebe Hunt, whose artistic and personal journey has deep storylines. These masterfully crafted songs are brought to life by the musicians Phoebe has gathered – each a virtuoso in their own right. Phoebe is skilled at taking seemingly disparate elements and pulling them together into a dazzling kaleidoscope of lush, coherent sound and rhythm patterns. The result is music that swells, crashes and breathes organically under Phoebe’s soulful, plaintive voice. Sounds of Americana and Texas Tinged Swing are woven with exotic rhythmic concepts culled from Phoebe’s time in India.

Shanti’s Shadow is always surprising yet comfortingly familiar.  Prior to recording this album, the entire band traveled to India to study at an ashram outside of Pune with master violinist Kala Ramnath. In India, they practiced music, meditation and philosophy – sometimes spending as many as 10 hours a day working and re-working Tats and Ragas. This intense, experiential study is apparent in the seamless musical play and improvisation of Shanti’s Shadow.

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The Suffers
Jul
13
7:30pm 7:30pm

The Suffers

The 2017 Levitt National Tour will feature the critically acclaimed rising stars, The Suffers. 

This 10-piece powerhouse of Gulf Coast Soul celebrates the rich diversity of the bands hometown of Houston masterfully melding classic American soul with genres as wide-ranging as rock, Latin ska, Cajun, hip hop, country and R&B. When asked about the origin of the self-coined term Gulf Coast Soul, lead vocalist Kam Franklin explained, When I think of the Gulf, I think of good food, humidity, diverse cultures, and this is all reflected in The Suffers. We come from different backgrounds, but it all comes together in our band and we create a gumbo of music. It might not make sense on paper to put a Latin percussionist with a gospel singer with a classically trained saxophonist with a jazz drummer, but for us, it works.This approach has already earned The Suffers a place on numerous artists to watch lists, rave reviews from Billboard, NPR and TheNew York Times and a growing international fan base and they’re just getting started!  The Suffers are frequently praised for their heartfelt, high-energy live shows. 

The combined force of the rhythm and horn sections contagious grooves and Kam Franklins soaring vocals has wowed audiences and critics alike in venues across the globe from small, intimate settings like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, to large-scale festivals like the Newport Folk Fest and Austin City Limits Music Festival and South by Southwest, to popular late night television shows like The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live! andThe Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Along with pushing musical boundaries, The Suffers are dedicated to 5 inspiring fans to live boldly and tap into their own potential. This dynamic band will move people of all ages and backgrounds, with their raw, fiery Gulf Coast Soul!  

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Susto
Jul
9
7:30pm 7:30pm

Susto

Justin Osborne needed a break. He'd been writing music and making albums since he was 15, and by the age of 26, he felt like he was spinning his wheels. He knew he needed a change, so he ended his old band Sequoyah Prep School and moved to Cuba. He thought he might be done with music for a while, but the songs just kept coming.

"I had this idea in my mind that I was going to try and join some kind of Latin American Leftist movement. I wanted to jump off a cliff," Osborne says. "Once I got there I immediately started hanging out with musicians and going to shows. I started showing them the songs from this project that was kind of just an idea in my head.

"They were like, 'man, don't throw away your passport, go home and continue to make music,'" he says. "I was encouraged by them to try again."

Osborne was already writing the songs for what would be SUSTO's 2014 self-titled debut when his producer Wolfgang Zimmerman introduced him to Johnny Delaware, a guitarist and songwriter who had moved to Charleston, South Carolina to make an album with the producer.

SUSTO is a Spanish word referring to a folk illness in Latin America that Osborne learned as anthropology student, meaning “when your soul is separated from your body,” and also roughly translates to a panic attack. For Osborne, the music of SUSTO was something he had to get out into the world.

SUSTO released their debut album independently and toured relentlessly to get the word out. They were an immediate hit in their hometown, packing venues, getting airplay at all the bars and even making a fan of Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell. "I got an e-mail from him, telling me he loved the record and wanted to meet with me and Johnny," he says. "That was actually the day I wrote my professor, and I said, ‘I'm not coming in.’"

The members of the live band that Osborne and Delaware recruited — Corey Campbell (guitar, keys, backing vocals), Jenna Desmond (bass), and Marshall Hudson (drums, percussion) contributed to SUSTO’s new album & I'm Fine Today, which will be released via Caroline. "We just wanted to go further. We started something with the first record, and we want to keep going in that direction," Osborne says of the album, which finds them taking the spacey country rock of their debut into the stratosphere, piling on layers of sighing keyboards, galloping rhythms and frayed, noisy guitar solos atop wistful melodies and lyrics that examine growing up and growing into yourself. “We put the first record out, and we worked hard, and it just feels like a good place to be,” he says, noting that while the first record focused on his own struggles, & I'm Fine Today is more concerned with looking at the world beyond the struggles in your head. 

“I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that I just get to be here. It’s all perspective,” he says. “This album is about coming to terms with yourself and feeling okay with your place in the universe."

 

 

 

 

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Squirrel Nut Zippers
Jul
8
7:30pm 7:30pm

Squirrel Nut Zippers

It was about 20 years ago when NPR’s Morning Edition said: “It’s not easy to categorize the music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, except that it’s hot.”

2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Squirrel Nut Zippers most celebrated and commercially successful album Hot.  Originally released in the summer of 1996, Hot was the follow up to the band’s critically acclaimed debut The Inevitable. By this time the group had already established a substantial live following across the country thanks to early support from NPR, college radio and non-commercial stations. Hot wound up selling over 1.3 million copies.

A newly re-mastered version of the album along with a bonus track: “The Puffer” returned to stores in July on Hollywood Records. Long out of print on vinyl, Hot has now made its glorious return to wax on 180-gram vinyl.

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of Hot, the bands visionary creator Jimbo Mathus, along with founding member and partner Chris Phillips (Drums), have crafted a brand new stage show including several leading musicians from New Orleans to serve up the bands unique musical flavor which owes its roots to that city.

Since July, the Squirrel Nut Zippers have been on tour for the first time in almost seven years. The band has performed at many major festivals this year including: Montreal International Jazz Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, LEAF Festival and the Exit Zero Jazz Fest. On top of that, they have had sold out shows in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Little Rock, Minneapolis and more. Fans are clearly excited the band are touring again.

“We are humbled and incredibly excited by the initial Zippers shows since the re-launch,” band leader Jimbo Mathus commented.  “It’s not a reunion, it’s a revival! The band includes cutting edge talent from New Orleans and the songs have been brought to life in an exciting new way. But most things remain unchanged… An amazing experience for young and old.”

Plans are underway for the band to record a brand new album, which would be their first new studio album in seventeen years.

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Reckless Kelly
Jul
7
7:30pm 7:30pm

Reckless Kelly

Understanding the virtuosity of Reckless Kelly requires the perspective of where the band has been. Cody and Willy Braun grew up in the White Cloud Mountains of Idaho. They moved to Bend, Oregon, and then migrated to that great musical fountainhead, Austin, Texas.

The band’s co-founders and frontmen toured the country as part of their father’s band, Muzzie Braun and the Boys, as children. They performed on The Tonight Show twice. Their father taught his four sons a professional ethic – integrity, persistence, hard work and professionalism – honed over three generations. They overcame hardships, struggled for recognition, and learned the lessons of the trial and error that defined them.

In one sense, it’s remarkable in the way of any musician, athlete, or businessperson who bucks the odds.

In another, though, it’s utterly natural that Reckless Kelly, born in the dreams of the two Braun brothers and their heritage but nurtured in the bumpy road of maturity, became the very essence of Americana music in all its far-flung glory.

“We came along in that second wave of the movement,” Cody Braun says. “Son Volt’s album Trace had a major effect on us. People like Joe Ely, Ray Kennedy and Robert Earl Keen were always big supporters. Our goal was to make music that had a country vibe but a solid rock edge.”

In the end, all the recipe required was to just add water. Water facilitates life. It enriches the soul.

As Music Row magazine proclaimed, “In my perfect world, this is what country radio would sound like.”

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Otis Taylor
Jul
6
7:30pm 7:30pm

Otis Taylor

With Otis Taylor, it's best to expect the unexpected. While his music, an amalgamation of roots styles in their rawest form, discusses heavyweight issues like murder, homelessness, tyranny, and injustice, his personal style is lighthearted. "I'm good at dark, but I'm not a particularly unhappy person," he says. "I'd just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche."

Part of Taylor's appeal is his contrasting character traits. But it is precisely this element of surprise that makes him one of the most compelling artists to emerge in recent years. In fact, Guitar Player magazine writes, "Otis Taylor is arguably the most relevant blues artist of our time." Whether it's his unique instrumentation (he fancies banjo and cello), or it's the sudden sound of a female vocal, or a seemingly upbeat optimistic song takes a turn for the forlorn, what remains consistent is poignant storytelling based in truth and history. On his sixth CD, Double V, Taylor unleashes intimate tales as he produces an aural excursion inspired by an unconventional childhood.

Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After his uncle was shot to death, his family moved to Denver where an adolescent's interest in blues and folk was cultivated. Both his parents were big music fans; "I was raised with jazz musicians," Taylor relates. "My dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz people. He was a socialist and real bebopper." His mother, Sarah, a tough as nails woman with liberal leanings, had a penchant for Etta James and Pat Boone. Young Otis spent time at the Denver Folklore Center where he bought his first instrument, a banjo. He used to play it while riding his unicycle to high school. The Folklore Center was also the place where he first heard Mississippi John Hurt and country blues. He learned to play guitar and harmonica and by his mid-teens, he formed his first groups' the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and later the Otis Taylor Blues Band. He ventured overseas to London where he performed for a brief time until he returned to the U.S. in the late 60s. His next project became the T&O Short Line with legendary Deep Purple singer/guitarist Tommy Bolin. Stints with the 4-Nikators and Zephyr followed before he decided to take a hiatus from the music business in 1977. During this time he established a successful career as an antiques dealer and also began coaching a professional bicycle team. They ranked 4th in the nation and were known for having two of the best African-American riders in the country.

After years of prodding from his musical mentor (all-star bass player Kenny Passarelli), Otis returned to the stage. It was 1995, in an intimate room in Boulder Colorado's "Hill" district. He was joined on stage by sideman to the stars, Kenny Passarelli, and ace guitarist Eddie Turner. A magazine writer on hand reported: "The combination was magic, Taylor's unique singing style blended perfectly with Passarelli's rock steady virtuosity Turnet's rock-roll tinged riffs." Response to the "one-time gig" was so strong, Taylor decided to return to the music scene, playing select dates with Passarelli and Turner.

Two years later he released Blue Eyed Monster (Shoelace Music), which riveted the blues world and marked the emergence of a singer/songwriter who has, in his own words, "a way of saying something that seems to be more intense." Further, he says, "you can definitely see how I was forming. There was the Christmas song about a guy that killed his parents. Definitely getting ready to go that way, you know?" In 1998, he raised more eyebrows with When Negroes Walked the Earth (Shoelace) an album replete with unapologetic lyrics, stark instrumentation and a gut-wrenching delivery. Playboy magazine described it as "minimalist blues in the John Lee Hooker mode." Critics and music fans took notice and his talents as a vivid storyteller and accomplished guitar player were solidified. His gifts were further recognized in Summer 2000, with a composition fellowship from the Sundance Institute in Park City, UT.

If Taylor 's first two recordings cast a spell on the music world, listeners were officially entranced by White African (2001, NorthernBlues Music), his most direct and personal statement about the experiences of African-Americans. He addressed the lynching of his great-grandfather and the death of his uncle. Brutality became his concern in songs that fearlessly explored the history of race relations and social injustices. With this disc Taylor was officially blazing a trail. He earned four W.C. Handy nominations and won the award for "Best New Artist Debut."

White African was barely in record stores when he began writing the songs that would comprise Respect The Dead. Released in 2002, it made him a contender for two Handys in 2003; "Best Acoustic Artist" and "Contemporary Blues Album." Last year, he bent conventions again with his debut effort for Telarc Records, Truth Is Not Fiction. Here, Taylor took a decidedly electric, almost psychedelic path forging a sound which he describes as "trance-blues." Music critics were indeed captivated as the disc received lavish praise from USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR and a nod from the Downbeat Critics Poll for "Blues Album of the Year."

He quickly followed up Truth with Double V, which marked his entrance as a producer and a collaboration with his daughter Cassie, who sings and plays bass. The album scored him a Downbeat Critics Poll win for an unheard-of second consecutive year, while Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Blender, and CNN all gave their thumbs-up. But perhaps the most meaningful accolade came from Living Blues Reader's Poll, which awarded Taylor (along with Etta James) with the "Best Blues Entertainer" title in 2004.

Telarc released Below the Fold, Taylor's seventh CD, in the summer of 2005. The album is a set of stylistically varied songs that point to a blues-based center but are awash with Appalachian country overtones and moody, psychedelic rock. Once again, the critics raved. Downbeat gave the album four stars, noting that Taylor "has a poet's soul, with a deep respect for the history of blacks in America and an unshakable curiosity about the human condition." Paste called him " a country-folk version of spontaneous, talking-blues master John Lee Hooker." The New Yorker dubbed his sound "Velvet Underground Railroad," and went on to proclaim that "he may drone but he never stays still, and when he moves he's always heading toward places you haven't seen." At year's end, Below the Fold landed in the number 12 slot on the Chicago Tribune's Top 20 album list.

And if the brilliant songwriting and the haunting voice weren't enough to turn the heads of audiences and critics alike, Taylor has also proven his instrumental chops with two consecutive Blues Music Awards nominations (2005 and 2006) for Best Instrumentalist in the banjo category.

In addition to traditional touring and recording, Taylor spearheads a Blues in the Schools program called "Writing the Blues." Conceived by his wife, he appears at elementary schools and universities around the country to offer advice, enlighten, and mentor students about the blues. "I start by asking them to write down what makes them sad; fears, disappointments, losses, whatever. It is just amazing to see some of these nuggets, these incredible thoughts. They are often simple sentences but so real, so sad, so true, so pure." For Taylor, it's an opportunity to connect with others and help others to connect with themselves. And, it allows him to do his part in ensuring that the blues, and the ability to share life experiences will continue in the next generation.

Taylor resides in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife.

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Kelsey Waldon
Jul
2
7:30pm 7:30pm

Kelsey Waldon

Thinking about country music, Kelsey Waldon muses, “If it’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of who you are.” And country music is very much a part of who she is, a part of who she's always been. The Kentucky singer/songwriter hails from Monkey's Eyebrow, in rural Ballard County where her family put down roots several generations ago. Even so, Waldon's musical tastes reach well beyond those borders, as evidenced on her new release, I’ve Got a Way.

Waldon was 13 when her parents divorced and, inspired by the music surrounding her, she started playing guitar as a means to make it through her teen years. Upon her arrival in Music City a few years later, Waldon toiled away 45+ hours a week in a minimum wage job and played gigs in any bar that would let her in the door and on the stage. Once she had a pocket full of songs, she released her debut album in 2014, The Goldmine. The set was met with open arms from both critics and lovers of the kind of country music that she makes — the kind born in bars and raised in honky-tonks, the kind leaning on pedal steel and driven by Telecaster. 

As solid as the effort was, its follow-up isn't just a next step, it's a forward leap. After all, when you're a songwriter, a couple of years can contain a lifetime of lessons. And that wisdom is what seeps through on her sophomore effort which, like The Goldmine, was produced by Michael Rinne. For Waldon, “It’s a transition in letting go and also being absolutely comfortable in your own skin.”

Indeed, the newfound confidence and compassion with which she inhabits her place in the world comes through loud and clear on original cuts like “All by Myself,” “Don't Hurt the Ones (Who've Loved You the Most),” and “Life Moves Slow,” as well as her arrangements of Vern and Rex Gosdin's “There Must Be a Someone” and Bill Monroe's “Traveling Down This Lonesome Road.” 

Perhaps because it was one of the first songs Waldon wrote this go-around,“All By Myself,” in particular, stands out as something of a thesis statement for the rest of the album, if not for life, in general. As she explains, “It is not a lecture, or a sermon, or a statement from me. I want it to be a statement for everyone, as a whole: The power is only inside of ourselves.”

Because no country record would be complete without a proper kiss-off cut, Waldon scratched out her own entry in that milieu with "You Can Have It." That kind of personal empowerment comes up time and again across I’ve Got a Way. In "Let's Pretend," that power emerges through the act of focusing on the good and choosing the kind as part of what Waldom describes as “a 'Storms Never Last' mentality” to relationships.

Closing the collection are "Traveling Down This Lonesome Road," which stands as her hard-edged hat tip to Bill Monroe and the music she grew up on, and “The Heartbreak,” which shows she can deliver a weeper, to boot. But this isn't the standard woe-is-me fare. Here, too, is a message of empowerment and empathy. 

So, how does Waldon turn her messages into the country music that is so much a part of her? “Lay it all out, and sing it from the heart, way down deep,” she says. “If you do it that way, you don’t need gimmicks.”

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Don Bryant
Jun
30
7:30pm 7:30pm

Don Bryant

You know that old song that O. V. Wright did so well in 1971 that no one can ever do that song again — “Nickel and a Nail”? O. V. Wright has held tight to that song, and rightfully so. But not no mo. Not to take anything from O.V.— but after nearly half a century, now you gotta step aside. Don Bryant is here.

Though it ain’t like he just showed up. The roots of this record are in the Memphis church, where Don Bryant began singing when he was 5. He joined his father’s family vocal group, then formed a gospel quartet for a high school radio gig. Broadcasting broadened the audience and they went secular, singing pop at WLOK on Dick “Cane” Cole’s popular show. After parting with the DJ, they took a very real step toward careers when, as the Four Kings, they began fronting Willie Mitchell’s band.

Willie Mitchell led the swingingest, groovin’est band in the Memphis-Mississippi-Arkansas area—the American music floodplain. (He would later discover Al Green and make him a star.) Willie’s band was known for instrumental records, but when they’d play at Danny’s in West Memphis, Don’s group fronted them. But the group broke up and Willie, who was touring concert venues and dance halls, needed a vocalist who could play with his supple, slinky funky beats, and anointed Don Bryant as his leading man.

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Don could also write songs. He was still in his teens when, in 1960, Willie was producing the 5 Royales and Don handed him “I Got To Know.” The 5 Royales put it on wax. Don was hot in the spotlight and in the writer’s room.

 

As Willie Mitchell carved out his place at Hi Records, Don was close by. Don cut songs at Hi under the Four Kings moniker (“That Driving Beat”) and as a solo artist (“Don’t Turn Your Back On Me”). He wrote material for other Hi artists, including Janet & the Jays and Norman West. In 1969, still in the age of 7” singles, Don was popular enough to release an album — though the big breakout hit stayed elusive.

Around 1970, Willie put Don with the Hi label’s newest act, Ann Peebles, who burst on the scene with “Part Time Love.” Don looked at this slight young lady and penned “99 Lbs” for her: “You wouldn’t know what I’m talking ’bout/ If you never had a love like this/… 99 lbs of natural born goodness/99 lbs of soul.” The relationship warmed, they co-wrote the hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain” in 1973 and were married the following year. Ann’s performing career continued, as did Don’s writing, and they began raising a family. Occasionally, Don returned to the microphone, dueting with his wife, sometimes releasing gospel material. Always, he continued to write songs.

And all the while, that voice was maturing, mellowing, until these recordings that find him, at age 74, in peak form and taking O. V.’s song. The band is a mix of lifelong cohorts and upstart stalwarts. They understand where he’s been and where he wants to go, making his song “How Do I Get There,” a rhetorical question, because they have clearly found the way.

I was lucky and popped by the end of the recording sessions. They’d just cut “One Ain’t Enough” and were listening to playback. Veteran drummer Howard Grimes, also of Willie Mitchell’s tutelage and the drummer on many of Don’s Hi sessions—he couldn’t keep from keeping the beat and he stepped to the middle of the control room floor. The Soul Train line formed.

Howard’s arms came up and his feet went down. His eyes took a distant look and he was transported beyond the slow grind. His backbone slipped, he began to dip, everyone shouted and clapped. This kind of music moved audiences then and it moves them now. Even the music makers can’t stand still. Soul survivors, young and old—nothing holds them back.

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Patriotic Pops
Jun
29
7:30pm 7:30pm

Patriotic Pops

The annual Patriotic Pops concert will include favorites such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." The concert, presented by members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Second Presbyterian Chancel Choir, will feature a variety of American music from the Wild West to the Silver Screen. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display!

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Stax Academy
Jun
24
7:30pm 7:30pm

Stax Academy

This show has become an annual favorite at Levitt Shell. 

The Stax Music Academy Summer Music Experience is a 4-week intensive music program that provides not only music education but also a stable, positive environment for 150 middle and high schoolers. With classes in Stax Records history, songwriting, music production, and music business, students learn how to write and record their own songs, protect their works of art, market themselves using web-based tools and digital media, and gain teamwork and leadership skills while working within a peer group.

The Summer Music Experience culminates with a Grand Finale Concert at your very own Levitt Shell.

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The Steel Wheels
Jun
23
7:30pm 7:30pm

The Steel Wheels

“Few groups have come as far in such a short period of time as The Steel Wheels…” – NPR’s Mountain Stage

“What sets The Steel Wheels from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia apart from many bands is the combination of their stellar instrumentals, accentuated by the one of a kind lead vocal of [Trent] Wagler, and keenly supported by strong harmonies. Eric Brubaker on fiddle, Jay Lapp on mandolin, and Brian Dickel on bass weave in and out intricately throughout this record, painting vivid imagery which flows effortlessly, just teasing the lyrics enough to allow them to resonate within you.” - Country Standard Time


Wild As We Came Here, 2017
Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, The Steel Wheels are familiar with the traditions of folk music and how a string band is supposed to sound. In fact, they’ve been drawing on those steadfast traditions for more than a decade. Yet their name also evokes a sense of forward motion, which is clearly reflected in their latest album, Wild As We Came Here.
 
“I think we’ve always been able to write new songs with different landscapes. However it was really enjoyable for us, creatively and artistically, to depart from the straight-up acoustic sound that we’ve been known for,” says Trent Wagler, who plays guitar and banjo in the band and writes most of the material. “I’m excited to see what happens. There are fans out there who are ready for this and who have been waiting for us to do this.”
 
While on tour supporting Josh Ritter, the band forged a friendship with Sam Kassirer, who plays keyboards for Ritter on tour and has produced a number of his albums. While The Steel Wheels had been considering other producers and maybe recording in Nashville, they chose to follow their instincts all the way to rural Maine, where Kassirer owns a recording studio inside a renovated farmhouse from the 18th century. All four band members – Wagler, Eric Brubaker (fiddle), Brian Dickel (upright bass), and Jay Lapp (mandolin) – hunkered down for a week and a half to create Wild As We Came Here.
 
“It’s a gorgeous set-up,” Wagler says. “I didn’t grow up in a big city and I never made a record in a big city. It’s much more my style, and our style as a band, to completely hole up – probably more than we ever have – for 10 full days in Maine. I left the house for a couple of bike rides but I never went to a restaurant or a store the whole time I was there. We ate on site, we slept on site, and we recorded. It was a very immersive experience, top to bottom.”
 
Afternoon hikes amid the fall foliage helped them clear their heads, ensuring that everyone could stay focused on the task at hand – which in retrospect was quite daunting. The Steel Wheels had about 40 original songs stowed away before the sessions. Only two or three had ever been played live and the band had not arranged any of them.
 
“One of my favorite parts of the process was taking the first couple of days to rehearse and arrange the songs all in one room, with Sam offering his insights,” Brubaker says. “We had enough time to really build the songs from the ground up, examining each one to see what elements would best highlight the mood we were trying to capture.”
 
Wild As We Came Here is a significant leap for the band, which started its journey in 2004. Wagler, Dickel, and Brubaker studied at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, about an hour from Charlottesville. (All four members of the band grew up in Mennonite families.) Wagler and Dickel were in a punk/alternative band until acoustic music lured them in.
 
Wagler soon started crafting songs and learned flat-picking. Dickel took classes on building guitars. They briefly played as a duo before Brubaker joined on fiddle. Lapp eventually came on board after getting to know the band from the local folk circuit. In 2010, following a variety of EPs and LPs, the ensemble officially branded itself as The Steel Wheels, a tip of the hat to steam-powered trains, industrial progress, and the buggies of their Mennonite lineage.
 
Lapp says, “We found we really enjoyed singing and playing music together and it happened so naturally. To make it even better, everyone listens very well to what the other is playing, making it a total group experience. I've never worked with such a collected and well-spoken group of men, and it makes the experience of touring and performing a pure joy.”
 
Then as now, The Steel Wheels’ style weaves through Americana and bluegrass music, folk and old-time music, and the acoustic poetry of the finest singer-songwriters. By incorporating percussion and keyboards into the sessions for the first time, Wild As We Came Here adds new textures to their catalog, as themes of discovery and perseverance run throughout the collection.
 
The album begins with “To the Wild,” which explores the fascinating and unusual relationship that modern society has with the great outdoors, from exploitation to preservation. Wagler wrote the title track after reading a news story about a desperate man who starts bidding at a land auction – even though he had no way of paying for it – in order to prevent oil and gas companies from destroying the natural beauty of the area.
 
Meanwhile, the idea behind “Broken Mandolin” was inspired by a few lines from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, which takes place during World War II. Wagler describes “Take Me to the Ending” as essentially a bluegrass apocalypse – “like a sense of coming out from the bunker and there are still a few people playing fiddle tunes.”
 
Of course, exquisite harmonies remain a strength of the band, shining through on “Sing Me Like a Folk Song.” By making a social statement in uncertain times, listeners will want to lend their voices too. More than a decade into The Steel Wheels’ career, the simple act of singing together – something that carries them back to their Mennonite heritage – is still incredibly special. The stunning closing track, “Till No One Is Free,” provides an elegant ending to the band’s most satisfying album yet.
 
“It was my favorite studio experience from start to finish, by far, of any project we’ve ever done,” Dickel says. “A super-relaxed and experimental vibe coupled with some genre-stretching sounds really did it for me. I think we pushed ourselves much further than previous albums and I think we will push our fans a little too. Both of those are exciting to me.”

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We Banjo 3
Jun
22
7:30pm 7:30pm

We Banjo 3

Mix the skills and strengths of the Flecktones with a bit of Punch Brothers and add a dash of Gaelic Storm and you get one of the best live acts to come out of Ireland in recent years, the multi-awarded winning We Banjo 3. With a 7 time all Ireland banjo champ, a 4 time banjo champ, and another member who is an all Ireland champ on both fiddle and Bodhran, and with a passionate lead vocalist like a young Springsteen adopted by the Chieftans, the result is truly unforgettable. On both sides of the Atlantic the word is out about this group.

“String Theory” was recorded by Tony O’Flaherty at Sonas Recording on the side of a mountain in the County Kerry and mastered by Eric Boulanger at The Bakery in Los Angeles.

In summer of 2015 the band was featured on 9 straight weeks of American Celtic Fest appearances followed by an invite to perform at the annual “Friends of Ireland” luncheon on Capital Hill in Washington D.C. attended by House Speaker Paul Ryan, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Now the band is rapidly gaining favor in the Bluegrass and Americana world as evidenced by their invite to Merlefest in April 2016.

“Count yourself among the fortunate. You are about to hear something new, something fresh, something daring, something that befits the bright, flamboyant spirit of the Banjo itself.” – Paul F. Wells, Director Emeritus, Mid Tennessee State Univ.

“They were absolutely the hottest show at this year’s Irish Fest in Milwaukee…the weekend featured the birth of a new force in Irish music” – LiveIreland.com

“It’s as if the Punch Brothers, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and the Chieftains all got together for a battle of the bands but decided to pool their resources instead. The future of World Music has arrived.” – Elmore Magazine

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The Grahams
Jun
18
7:30pm 7:30pm

The Grahams

Lifelong couple, both romantic and musical, Alyssa and Doug Graham have been performing together since they were teenagers, but fully committed to embracing their duo-ness with the release of The Graham’s debut, Riverman’s Daughter, in 2013. 

2014 saw them play over 100 shows in support of that album, including a three-week run in Australia, which culminated with a performance at the Sydney Blues & Roots festival. The album was released on their own 12 South Records worldwide, except in Australia where Sony Music released it; in the U.S. RD spent 11 weeks in the Top 40 at Americana Radio.

No strangers to the media, they have appeared on Woodsongs, ABC TV and CBS Morning, and have been praised by American Songwriter, USA Today and the New York Times.

With their sophomore album, Glory Bound, which was produced by Wes Sharon (John Fullbright, Parker Millsap), The Graham’s expanded their roots-based sound to include more propulsive and dynamic songs, as influenced by the speed and energy of their recent cross-country train travels, where the songs came together.

Concurrently, they released a live album and film, Rattle the Hocks, both produced and directed by Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, which chronicles their train-bound excursions and the influence of train travel on American roots music.

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Liz Brasher
Jun
17
7:30pm 7:30pm

Liz Brasher

Liz Brasher is a contralto singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist influenced by the soul, blues, country, gospel, rock and pop of the 50's & 60's. Together with the Gentlemen of Rhythm (Todd Kerstetter - bass, Lee Corum - drums), they combine to form performances that demand the attention of all watching.

She comes out of the South.

Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up before the war and after the time of peace. Her father was an Italian. Her mother a Dominican who loved the Church. She got her musical beginning there. She beats the story out of her music. It jumps and hollers and shouts. It reaches out and takes your mind. She sings, but her music talks. 

Miss Rhythm in lights. Traveling in her own car with her own band down South, like it was the ‘50s. Riding through the land of man, dressing in sheds and outhouses by candlelight. Hanging gowns in dressing rooms, looking like a million bucks.

Folks who haven't suffered much can’t appreciate it.

For Liz, music’s simple and music’s complex. Music is Pop Staples’ tremolo-soaked guitar riffs. It’s Libba Cotten’s simple genius. It’s Mahalia Jackson’s glorious voice. It’s soul. It’s Motown. It’s the Wall of Sound and the Wrecking Crew. It’s labels like Stax and Vee-Jay, Sun and Chess, King and Fame. It’s all been done before, but ain’t nothing new under the sun.

It seeps into her and pours out. So when she sings, what comes out is what she feels. No more. No less. But what she feels is all of it.

She’s got it together as good as any ever can and puts more into a song than most people put into a lifetime. She’s got no gimmicks. No gambles. No gestures. She’s pure. She doesn’t just play music. She explodes. Real Gospel. Real Country. Real Soul and R&B ballads. The truth. The baddest feeling that’ll make you feel you lived.

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Cécile Doo-Kingué
Jun
16
7:30pm 7:30pm

Cécile Doo-Kingué

"Full of sophisticated musicianship and striking lyricism" - Living Blues Magazine

An exceptional stage presence, guitarist / singer-songwriter Cécile Doo-Kingué blends blues, afro-roots and soul to create a unique sound. Born and raised in New York City, first generation from Cameroon, she has lived in the USA, France, and is now an adopted Montrealer.

Considered one of Canada’s most electrifying and versatile guitarists, she has shared a stage and/or recorded with Montreal Jubilation Choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, James Blood Ulmer, Bernard Purdie, Jim Byrnes, Michael Jerome Brown, Tricia Foster, Scarlett Jane, United Steel Workers of Montreal, amongst many, and has opened for many icons including Canned Heat, John Prine, Eric Andersen, Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour and Manu Dibango. In 2008, Cecile and Gern f. of USWM started Chick Pickin’ Mondays, a night promoting women singer-songwriters.

June 2010, Cecile released her debut solo album Freedom Calling to critical acclaim. In 2011, CBC commissions Doo-Kingué to write Home, a song on immigration.  Gris, released in 2012, also praised by press and music lovers alike, earned Cécile the 2013 Fondation SPACQ Edith Butler Award for Excellence in Francophone Songwriting. Doo-Kingué toured both albums extensively across Canada and Europe, firing up clubs, listening rooms and festivals alike with her face-melting playing, rich vocals, and sharp and genuine banter with her audience.

February 2015, Doo-Kingué releases her third solo album Anybody Listening Pt. 1: Monologues, the first chapter of a trilogy exploring blues, roots and life in their myriad of aspects (Monologues solo acoustic, Dialogues full band, Communion live), showcasing Doo-Kingué’s songwriting in its rawest form. The album earned her accolades and multiple Maple Blues Award nominations for her exceptional guitar playing, soulful vocals, and powerful songwriting.
January 2016, Doo-Kingué  releases the second chapter of her trilogy exploring blues, roots, and life in their myriad of aspects. Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues features her strength and versatility as an all-around guitarist and musician, from blues to jazz to folk to soul to rock n’ roll.  Fiery licks and seamless melody compliment her deep, laid-back voice throughout the album, leaving no doubt as to the guitarist’s oneness with the instrument, nor the unity of her sound.  Surrounded by a stellar cast of Montreal’s finest musicians, Doo-Kingué presents an eclectic collection of contemporary blues adding to the social commentary of Anybody Listening Part 1: Monologues, and celebrating life and music with fellow artists she is a fan of, in spaces that exude positive energy. The first two chapters of the trilogy have generated international critical acclaim from blues and roots media including Living Blues and Blues Matters magazines, as well as several engagements in international roots festivals, and over 150 tour dates across Canada.

 Cécile Doo-Kingué is quickly earning a stellar reputation and a place alongside Canada’s current roster of great guitarists. Powerful and raw, Cécile Doo-Kingué’s guitar prowess, lyrics, and sound make for enthralling and intimate communion.
 

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Ruthie Foster
Jun
15
7:30pm 7:30pm

Ruthie Foster

In the tightknit musical community of Austin, Texas, it’s tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don’t.

If you do, word gets around. Praises are sung. And one day, you find yourself duetting with Bonnie Raitt, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York’s Beacon Theater and trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy — three times in a row. And those nominations would be in addition to your seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, and a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year. 

There’s only one Austinite with that résumé: Ruthie Foster. And with the release of her latest album, Joy Comes Back, the Recording Academy might want to put its engraver on notice. Because every note on it confirms this truth: It’s Ruthie’s time.

The small rural town of Gause, TX had no chance of keeping the vocal powerhouse known as Ruthie Foster to itself. Described by Rolling Stone as “pure magic to watch and hear,” her vocal talent was elevated in worship services at her community church. Drawing influence from legendary acts like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, Ruthie developed a unique sound unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Foster’s life and career - marching to the beat of her own drum. 

Joining the Navy was one way for Ruthie to stake out her own path. It was during her time singing for the Navy band Pride that her love for performing became apparent. After leaving the service, Ruthie signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician.

A deal with a major label would seem to be a dream come true for a budding artist. But the label wanted Ruthie to hand over her authenticity in exchange for being molded into a pop star. In another bold move, she walked away from the deal and returned to her roots, moving back to the Lone Star State.

Returning to Texas, Ruthie solidified her place as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and began a musical partnership with Blue Corn Music. Her studio albums for the label began with Runaway Soul in 2002, followed by The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster in 2007, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster in 2009, Let It Burn in 2012 and Promise of a Brand New Day in 2014. Her live shows, which she has referred to as a “hallelujah time,” have been documented on the album Stages in 2004 and the CD/DVD release Live at Antone’s in 2011. 

Now comes Ruthie’s latest - Joy Comes Back - again on Blue Corn Music. When she recorded this album, Foster wasn’t merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy.

In the warm confines of Austin producer and former neighbor Daniel Barrett’s studio, she found a comfort level she’d never before experienced while recording. It gave her the strength to pour the heartache of her family’s fracture and the cautious hope of a new love into 10 incredible tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers ranging from Mississippi John Hurt, Sean Staples and Grace Pettis (daughter of renowned folk singer Pierce Pettis), to Chris Stapleton and Black Sabbath. Yes, Black Sabbath: Foster reimagines “War Pigs” as a jam session with Son House. She also covers the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder.

And she makes each one hers, aided by some special guests. Derek Trucks drops slide guitar into the title tune; bassist Willie Weeks (Bowie, Clapton, George Harrison) plays on the Foster-penned “Open Sky”; and drumming legend Joe Vitale (Crosby, Stills & Nash; Eagles) appears on several tracks. Local hero Warren Hood (“Champ Hood’s boy,” as Foster calls him) lays fiddle and mandolin on Hurt’s bluegrass-tinted “Richland Woman Blues.” Barrett plays guitars, drums and percussion; other contributors include the core members of Ruthie’s touring band, Samantha Banks and Larry Fulcher.

At one point, Barrett described the album to Hood as “some blues, some folk, some soul, some rock, some gospel.” Hood replied, “Sounds like Ruthie Foster music.”

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Marcia Ball
Jun
11
7:30pm 7:30pm

Marcia Ball

A joyful musical tour of the territory between New Orleans and Austin. Ball’s voice can break your heart with a ballad or break your back with a rocker. -­ ­Boston Herald

The title track of MARCIA BALL’s new album, The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man, is an irresistible tale of true love at the travelling carnival. It’s a story that nobody but Ball could spin, filled with vivid details, universal truths, and a rambunctious sense of fun and desire. With raucous horns punctuating Ball’s legendary piano pounding and emotional, melodic vocals, the song kicks off the CD  of eleven originals and one glorious cover (Hank Ballard’s He’s The One). The release mixes Ball’s Gulf Coast blues, New Orleans R&B, swampy Louisiana ballads, and jumping, Tex-­‐Mex flavored zydeco into a one-­‐of-­‐a-­‐kind musical gumbo, a sound she has been perfecting over the course of her legendary career.

The Texas-­‐born, Louisiana-­‐raised musical storyteller has earned worldwide fame for her ability to ignite a full-­‐scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she strolls onto the stage. Her groove-­‐laden New Orleans boogie, deeply soulful ballads and rollicking Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-­‐of-­‐a-­‐kind favorite with music fans all over the world. In 2010, she was inducted into the Gulf Coast Hall Of  Fame and in 2012 into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. She’s received a total of six Living Blues Awards and nine Blues Music Awards (and has a whopping 42 nominations). She’s received five Grammy Award nominations, including five of her six previous Alligator albums. Always a songwriter of renown, Ball delved deeper into songwriting than she ever had in her career with her Grammy-­‐nominated 2010 Alligator release, Roadside Attractions, creating one of her best and most personal albums.

On The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man, Ball continues that trajectory, drawing her listeners deep into her music with instantly memorable melodies and imaginative imagery. Her songs paint vibrant musical pictures richly detailed with characters, flavors and scenes straight out of Louisiana, Texas and the Gulf Coast. From the poignant Just Keep Holding On to the fresh start of Clean My House to the surprising and timely The Squeeze Is On to the southern warmth of Human Kindness, Ball has delivered a set of songs so well written and so well performed, she’ll astound and delight her longtime fans and give newcomers plenty of reasons to join the party. Featuring her stellar, road-­‐tested road band, with help from friends Delbert McClinton and Terrance Simien and production by Grammy-­‐winner Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, James Cotton, Susan Tedeschi), The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man is happy, moving, joyful, stirring, thought-­‐ provoking, danceable and fun.

After a solo LP for Capitol and a successful series of releases on Rounder, Ball joined the Alligator Records family in 2001 with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD took home the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. 2004’s So Many Rivers, 2005’s Live! Down The Road, 2008’s Peace, Love & BBQ and 2010’s Roadside Attractions all received Grammy Award nominations as well as critical and popular acclaim.

Born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family whose female members all played piano, Ball grew up in the small town of Vinton, Louisiana, right across the border from Texas. She began taking piano lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley tunes from her grandmother’s collection. From her aunt, Marcia heard more modern and popular music. But it wasn’t until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in 1962, she sat amazed while Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited performance the young teenager had ever seen. According to Ball, “She just blew me away; she caught me totally unaware. Once I started my own band, the first stuff I was doing was Irma’s.” In 1966, she attended Louisiana State University, where she played some of her very first gigs with a blues-­‐based rock band called Gum.

In 1970, Ball set out for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn’t long before she was performing in the city’s clubs with a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs, while beginning to hone her songwriting skills. It was around this time that she delved deeply into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. “Once I found out about Professor Longhair,” recalls Ball, “I knew I had found my direction.”

When the band broke up in 1974, Marcia launched her solo career, signing to Capitol Records and debuting with the country-­‐rock album Circuit Queen in 1978. Discovering and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, Ball—collaborating with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton—recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone’s label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar “three divas of the blues” project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longtime inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD Sing It! was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1999, Marcia and her band appeared in the nationally televised Public Television special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese. Marcia has been featured on leading television and radio programs, including Austin City Limits and NPR’s Fresh Air and Piano Jazz. She performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia has also appeared The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, she helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she had a role in the independent film Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson.

Ball has been the subject of stories in many national publications, including USA Today, Keyboard, DownBeat, Billboard, and in newspapers from coast to coast. She has twice performed on A Prairie Home Companion, appeared on World Cafe and Whad’Ya Know?, Public Radio International’s Studio 360, as well as on XM/Sirius satellite radio. Ball has been featured on the covers of The Austin Chronicle as well as Blues Revue magazine, as well as in countless lead stories in entertainment sections of publications around the country.

The New York Times says, “Marcia Ball plays two-­‐fisted New Orleans barrelhouse piano and sings in a husky, knowing voice about all the trouble men and women can get into on the way to a good time.” Living Blues declares, “Her originals sound like timeless classics and southern soul masterpieces that else can imitate.” Of the new album, Ball says, “I don’t make a record until I no one have to have something to say, stories to tell, messages to impart. I try to make records that are true to me,” she continues, “and this one couldn’t be truer.” On The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man, the message is loud and clear: Marcia Ball has plenty of surprising and thought-­‐provoking stories to tell, and the two-­‐fisted piano prowess, sweet and soulful vocals and superlative songs with which to tell them.

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Humming House
Jun
10
7:30pm 7:30pm

Humming House

The spotlight on Nashville, with its musical values and timeless traditions, is currently bright. And no band embodies what’s right about 21st century Nashville more completely than the quintet known as Humming House.

It’s the way they weave together threads of Music City’s folk, soul, and bluegrass legacies. It’s in the inspirational and revealing songwriting. It’s in their acoustic instrumentation, presenting mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar and bass in fresh roles. It’s in the pleasant tension between rousing energy and nuanced arrangements. And it’s in the voices, with two complimentary stylists up front and backed by the full band’s rapturous harmonies.

Revelries, due out March 24, 2015 on Nashville label Rock Ridge Music, is the third recording bearing the Humming House name, yet it’s something of a debut. Version one of the band came together in 2011 when songwriter Justin Wade Tam called on some friends from a local Celtic music jam to flesh out recordings of songs he’d written. The sessions, assisted by Tam’s star producer colleagues Mitch Dane and Vance Powell, mixed strains of bluegrass and Irish braided with vintage swing and open-throated early 60s hootenanny folk music. Humming House earned some quick attention for videos of its infectious songs “Cold Chicago” and “Gypsy Django.” They landed performance slots with tastemakers such as Lightning 100, Daytrotter and the Americana Music Association festival. They had chops, respect, and trajectory.

After that, two personnel additions galvanized the band. Leslie Rodriguez brought a lustrous female vocal to mesh with Tam’s hearty singing. And fiddler Bobby Chase brought classical training and down-home fire. That rounded out a band of highly skilled instrumentalists, including Josh Wolak on mandolin and Ben Jones on acoustic bass. Between the five of them, there’s scarcely a genre or period that somebody in the band hasn’t spent time learning or embracing, from Leslie’s early love of show tunes to Josh’s time playing bluegrass to Bobby’s occasional beat boxing. They’re the picture of East Nashville’s melting pot musical culture, and Revelries is the first album these musicians have written, arranged and recorded together.

As complete as they are in the studio and on record, Humming House is fundamentally and emphatically a live band. With scarcely a tube’s worth of amplification or electricity and a drum kit’s worth of percussion distributed among the band members, they emit force on stage and demand attention. They’ve rocked rooms of all sizes and played Forecastle Festival, Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots Festival, and the Cayamo Cruise with the elite of Americana. They opened the new Music City Roots hall in The Factory in 2014, sharing the bill with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.

Vocals are the emotional core and lure of Humming House. They are five voices deep, with a galvanizing male/female twin attack over the top. Tam and Rodriguez sing as soloists or a duet, depending on the song. Humming House works out careful hand-offs and big harmonies, including frequent passages that are just vocalizing, chanting beautiful music on top of their robust instrumental attack.

The title of Revelries comes from a lyric in the tenth track on the album, “Carry On,” a feisty and ambitious song in which delicate charango plays counterpoint to a muted guitar. The rhythm is jagged and intoxicating. By the time we get there we’ve heard the striding opener “Run With Me,” the quick-stepping waltz “Fly On” and Leslie’s showcase song, the smoldering and bluesy “Nuts, Bolts and Screws.” The album’s first single, “Great Divide,” is a fervent ode to travel, motion, and new frontiers—a recurring theme that’s also touched on in the fiddle and accordion-driven “Hitch Hike” and the rapturously romantic “Freight Train.” A classic jazz ribbon of smoke drifts through the magic “I’m A Bird.” And then, after “Carry On,” Revelries concludes on the drifting “Atlantic”—a throwback folk song that evokes old sea shanties.

If the new Nashville means anything, it’s about musicianship and authenticity. Quite often that results in sounds that are fascinating and appealing to critics and fellow musicians. Occasionally, artistry emerges that’s both profound and widely appealing. And when it does, as with Humming House, it’s cause for revelry.

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John Paul White
Jun
9
7:30pm 7:30pm

John Paul White

Beulah

Beulah. It’s a small, complicated word with a tangle of meanings.

It’s the title of John Paul White’s new album, his first in nearly a decade, a remarkably and assuredly diverse collection spanning plaintive folk balladry, swampy southern rock, lonesome campfire songs, and dark acoustic pop. Gothic and ambitious, with a rustic, lived-in sound, it’s a meditation on love curdling into its opposite, on recrimination defining relationships, on hope finally filtering through doubt.

Beulah is also a White family nickname. “It’s a term of endearment around our house,” White explains, “like you would call someone ‘Honey.’ My dad used to call my little sister Beulah, and I call my daughter Beulah. It’s something I’ve always been around.”

Beulah is also something much loftier. For the poet and painter William Blake, Beulah was a place deep in the collective spiritual unconscious. “I won’t pretend to be the smartest guy in the world,” says White, “but I dig a lot of what he’s written. Beulah was a place you could go in your dreams. You could go there in meditation, to relax and heal and center yourself. It wasn’t a place you could stay, but you came back to the world in a better state.”

And perhaps the music on this album originated in that “pleasant lovely Shadow where no dispute can come.” According to White, the songs came to him unbidden—and not entirely welcome. “When these songs started popping into my head, I had been home for a while and I was perfectly happy. I wasn’t looking for songs. I didn’t know whether any would pop back in my head again, and I was honestly okay with that. I’m a very happy father and husband, and I love where I live. I love working with artists for a label that I think is doing good work.”

Far from the grind and glamour of Nashville—where he worked for years as a working songwriter before stepping into the spotlight himself—White settled in his hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a wellspring of gritty Southern rock and soul since the 1960s. Together with Alabama Shakes keyboard player Ben Tanner and Shoals native Will Trapp, he founded and runs Single Lock Records, a local indie label that has released records by some of the Yellowhammer State’s finest, including Dylan LeBlanc, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and legendary songwriter and keyboard player Donnie Fritts. The label is based in a small ranch house a stone’s throw from White’s own home, which would come in handy when those songs started invading his head.

“Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realized the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down. I got my phone out and I’d sing these little bits of melody, then put it away and move on. But eventually I got to a place where it was a roar in my head, and that pissed me off.” Due to his experiences as a gun-for-hire in Nashville, White was reluctant to romanticize the creative process, to turn it into a spiritual pursuit. “Then one day I told my wife I think I’m going to go write a song. She was as surprised as I was. I went and wrote probably eight songs in three days. It was like turning on a faucet.”

Most artists would kill for such a downpour, but White was wary of the consequences. He knew that writing songs would lead to recording them, which would result in releasing them, and that means touring and leaving home for weeks at a time. “As soon as I write a song, I start thinking what other people might think of it. I’ve talked to friends about this: What is it about us that makes us do that? Why can’t I just sit on my back porch and sing these songs out into the ether? I don’t have an answer for it yet, but I think it’s just part of who I am. I need that reaction. I need to feel like I’m moving someone in a good way or in a bad way. I need to feel like there’s a connection.”

White threw himself into the project, no longer the reluctant songwriter but a craftsman determined to make the best album possible—to do these songs justice. He cut several songs at the renowned FAME Studios in his hometown, where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Allmans, the Osmonds, Bobbie Gentry, Arthur Conley, and Clarence Carter recorded some of their most popular hits.

One product of those sessions is “What’s So,” which introduces itself by way of a fire-and- brimstone riff, as heavy as a guilty conscience—the kind of riff you wouldn’t be surprised to hear on a Sabbath album. But White’s vocals are gritty and soulful, a product of the Shoals, almost preacherly as he sings about earthly and eternal damnation: “Sell your damn soul or get right with the man, keep treading water as long as you can,” he exhorts the listener. “But before you do, you must understand that you don’t get above your raisin’.” It’s the heaviest moment on the record, perhaps the darkest in White’s career.

At the other end of the spectrum is “The Martyr,” one of the catchiest tunes White has ever penned. The spryness of the melody imagines Elliott Smith wandering the banks of the Tennessee River, yet the song is shot through with a pervasive melancholy as White wrestles with his own demons. “Keep falling on your sword, sink down a little more,” he sings over a dexterous acoustic guitar theme. This is not, however, a song about some unnamed person, but rather a pained self-diagnosis: “These are the wounds that I will not let heal, the ones that I deserve and seem so real.” White knows he’s playing the martyr, but he leaves the song hauntingly open-ended, as though he isn’t sure what to do with this epiphany beyond putting it in a song.

The rest of Beulah was recorded in the Single Lock offices/studio near White’s home. “I can be more relaxed about the process. We can all just sit there and talk about records or baseball without feeling like someone’s standing over our shoulders. That’s a big deal to me, not to feel pressured. And I’m only about twenty yards away from home, so I can walk over and throw a baseball with my kids or make dinner with my wife.”

Some of the quieter—but no less intense—songs on Beulah were created in that environment, including the ominously erotic opener “Black Leaf” and the Southern gothic love song “Make You Cry.” As he worked, a distinctive and intriguing aesthetic began to grow clearer and clearer, one based in austere arrangements and plaintive moods. These are songs with empty spaces in them, dark corners that could hold ghosts or worse. “There were certain moments when Ben and I would finish up a song, listen back to it, and think how in the world did we get here. But that’s just what the songs ask for. These are the sounds in my head. This is the sound of me thinking and living and breathing and doing.”

Once White had everything assembled and sequenced, it was time to give the album a title, to wrap everything up for the listener. Beulah stuck—not only because of family history or Blake, but because White realized that making music was his own trip to Beulah. “If you had to sum up what music is for most people in this world, it’s that. It’s that escape. It’s that refuge. You go there and you come back and you use that to help you with your life. You always have that as a place to go.” 

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Delhi 2 Dublin
Jun
8
7:30pm 7:30pm

Delhi 2 Dublin

Delhi 2 Dublin was a happy accident born out of Vancouver’s Celtic Fest in 2006. Their sound started as an electronic fusion between bhangra beats and Celtic fiddle and has since grown into anything from dub reggae to breakbeats to just straight up happy dance music.

Founded by Tarun Nayar (of Beats Without Borders cred), Sanjay Seran (at the time hailing from live bhangra act Signia), and Ravi Binning (a professionally trained bhangra dancer and dhol player), it was obvious D2D had something people wanted.

Word spread about their ridiculously energetic live show, and these road-warriors have been touring constantly since: mesmerizing crowds at many of the top festivals across Canada and the US, blowing people away in the UK, Australia, Germany and Malaysia as well as performing to awe-filled audiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Dubai.

Described by one magazine as the “United Nations of rock ‘n’ roll”, the last 9 years of incessant touring have seen Delhi 2 Dublin become one of Canada’s most buzzed-about bands.

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Jakubi (cancelled due to rain)
Jun
4
7:30pm 7:30pm

Jakubi (cancelled due to rain)

In 2013 Melbourne 5 piece, Jakubi, uploaded their first track to Soundcloud. It was a hit. 50,000 plays by the end of the second week. Their second single was the same and then again their third. Now, with their fourth single “Couch Potato” circulating, the band has amassed over 2,500,000 plays worldwide.

This brought the band to the attention of labels across Australia, America and Europe – with new emails from even more A&R reps arriving almost daily within the first few weeks of a new tracks circulation. With all this momentum Jakubi have gone into 2014 focused. Their aim; to release their debut EP, to hit twice as many venues on their next Australian tour and to do their debut tour of the USA.

Their songs use a mix of sounds to draw in the listener. From VERY catchy reggae inspired guitar to clever synth and of course the hip hop sounding drum fills, it definitely makes sure the listener understands exactly what’s going to happen next; you’re about to start dancing. Lead vocals are the responsibility of Jerome Farah, his seamless transition between natural vocals and his use of a talk box adds a diversity to the music that only keeps you bopping along to the music. With a bunch of sold out shows, some incredible festival performances and with over 2,000,000 plays under their belt we know that this is definitely the beginning of something exciting.

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Shannon McNally
Jun
3
7:30pm 7:30pm

Shannon McNally

I first heard of Shannon McNally through John Leventhal, who described her vocal skills as having just the right amount of girlish smoke. At the time I was looking for just the right singer to make a cameo appearance on a song I was recording called “Famous Last Words of a Fool.” Trusting John’s appraisal---from his description I imagined something of a cross between Joan Jett and Lauren Bacall---I set about tracking the mystery singer down. What I eventually discovered in the small town of Holly Springs, Mississippi was this dark-eyed beauty who wrote grown-up songs, played a pretty mean Fender Stratocaster and, at times, sounded a lot Jesse Mae Hemphill. From our first meeting I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was the right man for the job of shepherding the next Shannon McNally record into existence. Now that the record is made, I hope music lovers around the world will come to know what I and many others already know: This girl belongs in the Americana Music spotlight.

Rodney Crowell

 

"She has the voice: bruised, smoky and ornery, right at home where country and soul meet. She has the melodies and the timing - she’s irresistible.” — Jon Pareles, The New York Times

“McNally ….sensual, swaggering, smokey. …..exhibiting an ability to depict pleasure and pain with an explicitness that seems deceptively natural for such a reasonably young songwriter.….a healthy dose of lowdown country and ragged soul..McNally's sound bears a timelessness that's truly uncommon.” — Austin Chronicle

“She is probably rock’s most talented undiscovered gem. This woman with the confident voice, pin-point lyrics and effortless guitar playing….Shannon McNally can rock your socks off at the same time she is hitting you over the head with words that actually make sense.”  — Glide Magazine

"Only Gram Parsons' term "Cosmic American Music" begins to touch her mercurial, changeling roots aesthetic, . . . McNally is a Zen-like, post-Beat song poet” —Thom Jurek, All Music

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The Legendary Shack Shakers
Jun
2
7:30pm 7:30pm

The Legendary Shack Shakers

The Legendary Shack Shakers’  roadshow has earned quite a name for itself with its unique brand of Southern Gothic that is all-at-once irreverent, revisionist, dangerous, and fun. Led by their charismatic, rail-thin frontman and blues-harpist JD Wilkes, the Shack Shakers are a four-man wrecking crew from the South whose explosive interpretations of the blues, punk, rock and country have made fans, critics and legions of potential converts into true believers.

After taking more than a year off to work on other projects (including JD Wilkes's book "Barn Dances & Jamborees Across Kentucky"), the band is re-mobilizing in the fall of 2014 much to the excitement of many a Shack Shaker fanatic. Despite the group’s time off, their reputation for intensity has stuck with them.

On stage, JD has been compared to the likes of Iggy Pop, David Byrne, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The Nashville Scene named Wilkes “the best frontman in Nashville” in 2002, while former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra has called JD “the last great Rock and Roll frontman.” Having joined the band in early 2012, garage blues guitar player Rod Hamdallah--who also lends his prowess to Wilkes's side project ‘JD Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers'--is back in the Shack Shakers’ lineup. The rhythm section is rounded out with Brett Whitacre on drums and Mark Robertson thumping out the upright bass.

Although not legendary upon being named, the band has grown into its reputation the last several years due to their heavy tour schedule, six critically acclaimed studio albums, and songs that have been featured on television shows such as HBO’s True Blood. Past tour mates and fans include Reverend Horton Heat, Rancid, The Black Keys, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and Hank Williams III. Robert Plant is also a noted Legendary Shack Shakers fan, and picked the band to open for him on his 2005 tour of Europe. Plant named the band's third albumBelieve as one of his favorite records of 2005. The list of esteemed admirers goes on to include horror novelist Stephen King, who listed “CB Song” as among his iPod’s Top Five in a 2008 Entertainment Weekly article. Such a wealth of devoted fans over the years has only added to the mystique that the Legendary Shack Shakers possess, carrying them down the road toward new creative pursuits and barn-shaking tunes.   

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Gedeon Luke & The People
Jun
1
7:30pm 7:30pm

Gedeon Luke & The People

Hailing from the streets of Memphis, soul music flows through Gedeon Luke’s veins in rainbow colored hues. Weaned on the gospel infused sounds of Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Al Green and inspired by the rock ‘n roll passion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Gedeon and his band The People are here to crash through the boundaries of music and society, to bring Love, Peace and Soul to the world.

Fighting through childhood poverty, rejecting the gang violence and drug abuse that surrounded him, Gedeon looked to music, family and faith as his beacon. Refusing to be hardened by the mean streets, Gedeon brings pure joy and passion to his music and his life.

His debut record, “Live Free and Love” was cut old school style, throwing his band The People and special guests in a room and laying it down live. It follows no trend. It’s Love, Peace and Soul. It’s Gedeon Luke.

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The Legends of Jazz featuring Dr. Bill Hurd
Apr
28
6:30pm 6:30pm

The Legends of Jazz featuring Dr. Bill Hurd

Bill Hurd is a welcome feature at any Memphis venue catering to jazz fans. His mastery of the alto and tenor saxophone is reminiscent of Coltrane and his virtuosity on soprano and baritone sax is equally impressive.

Hurd has recorded with Kirk Whalum, Isaac Hayes, Maurice White, Greg Curtis, Phil Perry, Kevin Whalum, J. Blackfoot, and Wendy Moten and with fellow legendary Memphis musicians like Floyd Newman, Rod McGaha, Rick Braun, and Lester Snell.

But Bill Hurd’s genius is not limited to music. He is also known as Dr. William C. Hurd, a practicing Ophthalmologist. In addition to his medical degree, he has an MBA from M.I.T. and a B.S. in engineering from Notre Dame (where he was an All-American captain of the track team and named Notre Dame's 1968 Athlete of the Year). Furthermore, Hurd has patented inventions of medical devices relating to his work as an eye surgeon. His two sons are honors graduates of Notre Dame, and his wife of 42 years is a Tennessee Circuit Court Judge.

Obviously, Bill Hurd has high standards, and those standards extend to choosing the members of his quartet. Tom Lonardo (drums), Sidney Kirk (keyboard), and Erroll Thomas (bass) are all considered among the South’s finest musical talents. And you’ll hear how it all comes together on this performance captured live in Memphis, TN.

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(Re)Birth Of Cool with the Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra
Apr
14
6:30pm 6:30pm

(Re)Birth Of Cool with the Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra

The Southern Comfort Jazz Orchestra has a long reputation of musical excellence at the University of Memphis. The group is comprised of 17 outstanding full-time university student musicians ranging from undergraduates through doctoral candidates. The ensemble performs a wide range of styles from composers Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington to modern composers such as Jim McNeely and Bob Brookmeyer. The group continually performs and records new student compositions, commissions, and new works from outside composers on an annual basis.

Past performances have included a tour of Europe and presentations at the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference, and the Tennessee Music Educators Association convention. Most recently the group was honored to be a part of the National Endowment of the Humanities "Looking at Jazz" series held in the Mid-South.

They have recorded two CDs, "Voices" and "Out of the Bluffs" for Select-O-Hits, Memphis.

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